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Women Are Particularly Vulnerable To Control By The Taliban


With the Taliban gaining power, a shake-up of Afghan society feels inevitable. Women are particularly vulnerable.


Freshta Karim started the Charmaghz mobile library project, giving a space for young people to read. She joins us now from Kabul. Welcome to the program.

FRESHTA KARIM: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Can you give us an idea right now what you're hearing, as people are obviously concerned in the city about the Taliban's impending takeover?

KARIM: A couple of hours before in the morning, people had a normal life, and then we heard the news of Taliban takeover. They had entered the city from different points, and everyone was frightened, running away. I was also in the middle of the city. I was out for work, and people had to walk for hours to get to their home because there was road blockade. There was traffic jam. People were running on the streets, and it looked like our world is crumbling down.

But after a few hours, right now, it looks like there is such a deadly silence, as if the music of people's life has stopped and they are just waiting for their uncertain future, for politicians to decide what will happen. We are hearing that there will be an interim government, and President Ghani will resign, but that's what we are hearing. We are not sure what's going to happen.

CORNISH: You said - you describe something that feels sudden, despite the fact that the Taliban had been taking over so many provincial capitals, right? This was brewing for many days and weeks. What has this been like the last few days?

KARIM: Well, the entire idea that they are taking over so quickly has been really shocking. It took us as a shock because the U.S. government was doing a different prediction. Our own government was speaking a different prediction. We thought that it would take a year or at least six months. But the way that the - with the speed that they took over, I think it has put us in a huge, huge shock, at least for Kabul because we thought that they will not take it as easily, so people went out on their normal lives. But it was a big, big shock.

CORNISH: You work with young people and, of course, young girls. You talk about the shock. What were you hearing from some of these people, some of these youth?

KARIM: Just as I'm talking, I'm hearing a lot of helicopters running from here, so you might not hear my voice very well. It seems that the U.S. is evacuating its own citizens. That is also a very ironical thing, that the entire idea of the U.S. government is that the U.S. foreign policy - that it has a duty to protect its own citizens. The entire idea of nationalism - I invite everyone to rethink about it. It looks so outdated to me. In 21st century, we still think that some people's life values more than some other people's life, and it's OK for us to put their life at risk with our foreign policy, with our long decisions, with our lack of strategic thinking or lack of sympathetic, empathetic thinking towards others. And I feel very sad for that foreign policy that has been very unkind.

CORNISH: Can you talk more about that?

KARIM: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Because what message has been sent to you by the U.S. government in ramping up its evacuation? We heard from the White House this week, saying that they felt they were still in partnership with the people of Kabul, but what do you see?

KARIM: I think the U.S. government has been very selective with history, saying that Afghan is an Afghan problem and should be solved by Afghans. But when we look back at history, during the Cold War, it was America and the West that invested so much amount of money to make these extremist groups to fight the USSR. And when the USSR went away, it was all done and the U.S. went back. And then in 2001, it came back with a very revengeful attitude, not bringing Taliban in table when it was at the most powerful point. Of course, our own government was also not thinking enough, not thoughtful enough to bring Taliban at that time. That was the time for negotiations.

But anyway, after 20 years of making such a shameful deal with the Taliban, protecting only the U.S. soldiers - I'm so happy, honestly, from the depths of my heart for the U.S. soldiers because anyone dying in this world feels like humanity is dead. But that has been what I've grown up with, our poetry here in Afghanistan, with Rumi's poetry - but anyways...

CORNISH: I wanted to just jump in and ask you quickly - the Taliban have said or the spokesman has said something to the effect of women will still be able to have jobs and rights. Do you believe that, based on the last time the Taliban was in control of the country?

KARIM: I think that entire idea in the Taliban saying that we will give women - that's their language, we will give women rights - I think that is problematic because our rights - we feel that our right is an intrinsic right. We don't need to take it from - we don't need Taliban to give it to us. The entire idea that they think they are superior and then they do a favor to give us that right is problematic, and you can understand where they stand by using this language. And I don't believe them even a little bit because they are an ideology group. Their war against women is based on is at the core of their ideology. If they don't have it anymore, they are not going to be Taliban. And I don't think they will leave their identity because that's how they identify themselves with.

CORNISH: The thing that I am puzzled by is Afghanistan has been relatively free for 20 years in that, you know, you've been able to have a lively civic life or even just listen to music or go out of the house. How - you know, has Afghanistan changed in the 20 years since the Taliban were last in power in a way that would force change? Or are you going back to the Stone Ages?

KARIM: I think in past 20 years, the life for people has changed so much, from flourishing of music, amount of music produced, amount of poetry produced, amount of thought produced. We judge a society's development by these indicators, right? And also the amount of children - half of the population is just below 15 years old. All they have experienced is not a perfect democracy, but a democracy. They have grown up with a liberal thinking, with an equal thinking towards other human beings.

And I think now, looking back at it, that Taliban will come and take over like this, entire cities in a very violent way. That's a question. Where will it take us back? Honestly, it's a question to me, too. Where will it take us back? And also, we must consider, we are such a poor country, and when we don't allow liberal values to be there, the country will go back, even in terms of economics. People will remain poor when women do not come out and work.

CORNISH: That's Freshta Karim in Kabul. Thank you for joining us, and we'll be thinking of you. We hope you're able to stay safe.

KARIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.