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October 24, 2021

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2 weeks of darkness in Afghanistan.

façade of a beauty salon

On the evening of August 15, 2021, on my way home, my heart was pounding in my chest. I asked my friend, who was driving, to speed up so we could get home early. It was evening and the streets of Kabul were empty. In Kabul’s New City, a few gunmen in civilian clothes stared at us.

Kabul is no longer the city it was a few days ago. All the streets were empty and the shops were closed. As I walked down the main thoroughfare of the city, I saw pictures of beautiful models decorating the windows of the covered beauty salon and the chic boutiques in the streets of the area, also known as Times Square in Kabul. Called, freshly covered. In white paint, color Taliban Flag

I was the deputy director of operations for TOLONews, Afghanistan’s largest and most well-known news network. During the 6 pm newscast, we reported that former President Ashraf Ghani had fled Afghanistan and that the Taliban were expected to enter Kabul that evening. I was trembling as I ran home to complete the rest of my duties.

At home, everyone was worried and no one was able to predict what would happen in the next few minutes. My four children, who used to watch television regularly, turned off the TV and got into trouble with the rest of the family. My mother and the rest of my family started looking for things in our house that could be considered against the wishes of the Taliban and used them as an excuse to destroy them. We have turned off all the lights in the house except the kitchen lights.

Even though we left our house a few days before we were temporarily hiding in the new house, we were still afraid that the Taliban would find us. It was around 8pm when the Taliban entered Kabul with deadly bullets, and we saw them secretly roaming Kabul from the balcony.

on the first day.

Kabul, which experienced 20 years of democracy and development, enjoyed free media, nurtured artists and filmmakers, where thousands of women fought for their political and civil rights and freedoms, suddenly in the dark overnight. Return that no one expected.

I tried to get rid of this feeling of being in a nightmare. We lost Afghanistan and what we built.

This evening, one of us jumped on the TOLONews management team’s urgent conference call and decided to instruct our female journalists not to come to the office the next day. Our broadcasts were presented by men.

That night, many television stations that normally broadcast entertainment programming, dramas, and music videos turned to religious programs, including Islamic stories, recitations of the Qur’an, and Islamic dramas. Dozens of other media outlets stopped broadcasting altogether.

The next day, with the confirmation from our colleagues who had direct telephone contact with the Taliban, confirming that we were safe, we returned to the office. We started broadcasting our reports despite the fact that they were broken and we adopted a conservative way of broadcasting news about the presence of the Taliban all over Kabul. We tried our best to avoid airing anything against them. This afternoon, a group of 20 heavily armed Taliban entered our studio in the Wazir Akbar Khan compound of the Moby Group. At first, our staff was frightened and anxious, until they realized that their only purpose was to register weapons in the possession of our security team.

In an effort to deal with the situation, we decided at our executive meeting to ask female journalists and staff to return to work the next day, especially after we received confirmation from the Taliban that our female staff could return. And she will not interfere. Our work.

On the second day of the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul, our female journalists were reporting from every corner of the city, covering the news from our studio and interviewing guests live on TV. My partner Beheshta Arghand He sat down with a Taliban representative. And a live interview, which garnered international media attention.

Shortly afterwards, the Taliban began to impose restrictions on media coverage, directly and indirectly, contrary to their earlier commitment. Unknown members of the Taliban government contacted our comrades and sent threatening messages. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid expressed displeasure at the swearing in of the hijab or the veil on the head, saying that our female comrades were wearing it on the screen and demanded that they cover the hijab similar to that of the Iranian media outlets. Women in Letts can be seen on news reporters.

Moreover, the Taliban started visiting the homes of our comrades in search of them. Fortunately, all of our staff moved out of their homes. The Taliban failed to capture any of them. However, his telephone threats continued. Men from the Taliban visited my home twice and inquired about my whereabouts.

My mother immediately called me and told me not to come home. I ended up staying in the office instead of going home. My colleague who was in contact with the Taliban spokesman told him about my situation. The spokesman excused himself saying that the men were probably not affiliated with his group and were just taking advantage of the situation and promised to follow up on the matter.

I was instructed by the Acting Director of TOLONews to warn several of my female colleagues to “fix” their hijab. Beheshta Arghand was the first female news presenter to cover Pashto news for the first two days. When I told her about the Taliban’s order regarding her hijab, she sobbed and told me that she knew it was just an excuse and that women would no longer be able to work. Arghand was the sole breadwinner for his family.

We resisted.

Despite public assurances that expression and the media will be protected, the Taliban have never proved that they can accept criticism. During his third day in power, the group’s spokesman first appeared on television and held a press conference where he was apparently disturbed by a question from my journalist colleague Khalid Naqzad. Nikzad Zabihullah Mujahid asked.“You killed a lot of innocent people with explosives and suicide bombs, and now you say we have forgiven everyone. Do you think people will forgive you?” Mujahid hesitantly gave a short answer but got angry and refused to answer Khalid Naqzad’s follow-up question whether he was ready to apologize to the people.

After the press conference, Mujahid was scheduled to meet with Toll News Management. After Nekzad’s questions, he canceled the meeting and refused to take any calls from our reporters for the next few days.

Threats and dangerous working conditions were recorded for journalists imposed by the Taliban, and one by one, TOLONews journalists began fleeing Afghanistan as refugees.

But we resisted and played our part in preserving the achievements of the last 20 years. We continued our work for another two weeks. During this time, we tried to avoid criticizing the Taliban to please them. However, it became clear that their resentment towards us was very deep and our efforts were proving fruitless.

Beauty salon facade
A facade of a beauty salon with pictures of women using spray paint is shown on August 18, 2021 in Kabul’s New City.
Lawyer Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images

Threats against our journalists, harassment and violence against our reporter in Kabul’s New City continued as our employees had to make telephone threats and restrict access to information. We face these challenges with each passing day More restrictions on freedom of expression One student told one of our reporters, “We fought for 20 years because of TOLO and now you ask us questions as an Israeli television station? “

Since I spent most of my days and nights in the office, many of my colleagues gathered stories and information with me. One told me that Khalil-ur-Rehman Haqqani, the newly appointed head of Kabul’s security, carried M4 weapons in all his meetings with political leaders. Haqqani has been blacklisted. United Nations The State Department also offered a 5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

My colleague kept telling me that in all his meetings, Haqqani prays for the souls of all those who have carried out suicide attacks on the Taliban in the last 20 years. He identifies five people with him as suicide bombers and introduces them to politicians. Since the security of Kabul is the responsibility of the Haqqani Network, my colleague also said that the Department of Safety and Security of the higher authorities has become its center. فدایہ Or “believers” and all those who are ready to carry out suicide attacks are at the center and ready to carry out their own command to attack.

On the other hand, access to information was becoming more limited with each passing day. The Taliban will only give us access to the information they want us to report. Their officials do not allow us to see anything for investigative reports and we are kept away from facts and truths.

“My heart wants you all to shoot”

I can say with confidence that what is being reported from inside Afghanistan is only a small part of what is happening there. The media does not have access to evidence of crimes committed by the Taliban or cannot publish for fear of retaliation. There was material that we censored ourselves for fear of persecution, such as looting American universities, house-to-house searches of the Taliban, war crimes in Andarab and Baghlan, criticism of the Taliban’s management of Kabul airport, and dozens more. Other issues.

Freedom of expression and restrictions on the media and constant threats from the Taliban made me and other journalists feel that we were being held hostage. The Taliban expect the media to be just a propaganda tool for them. Meanwhile, it is very easy for the Taliban to send anonymous killers to kill journalists and make this claim. Isis He was behind it to save himself.

I have decided to save my life and the lives of my family at any cost and I will no longer be held hostage by the Taliban. Under extreme fear and difficulty, we were able to reach Mazar-e-Sharif and, along with several other journalists, managed to wait for the international community near Sakhi’s shrine to take us out of the country.

For several days, the Taliban refused to allow us to enter the airport and unload our plane for departure. Eventually, with the intervention of a senior US official, the Taliban allowed us to enter the airport, board our flight and leave the country.

At the Taliban’s first checkpoint at Mazar-e-Sharif airport, one of their commanders, who was in charge of taking us to the airport, told me, “My heart wants to shoot you all” because he thought we Everyone worked for foreigners, especially Americans. He added, “But at the moment, I am bound by the orders of my superiors to let you go and I have no choice. Whenever I get the chance, I will shoot you all and make my dream come true.” I will do it, because by killing you we will be victorious. “

Were yesterday 175 people.They include women and children who fled Mazar-e-Sharif to Mexico before fulfilling the Taliban commander’s dream.

From the attitude of the Taliban that I have seen in these two dark weeks and from the words of a Taliban commander in Mazar-e-Sharif, I am convinced that the Taliban are the same terrorists as in the past. They have not changed and they will never change. His brand has always been and will always be violent and murderous.

Now that I’m talking about recognizing the Taliban, I’m afraid that if they are officially recognized by the United States and other countries, they will be the first terrorist group in history to be identified by the world powers as representatives of the government. Recognized as It was clear that their actions contradicted their promises of change.

I urge the international community to hold the Taliban accountable for their perceived promises and to make it a condition of their official identity.

Abdul Farid Ahmed is a former Deputy Operations Director of TOLONews.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.