Hareer Hashim, a young Afghan Programme Manager for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Countering Militarised Masculinities: Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace initiative in Afghanistan, which explores and challenges militarised ideals of manhood and imagines the emancipatory possibilities inherent in rejecting them.
From the 10th floor of Bakhtawar Palace, I used to absorb all of Kabul: the mountains, the flag of Tapay-e Wazir Akbar Khan standing tall, proud, and untouched, the livelihood of the streets of Kabul where you could hear the song “Bordi Dele Maan” being played at the loudest volume on the speaker of the hotel, whilst the air was filled with the smell of freshly grilled kebabs.
Loud azaan is filling the noisy streets of Kabul, with girls and boys attending school with smiling faces. Graffiti painting the beautiful and war-torn Kabul’s canvas, young women wearing vibrant ethnic clothing with the touch of modernity are busy on their way to work.
At night, the glistening, rugged mountains would turn into fairy lights that would illuminate the entire city. At night, the city came alive as cars blasted loud music on the streets of Shahr-e-naw. Going to Kart-e-Parwan for some delicious ice cream was a tradition we didn’t dare to bend, and on our way, we would visit my grandfather’s house where he would share the stories of his Kabul.
Kabul is the city closest to my heart – the place where I came into my own. Every time that I had to leave Kabul for educational purposes, I felt a pang in my heart because I was leaving behind all those precious things that were a huge part of my identity. But then I would console myself, saying, “This is your home, you can always come back to it. No one can stop you from coming.”
That was true until August 15th, the day that Kabul was captured by the Taliban and the entire country of Afghanistan was hijacked.
More than nine months later, it is still almost impossible to put into words the impact of that day. I became estranged from the one place that could bring my heart peace. How was I supposed to know that the last time I kissed my grandfather’s hand would be the last time? I still ask myself: How could any of it have been the last time?
The recent collapse of Afghanistan has had a devastating and life-altering impact on its people. Never did we imagine having to make the heart-breaking decision to leave our motherland behind. But like so many others, I was forced to choose this perilous path for the slightest chance of a future that would not suffocate and confine us to the rules and restrictions of a militarised regime, or risk my life or those of my loved ones.
On 18 August 2021, the day of my 24th birthday, I headed towards what felt like the most chaotic and deadly place on the planet, Hamid Karzai International Airport, where tens of thousands of people – men, women, and children – were crowded outside the gates, desperate to board a flight out of the country.
I remember it so clearly. Along with my parents and sister, I was able to secure visas to the US, UK, Ireland, and Canada. Despite the terrifying situation, I remember that the irony of this amused me: for the first time in Afghan history, we were able to reserve visas to so many different countries.
Typically, securing a visa would have been the main obstacle to leaving Afghanistan. But in this case, the main hurdle we faced was actually getting into the airport. It took many attempts and each time we took to the streets to try once again, I realised that I no longer recognised the Kabul that I knew and loved.
Taliban paraded the streets where I used to go to work. Melodies were replaced by nonstop gunfire at every checkpoint. Joyful drives with families were replaced by midnight runs to and from the airport.
Finally, after the seventh grueling attempt, we successfully entered the airport and boarded a plane. But as our airplane took off, bound for Norway, I felt no sense of victory or relief even though I was physically safe; I was devastated as I watched my city disappear beneath me.
The day we left Afghanistan, I lost part of me as I jumped into the sewage to save myself, and I can never revive that part of myself again. I saw how paralysed and hopeless Kabul had become as the hope that pulsated through the veins of the city dropped away. Kabul gasped for air. I could hear her breathless cries telling me, “There is nothing left for you here. Go, save yourself, so that you can come and save me.” And that is what I did.
Fortunately, we were able to reach Norway safely. I am aware that for many this would be a relief, a massive achievement, but not for me. My heart was broken. I felt distraught that it had come to this; that to survive, I had had to leave my beloved Afghanistan behind and start all over again in a foreign land. I am aware that I am not the first or last refugee who will be displaced, but I do know that this loss has left a profound void in my soul that compels me to use whatever means I can to support and give back to the people of my nation.
As I continue to advocate for the rights of Afghans through my work with WILPF’s Countering Militarised Masculinities: Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace’ initiative in Afghanistan, I am also undergoing a challenging personal journey. Arriving in a new country where everything is different and unfamiliar is a genuinely daunting experience and compounded when you have been emotionally destroyed. I never knew or understood what real loss felt like until I lost Afghanistan. Losing your homeland leaves a permanent scar.
We were fortunate to meet some really friendly people in Norway who helped ensure that our transition was safe, calm, and comfortable. My family and I are forever grateful, but like many other Afghans who have been forcefully evicted, I carry my burden in my heart and refuse to turn my back on my country and its people.
Since the time that I was evacuated, I have used my grief as motivation to work as hard as I can to help ensure the safety of Human Rights Defenders who were unable to leave during the first evacuation, and I am proud to say that we have now been successful in helping many find safe passage out of the country, whilst also providing financial support for Afghans in exile.
This experience has taken me full circle – from evacuee to evacuator. Throughout this process, I have learned that my loyalty to Afghanistan and her people is undying, even at the expense of my own grieving process. I have consciously prioritised my love for my country over my emotional trauma and exhaustion. I tell myself, “You can grieve later”. I am aware that my work may seem like a drop in the ocean in comparison to the number of Afghans that need support, but like so many young people, I am determined to do whatever I can. Every Afghan right now feels an obligation to assist and help through whatever means necessary.
I follow news of Afghanistan 24/7 and am in constant contact with many Afghans both in Afghanistan and in exile. As the Taliban continues to tighten its grip on the country and increasingly deny women basic rights and freedoms – including the right to attend schools or work – I ask them about their circumstances and living conditions and hear countless horrendous stories. The enormous numbers of Afghans in refugee camps in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and other countries do not have access to adequate accommodation, food, clothing, or other necessities considered basic human needs by most.
I am shocked at the international community’s lack of preparation and mismanagement of a situation they must surely have anticipated. Afghans now living under the Taliban have been forced to face a multi-faceted humanitarian disaster – displacement, lack of access to food, lack of heating facilities to endure cold weather, lack of employment, education, and threats to basic human rights.
Yet, right now UN member states still seem more concerned with their bureaucratic procedures than simplifying the process of issuing visas to those who so desperately need them. This is compounded by the insufficient flow of aid for Afghans both inside and outside the country.
I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to expect accountability from the global community. As an Afghan who has suffered immensely from this situation, I ask the world not to grow numb to our suffering or turn a blind eye to our struggles. Afghans need the global community to stand in solidarity, amplify our voices, and support Afghans financially, logistically, and in any capacity possible.
Every night as I fall asleep, I see my Kabul flashing in front of my eyes: Afghan music played in restaurants and only silenced during the beautiful azaan, the smell of kebab and exquisite Afghan food, the beautiful Afghan flag standing tall in Tapay-e-Wazir Akbar Khan, young kids playing amongst themselves, young girls able to attend school and wear bright coloured clothing when they go to work.
But when I wake up, I realize that today, this reality of ours has turned into a dream of mine. I do believe that my dream is foreshadowing how Afghanistan will revive to its prime; but for that to happen, we must undergo this dark period in every Afghan’s life. I hope that this period, where we are away from the comfort of our home, will be an opportunity to build our knowledge, which we can incorporate back into the development of my watan (motherland) when we come back to serve.
I aspire to open my own orphanage for the children of Afghanistan who are homeless and without their parents. I want to empower and support Afghan women in achieving whatever they set their minds to, without ever having to wonder, “Am I dreaming too big?” And I hope that I can one day become the first woman president of Afghanistan, so I can give my country the true and empathetic leader that it deserves.
My greatest hope, however, is that Afghanistan will be restored to its former, vibrant, and glorious self. I am hopeful that every member of the Afghan diaspora will find Afghanistan’s embrace wide open for them without any restrictions.
Afghanistan is ours, and no one can snatch its comfort away from us. It might take some time for us to feel its warm embrace, but we will bask in its embrace at the right time.