The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Afghan reporter makes heartfelt plea during exchange with NATO chief: ‘Please don’t recognize the Taliban’

During a news conference with NATO’s top leader on Aug. 17, Afghan journalist Lailuma Sadid broke down in tears. (Video: Reuters)

During a news conference with NATO’s top leader on Tuesday, Afghan journalist Lailuma Sadid broke down in tears.

She questioned NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the coalition’s rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, which allowed the Taliban to seize control of the country in a matter of days.

“Thousands of women already don’t know … what is going on and what should happen for them, and they are always asking, ‘What does it mean?’ ” she said in impassioned comments that were also posed as questions. After 20 years, she added, “we are going back [to Taliban rule] again?”

Appearing to sympathize, Stoltenberg told Sadid it was an “extremely difficult” decision to make.

“And it was difficult because I share your pain, I understand your frustration,” he said.

Sadid pleaded with Stoltenberg: “Please don’t recognize the Taliban and don’t put us again in the same situation.”

Delivering her remarks remotely by camera with an “Afghan Lives Matter” sign posted behind her, Sadid became the second Afghan journalist in two days to make headlines while questioning officials about the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and what it means for Afghan women, whose rights are in danger of dissolving under Taliban rule.

At a Pentagon news briefing following President Biden’s speech on Monday, Afghan journalist Nazira Karimi was so troubled that she momentarily forgot the question she wanted to ask.

“I’m very upset today,” she told Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, “because Afghan women didn’t expect that overnight … the Taliban came.”

“Afghan people, they don’t know what to do,” she added. “Women have a lot of achievement in Afghanistan. I had a lot of achievement. I left from the Taliban 20 years ago, and now we go back to the first step again?”

During the Aug. 16 briefing, Afghan reporter Nazira Karimi expressed concern for the fate of women and girls in her country. (Video: The Washington Post)

Like Stoltenberg, Kirby appeared sympathetic, saying he understood the pain and fear Karimi was feeling.

“Nobody here at the Pentagon is happy about the images that we’ve seen coming out in the last few days,” he said. “And we’re all mindful of the kind of governance that the Taliban is capable of.”

Before the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban enforced an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, barring women from work, education, political participation and even the right to move freely outside their homes.

While the Taliban has said in recent days that it will be more tolerant toward women, observers say that the regime’s oppressive tendencies are already being felt and that any restraint will last only as long as Afghanistan is the center of international attention, The Washington Post’s Sammy Westfall and Claire Parker reported on Tuesday.

Even before the Taliban overtook the country, girls’ access to education was being diminished in areas under the group’s control, Time reported.

“I am deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan right now — especially about the safety of women and girls there,” activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Taliban attack in Pakistan and won a Nobel Peace Prize for activism, told the BBC’s “Newsnight” on Monday.

In recent days, Yousafzai said she has spoken to women’s rights activists in Afghanistan.

“And they are sharing their concern that they’re not sure what their life is going to be like,” she said, noting that they remember their lives under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. “They’re deeply worried about their safety, their rights, their protection, their access to school.”