The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion My Taliban nightmare came true. I left, but my sister couldn’t.

People trying to flee Afghanistan sit on the tarmac at Kabul airport on Monday, Aug. 16. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

Nasrin Nawa is a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former journalist with BBC Persian based in Kabul.

Nasrin Nawa discusses this piece in more detail on James Hohmann's podcast, "Please, Go On." Listen now.

Since before I left Kabul a few days ago, I keep having the same nightmare: My sister running, sweating and bleeding, followed by Taliban fighters on the streets of Kabul.

Then the nightmare came true.

On Sunday, my sister, who is also a journalist, gathered her official documents to find a way out of Afghanistan. But when she stopped by the bank to withdraw cash, there was none to be had. Then the crowd starting running away, shouting “Taliban are here!” She saw cars with riders holding the black and white flag. With her passport, she decided to rush to the airport; someone had promised to help her get out. But she never made it — a heavy traffic jam blocked her way. And the flight that she was supposed to board never took off, since the United States suspended all flights to evacuate U.S. staff first. Another family member trying to flee was robbed and was unable to reach anyone for hours. A friend made it to the airport looking for safe passage but remains stuck, with thousands more. There are reports of U.S. troops firing into the air to prevent people from boarding flights for U.S. diplomats and embassy staff.

That’s how little we matter at this point. Afghans in Kabul are now drowning in a sea of chaos, fear and betrayal.

I managed to flee Kabul on Friday but many others, such as my sister and my parents, have not been so lucky. As the text messages saying “Kabul has fallen!” shook my phone on Sunday, I broke down, crying like an abandoned child. I was all alone, recently arrived in the United States.

The night before I left last week, my family threw a goodbye party. There was still some remote hope things might get better. We thought that, if needed, they could leave to a safe place, but only temporarily, since the family still had a small business to run. It all seems like a distant dream now. My sister and I used to go cycling around the city. (We were members of the female national cycling federation.) She even used her bike to go to the bank the day the Taliban arrived in Kabul. Now I can’t imagine girls biking freely like that ever again.

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With reports circulating about Taliban militants raiding the houses of activists, journalists and others, I called my sister and told her to go home and hide all of our identity cards. Then I told her that she needed to destroy her guitar. She said her hands were unable to do that, but I pleaded with her. I told her the Taliban’s hands are capable of killing you for your art. But I can’t imagine literally shattering such an important part of who you are.

This is how the hopes, passions, careers and plans of many young Afghans are crumbling. We already felt betrayed after the United States decided to strike an embarrassing “peace deal” with the Taliban in Doha, but now we see that the international community and even our own leaders have decided to turn their backs on us.

The despair is also widespread among the security forces. A man tweeted about his brother, a commando killed less than two months ago: “If there was some kind of behind-the-scenes deal to hand over, why did you send my brother to this pointless war two months ago? He could have been alive now taking care of and playing with his three kids.”

So many soldiers and civilians sacrificed their lives in the past two decades to leave the dark period of the Taliban behind. The Taliban’s assurances that they will not harm people are not to be trusted. Once the power rests in their hands and they get the world’s acknowledgment, they will silently make people vanish.

Afghans are lost in panic and confusion while the world simply stands on the margins. It didn’t have to be this way: The United States could have planned an organized withdrawal that could have evacuated tens of thousands over a few days or weeks. Now the war may be over, but those of us who put all our efforts to prepare the country for a better future only see darkness ahead.