Exiled Afghan writer and activist Nadia Ghulam on evacuations, life under the Taliban and a decade forced to live as a man.
Afghan writer and activist Nadia Ghulam speaks to Euronews about efforts to evacuate friends and family out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. And about not trusting the group’s promises that things have changed.
"The situation (at Kabul international airport) is very difficult" according to Nadia who is constantly monitoring her family members still waiting for their turn to board a flight out of Afghanistan.
"There are thousands of people and among them are my family too," she said, speaking to Euronews in Barcelona. "I have cried so much over the past few days... and when they (Spanish ministry of foreign affairs) told me they were going to able to leave I burst into tears. Now I feel peace and I have hope again.”
Over the past 10 days, Nadia has worked day and night to get as many people as possible out of Afghanistan.
The writer, who knows the Taliban well after having lived under the rule of the group for a decade, says she does not believe they have changed.
“I believe they have become worse," she said. "They have learned how to lie. Before they were so ignorant all they did, they did in public - without hiding.
"Right now, in Kabul, they are looking for families, women and people who either worked for the previous government or collaborated with an international organisation or the press. All these people are disappearing one by one. And they (Taliban) keep saying - we didn’t do anything. Because they have learned how to lie.”
Nadia is particularly worried about women and girls who she says are set to lose hard-won rights and freedoms.
“People were living in light and then everything went off. Light was knowledge, and freedom experienced by men and women.
"We were -- and still are -- very poor. But poverty is not the problem. The problem is when you don’t have peace or security. That’s the big problem.”
'For 10 years I had to live like a man'
Nadia was 11 years old when the Taliban last came to power in Afghanistan.
She had just been released from hospital after a bomb that flatted her home, killed her brother, and destroyed her parents' livelihood, left Nadia badly disfigured.
With no other option, Nadia says she was left to fend for the family’s survival.
“The Taliban said women couldn’t work, couldn’t study, couldn’t leave their homes. I didn’t know what to do. My brother was gone. My dad was suffering with mental illness.
"So I decided to wear men’s clothes for one day. I thought tomorrow things will change. I’ll go back to being Nadia and carry on with my life.
"But that lasted for 10 years. For 10 years, I had to live like a man, work like a man. I lost my identity. I lost part of my childhood, all my teens.”
Nadia was eventually granted asylum in Spain where she underwent reconstructive surgery on her face.
However, she says she’s never forgotten what happened to her: “I am a survivor. I feel like I have died and was reborn multiple times. These past few days I died again. But now I am trying to be reborn in hope to give light again to my family and all those who need.”
'Please stop sending guns to my country'
While Nadia doesn’t think the Taliban can be trusted, she is adamant humanitarian aid must continue to enter the country: “it’s very important to find a way to continue helping civilians - who have nothing to do with the war. Because those who will die of hunger are the women and children. Those who will suffer and the women and girls”.
On another hand, Nadia says, the international community should stop intervening militarily: “Please stop sending guns to my country. Guns destroy life of too many innocent people like me. I had nothing to do with the war. Nor did my family. But a bomb fell onto my home and destroyed everything that I was - and my family. My father developed a psychological condition, my brother died in the war.”
“My country has been at war for 50 years. And after 50 years of war, 85% of the Afghan population were left with serious mental health issues. 85% of the Afghan people. 50 years is not easy to surpass and live beyond war.”
Beyond food and medicine, Nadia is pleading for shelter - as well as psychological support.
“If you want to help us, help us with psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, and training and education.
"Refugees shouldn’t be victims. Give them an occupation, otherwise, the pain will kill them.”
Nadia also says there are ways to continue to invest in the future of Afghans: “I would like to ask the international community to create opportunities for Afghan women to integrate their educational system, without difficulties and bureaucracy, in a simple way, so that their can continue their studies and have a chance at a better life. That’s the best way we can help.”
*Nadia is the writer of “The Secret of My Turban” (Edicions 62, 2010), “Tales That Healed Me” (Columna 2014), and “The First Star of the Night” (Plaza & Janés, 2016). She is the founder of “Ponts Per la Pau”, an association that promotes the integration of refugees through languages classes and professional training.