'Heartbroken and shattered' Afghan-Americans worry about loved ones in Afghanistan
Haris Tarin, a 42-year old Afghan-American, feels as if he is reliving the past as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.
Marching into Kabul on Sunday, Taliban fighters sought the unconditional surrender of the country's central government. Chaos ensued as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and families rushed to the airport, trying to flee.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Afghan-Americans like Tarin are living in fear over what may happen to their loved ones back home.
Tarin said he has cousins, close friends and family living in Afghanistan who believe in democracy, a better life, education for women and freedom of expression. But, now, he says, that hope is gone.
"My mother spoke to my cousin yesterday, and my cousin just wouldn't stop crying. So we're shattered on a very personal level because of what's happening in our country of origin," Tarin said. "My extended family and cousins are staying inside the house, fearful as to what will happen."
Tarin immigrated to the U.S. with his immediate family as refugees in 1986 during the Soviet war. When the Taliban took over in 1996, Tarin said, he would hear stories of what his family in Afghanistan had to go through.
"My uncle, who was living at that time in Kabul, was beaten by the Taliban for not having a long enough beard. My aunt was killed by a rocket that fell into the house that they were living in," Tarin said. "Now as an adult, I'm reliving all of this again.
"I am heartbroken and shattered, to see this really slow-motion horror movie playing out in front of your eyes. That trauma is just – it feels like you are being retraumatized again."
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Ahmad Tariq Bahij, 35, says he has taken the week off from work to focus on his family in Afghanistan.
"I'm not able to concentrate at all, and I am just all over the place. I'm really concerned about my family members, because my sister, my stepmother, and my brother, they all were working for U.S. government projects," Bahij said. "And we had their essential immigrant applications pending for more than four years."
Bahij advised his family not to go to the airport, so they are in lockdown mode in the city, scared that anything could happen. His stepmother and father were confronted by the Taliban in 1996.
"On two occasions she was beaten by the Taliban, very badly, because she had gone out from the house without a man accompanying her," Bahij said. "My father was out from a mosque, and he was asked to go to the next one. And when he had argued with them that he already completed his prayers, he was beaten.
"Everything went back to zero, I would say even to minus, with the Taliban taking over the government. It's a terrible situation."
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For Afghan-Americans, time is ticking as they are lost in the thought of when they will see their loved ones again.
Abdullah Habibzai, 36, hasn't slept an hour for the past three days. He worked with the U.S. government and was appointed the acting mayor of Kabul in 2016 but left his position in 2018 and came to the U.S. in 2020.
"I'm totally devastated right now because I left family behind. They are in the process to immigrate to Canada because they worked faithfully for the U.S. government. Now they are left behind," Habibzai said. "Now I'm counting seconds, not minutes, seconds that they might be heard, they might be held."
He said billions of dollars were spent by the U.S. government on Afghanistan, and he is devastated by what has been lost.
Safi Stanikzai, 32, has kept in contact with his cousins and extended family in Afghanistan, and he said they are doing fine but the shops are all closed.
He also has friends in a few other districts and has created a group chat with everyone living in the area.
"From the past week, I didn't sleep well like everyone is thinking about. If you have family and in such a situation, everyone is concerned about it," Stanikzai said.
Stanikzai lived in Kabul during the Taliban regime as a student and remembers that the security was high and that the people had no freedom.
"I remember everyone was trying to leave the country. My two brothers, at that time, left Afghanistan and went to Iran, just to support us," Stanikzai said.
He says his friends have been notifying him that some members of the Taliban have entered the homes of Afghan officials to retrieve any weapons out of their houses.
"No one has come or knocked the doors or asked my family to get out the door. Till now. We don't know about tomorrow."