KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

I had to run, else Taliban would have killed me: Afghan intel officer who took last flight to Delhi

Image Source : AP

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul.

“I had to run, else the Taliban would have killed me. Everything ends here. I could not bring my family along,” Afghan intelligence officer Asif said in broken Hindi as tears welled up in his eyes, hours after he landed in Delhi.

The 41-year-old officer took the last commercial flight from Kabul to Delhi on Sunday to escape “certain death”, leaving behind his ailing mother, wife and an eight-year-old son.

A compatriot helped Asif find a modest accommodation — a small room, attached bathroom and a marble slab with a sink that he called kitchen — in Lajpat Nagar for Rs 500 a day.

“I will try if I can get a room for Rs 200-300,” said the officer, who wanted to be identified as just Asif.


Asked if he had food, the officer of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the national intelligence and security service of Afghanistan, burst into tears.

His hands trembled and lips quivered as he took out his passport, an NDS identity card and photographs of his family from his bag.

“The Taliban are catching us, killing us. They sent us notices, asking us to revolt against the government or die. We lost hope after (President Ashraf) Ghani fled (the country). Hundreds of officers from the security establishment have fled to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries,” he said, as beads of sweat trickled down from his forehead.

Asked if his family is safe back home, Asif said he had no information as Internet services have been hit in some areas in Kabul, which fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

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“I got my visa a month before. Ten days ago, we had intel that the Taliban is going to return,” he said.

“Pakistan betrayed us…. I served my nation for 20 years. This was my life,” Asif said before he broke down again, holding some of his pictures in NDS uniform and the security badge.

He told PTI he and his colleagues shed their uniform and changed into civilian clothes before boarding a flight to India last night. Air India — the only airline that has been operating flights between India and Afghanistan — operated its last Delhi-Kabul-Delhi flight on Sunday. The flight scheduled for Monday has been cancelled.

Asif says women have ditched salwar-kameez for burqas and have been keeping indoors. They will be killed if they don’t, he said.

“Sab khatam (everything is over)… There is no chance we will return to our country ever. Our beloved home is lost. I don’t even know if my family will be able to make it to India,” Asif said.

Afghanistan stares at an uncertain future as President Ashraf Ghani left the country just before Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban on Sunday.

Sitting in his chemist shop barely a hundred metres away, Yousuf Yousufi, who fled Afghanistan five years ago, is hooked to his mobile screen, watching videos of crowds at the Kabul airport and Taliban fighters storming the presidential palace.

Some of the videos that a friend in Kabul sent to him purportedly showed people jostling with one another to get into a plane at the Kabul airport. The burst of a machine gun could be heard in another video shot at night, as people ran down the streets.

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“Taliban forced many policemen to leave our motherland over the years. Else, they would have killed us someday,” the 35-year-old father of three children said.

“My mother, sister and brother are stuck there. They have locked themselves inside our home in Kabul. I have not been able to talk to them. The Internet isn’t working there,” he said.

Yousufi’s eyes are swollen and red. He says he hasn’t slept well for three days. He says he’s stressed and takes a puff of a cigarette before suddenly breaking down, seeing a video that showed a child crying over the body of a woman.

“You asked me why I left my family there. I am an Afghan policeman. These children (the ones in the video) are my family. Our leaders abandoned us,” he said.

“Everyone has failed us. The United States ditched us…. We will be forever indebted if the Indian government help us evacuate our family,” Yousufi said. In the adjoining four-storeyed building, Shukriya, 47, recalled the time when she ran a beauty parlour in Kabul.

“My parents sold me to a ‘mujahideen’ for Rs 4 lakh. He had two more wives. He would not let me go to the market without a burqa and beat me up if I talked to a man,” she recalled. The government helped Shukriya get a divorce and she fled to India with a daughter and a son.

The Taliban are cruel to women. They won’t let girls go to school, they abduct and forcibly marry teenagers and stone them to death if they fall in love, she said.

Shukriya felt Afghanistan has lost its chance to become a modern, democratic state with the relentless advance of the Taliban.

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