Afghan Human Rights Activist Recounts the Day Kabul Fell

I was in Afghanistan on August 15th, and I saw the Taliban’s return in person.

I am Shabnam Salehi, [former] Afghanistan Human Rights Commission’s women’s department chief and a [former] Kabul University professor.

It was around 11 a.m. when our security chief entered my office and said, “It would be best if you left the office.”

I left the commission’s office with my driver and bodyguard. At one point, we found ourselves within 10 to 15 meters of members of the Taliban who were hoisting their white flags. We were in a government vehicle.

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My driver was telling me to get out because the vehicle was a target [of Taliban militants].

Given the situation, my mother was very worried. She kept calling me and asking me where I was. I kept telling her that I hadn’t moved.

She kept asking if I was OK or if I was in danger, and I told her I was fine. She asked me to swear that I was OK and to promise to come home soon.

The last time she called, I told her that I was turning off my phone because friends had told me they [the Taliban] might find me by tracking my phone. This could be the last time we speak.

Saying this to my mom, I think, was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.

When I got home, my grandmother who raised me screamed when she saw me, and I screamed back.

And I had this feeling that life had ended and that we had lost everything.

On the 23rd, the 24th, pretty much for three straight days, we went to different gates of the [Kabul] airport but couldn’t get in.

After 30 hours, we finally succeeded in entering the airport.

At around 8 p.m., our flight was ready, and we were about to fly, but we had no idea where to. Until that time, I had no idea where I was headed. Even though I had evacuation letters from four different countries, I didn’t know where I was going.

People were crying in the airplane about leaving their homeland. Someone had taken some [Afghan] soil with them, and others were talking about their homeland.

We arrived in Albania. It’s a country in Eastern Europe.

I felt everything had slipped through my hands. We had nothing, and now we were homeless. I felt that I would never be able to go back home.

On October 14, 2021, I came to Canada.

“I had this feeling that life had ended and that we had lost everything.”

Shabnam Salehi, former head of women’s protection unit in Afghanistan’s human rights commission