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As the Taliban swept Kabul, a friend escaped.  The other was trapped.  They shared their anguish on WhatsApp

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As the Taliban swept Kabul, a friend escaped. The other was trapped. They shared their anguish on WhatsApp

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His days, once punctuated by exam preparation, fitness classes at the gym, meeting friends over coffee in cafes and buying new clothes, are now painfully empty.

She was planning to start a degree in economics at Kabul University this fall. Instead, she stayed home, too terrified to venture beyond the neighborhood grocery store. Confined between four walls, she tries to occupy herself. She frequently rearranges her furniture, studies English textbooks, posts poetry on Instagram, and practices new makeup tricks she finds on YouTube.

“We always try to stay alive and keep busy so that we don’t feel the pain and the pain,” Nilofar told CNN on a recent phone call. “We don’t even know what’s going on outside. We just watch the sun rise and set through the window.”

Young Afghan women like Nilofar, who grew up in the shadow of the American invasion that overthrew the Taliban in 2001, have lived in an increasingly open society – a society defined by cellphones, social media, reality TV, pop music and the right to express themselves freely. They endured war, persistent poverty and the threat of suicide bombings. But they came of age with a growing sense that they could break free from the patriarchal society of the past and decide their own future.

“I had a lot of dreams, I wanted to continue my studies, to do big things, to work alongside my friends, but all my friends have left the country. I don’t know if Afghanistan can go back to its former state.” Nilofar said, adding that she received a UN scholarship to attend university in Kazakhstan, but is still awaiting approval for her visa. She says she is determined to follow friends who fled in a frenzy of evacuation flights as US and NATO troops withdrew, and as Taliban militants invaded the capital on August 15.

Nilofar’s best friend, Florance, was among them. A 23-year-old Kabul University graduate, she now lives in temporary accommodation in the Paris suburbs, where she is trying to learn French and is considering applying for her master’s degree in commerce. She says she was heartbroken to leave Afghanistan, but felt there was no future for her there.

“I left my homeland, my home, my mother, my sister, my brothers, my beloved little nephews, my memories, my friends, with tears,” she said. The last time she saw Nilofar was two weeks before the Taliban took power, during an English class they had taken together for four years in the hopes of traveling to the foreigner.

“We were like sisters. We did everything together,” said Florence. “We had a lot of fun, but now I miss all of those things.”

WhatsApp messages between Nilofar and Florance – who requested that their last names not be released for their safety – provide a glimpse into the anguish of a generation of Afghan girls who saw their freedoms vanish overnight. In the face of a worsening economic crisis, many are desperate to leave.


Hey, I’m sorry I couldn’t answer all of your calls. I am at the airport and there are a lot of people, I entered through a different door this time through the Taliban checkpoint. I’m just sitting here. I’m sorry I couldn’t inform you; my family is with me. We’re here, it’s very busy. I don’t know if we’ll get there.


Good, good trip. Did you do it?


Okay, thank goodness you’ve all arrived. Are you staying in a camp?


No, we are at the airport on the way to our hotel. We have to quarantine for 10 days, then they will take us somewhere else.


Hope you like it❤️💋❤️❤


Everyone’s gone and now it’s just me here. You’re gone, Shabo [another friend] on the left, I’m all alone


You will come one day too, with me


Oh yes. I’m glad you did

Some 124,000 people escaped Afghanistan in the massive and chaotic airlift carried out in the last days of the US occupation. But many more have been left behind, and hundreds of thousands of people have since sought refuge in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.

For the women who remain in Afghanistan, life has been stuck in a perpetual state of limbo.

Despite promises from the Taliban that women and girls would continue to have access to education, many people across the country were not allowed to return to secondary schools. Those who have resumed college are separated by a curtain from their male peers. Restrictive rules like a stay-at-home order, which was touted as temporary, dragged on. Most women still cannot return to work, having been excluded from a range of jobs, including government and entertainment television.
Young women interviewed by CNN described feelings of being adrift in a waking nightmare, tinged by their mother’s stories of Taliban cruelty in the 1990s – when the group imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law , locked up women and inflicted public punishments on those who violated the group’s so-called moral code.

“My parents used to tell us a lot of stories about the Taliban … so we have this strong nightmare within us,” Nilofar said. “I can’t believe we are living under their flag now; life has become so difficult for us … Besides just sitting at home there is nothing we can do. Our stress levels are very high.”

Taliban leaders in Kabul and other cities have tried to present a more moderate face to the group, suggesting that women can participate fully in society “within the limits of Islamic law.” But it’s still unclear what that actually means, or how a recent decree on women’s rights might be implemented – though the Taliban’s decision to abolish the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replace it with an agency aimed at promoting virtue and preventing vice may offer some of the clues.
Rights activists say the Taliban have done little to show that their views have changed dramatically; their return quickly stifled the lives of women and aroused a deep sense of grief. “Despite all the terrible hardships of the past 20 years, I felt like there was this new space that young women could create for themselves,” Heather Barr, associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights, told CNN. Watch. “This whole new world of opportunity was opening up for young women… What happened to them on August 15th was it just closed.”

The Taliban’s rule in 2021 is developing differently across the diverse nation, particularly in the countryside, where some of its strict rules have never really backed down and patriarchal traditions reign supreme. But in Afghan cities, where women’s daily lives have changed dramatically in recent years, the return of the Taliban looks like a death sentence.

“Life in Afghan cities for the past 20 years was like any city in the world, but now people feel like they are in a prison,” Lima Ahmad, doctoral student at Tufts University who studies youth Afghans under 25, who make up nearly two-thirds of the total population, CNN said in a phone call. “It’s foreign to Generation Z. They heard about it from us [life under the Taliban] – no TV, no music, no going to the cafe, to school, no going out. How long can they accept this reality? ”

“This generation, their eyes are open – they have seen the world even though they have not traveled, they have seen it through social media,” Ahmad added.

As their physical world has shrunk, young Afghan women have increasingly turned to social media as a way to share their anxieties through private voice notes, private Instagram messages, and posts with friends. .

“Today we are only connected by WhatsApp, and we are talking about memories, but we are mainly talking about the situation in Afghanistan. My friends who are still in Afghanistan, they are really depressed,” said Florance. She tries to support Nilofar and other friends, who are looking for legal routes out of the country, but often doesn’t know how to advise them.


Great, so when you’re done quarantine, go enjoy the city. Go sightseeing 💋💋💋❤️❤️❤️😪😪


Have you seen the Eiffel Tower?


How did you feel ??


The first time you saw him❤️😂


You are so lucky to be gone. I’m glad you did


You will also come someday


I have no hope. I have no hope of living. It’s a whole different thing …


It will happen. I am on.

“It’s very difficult to ask, ‘How are they? What are they doing ? “Because I know now they’re not doing anything and they’re not feeling well, or that they have depression or anxiety and when I talk to most of them they are desperate,” he said. said Hossnia Mohsini, 30. Before fleeing to France, she worked as an advisor to a non-governmental organization in Afghanistan, promoting leadership skills and non-violent communication.

In an essay for Rukhshana Media – a news agency for Afghan women named after a girl who was stoned to death by the Taliban in 2015 – Mohsini wrote that some of the girls she had worked with were so upset that they were beginning to consider suicide.

She recently hosted a virtual circle of empathy on Zoom for some of the NGO’s former consultants, most of whom are in their twenties and still live in Afghanistan. Mohsini said she started with an open question, “What is alive in you right now?” She said the responses were heartbreaking, especially from young women, who said they were trying to keep up with their education but were unable to focus on anything and felt trapped at home.

It is this kind of desperation that drives the WhatsApp conversations between Nilofar and Florance, which have faded in recent weeks and months. Between the jet lag and settling into their new routines, it became more difficult to speak. The two say they hope to see each other soon, but aren’t sure when it might be.

“We don’t talk as much as we used to. I know she’s busy, she just started taking French lessons and she needs to become independent. That’s why I don’t try to bother her so much,” said declared Nilofar. “But we stay connected, and I want to continue our friendship.”


The other day I walked past your house


I thought to myself, when I come here, I used to call flo, but now she’s not here either 😔😔


Then I will come back to deport myself


I see the photos every day


Until there is some light in the situation


It’s okay, don’t worry about me. You will become sad. Haaaaa ….


Everything is uncertain for me


Thank god you are gone

The WhatsApp conversations included in this story have been translated from voice notes and written messages. They have been modified slightly for clarity and length.

Eliza Mackintosh has written and reported from London. Nilly Kohzad reported from Istanbul. Development by Marco Chacon.

Today Headlines abc News As the Taliban swept Kabul, a friend escaped. The other was trapped. They shared their anguish on WhatsApp

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