Some 13,000 Afghans are thought to be still living in areas controlled by the Taliban and still fighting against them. Many people in that zone are exposed to the relative peace and quiet of Kabul, but there is still a danger that they could be caught and killed. That’s why Ahmed Saferuddin, Muhammad Mubarek, and Qais Khan, who fled their houses in northern Kunduz province, and no longer want to talk about their ordeals, were taken to Kabul airport to meet with the president of Afghanistan. “The first night when we left our houses we were terrified, but we mustered up the courage to go on, and we hoped that we would be safe in Kabul,” Saferuddin, 32, told Graphic. The three men had one wish for their escape from Taliban control: that the Taliban would give them a chance to go home. This was not to be. A few hours after the men arrived at Kabul airport on 6 February, the Taliban made them “live like slaves.” They handed them over to the police; they later turned them over to the Pakistan authorities who took them back across the border. Mohammad Mubarek, 28, told us, “I want to go home and live there again. I’m longing to return to Kunduz and become a farmer. Without this I’m nothing.” Afraid their relatives would see them alive, the three men cut off their long hair and started to wear regular clothes. Later that day, Saferuddin said, “We entered the airport and walked around for two hours. It was raining; it was cold.” He told us it was better to live with the Taliban than die at the hands of them. Some of their compatriots told them they should turn themselves in and be safe. “We decided to join them,” Saferuddin said. The Taliban gave them leave, they were told, “But you must have good teeth, you must be able to wear beards.” When they finally got in a waiting room, the militants welcomed them with song and dance and offered them cigarettes. Then they asked for money. They said they would make good use of the money to buy cigarettes. Saferuddin later heard that the money was to pay for plastic surgery for the Taliban.
Ghulam Haider Waheed Najibi, 22, told us: “Sometimes I wonder if I would ever live in peace again.” He grew up in a village of different ethnicities in the north-eastern Afghanistan province of Badakhshan. He and his friends went to Badakhshan university, dreaming of a professional life and a better life. He dreamed that life would be like that of Kabul, the centre of life. He had no idea that every moment he spent there would turn into a nightmare. “On the seventh day, in the morning, we all went to school in our village,” Najibi told us. “That day we had a feast and drinks and were enjoying it. We weren’t scared. But we heard that day about the Taliban, but we had no idea that day, what would happen to us. Maybe they were capable of kidnappings and of suicide bombs. “I never imagined I would die like this, being a political prisoner in Kabul. Even if I had to die I wouldn’t have wanted to. How could it be?” Najibi told us that on 28 January, after months of living with the Taliban, they decided to leave and he decided to make a run for it. But when they decided to take advantage of the new freedoms and freedoms that Kabul offered, they were caught and imprisoned by police. “We were put in a huge room and were locked in there. The Taliban were there with us, they took our money and put us in one big room, which they had built with stones. Their uniform was a black keffiyeh.” We moved around a lot – all of us, and we ran everywhere – we kept running from the Taliban. I felt like crying, but I did not want to cry because then they would arrest my brothers and take them away. “Finally, I saw a large crowd of people heading out. Some even took on masks. Everybody was jubilant. And I started to cry,” Najibi told us. He finally returned to Badakhshan, where the Taliban killed his brothers in a gang-rape – in front of his brother’s father and his parents. Najibi does not believe that the Taliban will ever let him go free. If they did, he would be dead. “Our lives have been completely destroyed. I did not have any opportunities to live in Kunduz anymore. It was the only place I was able to spend my time. I didn’t know I would never return there.