George Llewelyn speaks to Shkula Zadran, currently in a safe house in Kabul, about the devastation unleashed on the country by the withdrawal of troops by the US and its allies

“The worst thing that can happen to me is they might shoot me down. I don’t care. The last few decades hundreds and thousands of youths have been killed brutally. What’s the difference between me and them? I am not superior to them, so I don’t care.”

These were the words of Shkula Zadran, Afghanistan’s youth representative to the United Nations, speaking from a safe house outside the country’s capital this weekend. Like many young women, she hurriedly fled her home on Sunday as the Taliban entered the presidential palace in Kabul after advancing through the Afghan provinces at breakneck speed. 

Despite her stoicism, Shkula is in a precarious situation. The Taliban is deeply regressive and authoritarian, particularly in its attitudes towards women. In the five years it held Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the violent oppression of women became a hallmark of the regime – with many forced to risk torture and execution just to attend underground schools.

Even now, within days of seizing the rest of Afghanistan, the Taliban has already been photographed crudely painting over advertising billboards featuring images of women in make-up and jewellery. As a master’s degree student in Kabul and an outspoken political activist, Shkula fears that she may have to leave her country in order to be safe.

“This is the worst moment of my life,” she told Byline TV, before breaking down in tears. “I have been thinking about leaving for the past few days. I was born here, I grew up here. I have lots of good memories in Kabul. I have huge dreams for myself and for my fellow Afghan people. I love my country, I love my people. I don’t want to leave.

“Even if I make a very good life abroad, I will not have the peace I would have in my own house, in my own home.” 

With the Taliban surrounding Kabul and the US Embassy spending its final hours operating out of the city’s airport – the last route in and out of the country – Shkula’s chances of leaving have now almost evaporated. A Taliban spokesperson has promised that the lives of women and its political opponents will be protected, but with reports of revenge killings already surfacing, these ‘promises’ have done little to assuage her concerns.

The Government’s leaders have fled the country, as has the US Ambassador. Meanwhile, the British Ambassador reportedly remained at Kabul airport on Sunday night, personally signing visas for Afghan evacuees.

Shkula, and thousands of people who have been internally displaced and fled to the capital to escape the advancing Taliban, have been left alone.

“It’s a huge mistake,” she said of the withdrawal of US troops, initially agreed in a secret deal between former President Donald Trump and the Taliban – but carried out, almost overnight, by current US President Joe Biden. “They have actually sold us. They betrayed us.” 

Six weeks ago, Biden said that the prospect of the Taliban re-taking Afghanistan was a virtual impossibility. In the last 24 hours, they have captured the capital without attacking it. To many, including veterans of the war in Afghanistan, the abject failure of the US’ chaotic withdrawal is a betrayal of 20 years of sacrifice. According to The New York Times, America has spent more than $1.5 trillion on Afghanistan, while the UK has spent close to $40 billion. But many have been left asking what this investment was ultimately for.

The 2001 invasion of the country by NATO forces has long been a controversial decision, but Trump’s back-channel deal with the Taliban, as well as Biden’s catastrophic follow-through, is likely to prove just as controversial.

“The US and its allies brought this war to this country, they wanted to achieve their mission of counter-terrorism,” Shkula Zadran told Byline TV. “They bombed our villages, they killed innocent civilians, they committed horrifying war crimes here. But still, we had that hope that maybe they would stand by our side until the end, until we are strong enough to build our country. This was their responsibility towards us. Shame on them. Shame on the international community.”

George Llewelyn is a producer at Byline TV

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