“Open the airport. Put pressure on all the governments.”

An Afghan NGO worker speaks on the developing situation in Kabul airport


You are in contact with people inside and outside Kabul airport. What is happening at the moment?

There’s basically an unofficial three step process to get out of the country, not necessarily in chronological order. The first step is to get on some kind of list to get out of the country. There is a proliferating number of lists. It’s very confusing. Some lists emerged then were scrapped again. And by no means does it mean that being on the list will help you to get out at all. But from what we understand, not being on the list means the only way to get out is by hanging on to a plane.

The second step is to get into the airport. Again, this is not necessarily in chronological order. So you can currently get into the airport without a list, but you need to get into the airport and the third step is to get into a plane.

And the problem is that each step is very difficult for ordinary people. It’s impossible to get onto that list. It looks like like the only people who get out have a certain way of either communicating with people in power or have friends abroad.

From what I understand, the people who get on the list are activists, human rights defenders, journalists, et cetera – people that must leave – but they are not, quote unquote, ordinary Afghans. And so there is a quote unquote necessary hierachisation. By “necessary” I don’t mean that it is a good thing, but that it is the inevitable consequence of this absolutely disgraceful withdrawal and the aftermath of the way it’s been conducted.

On the other hand, people who were activists in the provinces have many more difficulties getting out because most of their initiatives and projects were organized by bigger organizations in Kabul. And as a result, they never had any direct contact with the Western backers, and probably won’t be able to get out.

Social media is full of a picture of one US-American aeroplane which rescued 600 people. Does this mean that people are getting out?

Yes, our source inside the airport has confirmed that planes are coming and going, especially U.S. and some British. I’m not sure whether she saw British planes leaving or she just saw British army personnel. But U.S. and British are coming and going, and they have taken substantial numbers of Afghans for the past few hours. But again, it doesn’t seem to be making any difference number wise and the airport is not getting any emptier.

22 of our 25 employees are in Kabul. They’re all outside the airport property right now. The airport property begins approximately 1.5 kilometres from the airport terminal. And there is no way to get in right now. Probably the only way to get in would be if some armed group with a military or even the Taliban themselves would open some kind of corridor for people to go through. Other than that, there’s thousands of people trying to get in and there’s just no way.

Getting into the airport right now is almost an impossibility. This may obviously change any minute, but for the past few days and hours, this has further deteriorated. People are stranded outside. And, of course, it’s dangerous to just sit there with the Taliban presence. There are so many people there that abuse is happening, harassment is happening. You can imagine what’s happening to the many women sitting there waiting.

It’s a highly volatile situation, but our people are there. A few have decided to stay in Afghanistan for now, mostly because they have families. One of our staff is inside the airport. She managed to get in. Obviously we’re trying to get her out while also hoping that she can continue to give us information about what’s happening and perhaps support the evacuation of other people.

How other Western governments, particularly Germany, reacting?

Well, from what we know, obviously way too late and thanks to a lot of public pressure and the power of images, the German government seems to be ever so slowly waking up to the need to somehow manage the disgrace they are constantly bringing upon themselves.

From what we understand they are trying to get people out, including many organizations and individual staff members who worked with German government-funded institutions or German state-funded organizations and projects, or the military.

At the same time, the German government and other governments are – let’s put it diplomatically – not clear about whom they are evacuating. The policy right now, as far as we understand, is that only people who directly worked with the government, the military or a publicly funded organization would be evacuated, but not their families. Which is not surprising, but is a huge disgrace. At this stage, all I want to say is that let’s make sure that people will be evacuated with their families.

The German government is waking up very, very late to its responsibilities. In the long run, we need a very thorough self reflection about the past 20 years. This must be self-critical and open to public scrutiny. But for now, what we are demanding from the German government is to honour that commitment to get people who worked with Germans out of the country, including their family members.

How did the Taliban take power so quickly?

Honestly, the first thing that I must say, this deserves a longer and more in-depth analysis. It’s difficult right now to try to summarize why this happened in one or two quick sentences.

But of course it has to do with a long history of an attempt to impose a way of life onto the Afghan people from 2001 onwards. The invasion was was never about human rights. It was never about democracy. It was never about the women. It was never about the schools. It was revenge for September 11th. It was a colonial project.

The central government never had any any substantial support in the country. The army is composed of people from all over the country and different ethnic groups which are at odds and even at war with each other. It was always an impossibility to keep that army together and fight for a fatherland, for a nation that was never their nation to begin with because they didn’t really recognize the government and they certainly didn’t feel any effective political connection to them.

So, for many soldiers, being in the army was a job to earn money and be able to serve your family. I mean, so many are now laying down their weapons because under a Taliban regime, they would be punished, they would be persecuted. And there is no point in sticking up for a government that is no longer there or that was already in the process of disintegrating and that you never affiliated with in the first place.

These are some of the factors. There are many others, of course. People are also tired of war after so many decades. Even quote unquote, ordinary people didn’t rise up, even though some of them probably had guns. Many of them are tired of it.

The Taliban are a formidable force, even though they’re a complex entity and have different strands. There was probably also some kind of process that they just could not be stopped any more. With the Taliban gaining more and more ground in the provinces people started to believe that this is what was going to happen, that they were going to conquer the country. As a result, they took precautionary measures to make sure that they are on the side of the victors.

What can we in the West do to help you? What should we be demanding of our governments?

Put pressure on the German government, the British government, all the governments, especially in terms of opening the airport, opening a pathway for people to get into the terminal because it’s jammed. And any evacuation of people must be with their family members. Governments are adopting a policy of only taking out staff, Afghan staff, who directly work with Western governments, embassies or NGOs.

I’m not in Kabul, but I’m coordinating, trying to get our people out of there. They are all outside the airport right now. It’s almost impossible to get in. So, please put that word out there. People must be taken out, evacuated together with their families now.

Finally, how are you coping?

There’s a little bit of a nervous lull right now because it’s late in the evening already. And it’s been a long day. Another day has passed, another fruitless day, unsuccessful day, discouraging day. We had 20 people, 20 hard core human rights activists sitting outside the airport compound since 6am. It’s 9.30 in the evening and they’re still there. So they’ve been there for 13, 14 hours straight.

It’s a highly straining environment, a lot of pressure. Many people, a lot of noises, people with guns. This is very intimidating for some of the women – not because women are weaker – but because they’re being harassed and looked at.

Of course, things may change in the next five minutes. But that’s the way it looks and that’s, of course, very draining. Very, very draining.