The optics surrounding the U.S. pull out from Afghanistan couldn’t be worse for President Joe Biden — just as the consequences couldn’t be worse for those left behind.
One of the country’s few women to attain the post of mayor, 27-year-old Zarifa Ghafari, now fears for her life as the Taliban sweep across the country and reclaim control of the capital.
She says, with no place to go and no one to help, she can only wait for them to come.
“I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?” she said, according to the UK’s inews.
Things were different only weeks ago, according to the report, when Ghafari spoke with the outlet from her apartment in Kabul last month to deliver a hopeful message amid the escalating threat of Islamic militants.
“Younger people are aware of what’s happening. They have social media. They communicate. I think they will continue fighting for progress and our rights. I think there is a future for this country,” she said.
Though her role has brought her numerous trials — including three attempts on her life and the death of her father, Gen. Abdul Wasi Ghafari — Ghafari remains a beacon to women in light of militant Islamic oppression, inews reported.
In a July report, inews described her as “everything the Taliban hates.”
She’s “intelligent, outspoken, and politically influential. And she vows to continue fighting them for as long as she is able.”
Unfortunately, amid the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and the developments that have followed, her role as mayor in Afghanistan’s Maidan Wardak province — a region of the country with immense sympathy for the Taliban — might soon be met with more than rhetorical resistance.
Ghafari’s stream of accomplishments didn’t begin with her leadership role.
According to the report, she holds a degree in economics she earned in India and established a non-governmental organization promoting women’s rights in 2014 before achieving her mayor’s post in 2018.
Since holding office, she has used her platform to champion for “city clean-up programmes, social improvements and repairs to crumbling infrastructure,” according to inews, but, to the Taliban extremists, her accomplishments don’t negate the “flaw” of being female.
In March of 2020, she was honored in Washington by then-President Donald Trump’s State Department, under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with a “Women of Courage” award, as ABC News reported.
And while Ghafari was not the first female mayor in Afghanistan, according to a New York Times profile in 2019, she was appointed to office in a deeply conservative province near the nation’s capital of Kabul. She commuted to her job while living in Kabul “for safety reasons” the Times reported.
Now, with a very different presidential administration in Washington, Kabul has fallen to the Taliban and Ghafari and others like her have nowhere to turn for safety.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” she told inews in July. “I don’t want to die because there would be no one else to look after my family, so, I have to stay strong – and survive. But I have been fighting for my rights and the rights of all Afghans and I will never stop.”
Amid the Taliban’s resurgence, Ghafari was previously given a job in the “relative safety” of Kabul’s defense ministry, but the chance for safety continually crumbles amid the change.
Though, according to inews, the Taliban has claimed that “no one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” their words don’t match their actions.
With the activist group Human Rights Watch reporting revenge killing and detentions by the Taliban, the imminent future looks grim.
Women and girls fear a resurgence of the same oppression they experienced prior to the Taliban’s removal in 2001 — and it’s safe to say there’s no room for female leaders in the group’s plans.
Is this the way Biden — the national leader of a political party known for identity politics — champions the rights of women and girls abroad?
Speaking to reporters just over a month ago, Biden pledged that “there’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the – of the United States from Afghanistan.”
He downplayed the possibility of a collapse in Kabul similar to the fall of Saigon in South Vietnam in 1975 because, he said, the Taliban and the North Vietnamese army were “not remotely comparable in terms of capability.”
Biden in July: “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. “There’s going to be no circumstances where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of a US Embassy in Afghanistan.” pic.twitter.com/Dw7ghFs8Vz
— IndSamachar News (@Indsamachar) August 15, 2021
But on Sunday, the comparison came to life.
As the Taliban pervaded Kabul, photographers captured an image of diplomats fleeing the U.S. embassy via helicopter… and it’s eerily comparable to a 1975 photo of diplomats evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Saigon amid a North Vietnamese invasion.
PHOTO 2: US diplomat evacuate US from embassy via helicopter as the PAVN & Viet Cong capture of Saigon, Vietnam (1975) pic.twitter.com/YamWmzjOay
— Stefan Simanowitz (@StefSimanowitz) August 15, 2021
And the “fleeing from rooftops” image?
Biden also — unfortunately — said “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
Indeed, it aged poorly.
But, how will the world remember this incident years from now? How will things change for women, for people who dare to be different, for Afghans like Zarifa Ghafari?
Biden’s ineptitude is subjecting these people to the same inhumane conditions from which they were liberated years ago.
What does this say to the Americans who championed a cause for 20 years?
The world watches in disgust as yet another poorly-executed policy takes effect, but for those living the nightmare, they watch in fear.
Let’s hope, for the sake of humanity, these people find the help they seek in their most desperate hour.
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