AIPS – LAUSANNE,: “Fear is on everyone’s face.” Those were the words of a young Afghan sports journalist who spoke to AIPS from his hometown, where he lives with his family amid the heightened chaos, desperation and uncertainty that has overwhelmed his country in the wake of the Taliban takeover. He will be called Abdul in this article.

One by one major cities fell to the Taliban at lightning speed and tens of thousands of people fled their homes. By Sunday (August 15), the capital Kabul also succumbed to the Islamist insurgents after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, leaving residents bewildered in the face of an uncertain future.
 

The Taliban has regained control of Afghanistan 20 years after a US-led coalition subdued them in 2001. The group declared “the war is over” but the people have no faith in them or their words.

As the country marks its 102nd Independence Day today, August 19, many have taken to the streets to protest, waving the national flag, and there have been reports of violence and deaths after Taliban fighters shot at crowds.

On the day of the takeover, Abdul was at home all day following the “unacceptable” situation social media and “shedding tears for my country”.

Many Afghans flooded the Kabul airport in an attempt to flee the country and while some succeeded in boarding the US military aircraft, there were those who desperately clinged to the moving aircraft with frightening video footage showing Afghans falling to their deaths after takeoff.

“The Taliban have said they will not harm anyone, but people are still afraid. A group of women in Kabul also demonstrated for their rights,” Abdul said.

“People are more scared” of staying back in Afghanistan. “Thousands of people are still gathered around Kabul airport, trying to leave the country,” he said.

Since the Taliban were last in charge many girls and women have been able to attend school and get jobs, but their right to education and other opportunities is now in grave danger.

DASHED DREAMS Afghan taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi, who had been set to become her country’s first ever female participant at a Paralympic Games this year and was scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Tuesday (August 17), is still stuck in Kabul following the Taliban takeover. She is hiding in fear and is also scared for the safety of her family in her hometown, Herat.

But she is not giving up on a dream she has toiled many years for, and has called on the international community for help.

In a video obtained by Reuters, Khudadadi, who was born with a disability, and has scaled daunting hurdles to make her mark as an athlete in spite of lack of funding and support, said: “Please, I urge you all, from the women around the globe, institutions for the protection of women, from all government organizations, to not let the rights of a female citizen of Afghanistan in the Paralympic movement to be taken away, so easily… I have suffered a lot. I don’t want my struggle to be in vain and without any results.”

Abdul said: “In my opinion, the international media has hidden the fact that the international community has not helped the Afghans in any way. Since August 15, all countries have begun efforts to close their embassies in Afghanistan. The general situation in Afghanistan is not good.”

Regarding sport, he said “the Afghan national cricket team is currently training in Kabul but it remains to be seen, however, whether each sport will continue”.

He added that: “No sports events have been held since August 15 but a cricket match is planned for today, August 19 to mark the anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence. I will check there to see if sports journalism is fully allowed.”

Abdul said the name of Afghanistan’s public television has been changed to Shariat Ghag Radio and, so far, female journalists have been allowed to work. However, “yesterday (August 18) two private media journalists were beaten by the Taliban while covering a protest in Nangarhar”.

The Taliban are everywhere, he explained and when asked if he is scared for his future, he said: “We lived in war for twenty years, I was not afraid of my future then, not now. I hope for a better future for my country. We Afghans strive for a better future for our country.”

The London-based Afghan chef de mission to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo Arian Sadiqi is extremely saddened by the situation in his country.

Khudadadi and her teammate Hossain Rasouli could not leave Kabul for Tokyo before the Taliban took control of the country.

Sadiqi, who fled Afghanistan the last time the Taliban was in charge, told ABC News: “They were really excited prior to the situation. They were training wherever they could, in the parks and back gardens. This would have been the first female Afghan taekwondo player to take part. This was history in the making. She was very passionate to compete. Zakia would have been a great role model for the rest of the females in the country.

“There was a lot of progress [in recent decades], both in the Olympics and the Paralympics. At the national level there was a lot of participants, a lot of athletes … but we can only predict from what happened in the past.

“Previously during the Taliban era people couldn’t compete, couldn’t participate, especially female athletes. For me, it’s heartbreaking,” Sadiqi said.