When Hamdiya visited her family in Herat in the end of May, she thought she would stay for a few weeks at most.
The 23-year-old junior at the American University in Central Asia, or AUCA, planned to fly back to Kyrgyzstan with her younger sister, who had enrolled in Ala-Too International University, also in Bishkek, and was awaiting her visa.
When the Taliban took control of Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, on August 12, Hamdiya and her sister fled to Kabul. The militants entered the capital three days later.
“We thought we would be safe,” said Hamdiya, who spoke to Eurasianet on condition that her real name not be used. “We didn’t expect that Kabul would be taken so quickly. We are still shocked.”
Hamdiya is one of about 30 current Afghan undergraduates at AUCA who have been stranded in their home country as the Taliban swiftly seized control following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Panic has gripped Kabul, with scenes of chaos and horror at the main airport as thousands have been trying to leave the country.
AUCA said that besides students like Hamdiya who went home for summer and couldn’t leave, there are many more newly enrolled Afghan students for the upcoming academic year, whom the university helps with obtaining Kyrgyz visas. The university has launched a scholarship program for its Afghan graduates and continues to accept applications.
Last week, Kyrgyzstan won praise by offering humanitarian support in the form of 500 student visas for Afghans who want to study in Kyrgyzstan. Those students will have to sort out their travel, accommodation, enrollment, tuition and other expenses themselves. The Ministry of Education would provide consultations. Since then, however, there has been no information on logistics. By the time of publication, the Foreign Ministry has not responded to Eurasianet’s requests for information about the procedure.
The biggest issue is that the window of opportunity to leave Afghanistan is shrinking. Commercial flights have been canceled. Multiple reports from Kabul say that Afghans with travel documents and visas are unable to pass the Taliban checkpoints on the way to the airport. As foreign governments scramble to evacuate their citizens and Afghans who worked for them, Kyrgyzstan turned to Kazakhstan and the U.S. to airlift 24 Kyrgyz citizens out of Kabul last week.
Hamdiya’s sister has still not been granted a visa. The university applied to the Foreign Ministry through an agency in early July but the process has stalled. And if a charter flight comes up, Hamdiya will have to leave Kabul without her.
“It’s very hard. I worry about my sister, but I worry about myself too, that if I stay here, I won’t be able to go to Bishkek. I worry for my female friends. We are in great despair,” she said.
Hamdiya blames Afghan politicians and the United States for the quick fall to the Taliban.
“The U.S. should have stayed until a peace settlement between Taliban and the Afghan government was reached,” she said.
Afghan students who are currently in Kyrgyzstan have suffered from the pain of separation from their families and guilt for being safe.
AUCA student Zarifa, 23, says she has barely slept in days, constantly checking her phone for a call from her family in Kabul.
Her mom and four siblings are not in danger at the moment, she says, but they have been asking her to help them get them out of the country. They are Hazara, a Shia Muslim minority that has been violently targeted by Sunni Taliban.
“My brother, who is 17, witnessed how the Taliban shot seven people in front of him. He’s devastated,” Zarifa told Eurasianet. “My mom had to burn everything, my certificates and documents.”
Zarifa feels that Afghanistan has been betrayed by the U.S. and its neighbors. “I’m worried for my country. We have been at war for so long. My grandparents, my parents, now us, another generation. It’s not fair.”
There is no doubt that young, educated Afghans, especially women, don’t believe the assurances of the Taliban about how their rights will be respected or that the hardline Islamic movement has changed. A United Nations report says that Taliban fighters have been going door-to-door and collecting information about ex-government employees or those who worked with foreign governments and organizations.
Abdullah is 20. He was born to Afghan refugees in Pakistan where his family fled in 2001 shortly after the U.S.-led war began. They moved back to Kabul five years later to rebuild a life. Now he is abroad, about to start his freshman year at the Bishkek campus of the University of Central Asia and plans to immigrate further. He doesn’t want to live in Afghanistan if the Taliban is in power. “My entire life has been war,” he said.
“Our generation of Afghans has not been brainwashed by tribal ideology and won’t live under a leadership that didn’t even go to school and is trained to kill,” he told Eurasianet. “I’m sure their ideology has not changed: the ideology of torture, cutting hands off, and raping.”
His father didn’t work with foreign governments, so Abdullah is more worried his family could face persecution as Shia Muslims.
“I have six sisters. Their future is what worries me. They have a right to study and build their future,” Abdullah said. “You know, I am the only son. I wanted to go to Afghanistan, but my family said: ‘What can you do? Stay where you are. We will find a way.’”
Bermet Talant is a Kyrgyz journalist.