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A women's rights activist in Kabul reflects on the Taliban takeover


Back in August, when the United States announced its withdrawal of Afghanistan, I spoke to Mahbouba Seraj, a women's rights activist in Kabul. At the time, the future under Taliban rule seemed uncertain, and some Afghans opted to leave, but Seraj was determined to stay.


MAHBOUBA SERAJ: I'm an Afghan. I was born and raised in this country, and I'm going to stay in this country. And I don't want anybody to force me this time to get out of this land. The world left us. Like a hot potato, they dropped us, and we are where we are. So now we should do it. We should really stand for what we believe.

MARTÍNEZ: It has been four months since that conversation, four months since the U.S. pullout and the Taliban's takeover. So what has changed? Let's check back in with Mahbouba Seraj. Mahbouba, last time we spoke, a lot of uncertainty. Are things any clearer now?

SERAJ: (Laughter) You know, I wish I could have told you that things are so much more clearer now and we all know what is the future and where we are going or at least somewhat we know where we are going. But unfortunately, nothing is clearer from those days. It's not as kind of a chaotic as the beginning, but it is still unclear. It is still confusing. It's still - you know, it's vague. So as far as the future of Afghanistan, as far as where we are going, how we are going to adapt, what is going to be happening, we still don't know.

MARTÍNEZ: What is the thing that's most vague, that's most unclear that you wish were clear now?

SERAJ: We still don't know whether the Taliban really hates the women of this country or they really can live with us as members of the society. They might think we are second class, but, you know, we are not. What are they going to do as far as our rights are concerned? Are they going to give it to us? Are we going to go to and be able to study? Are we going to be able to work? Are we going to be able to join the government? Are we going to take our part in the society? Are we going to be doing all of these things that we used to do before, you know, four months before or not? We still don't know that.

In some parts of Afghanistan, the schools are open. In some parts of Afghanistan, we feel like we are hostages, really. We can't hear the music. We don't have music in the televisions anymore. Our media and everything is kind of - it's all blocked. It's like an old show. If there is a woman, they don't allow it. And women are still staying at home, and they are not able to go out and earn their living. And for 20 years, the women of this country got used to all of that. So now, it's suddenly taken away from them all.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's daily life like? Considering there's a lack of food, a lack of fuel, the economy doesn't seem to be stabilized, what's an average day like?

SERAJ: An average day is like, you know, a lot of people are walking around, a lot of people are hungry, a lot of people are looking for a job, a lot of people are really depressed. And there is no conversation between us and the Taliban. Between us - I'm not saying us the women alone. Between us, the people, and the Taliban, there is none.

MARTÍNEZ: So what are women doing in your country right now? Are they protesting? Are they trying to make their voices heard?

SERAJ: Yes. Yes. They are the only ones. I - honest to God. I mean, this is amazing, especially the young generation. And these girls are the ones that are going out, are the ones that are talking, are the ones that are demonstrating. So they are the only ones. Yeah. And then the rest of them that can do anything, they just do that in order to keep their families alive.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned how people are walking around. Generally, how's the security situation? I mean, when we last spoke, it was chaotic. It sounded as if - or at least the images and pictures and videos that we saw, it sounded like it was just an absolute mess there. Have things at least settled down in that regard?

SERAJ: Things have settled down somewhat in that regard. Security wise, we are OK. Although lately again, I'm hearing the sounds of, you know, shooting and firing and things like that. But the security is better. There is no doubt. Security is much better than before.

MARTÍNEZ: In what way? What would be the way that stands out to you as far as security feeling maybe a little bit better than before?

SERAJ: Well, you know, before, there used to be, you know, an explosion practically every single day on five corners, different streets of Kabul, you know, every single day, especially in the last, you know, three years after the agreement with the United States. Now it doesn't happen, although it still happens. Still, there are car bombs and still cars being attacked, still some areas but not at the level that it was going on before.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, I asked you why you hadn't left when we spoke four months ago, and you gave a very passionate answer about why you wanted to stay. Do you continue to plan to stay in Afghanistan, even if you're not getting the answers that you're looking for?

SERAJ: I will get the answers that I'm looking for. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I am going to get the answers that I'm looking for because, you know why? Otherwise, we are not going to last. There's not going to be anything of Afghanistan left if they don't get along with the people and if they don't put their hands together and if they don't work to save this land and this country and the people. So I will get an answer. I know I will get an answer. We all will get an answer. I just hope that we get the right answer.

MARTÍNEZ: How long are you willing to wait for that answer?

SERAJ: You know, for that, I am giving myself until spring of this year, which is in March, and then see - end of March.

MARTÍNEZ: What do you think, Mahbouba, what do you want the world to remember and to keep in mind about Afghanistan four months after the United States left?

SERAJ: What I want the world to remember is to remember Afghanistan. I don't want the world to forget Afghanistan because if you forget Afghanistan - once before, the world did that, so we saw the result of it. For God's sakes, that's nothing new. This happened before. This is a repeat of the history. So let's not forget Afghanistan completely. That's why I want the eyes and the ears and the footprint of the world to still be in this country so they can look at it from very close and see what is going on. And I want the world to make a promise to themselves not ever to do what they did to Afghanistan to another country - ever, ever.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Mahbouba Seraj, a women's rights activist in Kabul. Mahbouba, thank you very, very much.

SERAJ: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF OAKTREE'S "MOLECULE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.