‘We’re in Exile Due to US:’ Activist Who Fled Taliban Dreams of Returning to Afghanistan

Afghans gather near a gate of Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021. (Xinhua/Rahmatullah Alizadah)
Afghans gather near a gate of Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021. (Xinhua/Rahmatullah Alizadah)

Ekaterina Chukaeva – No one in Afghanistan imagined that the Taliban (under UN sanctions for terrorist activities) would advance so fast and send scores of people into exile in mere days, Nilofar Ayoubi, a women’s rights advocate who fled to Poland over death threats from the militants, told Sputnik, saying that the United States bears responsibility for the outcome which “robbed” Afghans of everything and changed their lives forever.

Ayoubi was one of thousands of women who managed to build a prosperous life in the country before the Taliban returned to power. A defender of women’s rights, she was also a co-founder of AGAT (Afghan Women’s Animation Team), a leader of the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Network and owner of a fashion showroom in Kabul where three of her own brands were showcased. She is also a journalist and owns Asia Times-Afg newspaper.

Life in Afghanistan before the Taliban returned to power in August this year now seems like “just a dream which was too short for us,” according to Ayoubi. Quality of life had improved, especially for women who were able to get an education and run their own businesses.

“[Back then] in Kabul, you would have experienced a completely different vibe – more energy, more women in the streets, more women doing business, conquering the business … I am myself one of those women and I am heartbroken [to see] that we had to lose everything just in the blink of an eye,” she admitted.

August 15, when the Taliban returned to Kabul, was one of the darkest days in Ayoubi’s life. She did not expect it to happen so fast. A day earlier, she told women in her employ not to worry. So, on August 15, they began their day as usual.

“We all were worried and we all knew that something’s happening, but we didn’t know that it will be the end of everything for us,” she said.

That day, she went to the office to get an ID card for her youngest child. She saw crowds everywhere. People were trying to get their money from banks. She got a call from her sister, who said Kabul had fallen to the Taliban, and asking her to come home as soon as possible.

“We thought there would be an interim government, so we would have time to observe and see if the Taliban had really changed. If we can survive this and the interim government, then we will stay,” Ayoubi admitted.

Right after learning about the fall of Kabul, Ayoubi got a call from the girls who worked for her. They were afraid of going to their homes on their own because of the Taliban.

“These girls were crying, and I could hear their voice shaking and saying: ‘Please, come soon. What should we do? What’s going to happen?’ And I just said: ‘Calm down. I’m coming,” she remembers, saying that she realized that she had to go and get these girls to safety.

Even now, it is hard for Ayoubi to describe her feelings.

“I haven’t been able to cry out that pain, that shock, that trauma. And that’s affecting me… Every moment is an open wound, and I don’t think it’s that easy to heal these wounds, and it will take years and years for me and for my country and for my people to recover,” she added.

After August 15, she organized protests in Kabul with the Afghan women political participation network and at the same time was actively trying to get as many women activists out of the country as she could. She managed to help a group of 35 people out to safety.


Ayoubi admits that she lost her faith in the United States the moment they started talks with the Taliban in Qatar. But she never could have imagined that the US would leave Afghanistan the way it did in summer.

“The day they announced the withdrawal was the day that I was in shock. I thought: ‘No, maybe they have some other plans, maybe [they are] trying to get Taliban to the negotiating table and maybe this is not going to happen. Maybe they will change their mind,'” she said.

She believes that it was a very unethical way of leaving Afghanistan.

“If you weren’t strong enough to hold twenty years of gains in a country, then why would you invade the country in the first place? Why did you come if you were going to leave us like this?” she wondered.

Ayoubi believes that with this withdrawal, Washington brought shame on their entire nation and humiliated the sacrifices of their soldiers who lost their lives in the war in Afghanistan.

“This will be written in history… We thought [former US President Donald] Trump was bad, but no. And when we think of [US President Joe] Biden’s administration and its incompetency and I think Trump was way better than him. At least he knew what to say. I think the US not only sold us out but sold its country’s soldier sacrifices. And I am sorry for the lives lost in a war which you failed to win,” she said.

Speaking of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Ayoubi said that she did not like him because of his corruption.

“But the only reason we were supporting this government of Ashraf Ghani was because we didn’t have any other choice. We had to choose between the bad and the worse. So we chose the bad. It was either Taliban or Ashraf Ghani,” she said.

Ayoubi managed to flee to Poland but even now she wants to go back, as living abroad has never been an option for her.

“I can’t find peace anywhere other than my home in Kabul, in Afghanistan … Who doesn’t want to go home? Who doesn’t want to sleep in their own bed? But unfortunately, thanks to the US we are robbed of everything and now we are all in exile,” she said.

The future of Afghanistan seems bleak and if it continues like this, the country will be plunged into a humanitarian and economic crisis, Ayoubi believes.

“All we want is our old life back. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But according to the news coming from Afghanistan, I think we are going into a much, much worse situation than this,” she concluded.


Born in 1993, Ayoubi remembers the days of Taliban rule in the 1990s. Her father was a teacher at Shir Khan High School in Kunduz province and preferred to stay away from politics. Ayoubi remembers continual fights and people fleeing the Taliban’s wrath.

“We were the only ones who would not leave the home, and my father would say that ‘no matter what, if you’re going to die, we will die anyway. So why run? Where to run? This is our home, so we should stay in our home’,” she recalled.

Ayoubi still vividly remembers how a rocket hit their home. Her mother was nine months pregnant, but all midwives had left the area in fear of the Taliban. Then her father decided it was time for them to flee their home.

“I remember seeing these B-52s flying in the skies of Afghanistan, and I would see them and they would drop bombs. You could see bombs falling from those planes,” she said.

One day Ayoubi, who was four or five years old, was playing with her friends outside, and one of the Taliban commanders saw her without a scarf.

“He called me and slapped me in the face, saying: ‘I shall not see you without a scarf next time.’ He also pulled my hair. I went crying to my father, saying that this guy did this. And yes, I also remember he ran his hand on my chest,” she recalled.

Her father got angry and decided to change Ayoubi’s appearance to avoid such incidents.

“That’s how I started wearing clothes like a boy. And also that helped me to experience life differently from my sisters because I knew I could go out freely. I could have male friends because they thought I am a boy, I could go to market, I could play outside and my life was quite fun,” she said.

She stopped wearing boy’s clothes when she turned 13. Back then, in 2006, the United States was already in Afghanistan and the country was not run by the Taliban.

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