In 2021, the American government decided to pull its troops out of Afghanistan after about two decades, leading to the Taliban taking control of the country soon after. The move resulted in hundreds and thousands of Afghans flocking to the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, to be evacuated. HBO’s ‘Escape from Kabul’ is a gripping documentary focusing on the evacuation process.
The production also sheds light on all the hardships the Afghan civilians faced during that time. On the show, Malalai Hussainy, a student, and Hasina Safi, a politician, talk about their ordeal as the Taliban took over while they tried to escape. So, let’s find out more about what happened then, shall we?
Who Are Malalai Hussainy and Hasina Safi?
The withdrawal was planned for August 2021, with the deadline being the end of the month. By August 15, though, the Taliban had entered Kabul. At the time, Malalai Hussainy was in her first year of university. On the show, she talked about how life was imperfect but simple before the Taliban takeover. She remembered feeling devastated because they wouldn’t allow women to study or work, with years of struggle for women’s rights in jeopardy.
Hasina Safi was born in 1975 and had been through a similar invasion during the 1980s; the Soviets invading Afghanistan forced her and her family to take refuge in Pakistan. A long-time advocate for women’s rights, Hasina always believed education was essential. At the age of 15, she started teaching English as a second language to Afghan refugee girls. She moved back to her country in 2005, and for the next decade and a half, she worked with several organizations focusing on women’s rights and gender equality.
In 2018, Hasina was invited by the then Afghanistan President to join the government as the Minister of Information and Culture. In May 2020, she became the Acting Minister for Women’s Affairs, a post she held when the Taliban takeover happened in August 2021. By then, Hasina had known for weeks that it was bound to happen. However, she stayed behind, hoping that she would be consulted on how to deal with things since she was part of the cabinet. Sadly, that was not the case. Hasina said, “Instead, they shut down the women’s affairs ministry, and I faced death threats.”
After that, Hasina went into hiding and could only leave the country during the final days of the evacuation. She had to disguise herself and made her way to the airport on August 24, 2021, only protected by a small group of Afghan men. Hasina and her family were able to leave for Dubai, UAE, and then headed for the UK. She said, “I really never thought that we will be again forced to refuge again. It is a very strange feeling when you do not have your own identity, the hope, the work, the pride.”
Where Are Malalai Hussainy and Hasina Safi Today?
At the time, Malalai’s father worked in the British Embassy, and she feared that they would kill him and his family if the Taliban found out. On the show, Malalai described waiting outside the airport gate for days and standing in a canal filled with sewage and garbage just to get onto a plane. She recalled the emotional toll it took back then, but they were able to get onto a flight in the end. While Malalai did manage to leave Afghanistan, it’s unclear where she currently is, and she has chosen to keep that information private. It’s possible, though, that Malalai and her family went to the UK after the ordeal.
As for Hasina, she currently lives at a hotel in Kingston, England. She was able to leave Kabul with her two daughters and several other family members. Before working for the government in 2018, Hasina was the Executive Director of the Afghan Women Network for five years. She also has a bachelor’s degree in law and political science. After the evacuation, some people criticized Hasina for not leaving earlier, with her deputies still being stuck in Afghanistan.
However, Hasina said, “The reason that I did not leave in the early days was that I felt a big responsibility toward all the women who were left behind, including the minorities. Even though I was a minister, I was one of the last to leave.” Since then, Hasina has been busy trying to help the women still in Afghanistan and has been part of many virtual conferences and webinars. She added, “The world may have moved on, but we can’t. Every day we hear bad news from my country. Those of us who have escaped have a responsibility towards those who could not. I still believe that I will return home once again.”
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