Fatima Ahmadi first stopped screaming when the Taliban held a knife to her child’s throat and said to her, “Shut up, or we’ll kill your son.” They had broken into the policewoman’s home in Kabul one late September morning and demanded that she hand over her weapons. She told the Taliban she had no weapons at home, but they said she lied, ransacked the house and then started beating her, pulling out handfuls of hair, and when she would not stop shouting, they grabbed her nine-year-old son .
The knife was pressed so violently into his throat that it left a red sling, visible in photographs seen by Observer. Ahmadi’s back was covered in bruises from an assault so violent that she lost control of her bodily functions. The men went at last, but with an ominous warning. “We’ll be back.”
Ahmadi, who was a divorced single mother of two young children, had no idea who gave the Taliban her address or what they could do on a return visit, but she knew the family could not risk waiting to find out. that. There have been several murders of female police officers since the harsh group took control of Afghanistan, including a vicious attack on a woman who was eight months pregnant.
So she packed her suitcases, went into hiding and managed to escape with her two boys to Pakistan days later. But their visa is only valid for 60 days and she is terrified of what is going to happen; Pakistani authorities deport Afghans without documents.
“When I arrived, I slept three nights and days, because I had not slept for weeks, but now I am worried again. And Mirwais, my son who got the dagger put in the throat of the Taliban, he wakes up screaming at night, “she said. Observer.
She has tried to apply for refugee status in Pakistan through the UN, but has not yet received a response. Asylum applications to Western countries, which sponsored police training and encouraged women to join the force, have met with silence despite the documented evidence of threats to her and her children’s lives. “I do not care about myself, I am already done. The only thing I think about is a future for my children, a peaceful place where they can study,” she said. “I do not want their lives to be like mine. “
With the hectic evacuations that followed the fall of Kabul long overdue, the risks to Afghans fearing for their lives under the Taliban disappear from the headlines.
But there are regular reports of reprisal killings, despite an official amnesty for anyone who worked in the security forces or for the last government. Thousands of people are still hiding inside Afghanistan, and thousands of others like Ahmadi are sticking to insecure security in neighboring countries.
“There is a group of people we have heard less about in recent months who have come out of Afghanistan but who have not been able to reach anywhere that is safe for them and can become a new home,” he said. said Heather Barr, associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.
They have no legal status as refugees in the countries to which they have temporarily fled and live in permanent fear of deportation back to Afghanistan. Both Iran and Pakistan, which have welcomed millions of Afghans through decades of war in the country, have said they will not accept another wave of refugees.
“There are a lot of people out there who are in this kind of limbo like Fatima Ahmadi. They are really stuck and entitled to need asylum in some of the countries that contributed troops to the Afghan mission, just as much as those who were evacuated or those who are still trying to escape Afghanistan, ”said Barr.
Ahmadi does not know why she was targeted that afternoon in Kabul, but her life was a template for the opportunities the West claimed to offer Afghan women, and her courage and results represent all that the Taliban authorities hate.
She was forced to marry a violent, drug-addicted man when she was only 12, and he hit her so hard that she has been left with a permanent lameness and memory problems.
She was amazed and happy when a decade ago, desperate for money and unable to work, he pushed her to join the police. She loved her job and it eventually gave her confidence and money to get divorced.
“I had always admired the police cars, the weapons, so I was very excited and seized the opportunity. It was my dream to work as a policewoman, ”she said. “It changed my life.”
In 2020, convinced that Afghanistan was changing, she went public with allegations of sexual harassment in the police and Interior Ministry. One of the men she says was targeting her was a deputy minister.
She posted a video of herself burning her ID documents in protest, but her public stance triggered a stream of online abuse and three physical attacks, on the street and in her own home, forcing her into temporary exile.
Her own family refused to help her because they said allegations that she should ward off horny bosses brought shame on them. After the publicity and anger had subsided, she returned to Afghanistan and begged for her job back. “I regained my confidence when I worked again,” she said. But 10 days later, the Taliban swept into Kabul.
“The first day I went to work, but I was told to empty my office and go home. I felt devastated because I knew the Taliban would not allow women to work, and I thought about how I would feed the children. . “
She was also worried that her husband might go to the Taliban and claim custody of their boys. Then the bodies of former policewomen began to appear around the country, and she realized that the threats were even more serious.
There were a large number of people who could wish her death, ranging from the criminals she had helped bring to justice, to former colleagues, perhaps even her own relatives and of course the Taliban, whose vicious attacks eventually pushed her into exile.
“Until the plane took off, I kept believing that the Taliban would stop me, take me off. I thought the next time they came it would be to kill me and I was so scared they would get me at the airport. ”
Now she lives in fear of being sent back, but can only wait to see if the countries that claimed they went to Afghanistan to help its women and urged them to report to the police will give her refuge.
“I can not make any plans,” she said. “Nothing is in my hands.”