Ana Paula Padrão reveals how she lost the Taliban in Afghanistan and details dramatic escape: ‘Moment I was most afraid of’

In recent weeks, the chaotic situation in Afghanistan has echoed in the global media after the Taliban extremist group reassumed command of the country, which for the past 20 years has been occupied by the US military. The many news revived memories of Ana Paula Padrão, who on different occasions visited the place on business.

In an interview with Splash, from UOL, the journalist talked about some of the most remarkable experiences she had there, such as having broken the Taliban’s blockade when being sent by TV Globo, as well as the rules that were imposed on her once that was inside Afghan territory.

“I went in June 2000, and the Taliban ruled between 1996 and 2001. It was at the height of the country’s closure. There were very few humanitarian aid organizations. People gave up going there because they didn’t receive government help, they exposed themselves and their employees were exposed to many risks. The country was getting really abandoned”, recalled the presenter.

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Ana revealed that it took a year and a half to get her visa issued. “I was negotiating with representatives outside the country. I managed to convince them to give visas to two women from a three-person team. Me, Guta Nascimento (producer) and Hélio Alvarez (cameraman), declared. The agreement, however, was accompanied by some conditions to be followed.

“I managed this as long as I signed documents at the entrance committing me to follow their rules, which were basically not to film anything without authorization, never talk to any Afghan, be permanently accompanied by a government representative and, upon entering the country, go straight to me. submit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or anything similar to that, because it had no outside relationship. Of course I didn’t do any of that”, she warned in return.

In detail, the communicator told how she got to Afghanistan: “I entered from the north, through the Pakistani border, and through the first city called Jalalabad. I stayed between the border and Kabul (Afghan capital) about three days to shoot as much as I could before I was escorted by a government official. As soon as I arrived in Kabul, I had to go to the ministry to introduce myself and sign all the papers.”

Despite being constantly watched by the local government, Ana managed to escape to record other journalistic content. “They put a guy with me who wouldn’t let us do anything. He only let us film the government facilities, the Kabul museum… We filmed half the day with him and the rest I would run away with Guta through the back door of the hotel, with a hidden camera to do other things”, he told, then revealing an excuse he used to give his “lost ones”.

“A few days, I said I got sick from the food and asked the cameraman to go out with him (representative) to make images of nothing. In those moments, I managed to do (reports) women’s clandestine school, women’s clandestine cooperatives…. We had a fourth person, who was a local guide. He was based in Pakistan and was called Kamal. I was very experienced and helped a lot”, stated.

Before leaving the country, the representative who accompanied her asked the camera crew to give him all the recording tapes. It was then that Kamal, the guide, suggested to Ana that they send material with unimportant information, just to throw the civil servant off the hook.

“The guide said: ‘hands over a tape that the cameraman has made with him and says you’ll deliver all the others tomorrow morning because you have to take it off the camera’. They were very rudimentary in their knowledge of communication technology, and they certainly didn’t even know that I could have a camera hidden in the button of my clothes. He took this tape that had nothing important and we ran away at dawn”, remembered.

The moment of escape, according to her, was the most frightening of the entire trip, as the punishments, if caught, would be dramatic. “Kamal put UN stickers on our car, which I don’t know how he got it. He wore a turban to look like a Taliban taking a UN team to the south of the country. The punishments were ‘soft’, like losing your hand, being stoned in a public square… It was the moment I was most afraid of. And I didn’t want to lose the material I had gotten”, she finished, who managed to escape to safety.

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Ana Paula on her first trip to Afghanistan, in 2000. The journalist has returned to the country three more times. (Photo: Personal Archive)

Understand the situation in Afghanistan

After 20 years of war, the Taliban extremist group has taken over the capital of Afghanistan, promising to establish a new regime there. The occupation began on the 15th of this month, with the invasion of the presidential palace in the city of Kabul. In a social media post, President Ashraf Ghani said he was faced with a difficult choice, but that insurgents managed to drive him out of the country. “I would have to bear facing the armed group that wanted to enter the palace or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protect. To avoid bloodshed, I thought it best to leave”, he wrote.

The fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban comes 20 years after the extremist group was expelled from Kabul by the United States, which invaded Afghanistan days after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In May of this year, US President Joe Biden began the effective withdrawal of all his troops from the country. With the departure of the Americans, the Islamic fundamentalist and nationalist group captured the Afghan capital again.

Last Monday (16), harrowing scenes were recorded by residents of Kabul, who traveled to the Hamid Karzai International Airport to try to leave the country. With the city taken by the Taliban, citizens saw no choice but to escape through the air. Videos posted on the networks show thousands of people running down the airport runway, while others clinging to ladders to try to break into planes. In the heartbreaking images, you can still see Afghans hanging outside aircraft as they take off, and plummeting from the sky seconds later. What a sadness!

In the same week, Aisha Khurram, a former UN Youth Ambassador, shared the state of anguish and fear that Afghanistan’s women now find themselves in. “Some teachers said goodbye to their students when they were all evacuated from the University of Kabul this morning… and maybe we don’t have our graduation as well as thousands of students across the country…“, she published. Lotfullah Najafizada, head of the Afghan news service Tolo News, also posted on Twitter a photo of a man covering images of women painted on a wall in Kabul with paint.

Lotfullah Najafizada Afghanistan Kabul
Walls being painted in Afghanistan. (Photo: Reproduction/Twitter)

More than 250,000 people were displaced by the fighting and tried to find refuge in the country’s capital. Some who fled Taliban-controlled areas said the military forced families to hand over single girls and women to become fighters’ wives.