The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul was a frightening moment for Zarifa Ghafari, one of Afghanistan’s first mayors.
When the extremists arrived in the capital, Ghafari realized that his life was in serious danger. A few days later she fled with her family to Germany, where she told the BBC how she managed to leave her home country.
Ghafari, 29, was a prominent public official and advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan.. She says this made her a threat to the Taliban, known for oppressing women in their first government in the country in the 1990s. “My voice has the power that no weapon has,” she says.
Safety had been a constant concern for her in recent years. The young woman has survived several attempts on her life since 2018, when she became mayor of Maidan Shar, at age 26.
Ghafari became Mayor of Maidan Shahr City in 2018 — Photo: Zarifa Ghafari/Personal Archive
Despite his victory, much of the city’s population was very conservative and supported the Taliban.
At first, Ghafari remained in his post and challenged the regime that was beginning to take over the country, even though he feared death during the rapid takeover by the fundamentalist group. But this optimism quickly turned to despair..
Ghafari was advised to move out of her home — concern that proved realistic when Taliban fighters showed up at his home and beat up his security guard..
The threats culminated in his father’s death last year. He was a senior member of the Afghan army and Ghafari suspects he had enemies in the Taliban.
When the Taliban took power in mid-August, Ghafari decided the time had come to leave the country.
On the 18th, she arranged for a car to take her and her family to the airport in Kabul. She hid under the backseat of the car, to protect herself from the Taliban when the car passed militant checkpoints..
The mayor was warned that the country was no longer safe for her — Photo: Zarifa Ghafari/Personal archive
“When we got to the airport gate, there were Taliban fighters everywhere,” she says. “I was trying hard to stay hidden.”
In the airport, the Turkish ambassador in Kabul helped her board a flight to Istanbul. From there she and her family flew to Germany.
“When I lost my father, I thought I would never feel so bad again in my life,” she says. “But when I boarded the plane to leave my country, it was more painful than losing my father.”
The day Kabul was taken was the worst moment of her life, she says. “I will never be able to deal with the pain in my heart. I never planned to leave my country.”
Ghafari managed to fly to Turkey and then to Germany — Photo: BBC
‘Foreign forces will not help us’
Ghafari is now in the German city of Düsseldorf, where he feels is safer. She admits that she was lucky, as the scenes at the Kabul airport became increasingly chaotic and dangerous.
The young political leader says she plans to meet with world leaders to bring attention to the lives of Afghans living under Taliban rule.
She says she is willing to dialogue with the Taliban, even if she doesn’t trust the group – especially in relation to women’s rights.
“Foreign forces are not going to help us. We need to resolve the issues with the Taliban, and I am ready to take on that responsibility,” she says.
The mayor worked with the Ministry of Defense to help victims of war — Photo: Zarifa Ghafari/Personal archive
When the Taliban first took control of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, the regime imposed an ultra-conservative and extremist version of the Sharia, the Islamic law that governs the lives of Muslims. Women were prohibited from studying and working.
Last week, a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that under the regime women “will be very active in society, but within the framework of Islam.”
Ghafari, however, does not believe in the sincerity of these words. “Their words never match their actions.”
She hopes to be able to return to Afghanistan one day, when it’s safe. “This is my country, I built it. I struggled for years to build it.”
Upon leaving, Ghafari took some of the sandy soil of Afghanistan with her. “I would like to return the small amount of sand I took from my country back to her place.”
Ghafari managed to board just before the airport was gripped by chaos — Photo: Zarifa Ghafari/Personal archive