After the Taliban captured Afghanistan in August, the 32-year-old went into hiding, cut off communication with family and hid in a basement in Kabul with his younger brother. They used to spend their day only reading and praying for food and hanging out.
With the phone the only connection he had to the outside world, he and his brother sent messages. lots of messages. activists and human rights organizations. To friends of friends who know anyone who can help.
His greatest fear: facing a fatal fate at the hands of the Taliban, as his father had done years earlier.
“They will behead us or kill us in the most brutal way possible,” the older brother told Granthshala. “They are masters at it.”
Granthshala confirmed the man’s identity through human rights activists and has been messaging with him via WhatsApp since August. For his safety, Granthshala is identifying him only as Ahmed – not his real name.
Days in the basement turned into weeks filled with fear and isolation. At times Ahmed felt so depressed that he contemplated committing suicide.
Then, late last month, word of a possible escape route came.
In a series of recent WhatsApp messages, Ahmed casts his life in Kabul in the shadows, his deepest fear of the Taliban and his scramble to flee a country he has called home his entire life.
He first fled to Kabul for his safety.
It was the beginning of August. The neo-enthusiast Taliban was taking control of cities across Afghanistan, and Ahmed could feel the terror in the air.
He began to worry that someone would hand him over to the Taliban in the northwestern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he and his brother lived.
So on 12 August the brothers and sisters hurriedly packed their bags and took a bus to Kabul.
Ahmed felt that he would be safe as a gay man in the vast Afghan capital. But three days after his arrival, Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban.
Ahmed was well aware of the Taliban’s treatment of minorities in Afghanistan.
He tried to hide his features in public
Several thousand have East Asian characteristics – light skin color and distinctively shaped eyes – that set them apart from most Afghans. The ethnic group largely follows Shia Islam.
So Ahmed wore traditional clothes and a turban. A medical mask covered the sparse hair on his face. Sunglasses covered his eyes – and any eye contact with Taliban soldiers.
But in the beginning, he wasn’t always careful. One day in August, he was stopped by the Taliban for wearing a baseball cap. They tossed it off his head and demanded to know why he was wearing a “hip hop” hat, he said.
The brothers tried to avoid public places. They hid in a small room off the back alley in a densely populated part of Kabul, where they slept with the windows covered on the floor.
Every time he heard a noise outside, Ahmed said, “We would sit in the dark, completely motionless, afraid to move the muscles.”
Michael Fala, a Seattle-based human rights activist who helped the brothers, said he had received calls from Ahmed in the dark of night.
“There was a time when he called me crying and said he heard the Taliban going door-to-door in the neighborhood,” Fala said.
“He Threatening to jump off a building because he thought it would be a less painful way to die than to be caught and beheaded by the Taliban as a gay man.”
His and his brother’s fear of the Taliban is personal
The fear of the Taliban brothers is rooted in their family history.
He said the Taliban threw his father in the back of a pickup truck and left. That was the last time he had seen her. Ahmed was 9 years old.
Even before his father’s death, Ahmed said that his childhood was far from idyllic. He recounts memorable moments he spent riding his bike under a pomegranate tree, but also the brutal attacks against Hazaras and his city’s LGBTQ community.
And he said the chaos that followed the recent Taliban takeover has brought back painful memories.
Ahmed’s younger brother is 26 years old and is not gay. But being a Hazara and a Christian, he has also been a threat in Afghanistan.
Eight years ago he lost his mother to a brain tumor. Since then the orphans, who have no other siblings, have always faced the world together.
Activists rushed to get him out of the country
Activists say it is unclear how many LGBTQ people are in Afghanistan because most of them live in the shadows.
Ever since the country was handed over to the Taliban, human rights groups have been scrambling to drive LGBTQ Afghans out of the country.
With the help of donors, the Aman Project is sending money to LGBTQ people in Afghanistan and advising them to stay in hiding until they are able to obtain asylum in other countries.
A Seattle activist, Phala Bhi is helping LGBTQ Afghans like Ahmed to escape persecution.
“The Taliban are saying they are going to go easy on women and minorities. But no one is saying they will go easy on the LGBTQ community,” Fala called them “the most vulnerable minority in the country.”
the day that changed everything
Ahmed downloaded an app that deleted his messages after they were read. He wanted to be prepared in case his phone was confiscated by the Taliban.
He groaned. And he waited.
Then, one day in late September, he got a call from a worker. In the days to come, a flight was available to take him and his brother to Pakistan.
Ahmed was happy but scared. As the day of departure drew near, he became determined on how he would cross the Taliban posts.
On the day of the flight, he wore his traditional attire. He had already grown his beard to hide his face. Ahmed took a deep breath and headed towards the airport with his brother.
Now he is safe. But their journey is not over yet
Ahmed is cautiously optimistic in Islamabad today. He spends most of the day reading and taking walks in his new neighborhood.
“We are relieved to have them there temporarily,” Fala said. “They (in Kabul) were in great danger. It’s almost like a genocide they (Talibans) have done to thousands.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed is trying to get used to his new surroundings. Although Pakistan is not a model for LGBTQ rights, he says he and his brothers feel more secure there. Their exams are mostly behind them.
And he finally dares to hope for his future.
Credit : www.cnn.com