Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini tells US: 'keep your borders open'

Writer was critical of President Joe Biden’s speech on Monday for failing to convey 'empathy'

Khaled Hosseini writes a poem on the walls of of the Orient experience restaurant. ; UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini meets refugees on the Italian island of Sicily. UNHCR/Andy Hall

Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini has called on the US to let in ‘as many Afghans as possible’ as a mounting number of people attempt to flee their country following the Taliban’s recent takeover of power.

The author of the best-selling books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, told the BBC that family members in the city of Herat in western Afghanistan told him of their shock at finding the Taliban were back in power after days of heavy fighting.

“They’re anxious, they’re worried, they’re scared like millions of other Afghans, they don’t know what is going to happen to their country,” said Hosseini, who was born in Kabul and later moved to the US, where he still lives.

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Hosseini was critical of President Joe Biden’s speech on Monday for failing to convey “empathy” with the millions of Afghans “now left behind to fend for themselves”.

“The other thing I didn’t hear clearly was what the legacy of the last 20 years was, what was it all for?” said Hosseini on the radio show.

“Before this chaotic withdrawal we could at least point to some progress in Afghanistan. While the last 20 years have certainly been challenging and beset by missteps and tragedies it is also true that there has been progress in Afghanistan and most notably with women.”

Under the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan twenty years ago, girls were forbidden from attending school. After overrunning the Afghan parliament on Monday the group went on record to say that girls would still be allowed to go to school. On Tuesday it declared a general amnesty for all government officials and urged women to join the government.

Hosseini said it “remained to be seen” whether the Taliban would revert to its previous strict and ruthless form of governance.

“Afghans know the Taliban, they’ve been around for a long time [and] they remember what happened the last time they were here,” said Hosseini.

After weeks of military gains across the country, the Taliban seized Kabul at the weekend as Afghan national security forces collapsed completely and former president Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan.

Hosseini said that the victory of the hardliners did not make them representative of the “Afghan will”.

“If you think that people are happy with the arrival of the Taliban then you have to explain the images that we saw today of all those Afghans running along the tarmac in Kabul. That doesn’t suggest a welcoming of the Taliban.”

Thousands of Afghans desperate to escape the Taliban’s return to power descended on Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday as evacuation efforts descended into chaos, with some even clinging on to planes as they sped down the runway.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador said he expected a large displacement of Afghans in the coming weeks and months urged the US and its partners to “keep their borders open”.

“They need to support neighbouring countries who are facing the influx of refugees, to support them economically,” he said. “They also need to put diplomatic pressure on the Taliban not to enforce violence on the Afghan people and to respect the fundamental human rights of Afghan citizens, particularly women and girls.”

Updated: August 17th 2021, 2:53 PM