Afghans dread the 'after US' era: 'We might lose everything'

Despite assurances from the Biden administration of continued support, many Afghans lack faith in their country's security forces

epa09137685 An Afghan man waits for customers at his shop in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 15 April 2021. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased by 29 percent between January and March compared to the same period in 2020, despite an ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the government, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on 14 April. UNAMA in its report also underlined a 37 percent increase in the number of women killed and injured, and a 23 percent increase in child casualties compared with the first quarter of 2020.  EPA/MUHAMMAD SADIQ
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A few hours after US President Joe Biden’s speech on Wednesday night in which he announced the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by end of summer, 38-year-old businessman Mohammad Sohail was forced to make some hard decisions at his home in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Mr Sohail, a wheat flour trader, felt disappointed to hear Mr Biden’s announcement on the unconditional withdrawal of the foreign troops by September 11, which falls on the 20th anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks that prompted the US to invade Afghanistan in search of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The chosen deadline, however, is an extension of the previously agreed upon date of May 1, as per the agreement between former president Donald Trump and the Taliban.

In response to the extension, the insurgent group withdrew from the coming intra-Afghan negotiations in Turkey, bringing the peace process to a grinding halt.

Now, fearful of what the future holds, Mr Sohail is reassessing his options.

“I might move my family out of the country because security might deteriorate. I had planned to expand my business and was going to transfer some cash to make more investments but now I will save that for an emergency,” Mr Sohail said about his concerns for the coming months.

“It is not just me. Other businessmen are also worried about losing everything in case of a war - or worse, a civil war,” he added.

“It took me over 10 years to establish this business so that my family can survive without seeking help from others. Now I might lose everything,” he said.

A similar sense of dread was expressed by Mahbooba Ibrahimi, 45, a university professor from Kabul, who used a fake name in fear of reprisal.

“Americans invaded my country on the pretext of helping me, an Afghan woman, achieve freedoms. But now they leave us behind in the hands of Taliban who still mistreat us," Ms Ibrahimi said.

"How can they be so sure that I won’t be locked up again when they abandon us?” she asked, recalling memories of the Taliban invasion of Kabul in the 1990s that forced her to quit her studies and stay home.

Ms Ibrahimi, along with many other women, fear that the US military withdrawal could embolden the Taliban, which is known for strict interpretations of Islam that include banning women from participating in public life.

The group has a brutal history of depriving women of education and work, and they continue to mistreat them in the areas they control.

Unlike Mr Sohail and Ms Ibrahimi, 22-year-old Jamshid Ahmadi, a university student from Maidan Wardak province, doesn’t remembers life under the Taliban.

He was only two years old when the insurgent group was overthrown by US forces and he grew up in relative calm, albeit in a postwar society.

“In my 22 years of life, I have seen all the ups and downs of this country. There were times I would have a road trip to Kandahar and Ghazni with my father. We would stop for meals in Maidan Wardak where we hail from. But that is all unimaginable now,” he said.

The young Afghan hasn’t visited his village in Maidan Wardak, about 70 kilometres from the Afghan capital, for a long time.

“Hope is running low and the US is taking what’s left of it away with them,” he added.

Despite assurances from the US administration of continued support to the Afghan forces, many Afghans lack faith in the ability of security forces to keep the insurgents at bay.

“First they said the Americans would leave, but they announced Nato would leave, too. Of course we have some of the bravest soldiers in the Afghan army, but once the foreigners leave, it will impact the support they get in terms of salaries, fuel, ammunition,” Mr Sohail said. “How can they fight if they can’t even feed their families?”

Ms Ibrahimi agreed.

“We couldn’t defeat the Taliban when we had the support of 45 countries. Based on what can we defeat them alone now?” she asked.