Scuttling into his neighbour’s house as Taliban militants banged on his door, Afghan National Army General Muhammad Mohsen Daqiq thought his time was up.
But luck proved to be on his side and he managed to evade the gunmen during their bloodthirsty spree of rounding up former Afghan government officials and military figures in the weeks after seizing Kabul in August 2021.
Such a close brush with the Taliban was enough to convince Gen Daqiq, 64, that he and his wife Nazifa, 59, needed to flee abroad. The couple therefore undertook an arduous journey to Pakistan, then to Istanbul, before arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport in search of a new life.
“It was a very bad moment,” Gen Daqiq told The National, recalling the day Taliban militants pounded on his door hunting him. “I realised that they are here to kill me, that’s all.
“I thought that [my] life was finished. I was thinking how to get out of this situation and a neighbour helped me.
“I am happy to have been rescued and happy that I’m still alive.”
A year on from the Taliban’s overthrowing of Afghanistan’s Western-backed government, Gen Daqiq, like thousands of other Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, remains in a bridging hotel. Meanwhile, the UK’s Home Office process their applications and councils search for permanent housing.
Gen Daqiq holds up his arm to show a bullet wound, which he said was the result of a Taliban attack in April 2020. This happened when the insurgents at the time had tried to kill him in an attack in Kabul.
Gen Daqiq was 21 when the Soviets invaded his country and, a few years into the war, he decided to join the Afghan Army. He rose up through the ranks over the next few decades. Before fleeing the country last October, he had served as a protection officer at Kabul’s presidential palace, standing guard during the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani presidencies.
“During the Hamid Karzai regime, the people were in a good position in terms of [the] economy, finding job opportunities,” he said. “Later on, during the Ashraf Ghani [term] there was a big difference. Fighting was ongoing and the work opportunities and economy situation was a little bit down.”
The father-of-nine yearns for the family, culture and land he left behind. The only reminder he has of his former life and 40 years of military service is a stream of photos in his phone.
One photo is of his late brother Muhammad Nasir. A former police officer, he was among the prime targets for the Taliban after they regained power last year, two decades after their government was toppled by a US-led coalition.
After the Taliban killed his brother, the responsibility to care for his widow and four children fell to Gen Daqiq. But now, with the family’s breadwinner seeking asylum in the UK, they are counted among the millions of Afghans struggling survive under the harshness of Taliban rule.
Gen Daqiq, who has one grandchild aged 5, says the uncertainty surrounding his and his wife’s future in the UK, and not knowing when he will next see his family, is unbearable.
In an attempt to support his asylum application, he handed over his passport, Afghan national ID card and health-related documents to the Home Office upon arrival in the UK last year. It is standard practice for the Home Office officials to keep such paperwork while a person's case is being processed.
While he stresses his gratitude to the UK government for its hospitality and protection, the effects of living in the south London hotel he has called home since last year are etched on his face.
“I am always thinking about these uncertain circumstances, thinking about my children who are stuck in Afghanistan,” he said. “I am worried about them.
“Here, I don’t know what will happen next or for how long we may stay in a hotel in such a problematic situation.
“Me and my wife are always thinking in this way and we are depressed.
“In general, from a life-saving perspective, we are grateful to the UK government because at least we are here and we have protection. But specifically considering I’m a vulnerable person in terms of health, the rest is not clear for us.
“When will be the next step to get housing and get my family here to start my normal living here in the UK?”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.