NEW DELHI: Rishad Rahmani, who moved to India from Afghanistan in 2019, carries on the side of his neck a tattoo depicting flight of a pigeon, symbolising a desire of freedom for Afghans, but his mind bears the scars of his uncle’s killing at the hands of the Taliban a few years ago.
The 22-year-old Afghan, who hails from Mazhar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province in northern part of the war-torn country, detests the mention of the word ‘Taliban’, which ironically, in Pashto means students.
“We have a bad feeling about the situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over. People there are scared and we refugees in India are also tense, as many of our family members are there. So, many Afghans are fleeing their homeland left with no choice,” Rahmani said.
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He was among hundreds of Afghan refugees, drawn from Delhi and neighbouring cities, who vociferously protested in front of the UNHCR office here, demanding safety for themselves and their compatriots in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban claim they will not cause any harm to Afghans. But, they are already targeting people who worked for the government they just toppled, or those who were associated with the US Army when it was present in Afghanistan. They are shooting people who carry the Afghan flag,” he said.
While sharing his thoughts on the current situation, Rahmani, who lives in an enclave of Afghan refugees in Noida, points to his pigeon tattoo, and says, “I carry this as a desire for freedom for us Afghans and for our beloved Afghanistan, which has seen decades of fractured peace due to civil war and the Taliban”.
“My mother and other family members, living in India, are tense right now. My mother is under depression thinking about the fate of Afganistan. Her brother who was a translator was killed by the Taliban a few years ago. We had left our homeland seeking peace and better future,” he recalled.
The Taliban swept across the country this month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities in the backdrop of withdrawal of the US forces that began on May 1.
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On August 15, the capital city Kabul also fell to the Taliban, even as a large number of Afghans attempted in vain to flee the war-torn nation.
The insurgent forces have now sought to portray themselves as more moderate than when they had imposed a brutal rule in the late 1990s.
But many Afghans remain sceptical of this and fear the return of the “regressive” regime.
Anjam Ahmad Khan, 28, another Afghan refugee, who lives with his wife and three children in Delhi, has grown pessimistic after the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan, swiftly and without much force.
“I spoke to my mother in Kabul a few days ago, she was crying. She mostly cries now. We are worried about her and other family members, as the Taliban are going after various families. With the Taliban in control, no have no hope left for Afghanistan or its people now. Taliban is not the rule of Islam, it’s just sheer terror,” he rued.
Khan had lost an immediate family member, who worked in the country’s army, to the bullets of the Taliban, a few years ago, and its return scares him.
“They are keeping a sham of reformed Taliban with rights for women, just to form a government. They will go back to their old ways, once they are legitimately in power. We can’t trust this regressive Taliban, which opposed learning of English by Afghans as anti-Islam, and suppressed women and girls,” he lamented.
Khan is also a member of the Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, an umbrella outfit of Afghan refugees in India, which organised the protest in Delhi in front of the UN Refugees Agency in Vasant Vihar.
The protestors also demanded release of “support letters” from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), seeking to migrate to other countries for better opportunities.
Many other refugees, men and women, echoed the woeful tales narrated by Rahmani and Khan, and for some it triggered the 1990s era when the Taliban had run riot, and later even blown up the world heritage site of the iconic Bamiyan Buddhas statutes in 2001.
“All beautiful lands are mostly a troubled paradise. I hanker for my country, but the Taliban will not let it be our homeland. We don’t want to live like slaves in our own country. This ‘pigeon’ (tattoo) with me keeps reminding me that I will have to keep striving for my freedom too,” Rahmani said, before returning to the protesting crowd to chant slogans.