A year after Taliban, Afghans who chose to stay fear grim future

Mina Alimi has not left Kabul – not during the wars in which she was born, not during the first Taliban regime when she was just a little girl, and not last year when the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took over her hometown.

Even as her friends and colleagues fled in fear of the new regime, Alimi, one of only 270 female judges in the country, chose to stay behind despite threats against her. Her name has been changed to protect her identity as she is at risk.

“I had many opportunities to leave Afghanistan, but it meant leaving behind my elderly parents, in-laws and siblings who supported me every step of the way. Because of my profession they were in danger as much as I was. How can I leave them at the mercy of the Taliban and the criminals they unleash? Alimi told Al Jazeera.

Threats and even armed assaults were not uncommon in her modus operandi. In the year before the takeover, several female judges were targeted in assassination attempts in Afghanistan, resulting in the murders of Judges Qadaria Yasini and Zakia Heravi.

Alimi also faced threats from the Taliban and other armed groups in Afghanistan – threats she ignored for years because of her strong belief in the rule of law.

‘They’re looking for me’

However, when the Taliban marched into Afghan cities last August, they began releasing prisoners from Afghan prisons, some of them criminals whom Alimi had helped.

“I worked in the courts of the Criminal Division and was part of the hearings that convicted many Taliban fighters and other criminals. My name is part of an official decision that jailed many dangerous rebels and they have been looking for me since they released me,” she said, adding that threats forced her and her family into hiding.

“I can’t even imagine what they will do to me but I fear what they will do to my family,” she said.

Afghanistan has seen an exodus of about half a million people a year since the Taliban took over. The United Nations says 2.6 million Afghan asylum seekers have registered with them by the end of 2021.

Alimi stayed behind to protect her family, while others did so in hopes of rebuilding their lives after the war ended.

The 52-year-old university professor, who only wanted to be known as Marzia, said she hoped to lead a new Afghanistan for her students, especially the women she was training.

“I had high hopes for the next generation, the young men we were training to make Afghanistan a place,” said Marzia.

She said she has a strong sense of loyalty to the country.

“When the Taliban came, I had a few opportunities to leave, and many of my colleagues left because of threats to our work together, but I decided to stay. This country invested a lot in me. I want to grow, study and work here. I just can’t leave everything behind,” she told Al Jazeera.

‘Situation deplorable’

The two women expressed immense frustration after living under the Taliban regime for the past year.

Marzia hoped that despite the collapse of the Afghan government and its economy, the end of the war would mean an end to the violence and bloodshed and provide some stability for the Afghan people to rebuild.

“But the situation is miserable,” said Marzia.

The professor said her family has been hit hard by the financial crisis and is struggling to make ends meet.

“People are dying of hunger and the Taliban instead stop me for the clothes I am wearing or if I don’t have Muharram. [male guardian] while travelling. It is outrageous,” she said.

She said her university’s management has instructed students to remove them from classrooms if they wear bright colors. “How is this business?” she asked.

Alimi also lamented the absence of women in Afghanistan’s judiciary.

“There were more than 200 of us and we inspired Afghan women with confidence to approach the justice system. We have observed many cases of violence against women, domestic and family problems that a man cannot deal with because in a conservative society like Afghanistan, women do not feel safe approaching a male judge,” she said.

Despite currently being hunted by people she has convicted, Alimi does not regret her decision to stay with her family. However, as a mother of a young daughter, she is very concerned about her future.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about my daughter’s future. Girls are no longer allowed to complete their education, they cannot study beyond the sixth standard. I see her future as bleak and no mother would accept such a fate for her child,” she said.

Marzia agreed. “We [Afghan women] A lot has been gained through hard work and sacrifice in the last two decades and we have lost it all. I trusted them [Taliban] And hopefully they have changed. I shouldn’t have trusted them,” she said, recalling the last time the Taliban were in power in the 1990s.

“It closed anyway [girls’] School I studied in underground schools hiding my books. After they were overthrown, I worked extremely hard to get to where I am today and to see where we are. I should have known better,” she added.

“No, I don’t regret staying. I’m just so disappointed. I will never forgive myself if I leave these young women behind.”

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