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Life in Afghanistan two years after the Taliban's takeover

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Fazelminallah Qazizai was in Kabul on August 15, 2021, when that city fell to the Taliban. He's a journalist. He is NPR's producer in Afghanistan. Here is what he told us last year about that day.

FAZELMINALLAH QAZIZAI, BYLINE: The memory that always stand in my mind is in that morning when convoys of refugees flooded into the city. The refugees had came from the North, which had already been taken by the Taliban. I was there to interview them. For some reason, I remember the sound as a sad melody - the noise of the call, the beeping and the people. People around me looked worried.

KELLY: Many Afghans have since fled their country. Fazel decided to stay, and he's still there in Kabul.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)

KELLY: So earlier today we called him...

QAZIZAI: I can hear you now.

KELLY: Oh, now you can hear me. Hi.

QAZIZAI: Yeah, I can hear you. Hi. Hi. How are you?

KELLY: Great. I am well. How are you?

QAZIZAI: I'm fine. Thank you. I'm doing well.

KELLY: ...To talk about how life has changed in Afghanistan these last two years and what's on his mind as we mark the anniversary this week.

QAZIZAI: The changes - some are for good, and some are for bad. The good changes I could see is no more bombardment, no more drone strike.

KELLY: No more drone strikes. Yeah.

QAZIZAI: Peace and security is established. But in the meantime, there is big issue among Afghan, especially education for girls and work for female.

KELLY: Yeah. Stay with that - how life is for women, for girls - because we keep hearing it's more and more restrictive. There's now a ban on secondary school, on university, and salons were recently forced to close all over the country. And that's one of the few jobs that was still open to women. When you speak to women, what do you hear?

QAZIZAI: Yeah. I remember in west of Kabul, where I'm staying, I was out checking some beauty salons on their final days to be closed. And I visited one woman. Her name was Sharifa (ph). She owned a beauty salon here in my neighborhood. And when I reach her, I was trying to ask her about her feelings, about her future and about life. I remember she couldn't answer me. She was just - with every single question of mine, she was trying to cry, and she was, you know, struggling with what happened to her.

KELLY: What is the latest situation for school for women and girls?

QAZIZAI: Here in Afghanistan, for girls, they are allowed to study so far to grade six, which is roughly 12 or 11 years old.

KELLY: OK.

QAZIZAI: And so far, there is no hope for a bright future. So the only things we are facing now is a kind of disappointment and sadness among our girls and our sister.

KELLY: What about the economy? I know when we spoke to you last year, you talked about sanctions and how they are affecting everyday Afghans, that most people don't have enough to eat. Is that still true?

QAZIZAI: This year is better than the last year because the banking systems, the economic channel is going well compared to the last year. But still, Afghans are suffering from the sanctions and financial restrictions imposed by the U.S. and the West.

KELLY: These are sanctions imposed on the Taliban. But the question we're talking about here is the extent to which they're hurting ordinary Afghans as well.

QAZIZAI: Yeah. The problem is that the sanction is meant to be on the Taliban, but the only damage this sanction gave is to the local people.

KELLY: I was going to ask you if anything is better since the Taliban took over, which prompts me to ask about security - that whatever other problems there may be in the country - the daily bombings, the daily strikes, the fighting - that's better.

QAZIZAI: Security is better. But still, we have a threat from Daesh. Still, we had some suicide attacks and bombing but only against Taliban, not in cities and markets as before. So I can say in general that security and peace is established. And the other big change is people now have much freedom on their movements. So I could travel right now day or night all over the country if I want to.

KELLY: And the roads are safe.

QAZIZAI: The roads are safe. Plus, you know, villages that - they were before worried about bombardment, heavy artillery. Right now they are feeling comfortable. They could work on their farms without any kind of tension or worrying.

KELLY: And I want to just clarify you're a man. Your experience is obviously different from what you're telling me about Afghan women, who are not free to move around the country or many other places today.

QAZIZAI: Absolutely. But even though, when I said this - just about people in villages...

KELLY: Yeah.

QAZIZAI: ...Not people in cities.

KELLY: You are a journalist for us and for other outlets. I want to note that nine journalists have been arrested by the Taliban in recent days. It's being described as a crackdown on the media. How has your job changed these last couple of years?

QAZIZAI: I should tell you that, in the previous regime, I was a lot worried than this regime because at that time, there was many military power that - I need to answer them. I need to use my logic to make a way for my journalism out there.

KELLY: You're talking about all these bureaucracies you needed to navigate to do your work.

QAZIZAI: But now we have just one central government. As a journalist, you need to be worried only for one power, which is the Taliban.

KELLY: Please tell me if this is something you cannot answer because, first and foremost, we want to make sure you are safe.

QAZIZAI: OK.

KELLY: Are you able to report critically about the Taliban? Do you feel free to write something where the Taliban does not look good?

QAZIZAI: Yes, but there is one small issue. The Taliban have a media committee. They are looking, monitoring, checking the activity of a journalist. So if their critical coverage is balanced, he or the media will be OK. So far, I haven't faced any kind of questioning from the Taliban even though I did some critical story against them.

KELLY: Do they ask to see your stories, to review your stories before they are published?

QAZIZAI: No.

KELLY: So you're speaking to many, many Americans who are listening to this right now. What do you want Americans to know about your country, about life there two years on?

QAZIZAI: I would like to say to the American people and to the American official that American-Afghan friendship is very old, especially in the last two decades. Too many Afghans spent their efforts and, you know, sacrificed their life alongside the American forces. Right now the sanction the American regime, the American state, imposed on the Taliban - I would ask them to rethink about these sanctions. They should deal with the Taliban in a way that do not harm Afghan civilians, which, currently, it do.

KELLY: That's Fazelminallah Qazizai. He's a journalist and author living in Kabul. He's also our producer in Afghanistan. Fazel, thank you for your work.

QAZIZAI: You're welcome. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE GONZALEZ'S "INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.

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