Ranna Afzali has kept a diary since Kabul fell to the Taliban. This is her powerful story

·11 min read
Ranna Afzali
Ranna Afzali

Ranna Afzali is a female journalist who worked for Afghanistan State Television and lost her job on the day the Taliban took Kabul.

She started a diary a year ago on Monday, charting how the Taliban eroded the rights of women when they swept back into power.

Aug 15, 2021

It’s 7am on Sunday and I’m getting ready to go to work at Afghanistan’s national television network in Kabul. My father is worried. He has heard the news that all counties and provinces have fallen into the hands of the Taliban, and tells me not to go. I tell him they won’t reach Kabul any time soon.

Not long after I leave, I get a call. They tell me to come back home. Kabul has fallen.

The Taliban are at the gates of the city. I get out of the car and it is chaos. People are running in all directions.

People who have just arrived at work are turning around and running away. Men and women. Young girls and boys. The old and the young. It is as if a gigantic monster has entered the city. You can smell fear everywhere.

At home, my parents and siblings are all confused. I can hear the commotion outside. People are trying to flee the city.

Taliban fighters - AP Photo/Zabi Karimi, File
Taliban fighters - AP Photo/Zabi Karimi, File

Around midnight, my brother receives a call from one of his friends. He’s telling us to go to the airfield. They say American airplanes are taking people to the US. It’s an impossible decision for our parents. They can’t think clearly. Us children make up our minds and leave.

We say goodbye, kissing our parents’ hands and leaving them in God’s care. We have no choice.

We manage to find a way through the crowd and get inside the airfield, with the noise of planes landing and babies crying. We can hear guns firing. We are all exhausted and hungry and sleepless. There are no flights for us. We want to go back home.

Our parents are happy to see us again. We all have some tea and something to eat. Tiredness overcomes me and I fall asleep. When I open my eyes, it is already 7pm. They say the Taliban are patrolling the streets. With their long hair, long beards and loose outfits, they are the image of terror.

People are scared. They are saying the military have abandoned all their posts and have run away. It is every man for himself.

Aug 20, 2021

We try to go back to the airport several times over the next few days. It’s a mess. People are flooding in from every direction. Many are on foot. They trample each other. People are trapped between the dust and the scorching heat, while the Taliban lash them.

The American forces are using tear gas and are shooting in the air to disperse people. We can hear the sounds of crying babies and people screaming from all sides.

Aug 26, 2021

We are at the airfield again when suddenly we hear a horribly loud sound. It is an explosion. People are screaming and running around. They walk over each other. Thick smoke is rising into the air. We are terrified. We are trembling with fear. We later learn that at least 170 Afghans and 13 US troops died. It was a suicide bombing by IS-K, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group. What a terrible day. I will have to live with its memory forever. We return home. None of us can eat nor sleep for an entire week.

Aug 31, 2021

People have lost hope. Those who had spent long days and nights hoping beyond hope to get to the airfield and leave for the US have finally stopped trying. In the wake of the bombing, all the routes to the airfield have been blocked by the Taliban. They try to disperse the crowds with their whips and guns. I tried once more to get there my two brothers and three sisters. We had to return home with a heavy heart and sometimes in tears. The last flight to the US had left that night.

Sep 1, 2021

Jawad, my brother’s friend, whose father used to work for the National Directorate of Security (Afghanistan’s intelligence service) under the previous government, shows up at our place in a state of panic. He says the Taliban visited their home last night and took his father away. He doesn’t know where they’ve taken him. He doesn’t know what to do.

Sep 2, 2021

Afghan women protest
Afghan women protest

I call one of my colleagues and tell them I have decided to return to my job. They say the Taliban have sent a memo to all businesses and organisations: women are not allowed to go to work until further notice.

A few days later, there’s a new announcement: the Taliban have shut down girls’ schools. Girls are no longer allowed to study.

The Taliban are urging everyone to remain patient. They say they will soon reopen schools in compliance with the sharia. They’re lying.

Sep 17, 2021

I have a couple of errands. As we’re passing by the Ministry for Women’s affairs, I see the Taliban pulling down the name board of the ministry and putting up a new one: the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. With sorrow, I have to stand witness to 20 years of Afghan women’s hard work and efforts being undone in the blink of an eye.

Sep 20, 2021

I have to go to the bank to withdraw some cash. I wear the hijab and leave. I arrive at the bank to find a crowd at the entrance. They have all come here to withdraw money. They aren’t successful. The Taliban are perching at the doors, whip in hand. No more than 20 or 30 people are allowed inside at a time. The banks don’t have enough cash.

Sep 22, 2021

Afghanistan women protest Kabul Taliban
Afghanistan women protest Kabul Taliban

News is circulating on social media that the Taliban are going from door to door, searching houses for female presenters and correspondents and taking them away because of their work. My mother and other family members are very scared. They say I should stay at my aunt’s for a few days. I can’t stop my hands from shaking. I must leave in a hurry.

Oct 10, 2021

It’s my birthday. Every year, my family throws me a birthday party and we celebrate. I used to go to a restaurant with my friends. But this year, it is the last thing on everybody’s mind. No one remembered it’s my birthday. I went to my mum and kissed her on the hands and cheeks and thanked her for bringing me into this world.  “Ah, I can’t believe I forgot,” she told me.

Nov 1, 2021

Ranna Afzali Afghanistan day trip
Ranna Afzali Afghanistan day trip

Four months. That’s how long the Taliban have been back now. I feel very tired. We have decided to go out and try to have fun. The Taliban have banned women from parks, meaning families can’t go anywhere together. Girls are only allowed to leave their homes in the company of a close male relative. So we decide to go to the Amir Reservoir in Bamyan.

The Taliban are everywhere but fortunately, no one stops us. When we arrive in beautiful Bamyan, it looks as if the entire population of Kabul have come here for refuge. The first good day in a long while.

Nov 11, 2021

We are invited to a wedding. My cousin is getting married. The wedding party will be held at a Kabul restaurant. We spend the whole day getting ready for the party. Men are not allowed inside the women’s hall, even the close relatives of the bride and groom. Nor are live music or singers permitted. They can only have DJs.

Nov 20, 2021

Kabul Afghanistan suicide bombing
Kabul Afghanistan suicide bombing

It’s another boring, purposeless day with nothing to do. We heard on the news that a young girl in Dasht-e-Barchi has jumped out of a four-storey building to her death after the Taliban banned girls from going to school. It is so sad. Life has become so absurd for the people of Afghanistan.

Dec 14, 2021

Another wedding in the family. It’s my uncle’s daughter. There is a DJ performing in both men’s and women’s halls. Suddenly, the Taliban show up. They want to speak to the fathers of the newlywed couple.

“You’re their elders. You should know better. Have you no shame? Playing music and dancing at a wedding!”

The fathers of the bride and groom apologised. They said it was a mistake and it won’t happen again.

Jan 18, 2022

Tamanna Pariyani
Tamanna Pariyani

It’s early morning. There are demonstrations going on. Girls and women are demanding the right to education. My colleague, Tamanna Pariyani, is among the protesters. The demonstrations end by nightfall. On the following day, we hear that the Taliban have taken Tamanna away. Her parents and brothers are searching everywhere for her.

Feb 14, 2022

It’s Valentine’s Day. Kabul youth celebrate it every year, going out with friends and exchanging gifts and flowers. This year, the Taliban have announced that Valentine’s Day doesn’t conform with sharia law.

Feb 23, 2022

Ranna Afzali Pakistan
Ranna Afzali Pakistan

I have bought a ticket to Pakistan. I am introduced to Miss Elizabeth. She tried hard to include my name on a list of journalists who were being taken to the UK, Germany, France or the US. They weren’t successful, so I return to Kabul. My family and I are very sad that I wasn’t able to leave.

I return home only to find that my father’s health has taken a turn for the worse. He’s lying sick in bed. He has a heart condition, and the stress over the past few months has made it worse, no doubt.

March 23, 2022

Ranna Afzali and her father Afghanistan
Ranna Afzali and her father Afghanistan

Around 6.30pm, my father dies. I was at his bedside holding his hands when it happened. A week passes by. We are still grieving in silence. There is no end to this sorrow. The pain of his loss is unbearable.

April 4, 2022

The Taliban have announced Ramadan in Kabul. Cab drivers are no longer allowed to pick up female passengers travelling alone. What if there is an emergency and there is no close male relative to keep them company? What are they supposed to do then?

April 10, 2022

The Taliban bans all domestic media outlets from broadcasting foreign and non-Islamic films and television programmes. Female presenters are now required to cover their faces when they go on air. Some men, too, are appearing on the screen with covered faces and face masks in solidarity with their female colleagues.

May 5, 2022

I decide to eat out tonight. I haven’t done that in a long time. I’m going to a restaurant in New Town with my relatives. It’s very quiet. It used to be bustling with people. It was gloomy. By the latest order of the Islamic Emirate, men and women are no longer allowed to dine together.

May 15, 2022

Taliban Afghanistan hospital
Taliban Afghanistan hospital

My mother is not feeling well. We take her to the hospital to see a doctor. Agents of the Ministry of Vice were at the hospital. They were acting all friendly, but they were asking the hospital administrators not to let clients wearing improper hijabs receive treatment.

July 1, 2022

Kabul Afghanistan suicide bombing
Kabul Afghanistan suicide bombing

Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, has begun. The Taliban, who appear to be strictly religious, have little regard for it. Companies of the Taliban visit Shia and Hazara settlements, asking questions.

There are reports of explosions and suicide attacks in Shia settlements. Women and children were killed. The first explosion took place in Karte Sakhi. Allegedly, IS-K has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Another explosion took place in Sar Kariz killing children. There was also a third attack in Pul Sukhteh. All communication networks in Shia and Hazara settlements were cut off. Despite all obstacles created by the Taliban, people duly commemorated Ashura. We gave alms and did some charity work.

Aug 2, 2022

American drones locate and kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, in Kabul. The Islamic Emirate has not officially confirmed anything yet. But the US president confirmed in a press conference that the leader of Al-Qaeda was killed in Kabul. Once again, Kabul is thrown into disarray. We fear that Afghanistan is becoming a safe haven for terrorists and their leaders.