Undergraduate Afghan student Saeeda Dilyabi, in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, is deeply worried about the future that her country holds for her after the Taliban captured power.
“Our lives will be in danger, our families’ life will be in danger, so I don’t think we can go back to Afghanistan,” Dilyabi said, sitting in a park scrolling her phone for the latest news on Afghanistan.
She is among hundreds of Afghans studying in Indian colleges and universities on scholarships offered by the Indian government as a goodwill gesture to promote education in the country.
Students like her epitomize the rights won by women in Afghanistan in the last 20 years – they live independently in Indian cities, are not covered with veils and are imbibing a modern education. They had hoped to go back and work in a country that was making progress.
Now this young generation is petrified that the clock has turned back with the takeover by the Taliban.
Although these young students did not directly experience the harsh Taliban regime that was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, they say they grew up hearing terrifying accounts of its repression of women during the five years it controlled the country.
“Not back to Afghanistan, never,” vowed Meena Azimi, another undergraduate student in Chandigarh city. “The same situation is repeating now,” she said.
She said relatives in Canada are sponsoring her migration.
The two undergraduates dismiss Taliban assertions it will respect women’s rights and allow them access to education and work “within Islamic law.” In the group’s first news conference after taking charge of the Afghan capital, Kabul, it also promised there would be no retribution against those who had worked with the government.
“It’s just starting, so they want a good image,” said Azimi. “But after one month, I am sure, everyone is sure, they will apply their disgusting rules over people and those rules will be incredibly dangerous for people,” she added.
Dilyabi echoed those feelings.
“Exactly what they will do is not same as what they say. They are saying it to get the world’s support,” she said.
The dread among students like her is deepened by images of Taliban fighters with AK-47s parading Kabul’s streets and images of Afghans trying to flee the country.
She said she is not convinced by the Taliban’s assertion that there will be no reprisals and worries that her family’s military background will make her a target.
“One of my brothers was killed by Taliban in 2016 in a bomb blast on duty and one of my younger brothers, who was also in the military, he ran away because of the statements that we were getting from Taliban. So it is very risky,” Dilyabi said.
While shock runs deepest among women, male Afghan students are also distraught.
Some, like 27-year-old Ali Nazar Nabizada, believe their future has been taken away. He recently completed his postgraduate degree in public administration and had wanted to join the government in Kabul. Now he said he wants to stay on in India and see how the situation unfolds in coming months.
“I thought when I go back, I will be free like I am here, I will have a normal life,” Nabizada said.
“Now I don’t want to return. The Taliban, they don’t see my knowledge, it is of no use to them,” he said.
He called the situation in his country heartbreaking.
“I have lost everything. I had a beautiful country and right now it is captured by a group of terrorists. I am broken right now, I am really broken,” he said, adding that he is unable to sleep at night.
Azimi, who had made plans to move to Canada even before the Taliban takeover amid the political flux in Afghanistan, said she does not know whether she will ever visit her homeland again.
“I will definitely want to see in what condition is my country, I would love to. But if after 20 years also, the government is still in the hands of Taliban, then I will not see Afghanistan,” she said.
Most, however, may have no choice but to return. And although deeply skeptical, they desperately want the Taliban to deliver on its projection of a more moderate stance, and give space to a young, progressive generation.
“We hope they have actually changed, their minds, their behavior against women, Dilyab said.
Nabizada echoed her words.
“We hope they don’t harm people and that they stand with their words now,” she said.