A Hazara aid worker and aspiring writer talks about losing five of his friends in a bomb attack.
Mahmud mourns the loss of his friend, who died in the 23 July explosion in Kabul.
Mahmud (not his real name) is an arts graduate, humanitarian aid volunteer and aspiring author. In 2015, he came from the Jaghori district of Ghazni province to Kabul to pursue higher education and better life opportunities.
But life in Kabul wasn’t what Mahmud had hoped it would be. Mahmud told Afghan Witness (AW) that he had witnessed more than thirty suicide attacks and bombings in the Hazara neighbourhood of Kabul alone, where he and a group of his friends volunteered amongst their communities and established a charity organisation and library.
Mahmud reveals to AW how he lost five of his close friends in an explosion on 23 July 2016 among the Enlightenment Movement protests in the west of Kabul. The twin suicide bombing killed 80 people and wounded another 230.
Mahmud also shared his frustration about the discrimination he faced as a Hazara minority under the previous Afghan government. He told AW that he was mistreated at university due to his ethnicity and had lost job opportunities for the same reason.
Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, Mahmud’s life has been made even harder. Under the Taliban regime, he has no job, and feels he has very little hope: “The Taliban are hiring their fighters and affiliates who have no qualifications. What will happen to the future of thousands of educated people who are looking for work?”
With the Taliban in power, he also feels personally at-risk. Mahmud told AW that he fears for his life as the Taliban have identified him as an aid worker, activist and an opponent to their regime. “The Taliban militia has threatened me to death many times,” he says. “In an incident, when we encountered [each other], they threatened to pluck my eyes out of my head.”
Mahmud has helped people with humanitarian aid for nearly six years, providing families with food packages, and on occasion, even spending his own money and the money his family had allocated to his education to help others. However, under the Taliban’s rule, he finds it too risky to continue. He says the Taliban have created barriers against their humanitarian aid initiatives, and their group of volunteers has disbanded.
“In a recent incident, two Taliban fighters came to me and asked if I worked for any foreign organisation,” Mahmud tells AW. “I responded that I do not work for any foreign organisation - I collect donations from my friends and networks from outside the country and buy and distribute food packages to needy families. In response, they slapped me on my face and hit me on the head with their rifles.”
Since this incident, Mahmud has stopped his aid work as he is afraid of being beaten by members of the Taliban again. He is instead writing a memoir of his experiences as a humanitarian aid volunteer and resident of Kabul who has witnessed suicide attacks and bombings, and lost friends along the way.
Mahmud is hoping to flee Afghanistan by travelling through the southwestern Nimruz province to Iran and through the Iranian-Turkish border to a safer country, where he hopes to get his book published. While he is feeling scared and disillusioned, he says he will continue to amplify the Afghan people’s voices through his writing.
Interview by Afghan Witness