A café owner and activist mourns the criminalisation of his culture.


"For Sakhi, he no longer feels like life in Afghanistan is worth living..."

Sakhi (not his real name) used to dream of being a member of parliament. That may seem a lifetime ago now. He's a civil rights activist and entrepreneur who, before the Taliban’s takeover, fulfilled one of his other dreams of opening and running a bustling café. More than a café, it was a cultural hub, a place for events and performances, political talks, poetry readings and other exciting happenings.

Sakhi loved to bring people together, connect them, and build community based on shared ideas. Alongside running the café, Sakhi was still politically active and never gave up on his political ambitions. In 2021 he had even decided to start producing his own content to help push certain conversations forward that he believed in. He bought some decent camera equipment and prepared to launch his first show.

However, everything changed in less than 24 hours on August 15th, 2021, when the Taliban entered Kabul.

Sakhi immediately knew what was at stake. He would have to close the café immediately. It was suddenly very important to keep a low profile or inevitably face being made into a target.

Despite growing rumours of the Taliban's imminent arrival, Sakhi went to his office as usual the next day at 8 AM. At 10 AM, he got a call from his sister in a state of distress. She had just been called by her daughter's kindergarten and told to come in and pick her daughter up. The schools and kindergartens had been ordered to close. Things suddenly seemed very real. She needed Sakhi to go get her daughter. Sakhi put the phone down and left the office straight away to go and fetch his niece from school and take her home.

On the way back to the office, he says he noticed the city suddenly felt totally different. Everyday scenes had been infused with a sense of hidden urgency. There was confusion and chaos just below the surface. People were on the edge of panic, but, surely this is just temporary, he thought, the government will have expected this, they must have a plan.

And that's when the phone started ringing. First it was his close family. Soon it seemed like relatives he hadn't heard from for years were suddenly calling him, to talk, to worry to plan. Strangely, no one already had a plan. It wasn't that they hadn't seen it coming. It's just that they hadn't wanted it to be real. Once at his office, he rushed inside to get his laptop and some crucial documents. He locked up as quickly as possible and made his way home on foot.

It wasn't much later that he found out Ashraf Ghani, the former president himself, had fled the country and that the Taliban had entered Kabul.

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Sakhi says he has no income and lives in fear of persecution inside his house in Kabul. Because he had dared to speak out against the corruption of the former government of Afghanistan and the atrocities committed by the Taliban, he has been living in fear for his safety ever since they took control.

He says he sees no future if the situation continues like this.

According to the general amnesty announced by the Taliban when they took Kabul, no one from the opposition would be persecuted. However, Sakhi does not believe they will be true to their word and says some of the activists - people like him - have already disappeared. He suspects they've been kidnapped by the Taliban. In any case, no one knows what has become of them and he thinks that he may find himself in the same position soon.

Sakhi says he feels like Afghanistan has gone back half a century overnight. It's the change in freedoms for women and technology that will have the most effect. "Women will be imprisoned by the Taliban inside their houses, and the educated population will be deprived of technology." For Sakhi personally, it's the music, libraries, cafés and cultural centres that have always brought meaning and meaningful experience to his life in Kabul; if they remain closed, he no longer sees a life for himself in Afghanistan.

Interview with Afghan Witness