Shoaib

A former Interior Ministry officer stuck in limbo

Shoaib

"Now, I don't have a country, nor a government"

*Afghan Witness has changed the name of the individual interviewed for this article. On August 15, as Taliban fighters advanced upon the Afghan capital of Kabul, Shoaib*, an officer in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, was hopelessly scrolling through his phone. It was then that he came across the news he feared the most: Afghanistan's Former President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country. In that moment, Shoaib realised the republic he had worked so hard to build a career upon had crumbled.

The young officer, who had joined the ranks of the Afghan police three years earlier, describes the days and nights that followed as “nightmarish” - despite a ‘general amnesty’ declared by the Taliban as they consolidated their power across the war-torn country.

For Shoaib, his parents and his ten siblings, the fear felt much more real as Shoaib’s father was also a member of the Former Government’s intelligence agency:

“My mother was restless and wouldn’t sleep fearing for our security,” he tells Afghan Witness (AW). “We were all scared and didn’t know what to do.”

In the weeks and months that followed, reports of suspected Taliban reprisals against members of the former security forces started emerging, and Shoaib and his father kept changing addresses to minimise their chances of being tracked.

“I would usually spend nights at my friends’ or relatives' homes, and my father went to hide in a village outside the city,” Shoaib explains.

Last month, a New York Times investigation revealed that nearly 500 former government officials and members of the Afghan security forces were killed or forcibly disappeared during the first six months of the Taliban’s return.

While Taliban spokesmen have either denied the reports and promised investigations into disappearances - or blamed ‘rogue’ members - human rights groups have repeatedly called for the Taliban to be held to account for what has been described as ‘mounting evidence’ of such incidents. Shoaib tells AW that the actual number of victims of so-called reprisal attacks and killings is likely to be far higher than figures reported by media and rights groups.

For Shoaib, the Taliban’s claim of amnesty was “a big lie” used to trace and trap former security personnel and government employees. Shoaib says some of his former colleagues managed to flee the country, while he claims others are in hiding and “many are also missing.”

Earlier this year, the Taliban launched an extensive door-to-door search operation across Kabul and some other provinces, supposedly to address rising crime. The searches sparked panic and fear among residents, particularly those with connections to the Former Government, who made efforts to hide - or in some cases burn - anything that could be considered ‘evidence’ of their past careers.

In late February, with widespread searches underway, Shoaib had to make a decision quickly. With no way to get to any western destinations soon, he headed with his family towards the border with neighbouring Iran, which they eventually managed to cross, along with thousands of other Afghans fleeing the country.

“As a member of the [former government's] security forces, I would have no safe future in Afghanistan,” Shoaib says with certainty.

Soon after arriving in Iran, Shoaib tried to contact the British colleagues he had once worked with in Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, and was told he was eligible to apply for the UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.

However, for the past two months, Shoaib and his family have heard nothing about their application process, and their savings are running out.

“I am stuck in limbo,” Shoaib tells AW. “[I] will not be able to survive all these uncertainties if the British, whom I once helped, do not help me out soon.”

“When I look back, I see I was a young officer in the government, with high ambitions to continue my education, acquire a masters degree, and serve my country better,” he says. “Now, I don't have a country, nor a government, and as I see it, not a future if I continue to get stuck here in Iran.”

Interview by Afghan Witness

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