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Story Publication logo August 17, 2021

In Kabul, Afghans Are Filled With Uncertainty


photo of Kabul

Several young Afghans are fighting for their own survival and that of their country as the Americans...

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NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with Jane Ferguson, correspondent for PBS NewsHour, from Kabul.


AILSA CHANG, HOST: We are closely following the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has seized power. In Kabul, thousands of people have gone to the airport desperately seeking a way out of the country. Jane Ferguson from the PBS NewsHour joins us now from Kabul.



CHANG: So can you just start us off by just telling us what you have been seeing today on the ground in Kabul?

FERGUSON: It's really very much so a tale of two cities because you've got a city center that's relatively calm, and you have an airport and area surrounding the airport that is absolutely chaotic. And I'm sure you've seen those scenes that have been widely shared on social media ...


FERGUSON: ... And online of crowds - huge crowds of people swarming the airport - not just the grounds of the airport, but the actual runway - desperately, literally clinging to airplanes. Add to that the fact that you have Taliban fighters and checkpoints all over the roads, all around the airport and in quite a high intensity, some Afghan security forces trying to keep order - these are sort of the very last remaining security forces that I've seen anywhere in town - and of course, thousands of American troops completely surrounded by the Taliban. So - and all the while, in between all of these armed groups, you have panicked, terrified civilians simply wondering how they can get out of the country and ...

CHANG: Right.

FERGUSON: ... If it's too late.

CHANG: And Jane, I know that your movements are very limited right now, so I don't know the extent to which you've been able to talk to Afghans living in Kabul, but for those who are not able, who do not have any realistic option of leaving the country at the moment, what are you hearing from them?

FERGUSON: You know, everyone is reaching out to one another. Are you OK? What are you doing? I have been hearing from Afghan friends and colleagues and - who have said, you know, we're sheltering in place. The big fear is that the airport could shut. That's what people are afraid of ...

CHANG: Right.

FERGUSON: ...That commercial flights have stopped. When would those start again? That's the big question for people. When could I book a plane if I needed to, to get out of here and go to Istanbul or Dubai just to lay low for a few months? But, you know, it goes without saying, those are middle class people. You know ...

CHANG: Yeah.

FERGUSON: ... The poor, who can't afford to get on a flight, even if they - even if there was one, their options are much more limited. So I am hearing from people, but right now, a lot of them are - if they can't get out of the country - or many of them are trying to - they will hunker down at home and try to minimize their social media presence and try to just keep an incredibly low profile. And the depressing reality is that those keeping a low profile are increasingly women.

CHANG: For those people that you have been able to talk to in Kabul or hear from in any way in Kabul, as they are looking ahead to Taliban rule in the country, what would you say they are most concerned about at this point?

FERGUSON: I think it's the uncertainty. I mean, I don't think anybody deludes themselves into thinking that the Taliban are a vastly modernized, different version of the 1990s Taliban that once ruled this country. But there's a lot of women who are looking - young women in particular who have grown up and built and worked very hard for their lives and their careers that are now looking around and thinking, what are the parameters? We don't know. The Taliban aren't coming out and saying, no women can be TV journalists and no women can wear trousers, you know, or pants. Like, they're not coming out with hard and fast rules, so there's a sense of real trepidation about, you know, the fact that this could all just be - come down to the opinions of one man with a gun in the street or another man with a gun on the street.

CHANG: Jane Ferguson from the PBS NewsHour joining us from Kabul.

Thank you very much, Jane.

FERGUSON: Thank you.


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War and Conflict

War and Conflict




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