Hunkering indoors and watching her country fall to the Taliban, one young woman in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul described on Sunday the anxiety, fears and dashed hopes her generation feels as embassies evacuate staff and the government all but crumbles.
But the day wasn't supposed to be like this. In the morning, Aisha Khurram made her way to Kabul University, where she is just two months shy of graduation. Before she could reach her class, the 22-year-old was turned back and told to head home.
Life in the capital of 6 million people rapidly deteriorated Sunday, just as it had across much of the country over the past several weeks amid a Taliban blitz that saw the group capture one provincial capital after another. Already, Kabul's parks were filling with internally displaced people — families who'd fled their homes as the Taliban seized control of their towns and targeted people.
Khurram, 22, said female students who'd made it to Kabul University early Sunday were told good-bye by their professors, who said they were unsure if the girls would be allowed to return and unsure whether if classes resumed that boys and girls would be allowed to study together.
“The future is at stake. Our lives are at stake,” she said, speaking from her home in Kabul. Electricity in her neighborhood had been out all day as she spoke to The Associated Press over her mobile phone.
She’d hoped to serve her country after graduation, having spent the past several years studying international relations, working as a human rights defender, volunteering and even speaking at the United Nations.
“Everything I did was for a vision and the future,” she said.
“The fight for our rights, the things we advocated for during the peace process, they are taking the backseat,” Khurram said. “The only thing people are thinking about is how to survive here or how to escape.”
But for her and millions of others of Afghans, there is no way out. With land borders closed, visa costs out of reach for most and embassies shuttering, there’s a feeling that “everybody turned their back on the Afghan people.”
“Neither government, nor Taliban— none of them represent us,” she said. “The only thing we have is our God.”
Although no fighting has yet broken out in Kabul as the Taliban advances, the sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout the day. Men carrying the white and black flag of the Taliban were seen walking through the city's empty streets. Residents clamored indoors following a morning rush on ATMs to withdraw savings. Some rushed to the main airport to catch flights out.
U.S. military helicopters circled overhead, evacuating personnel from the U.S. Embassy as staff destroyed important documents.
Khurram had just one word when asked to describe her feeling as Western embassies emptied: “Betrayal”.
She said she believed in the prospects of U.S.-backed peace talks that had been unfolding between the government, Taliban and others in Qatar. She'd advocated strongly for the inclusion of diverse voices in those talks aimed at mapping out Afghanistan's future.
As the Taliban push deeper into Kabul, she said it's clear to her the U.S. used those talks as cover for its withdrawal.
“Right now I feel naive,” Khummar said. “I'm very much sorry for my generation and myself for trusting them."