In Afghanistan, Burning Our Past to Protect Our Future

 

“I had to burn all of your books and your computer,” said my aunt, crying over the phone from Kabul. “They are searching houses, and I couldn’t keep them. I don’t have a single picture of you anymore; I had to destroy them all.”

I had been working at my desk when my aunt called to tell me in tears that she had just destroyed my papers and books to keep them out of Taliban hands.

On February 22, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid announced that the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in August 2021, had started “clearance operations” in Kabul and nearby provinces ostensibly to search for criminals and weapons. The door-to-door searches have created an atmosphere of fear.

“Everyone is worried about Taliban’s house-to-house search in Kabul,” New York Times reporter Sharif Hassan tweeted. “Anyone I know has some sort of documents at home which link them to foreign NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] or former government. Some have books Taliban may not like or music instruments. Some destroying documents/books, others trying to hide them.”

Afghans are also hiding passports, although travel out of the country is already impossible for many. On February 27, the Taliban announced new restrictions prohibiting women from traveling abroad alone without a “religious reason,” and women must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative, as a chaperone. The Taliban later said the restrictions applied only to Afghans “going abroad illegally,” but there was no indication of a change to the restrictions on women.

My aunt burned every educational and work award or certificate I’ve received since I was a child. My family is no longer in Afghanistan, but people are burning their pasts to protect themselves. A friend who is still in Kabul told me: “We broke our laptop with a hammer as it had my brother’s pictures as an army soldier, and we didn’t know if the Taliban might also search the computer.”

My friends in Kabul say life is getting harder every day. We had lived a life we thought would lead to a brighter future, never thinking that one day we would have to destroy our very identities to survive.