Chaos and concern reigned in Daryuosh Mohammadi’s house last Thursday. This former interpreter, who is 29 years old, worked with the Spanish armed forces between 2009 and 2014. He arrived in Spain that same year, when the troops were pulled out of his country. His parents, sister and two brothers stayed in Afghanistan. The advance of the Taliban since United States forces left the country has filled Mohammadi with fear. “I don’t want to eat and whenever I see videos [from Afghanistan] I go to the restroom and I cry alone,” he explains, sat on the sofa in his apartment in the Madrid neighborhood of Entrevías. “The worst is yet to come. Now the massacre is going to begin – they’re going to kill a lot of people.”
The crisis involving Afghan interpreters who are still trapped in Kabul, and who are awaiting evacuation by Spanish authorities, is compounded by the plight of those who have been living in Spain for some time now but left their families behind in Afghanistan. Mohammadi’s family is originally from Ghorband, a district in Parwan province. His relatives fled to the capital a week ago, escaping thanks to help provided by a childhood friend of Mohammadi who is a member of the Taliban.
His sister will not be able to return to school. When the insurgents took over her district, she purchased her first burka
“He said to me, ‘If I catch you I have to kill you for being one of them.’ But he helped me, even though his leaders do not know that he has had contact with me,” Mohammadi explains.
His sister, who is aged 16, had nearly finished her high school studies. For now, she will not be able to return to school. When the insurgents took over her district, she purchased her first burka.
Together with other Afghan interpreters in Spain, Mohammadi has put together a list of the names of his relatives and those of his wife, and sent it a week ago to the country’s National Defense Staff. After several days of silence and frustration while waiting to find out whether they can be evacuated, the direct family members of the translator managed to enter Kabul airport on Monday and are awaiting a plane that will take them to Spain. The Spanish authorities got in touch with his sister to let them know they could enter the airport. The family of his wife, however, has not yet received any such news.
His fear is that the insurgents could take revenge against them for having a relative who interpreted for the foreign armed forces. “It’s my fault,” he laments. “Those who have not worked for or had contact with foreigners may be safe, but those who have had contact are not.”
The majority of these families have traveled from far-flung provinces to Kabul in a bid to escape Afghanistan. If they are not evacuated, Mohammadi insists, they will face “certain death” when they return home. “As soon as they left their houses will have been occupied or burned down,” he says. “[The Taliban] already know that these people have left, and for them they are sinners, they are traitors.”
So far, Mohammadi explains, nine former interpreters and their families have been evacuated to the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid, which is being used as a reception center for Afghans.
He considers the message of “moderation” being conveyed by the Taliban to be a big lie. A report from the United Nations has contradicted the guarantees of safety that have been offered by the insurgents to former collaborators with international troops or members of the now-collapsed government. There are witness statements that show that door-to-door searches are taking place to seek them out.
He is communicating with his family via a messaging service but they do not trust video calls. “Taliban intelligence is very advanced”
As a result, Mohammadi’s family have changed their hiding place three times in just a week, staying close to the airport in Kabul in case they can be evacuated. They are communicating via a messaging service but do not trust video calls. “Taliban intelligence is very advanced,” he adds.
From his orange sofa, he looks for photos on his cellphone of when he still lived in Afghanistan. He zooms in on an image of when he was 20 years old, and is in uniform. In another, he is pictured next to two Spanish soldiers, who were among his best friends during those years. His wife is resting in another room in the apartment. Despite having lived in Spain for a number of years, he cannot forget the horrors of the Taliban regime.
Mohammadi is unable to explain what has gone wrong. “If they ask me where I am from, I say Afghanistan, but then I think that it no longer exists,” he explains. “All of that civilization, everything that has been done for women, has disappeared in a day. It’s horrific to me.”
He recalls a restaurant where he used to live when he studied at the University of Kabul. He would often order Kabuli palaw, a typical dish made of rice, raisins, carrots and lamb. On the outside walls there were “paintings of romantic women.” Just a few days ago, he saw a photo of that restaurant, where the Taliban were covering over the faces of the women. “It was a complete shock,” he says.
English version by Simon Hunter.