Excerpt: August in Kabul by Andrew Quilty

Updated on Dec 06, 2022 07:27 PM IST

This extract from a new book on America’s last days in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban follows 19-year-old Nadia, whose family wants to give her up to the Taliban in exchange for security

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 30, 2021. (via REUTERS) PREMIUM
Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 30, 2021. (via REUTERS)
ByAndrew Quilty

...A week later, on 6 September, over breakfast, Hanif once again broached the decision to hand Nadia over to the Taliban as a bride.

“You must accept it,” he told her. Again, Nadia refused. And again, Hanif flew into a rage, this time punching her as if she were an opponent in a bout of mixed martial arts — a sport Hanif followed fanatically — striking her in the neck.

...Nadia went into her mother’s room to get away, but Hanif followed and struck her again, sending Nadia to the floor...

Shukria came in to protect Nadia, but Hanif pushed his mother aside and started kicking Nadia as she cowered on the floor, her knees curled up against her chest. He stomped her, striking her in the groin with his heel. Nadia screamed in pain, breaking Hanif ’s violent momentum...

“What have you done?” Shukria yelled from inside her room.

“She’s bleeding.”

“This is nothing,” said Hanif. “She should thank God I didn’t take a knife to her.”

...Nadia called me, explaining that she was on her way to hospital with her mother and that she feared returning home. I called a friend, Penelope, a qualified social worker who had worked for years to get Afghan girls into school, and who had single-handedly established several safe houses in the capital for women and families in imminent danger in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Penelope agreed to step in and do whatever was necessary...

292pp, ₹599; Speaking Tiger Books
292pp, ₹599; Speaking Tiger Books

Nadia was struggling to walk. But her slow pace created a little distance between her and her mother, who Nadia believes was turning a blind eye to her daughter’s frantic efforts to plan an escape while not actively participating in it — just giving her more time to do so. It was at this point that Nadia called Penelope to explain her situation as quickly as she could. Penelope said, “If you want, I’ll send a car for you.” But she also advised Nadia, if she felt she could, to spend a couple of days thinking about it, “because once you leave home, you cannot go back”. The risk of what is commonly referred to in the West as “honour killing” — the murder of a female for bringing the family name into disrepute — was too great.

“There was no other way for me,” says Nadia. “That day, when I was in the clinic, I wasn’t thinking about what my family will think, what I will do when I leave with no money, with nothing. All I was thinking about was saving my life.”...

Taliban forces patrol a runway a day after US troops withdrew from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
Taliban forces patrol a runway a day after US troops withdrew from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)

Back at home, after a brief reprieve following her visit to the clinic, the family’s repressive behaviour towards Nadia continued... She tried to eavesdrop on her family’s conversations, because if she knew their plans, she could make her own... Sometimes she caught fragments of exchanges between her father and Hanif, but, she says, “When I’d enter the room they’d change the topic.” There was talk of another groom — another Talib. There was also the question of Nadia’s scars, and discussions about how to evade the groom’s family’s rebuke when they were discovered.

...Nadia would later discover that her instincts had been right. In fact, Amin had already arranged his daughter’s engagement to another Taliban fighter, which was soon to be formalised. “He had made a deal with them,” says Nadia.

‘“I will give my daughter to you, and you will protect us.”’

One night, Nadia was in the kitchen cooking dinner... Hanif and Elham entered the kitchen and took hold of Nadia from behind. As she yelled in protest, Elham closed the windows and the kitchen door... Hanif, while holding Nadia’s scarred left arm outstretched beside the stovetop, then ordered Elham to spoon hot water from the pot over the partially healed wound. When Nadia screamed in pain, Amin entered. Nadia looked at her father, as disbelieving of his inaction as she was of Hanif ’s brutality. Amin’s silence was all the approval Hanif needed to continue and he turned back to his work, this time flicking the bubbling oil directly from the pan onto his sister’s arm. “As if it happened during cooking,’ says Nadia, to disguise his premeditated savagery. ‘They were my family, but when I looked at them, I saw them as animals.”

...

Author Andrew Quilty (Melbourne University Press - mup.com.au)
Author Andrew Quilty (Melbourne University Press - mup.com.au)

The following day, Nadia contacted Penelope, telling her it was time: “I want to stay with you. There are some problems at home.” That night, she told her mother. “I trusted her,” says Nadia. “She was supporting me — not directly, but she always did what she could.” Shukria told Nadia, “If you can, you should save yourself.”...

“The next morning, I woke up very early and cooked for my dad, for everyone,” says Nadia. “I hadn’t spoken with him since he started beating me, not directly, but the night before, after the call with Penelope, I spoke with him. I wanted to make some moments for me, and some good memories of them.” ...

When Amin and her brothers left the house later that morning, 23 September, Nadia called Penelope who told her to pack some clothes, medicine and anything else she needed. ..

No place for women. Taliban fighters outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 16, 2021. (REUTERS)
No place for women. Taliban fighters outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 16, 2021. (REUTERS)

She packed everything, including some jewellery and extra money, in a backpack and walked with her mother to a nearby hospital. Penelope was waiting outside in a private taxi with another young woman she was helping. Shukria hugged Nadia before her daughter climbed into the car.

“She looked tiny and overwhelmed by the bigness of the decision,” says Penelope, “but at the same time completely together. She emanated courage and determination.”

“I was close to crying,” says Nadia, “but there was a man, the driver, and I didn’t want to cry in front of him.”

This Republic Day, unlock premium articles at 74% discount

Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access with HT Premium
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, January 30, 2023
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals