An Afghan national, Jamal (not his real name), who is an artist and performer by profession, and who had worked with numerous western countries and organisations, now finds himself left behind. As he remains in hiding, scared that every knock on his door is the end of the line for him, the promises made by George Bush, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and other "nation-builders" ring hollow to him. Jamal knows he has been deserted and no amount of white-washing by western media can change the ground reality.
In a phone conversation with The Business Standard, Jamal spoke about how he was deserted by western organisations who had once sworn to protect him.
"I can only say they left me. They promised that if you work with us, we will help you. They said if you work with us, we will help you.
"I put myself in danger for them. I went to dangerous places for them. Now that I am in danger, they are not helping. They are only posting 'We are with people of Afghanistan' on Twitter and Instagram. When they left, they took their friends and family. But they left us. Those who worked with them, the real artists, we were all left behind.
"I feel really sorry for them.
"You can live with each others' happiness, not just miseries. You can post you are with the people of Afghanistan, but don't just say that. Do it.
"I can't sleep. I have not slept for five days. Every day, I feel the Taliban getting closer to me. I put myself in danger for them…now I need their help.
"I knew I had to escape two to three weeks ago. A local comedian, Khasha Zwan, was murdered by the Taliban in Kandahar. Then many of us artists got a threatening letter signed by the Taliban. They mentioned the things we spoke about and said they will kill us if we don't change our ways.
"That is when I knew I was in danger. Right before the Taliban entered Kabul, I had applied for my passport to be renewed, but I was not able to get it later on.
"I reached out to a number of international organisations, including the British and German ones that I had worked with. Most of them did not even respond. I reached out to the German foreign ministry and their defense ministry.
Disclaimer: The Business Standard conducted this interview in three separate sessions over the phone. All the conversations have been recorded. The interviewee requested not to be named as he fears for his well-being and is currently still trying to leave the country.
"They all sent me links I could apply to and sent me messages wishing me safety and prayers. But they never tried to help me in any way. I once got a text asking me to send my details, but I didn't know who it was from. I was afraid because we were told that Pakistani hackers were sending out fake emails to get information on all of us.
"I can hear gunshots ring out from where I am staying. There is one European country which is trying to help me, but now the airports are closed. I am just waiting to see.
"I have an eight-month-old child. And I am slowly running out of money. I hope to get out next week.
"The Taliban announced a few days back that artists should change their work and any occupation not allowed by Islam would be banned. They say my performance is not allowed in Islam. My messages have always been to bring happiness and kindness, not bombs. I am a Muslim and this is not Islam.
"Maybe the majority of the population supports the Taliban. I think they might but I can't tell you. I hate the Taliban and I don't want to talk about them. They don't believe in Islam, humanity or culture.
"I promise you when I reach a safe destination, I will give you another interview. I will do it on the record, on video. I can't tell you more now, but I will then. I will tell you everything."
Will there be help on the way?
Veda Aggarwal, director of the Calcutta Classical Guitar Society, spoke to TBS on Jamal's current predicament.
She has been part of a regional network of campaigners who have been actively trying to get Jamal out of Afghanistan.
In an email, she wrote, "Over the last 2 weeks we have watched in horror as the situation in Afghanistan unfolded. For a lot of us, it's been personal. Jamal and I were part of an Arts Management Fellowship a couple of years ago that was supported by the British Council and the Goethe Institut… Some of the other cohorts from our year wrote a letter appealing for his safety, the rest of us signed it and we sent it out to all the cultural missions, and international humanitarian organisations we could think of."
She adds, "We hoped that Jamal would be considered for a list for immediate evacuation.
"Mr Jonathan Kennedy from the British Council (India) replied immediately. It was a kind email offering sympathies, but no promises. Within a few days their Global Network Team got back to Jamal with information on the UK Government's way forward for 20,000 citizens from Afghanistan. However, this was just information.
"The heads of Goethe-Institut Sri Lanka (Stefan Winkler) and Bangladesh (Kirsten Hackenbroch) replied as soon as they received our email. They both forwarded it to the regional office in Delhi, who shared all cases with the German Foreign Office. There has been no further update from the Goethe Institut."
Abhinit Khanna, arts manager, The Fort Art Center, and Social Activism Mumbai, also reached out to explain how much work had been put in for Jamal's safety.
"After receiving his passport details and various letters issued by the Taliban targeting him I had put out a tweet requesting for urgent help from the Indian Minister for External Affairs. The tweet went viral in a matter of minutes but there was no official response from the Indian Government.
"Since Jamal and I were part of a British Council fellowship in New Delhi 2019, I thought it would be a good idea to start a letter campaign with friends from that batch to push his request for evacuation across various cultural institutions in Germany, UK, India, and Bangladesh, Nepal, Srilanka. Additionally, with some help from friends I was able to get in touch with Labour Party MP Ms Zarah Sultana in London who was kind enough to immediately respond to my request for Mr Jamal. She shared the UK scheme and application for Afghanistan refugees as well escalated the matter within the foreign and defence department in the UK.
"Few days passed and it was now 24th August, 2021. Facebook reminded me that it was Mr Jamal's birthday. My eyes swelled up and my heart sank while I tried writing him a yet another hopeful whatsapp message to wish him happy birthday and praying that somehow he gets safely evacuated. He responded to me saying that despite so many efforts no one was able to reach out to him or help but he won't lose hope and that he was very thankful for all the efforts being made for him.
"The next morning I woke up to an Instagram post by Mariam Ghani (daughter of President Ashraf Ghani), an open letter from Arts for Afghanistan that urged the US Government to facilitate the departure of filmmakers, performers, and writers. I immediately direct messaged her asking for help for Jamal. Ms Ghani responded with her personal contact number and asked for Jamal's details. The next day Jamal was put on the list of evacuees that was organised by Ghani's team. The only problem was that Jamal would have to reach a pick up point where a bus would be waiting for him to take him to the Kabul Airport. I frantically shared the screenshots of my exchanges with Ms. Ghani to Jamal. At this point reaching the airport had become dangerous for Jamal since an attack at the Kabul airport had happened a day before his evacuation. The journey to the bus stop was over 40 minutes which doesn't guarantee that he would make it to the bus and eventually the airport. We exchanged a few voice notes to assess the situation and decided it might be pointless and extremely dangerous for his family to reach the airport with his eight-month-baby. Today is the last day of evacuation as American troops have departed leaving behind millions of vulnerable Afghan people who once worked as allies and friends with the Americans for the last twenty years. One of them is my dear friend Jamal and his family. We hope and pray that he will be evacuated on humanitarian grounds."
During our conversation with Jamal, he mentioned going to the airport on the day the bombing happened. In the aftermath of that, he also saw his hopes of getting out go up in smoke.
Till now Jamal holds onto the hope that he will make it to safety somewhere. But for now, all he has is hope.