Good News from Islamabad!
At last, I can introduce you to the family you've helped escape from Afghanistan
I have wonderful news to share.
I think I have been released from a cage and I am flying. I feel really good. Ms. Claire—email from Mujib, February 18
That was the beginning of an email I received from Islamabad on February 18, and the first news I’d received from the family since they began their journey, overland, from Kabul. (That was a nerve-wracking wait.)
For new readers: Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the Cosmopolitan Globalist and our readers have been trying to help a family of eight—five daughters and one son—escape. Here’s their story:
This family has been in mortal danger. Before Kabul fell, their mother (whose name, I can now tell you, is Zahera Salihi) was a lawyer and women’s rights activist who put the worst abusers of women and children in all of Afghanistan—true psychopaths—behind bars. When the Taliban rolled in, these monsters were freed. They’ve already killed her colleagues.2
Their father, Sayed Salihi, had worked for a French NGO. I can now tell you which one: the now-defunct Afghan Vaccination and Immunization Center. This meant the whole family was stained, in the Taliban’s eyes, as collaborators.
What’s more, the family is Tajik, and the Taliban has been ruthlessly persecuting Tajiks since taking power:
Tajiks are singled out across the country by the terror regime when they attend protests, go to school, drive in a car, or are just found in their home. The constant attacks, arrests, torture, and murder has led Afghans and their allies to demand an investigation into the likelihood that this is also a genocidal activity, similar in many ways to the Taliban-Haqqani persecution of the Hazara.
It’s terrible to receive messages like this and be unable to help:
The five daughters—who range in age from eight-year-old Belqis to 27-year-old Mahfoza—faced a ghastly future. At best, they would spend the rest of their lives as terrified shut-ins whose faces would never again feel sunlight. At worst, their parents would be killed before their eyes and they would be forcibly married to Taliban fighters. Or they would be killed, too.
Their education came to an end when the Taliban rolled in. Mahfoza had been on the verge of getting her master’s degree, hoping to join her mother as an advocate for Afghan women and children. Asra, the second daughter, wanted to be a journalist. But instead Asra, Mahjoba, and Tahora became, in their father’s words, “teenage prisoners.” These past years have been terrible for them. They’ve been deeply depressed.
Belqis, who is now eight, was the best student in her class. But in the Taliban’s view, girls don’t need an education beyond primary school, and even that is in jeopardy. Meet Belqis, who in addition to being clever is just adorable:
Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and bestselling writer, is the President of the Origins Project Foundation, and was, for a decade, Chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He reads and writes for the Cosmopolitan Globalist, and when he learned about the Salihi family, he was moved. He told me that he had once helped a talented young Afghan woman emigrate to the US and considered this the most meaningful thing he had ever done.
Lawrence lives on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Canada has a refugee-sponsorship program for which the family is eligible. To apply, the family has to demonstrate that there’s a community waiting to welcome and emotionally support them—which we now have, thanks to Lawrence—and the funds to support them for a year. I’m sure we can raise them. Lawrence’s readers and friends will contribute, and so will mine.
You can’t apply for the program from Afghanistan, however. You have to be recognized as refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency, which means you have to apply from a third country.
After much debate, we concluded that the plan that made the most sense was for the whole family to go to Islamabad and stay there while they wait for their application to be processed. We understand this can take more than a year.
You may remember that this situation was made all the more harrowing because one of the girls didn’t have a passport. They considered sending Mujib ahead. But after considering it, they decided that no one could be left behind, even if it meant a longer wait. Your contributions supported them and allowed them to survive while they waited.
At last, everyone had the documents they needed to travel, and they set out last week. They arrived safely in Islamabad two days ago. Your donations, since September 2021, have kept this family alive.
You got them out of Afghanistan—the first and most important step toward a decent life. Of course, they still need money—they’ll need a lot, while they wait and during the first year—so if you can contribute more, please do. It will be the most life-changing donation you’ll ever make. (Even small amounts are very welcome; they add up.)
They got out just in time. Mujib wrote to me yesterday, “We were so lucky to crossed the border on Saturday, on Sunday, Taliban closed the border and today Taliban started fight with Pakistan army.” I checked, and indeed, that’s exactly what happened:
Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan, Pakistan closed. The closing of the Torkham border crossing comes after relations between Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban and Pakistan deteriorated.
So that was a very close-run thing.
A letter from the family:
Hello to everyone’s who read this letter, I hope all of you are fine and safe. I am Mujib Salihi a member of Salihi Family. I am sure all of people who read this letter know about my family.
I have a great news. I and my family are safely out of Afghanistan and now we are safe and very happy. My sisters and parent are also so happy, now we are out of Afghanistan and I feel freedom. Since Taliban take over Afghanistan we lived like prisons in Afghanistan, we passed really hard days, my sisters and my mother were at high risk in Afghanistan. Taliban was a direct danger for us, during 18 months under the control of Taliban regime we pass the hardest time of our live, Taliban make Afghanistan like a hell for all people especially for girls and women. Taliban don’t have any respect to women and girls, under the control of Taliban no one have freedom and safety, every Afghan person want escape from Afghanistan and all of them have same reason (Taliban).
Since Taliban take over Afghanistan the rate of crime, early marriage and forced marriage against women and girl dramatically increased. I have five sisters and they were at high risk of these crimes, now we are out of Afghanistan and we all so happy and feel freedom. I was like a bird in the cage when I was in Afghanistan but now I feel I am flying like a bird and feel freedom and safety.
I am very thankful to all people who support my family during these months, although we are out of Afghanistan but we are not in our final destination, but the good news is: now we can go to our final destination from here. I am very thankful to Claire, Mr. Lawrence and all people who want help my family.
While I want to focus on this good news today, let’s also appreciate what they’ve just escaped. Here’s the latest news from Afghanistan:
“They came to my store twice with guns and threatened me not to keep contraceptive pills for sale. They are regularly checking every pharmacy in Kabul and we have stopped selling the products,” said one store owner in the city.
Accusing them of “moral crimes and adultery,” 11 people were lashed by the Taliban in front of a huge crowd in northern Badakhshan province in the presence of Taliban authorities, scholars, and local elders. … Over the past months, the Taliban-run administration has lashed scores of people in different provinces.
Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis with a very real risk of systemic collapse and human catastrophe.
The Taliban’s intelligence agency arrested two men on charges of “propagandizing” against the group on Facebook.
The two men appeared in a video in which they confessed to spreading anti-Taliban messages and posting “immoral” content on their Facebook pages and accounts.
“They attached wires to my hands and feet and gave me electric shocks. The handcuffs had wires attached to them too,” he said. “I felt my arms were coming off my shoulders. I had nothing to confess to. But I knew false confession wouldn’t ease the torture. It would mean certain death.” Some prisoners are released only after their families pay a large sum of money. But some prisoners, despite their families paying in cash, and property, are never released alive.
Darkness Returns. The shattered hopes of women and girls in Afghanistan:
For Negin, the news was shattering. She felt numb and began shaking uncontrollably. She had only a few hours the night before and studied tirelessly all day to prepare for her take her one last exam before graduating as a doctor. She had fought against all odds and overcome the challenges she had faced. Now all in vain. Her hopes and dreams ruined. She had worked hard to gain a scholarship at a private medical school. Without it, her family could not afford her tuition fees. Becoming a doctor had been the driving force of her life, she says. …
“It feels like a death sentence,” she tells us. Women and girls are not only banned from having an education, but from all public spaces. “We are banned from restaurants, parks, women only bathhouses, bazaars, taking a taxi on our own, schools, tuition and language centres, and now universities. We are being suffocated.”
Getting a passport has become increasingly difficult since the group’s takeover of the country. No longer can Afghans rely on a normal bureaucratic process—however cumbersome and corrupt it often was under the previous government—to obtain them or renew their old ones. Although ranked the weakest passports in the world, for Taliban officials they have become a lucrative source of income. Desperate Afghans needing passports must pay huge sums to middlemen to get them.
People in Afghanistan face one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises.
Half of the population face acute hunger, over 9 million people are displaced, millions of children are out of school, fundamental rights of women and girls are under attack, farmers and herders are struggling amidst the worst drought in decades, and the economy is in free fall. Without support, tens of thousands of children are at risk of dying from malnutrition as basic health services have collapsed.
…. With 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population living in poverty, over 28 million of whom are dependent on aid to survive, and 6 million on the verge of famine, the international community, including the UN and the international aid agencies active in the country, understand the urgency of the situation and the catastrophic consequences of inaction. But the Taliban leaders, on the other hand, have demonstrated that they are oblivious to the appalling sufferings of the people they rule.
Twenty extremist groups are entrenched in Afghanistan with eyes on targets abroad. Afghanistan has become a breeding ground for terrorists looking to establish or reestablish themselves.
With schools gates shut, many Afghan girls are turning to madrasas for education:
15-year-old Mahtab, who has enrolled at a madrasa in Kabul, said, “I wanted to be an engineer in the future. I don’t think I can reach my dream.” … Despite intense lobbying and appeals by country officials, the UN and human rights organizations, the Taliban has refused to reverse its bans on girls studying beyond primary schools. It is unclear whether primary schools will be allowed to operate after the winter break
“ … any kind of a thing for Afghanistan you have, use it right now and make it possible for us to get out of this situation … You were part of our lives for so long, you did so much for us, and we counted so much on you. Is there a voice, is there a plan or are you just going to sit down and have meeting after meeting?”
One family—a lovely, loving, and hardworking family—is free from those monsters, at last. Let’s all rejoice in the good news.
Correction: I wrote that Lawrence had helped a young Afghan woman to emigrate to Canada; in fact, he helped her to emigrate to the US. I’ve changed this, and also changed “Larry” to “Lawrence” for clarity.
Also see this article about the family in iNews: Afghan family-of-eight hiding from Taliban fear they’ll be killed and say terror attack left Kabul feeling hopeless.
This letter, in which Zahera introduced herself and her family to Lawrence, explains the situation in more detail: