Category : News
Author: James Halpin

There was no bounce in Abdullah’s Afghan dust track.

The university cricket oval in Afghanistan’s east was Abdullah’s home ground, where he would play with students after a hot day of teaching law – until the Taliban took over.

The Taliban told Abdullah that cricket was a waste of time, and then they threatened his life.

A death threat from the Taliban sent to Abdullah and his family caused him to flee his home in eastern Afghanistan.

Abdullah, with his brother-in-law translating, shared how his life changed when the fundamentalist group took over the city he lived in. And how a death threat from the Taliban caused him, his wife, and his young daughter to flee their homeland.

Stuff has chosen not to reveal the identity of the man to protect his family in Afghanistan. The Taliban have repeatedly carried out recrimination killings to bolster their hold over the country.

A family which fled Afghanistan has started their new life in New Zealand after finishing their stint in MIQ.

Paradise On Earth

Life near the border with Pakistan was idyllic as recently as May. In a secure compound, like a desert oasis, Abdullah played cricket, football, and fished. His wife played basketball, jogged, and hosted parties for her friends.

Abdullah was from a distinguished law family. He had his own law practice, but also taught social justice, criminal justice and constitutional law at the university.

He said he put Taliban fighters behind bars. He received death threats then too, but he was safe while the Afghan military and police, backed by the Americans, held the fundamentalists at bay.

With a one-year-old daughter, his life had just begun. Abdullah wanted her to grow up to be a doctor.

The Taliban Takeover

But then, things started to change. In May, the Taliban began to take rural districts. In June, they took regional capitals and border crossings.

Through an aggressive social media campaign on Facebook, the Taliban announced their victories and exhibited their killings – all live and free to air – around the country.

“Here they are now, here they are coming now, they took this province, they took this district, they took another one, here they are now in this city.”

Afghans watch as Taliban fighters ride atop a Humvee after detaining four men who got involved in a street fight in Kabul, Afghanistan.

When he realised the Taliban would be the new “lord" he said he felt alone and “almost had a heart attack”.

And then in the middle of August, the Taliban arrived. He said everything went silent.

“We didn’t expect to live more, and we didn’t expect to be alive, even for a month or so,” he said.

Abdullah saw men with long hair and beards on the street: carrying big machine guns, driving fast, hitting people, fighting people, shooting women, shooting children.

Taliban soldiers stand guard in Panjshir province, in northeastern Afghanistan.

His daughter’s face came to him when he saw a child killed in front of him. He accepted he and his wife and daughter would be next.

Abdullah saw hands on one side of the street and heads on the other, severed by a sword, he thought.

And he saw four men hanged. Several of them, lawyers he knew.

Abdullah and his circle of friends stopped their lives. The university closed.

Worried about being targeted for working for the previous government, Abdullah’s family shrunk back inside their house, like a jail, he said.

The Death Threat

Almost a week later, Abdullah received the handwritten letter. He said it was like a bomb hitting his house.

“You are ordered to thereby surrender, otherwise, we will kill you with your family members,” it said.

The Taliban death threat, pictured alongside a translation into English.

The letter, from the Taliban military, implied that Abdullah would die for working with the previous government – that is, working for law and order and justice.

Within a few hours, Abdullah had decided he, his wife, and his daughter would make the risky journey to Kabul with the hope of getting out of the country.


Abdullah said he had to leave the rest of his family behind, he didn’t have enough money to take them to Kabul.

“It was the only choice,” he said.

The family got in a taxi and fled their home.

A Taliban flag is placed in the front of a motorbike in Kabul.

Hiding In Kabul

Abdullah and his family arrived safely in Kabul.

They went to a cousin’s house where they stayed inside, out of the Taliban’s way.

He spent the days counting the last minutes of his life and talking about the past while watching the Taliban in control of the streets outside, on Facebook.

Eventually, the days turned into two months.

Afghans cross a bridge above the Kabul river in Kabul.

Two months without leaving the house.

Two months where the family was so poor they had to start selling off Abdullah’s wife’s jewellery at scrap metal prices, just to pay for food.

Help From Abroad

While Abdullah was surviving in Afghanistan, his brother-in-law Numan, was lobbying the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade from his home in Christchurch.

Numan had moved to New Zealand in 2019 after an uncle had been shot in the terror attack.

Numan helped the family financially through Western Union. But for a long period of time, he said, Abdullah had no power and was unable to charge his phone.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kabul has recently been converted into the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Abdullah had received a visa to New Zealand almost immediately following the Taliban takeover – the tricky bit was getting flights.

In Wellington, the ministry was able to wrangle flights and organise an MIQ spot, among other services.

“New Zealand embassies and consular teams in the Middle East are also assisting by providing essential connections between those leaving and the Wellington-based taskforce,” said MFAT.

As of November 29, 1323 Afghans were approved for a visa, according to data released by the Ministry of Business, Immigration and Employment. 780 of those had arrived in New Zealand.

A Taliban soldier stands guard at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

328 of those were visas for Afghans who had nothing to do with New Zealand’s mission in the country, like Abdullah and his family.

“This includes assisting with identification and documentation, support for their welfare while in transit, and onward travel to New Zealand.”

The cousin's room in Kabul was purgatory until confirmation came from the ministry that the family could get across, that Abdullah could be one of these 328.

Women wave Taliban flags as they sit inside an auditorium at Kabul University's education centre during a demonstration in support of the Taliban government in Kabul.

Taxis and Taxiing

Now in November, MFAT told Abdullah to visit the Qatar embassy in Kabul to receive his family’s boarding passes.

When Abdullah realised he would be able to leave for New Zealand he said it was like “like losing your life and coming back”.

Abdullah, by himself, took four taxis to and from the embassy so as not to be followed by Taliban.

A Defence Force Hercules on its first flight into Kabul's international airport as part of a coalition effort to evacuate foreign citizens and Afghans at risk of the Taliban's takeover.

MFAT was running communications to the family through Numan.

“Everything was free, arranged by them,” Numan said.

With the flights and the Visas, Abdullah, his wife and child made the trip to the airport the next day.

He and his wife wore double Covid masks and gloves to hide their faces. His wife had to wear a burqa.

The family only had to pass one checkpoint. Two men with machine guns stood guard.

A Taliban soldier stands guard at the gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“They were looking at us. We were worried ‘now they will call us to come here, now they will call us to come here’ but they didn’t because our faces were covered,” he said.

They arrived at the airport at 8.30am – it was already packed.

The flight was at 4.30pm. They never felt safe.

The tension of a final Taliban recrimination sat with the family as they waited for boarding. It continued as he and his family sat nervously on the tarmac, taxiing away from his life.

A Taliban soldier walks on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

It was not until the plane took off that he felt safe.

Finally, after arriving the family had to survive ten days in MIQ. His daughter drew pictures and dedicated them to Jacinda Ardern, thanking her for bringing the family into the country.

“Thanks a lot Ms. PM,” says a crayon drawing of Abdullah’s daughter shaking the Ardern’s hand.


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