The Untold Story of How Afghanistan’s Combating Female Governor Salima Mazari Escaped the Taliban

The Untold Story of How Afghanistan’s Combating Female Governor Salima Mazari Escaped the Taliban

For the previous few weeks, the enviornment has believed Salima Mazari to be a prisoner of the Taliban—and perchance unimaginative.

One in all most productive three feminine district governors in Afghanistan, and the leader of a legitimate-authorities militia, the 39-300 and sixty five days-earlier skool had a global popularity as a mettlesome fighter. The Guardian profiled her at length. She became as soon as interviewed by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and other global news outlets, eager on her braveness in the defense of her district, Charkint, which lies about 230 miles north of Kabul.

Mazari had survived a lot of ambushes and believed herself to be on a Taliban hit checklist. When the provincial capital, Mazar-i-Sharif, fell to the Taliban in mid-August, she went lacking in the commotion and didn’t ground in the days following. The combating in Charkint had been fierce.

“Earlier than the fall down of Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban attacked Charkint district bigger than 30 times from diverse directions,” she tells TIME.

Plenty of media outlets, in conjunction with Folks magazine and Insider, reported Mazari as perchance captured. On Twitter, supporters worldwide adopted the hashtag #FreeSalima in a marketing and marketing campaign anxious her open. Some started to wonder if she became as soon as even alive. As tales started to filter in of the Taliban settling earlier skool rankings—killing a pregnant police officer, and shooting senior security officers—many assumed the worst.

Nevertheless we can document that Mazari is alive. She became as soon as by no diagram captured. After a harrowing dash from Afghanistan, she is now at an undisclosed blueprint in the US.

All of us know this on story of with out a doubt one of many authors of this fragment became as soon as fervent with her dash.

We’re two journalists—Zakarya is an Afghan and Robyn a Canadian—who private reported from the strife-torn country in the previous. Zakarya became as soon as based entirely in Afghanistan but ready to pass away for Paris staunch during the evacuation. He stored fervent with Mazari after the Taliban seized energy and she went into hiding. Collectively in a joint rescue effort by Afghans, Individuals and Canadians, he helped to play a section in getting her to security.

This is what came about.

The autumn of Mazar-i-Sharif

With a population of around 32,000, Charkint is a mountainous residence of tiny hilltop villages and grazing lands in Balkh province, shut to the border with Uzbekistan. When she became governor in 2018, Mazari became as soon as company to bring better outcomes for her neighborhood, however the job became as soon as by no diagram easy.

In her early days as a substitute of work, she organized the recruitment and practising of local militia and authorities forces to fight in opposition to the Taliban. When war broke out, she picked up a gun and joined her males on the front line, incomes respect as a staunch, outspoken commander. In 2020, she fearlessly negotiated the hand over of over 100 Taliban insurgents.

Because the Taliban marketing and marketing campaign intensified over the summer, Mazari and her militia held out—inflicting, she says, “mammoth numbers of casualties” on the enemy. Nevertheless when Mazar-i-Sharif—Afghanistan’s fourth largest city—fell on Aug. 14, and the Afghan Nationwide Navy surrendered Balkh to the Taliban, pro-authorities combatants had been compelled to face the inevitable.

For Mazari, the capitulation marked each a devastating discontinuance to life as she knew it, and the unwelcome begin of a current one.

She belongs to the Hazara, an ethnic minority persecuted for its Shia faith and Eurasian ancestry by Afghanistan’s majority Sunni population. The closing time the Taliban seized Mazar-i-Sharif, in 1998, the insurgents massacred some 2,000 Hazara, mainly males and boys.

It gave the impact that nothing much had changed in the intervening years. Amnesty Worldwide reported that the Taliban tortured and killed 9 Hazara males in Ghazni province, about 90 miles southwest of Kabul, in July. It became as soon as also reported that they’d shot 14 Hazara—12 surrendered soldiers and 2 civilians—in Daykundi province at the discontinuance of August.

Mazari believed that demise or dash had been her most productive picks.

Mazari, center, on July 14.

Farshad Usyan—AFP/Getty Photos

On the urge from the Taliban

When the news of Balkh’s hand over broke, Mazari became as soon as in the place of job of Mohammad Farhad Azimi, the provincial governor. His guards bumped into the place of job shouting that authorities forces had surrendered, and the Taliban had been coming into Mazar-i-Sharif from all directions. She remembers feeling suffocated as the actuality of defeat started to sink in. There were frantic phone calls from militia leaders in Charkint, about 45 miles to the south, telling her that the roads to her district had been blocked and the Taliban had been planning to ambush anybody who handed through. Mazari counseled her males and prompt them to face down.

“Persevering with to fight will be in opposition to the interests of our of us,” she says.

Azimi prompt finding a technique to the border with Uzbekistan and town of Hairatan, a 75-minute force from Mazar-i-Sharif. From there, the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge, spanning the Amu River, could perchance perchance also deal with them to security.

“We ache off off in a convoy along with my husband and guards. Plenty of high-profile leaders, in conjunction with aged vice-president and warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and aged Balkh governor and mujahideen commander Atta Mohammad Noor, joined us on the procedure. Many Afghan defense force items also adopted the exodus,” Mazari says.

By the purpose they arrived at Hairatan, the Afghan aspect of the bridge became as soon as crowded with high officers. Everybody became as soon as in a trouble. To her despair, Mazari became as soon as no longer allowed to salvage the crossing. Only Azimi, Dostum, Noor and a few legislators had been accredited into Uzbekistan. Mazari and diverse others had been pushed support and left on the banks of the Amu, pleading in vain.

Read more: These Women folk Fought for Afghanistan’s Future. Now They Don’t Want to Recede It In the support of

Colorful the Taliban would soon advance in Hairatan, too, Mazari says she briefly sought refuge at a relative’s residence in town. Then she donned a burqa—known as a chadari in Afghanistan—and made a swift dash by automobile to a mute dual carriageway junction in the barren say. There, other household participants had been waiting to smuggle her support to Mazar-i-Sharif.

“We hid for two days in household participants’ properties in town, then determined to salvage a urge for Kabul,” she says. There became as soon as no intelligent what would happen on the boulevard, but reaching the Afghan capital’s airport, and boarding an evacuation flight, became as soon as her most productive hope. Mazari says she had heard from others crossing the country that the Taliban became as soon as much less likely to query larger groups of civilians at checkpoints, especially if there had been many chadari-clad ladies folk veil. She slipped the garment on but again, and along with her husband and a lot of household participants ache off off in a battered earlier skool automobile.

They clutched every other’s fingers nervously as they approached every checkpoint. Nevertheless success became as soon as on their aspect. “Luckily, we weren’t known by any Taliban combatants,” Mazari tells TIME. “They let us through easily. It became as soon as the principle day of the fall down of the country, and in sing that they had been celebrating.”

They made it to Kabul, where they would perchance originate the “saddening” path of of persistently inspiring from safe residence to safe residence to verify they could perchance perchance no longer be tracked. Mazari became as soon as uncertain what to fabricate next and who to believe. She knew she became as soon as too high profile to salvage an begin dash for an embassy or the airport, so she despatched her documents to company who had connections to foreign governments, in conjunction with these of the U.S., U.K., Germany, and the Netherlands.

Plan by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Organizing Mazari’s rescue

One in all the of us Mazari despatched her documents to became as soon as Zakarya.

On Aug. 20, Zakarya, who had been had been airlifted to Paris earlier that week, despatched a text message to Mazari, taking a detect to substantiate whether or no longer or no longer she became as soon as alive. We had been engaged on a memoir collectively about Afghan ladies folk, in conjunction with Mazari, and Zakarya had given his quantity to her when he interviewed the governor in July. “I’m anxious—please let me know where it’s good to perchance perchance perchance also be,” he wrote.

Fearing traps, Mazari had no longer been responding to messages from odd numbers, but she known Zakarya’s. She prompt him that she became as soon as in hiding and, with few choices closing, despatched him the identification info of all her household and requested for support.

Zakarya straight relayed the news to Robyn: “I factual heard from Salima Mazari. She is in Kabul.”

Robyn’s companion, the Canadian photojournalist Matt Reichel, had already been engaged on helping colleagues and company salvage out of Afghanistan. Reichel became as soon as fervent with all people he knew who will be ready to support and became as soon as aware about a pair U.S. officers who could perchance perchance also gape at Mazari’s case. He fired off a lot of pleas to contacts in the Speak Division and Division of Defense, hoping one would work.

“We ready all her documents with a duvet letter explaining Salima Mazari is alive, incredibly high risk, and is on the total murdered if she is came one day of. She has no thought what to fabricate and is hiding in a safe residence,” he says.

“In the slay, with out a doubt one of my company at the Speak Division, who desires to remain unnamed, but has been instrumental in helping plenty of prone Afghans dash, became as soon as ready to forward her info to the Joint Interagency Task Drive (JIATF) and a high-stage resolve in the Secretary of Speak’s place of job. This particular person replied inner hours offering support.”

Salima’s info had already been equipped to JIATF through one other connection, Khadim Dai, a Hazara filmmaker in Los Angeles who had been running a parallel operation through his have Speak division contact. Her name pinged one day of many channels and became as soon as gaining momentum and improve. Reichel’s contact helped to escalate the query for an emergency evacuation.

Dai’s friend in London, the British Hazara activist Homira Rezai, also shared news of Mazari’s space and requested him for support. “I didn’t know her personally, but knew of her memoir and wished to support her. She’s a woman who is combating, making an are attempting so laborious to alternate issues, and most frequently is a position mannequin for our era of Hazaras rising up in the West,” explains Dai.

The day before the rescue, his have contact at the Speak Division prompt him “one thing will happen soon.”

Destroy out from Kabul

Mazari became as soon as unnerved that the Taliban would shut in on her blueprint in a subject of days, but she adopted Zakarya’s advice and waited. He became as soon as checking in on her usually to salvage particular she became as soon as safe and to present hope and reassurance—but Mazari’s extraction wouldn’t happen with out a closing-minute dread.

On Aug. 24, factual after destroy of day, Mazari obtained Signal messages in English, despatched by project of an unknown Afghan quantity, claiming to be from an American rescue coordination cell. In a lapse of anxious excitement, she says she shared all her household info and the particular coordinates of her in a single day blueprint. She adopted instructions after the sender prompt her to connect a image of herself making the peace impress. Nevertheless when she prompt Zakarya what had came about, he became scared on story of, after a fast English introduction, the rescue instructions had been supposed to be in Dari—an Afghan dialect of the Persian language. He and Mazari suspected that Pakistani agents had been running interference.

“I knew that Pakistan had been cooperating with the Taliban, and that a few of the neighborhood’s most correctly-known management councils are based entirely in Pakistan. I anxious that it can be the Taliban or ISI [Pakistani intelligence] getting access to our chat,” Zakarya says.

“We had been scrambling to resolve out if we could perchance perchance also verify the identification of this person,” says Reichel. “Now we private an Afghan phone quantity, and don’t know if this is a legit operation or a lure. My friend at Speak prompt me to correct away relate Salima to alternate her hijab, and prepare to perchance alternate areas whereas we learned what to fabricate next.”

Read more: What the U.S. Owes to Afghanistan’s Folks Has No Expiry Date

Reichel determined to call the volume on Signal. No person picked up, but Robyn noticed the person also had a WhatsApp story, and that the app became as soon as exhibiting them as being on-line. Reichel dialed but again on WhatsApp. This time, the resolution became as soon as answered. It became as soon as a U.S. Navy major. Plenty of Individuals will be heard talking energetically in the background.

“Naturally, he became as soon as pressured as to why a random quantity from Canada became as soon as calling him,” says Reichel. “He requested who I became as soon as. I introduced myself as a journalist and Salima’s point of contact. I prompt him his quantity reached out to Salima, she gave away all her identifying info and blueprint, and we had been fervent.”

Luckily, the Speak Division became as soon as rapid ready to substantiate the Navy officer’s identification. “I bought a call support from my friend at Speak announcing, ‘It’s confirmed. This is an actual operation, salvage particular she is on time at the rescue point and knows the kind to salvage there.’”

The belief became as soon as to extract Mazari and her household by helicopter, after which chopper them into Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport. At 7: 00 p.m. that evening, Mazari obtained a call telling her to satisfy at the rendezvous point.

She remembers scrambling to resolve out the positioning (fortunately she had been correctly versed in map reading as a defense force commander) after which with out note beginning off on foot with all 13 of her household, diverse them children. Zakarya became as soon as waiting in anxious anticipation for news. She messaged him at 7: 22 pm minutes later to issue that she became as soon as at Kabul airport.

The next day, Mazari and her household boarded a U.S. defense force flight to Qatar, and in sing that they right this moment are at an undisclosed blueprint in the U.S. looking at for resettlement.

She had made it.

Salima Mazari’s fight ‘will by no diagram discontinuance’

Leaving Afghanistan saved Mazari from almost obvious demise, but it is miles also, in a technique, her worst nightmare. She by no diagram wished to pass away a country she fought so laborious to defend—and she feels betrayed by her authorities.

“At Kabul airport, I witnessed the autumn of a nation,” she says. “I saw households fleeing and leaving all the pieces at the support of … It became as soon as advanced to designate my of us in that utter. Everybody I spoke to is facing the weight of disappointment on their shoulders.”

She continues: “I even private cried a lot. I even private thought about all these formative years who had been sacrificed in the previous 20 years for the evils of politics. I thought in regards to the aspirations of a era that are heading in direction of destruction. I truly feel a lump in my throat when pondering of my of us and fellow soldiers’ struggles, sacrifices and deaths. At any time when I deem these items, I truly feel cherish I am demise.”

At the present time, the outlook for ladies folk in Afghanistan is seriously bleak. Whereas a Taliban spokesperson has communicated that girls folk can proceed to work in authorities, they’re no longer accredited to withhold cabinet or other senior positions.

The Taliban no longer too lengthy previously announced the formation of their current authorities, and there had been no ladies folk or Hazaras included. Women folk proceed to be grew to change into far off from their jobs one day of the country. And the Taliban’s opponents are scattered and in shock.

“For the time being, armed combating is just not any longer the answer—we would prefer to resolve out a odd technique to support the country,” Mazari concedes. Nevertheless she remains no much less distinct to support. “My fight for the liberty and pleasure of my of us will by no diagram discontinuance.”

With reporting by Leslie Dickstein and Nik Popli

Earn The Transient. Signal in to salvage the tip tales it is miles a must-private to know correct now.

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