With the resurgence of Taliban, the Kabul airport under the command of US forces has become an escape route for desperate dozens. Among them is a Kashmiri professor patiently waiting for his turn while watching the incredible transition of power in the country he has been serving from last four years.
Following its “War on Terror” Waterloo, as America set the 30-day deadline for the arrival of ‘Turban Army’ at the gates of Kabul, a Kashmiri professor took his time to pack his bags and leave the country.
But the Taliban’s swift territorial gains—even surprising their own “Ameers”—caught Aasif Shah off guard, like the regime deserters who boarded first planes to leave Kabul in double quick time.
“The day Taliban entered Kabul, I was taking morning classes in the varsity,” Aasif, a 31-year-old Assistant Professor of Economics at Bakhtar University, told Free Press Kashmir from Afghanistan capital.
“We immediately suspended the classes and asked the students to rush back home. We were expecting extreme violence and a warlike situation, but Alhamdulillah, the two sides did not clash.”
The ‘bloodless coup’, as many call it, saw President Ashraf Ghani literally walking in the shoes of the former overlord of Kashmir—“fleeing with caravan of cash”. The fast flight made the transition of power peaceful, without much resistance from the NATO-trained and the battle-hardened Afghan army.
Aasif has been living in Afghanistan from past four years teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate students. He calls the resurgence of Taliban—after the two-decade-long US-led NATO invasion ended in the “graveyard of empires”—as a sweeping change.
“A group of armed Taliban visited our campus soon after their arrival in Kabul and assured us that this time the power takeover is different, and nobody will be hurt,” he said. “They assured our safety.”
Despite this assurance, Kabul witnessed traffic snarls on the first day of the Taliban takeover, with all government offices and banks shutting their operations. However, on the second day, Aasif said, “normalcy limped back in the Afghan capital with the sluggish movement of traffic and trade.”
Confined to his campus, the Kashmiri professor had booked his tickets to New Delhi for August 16. But when he reached the airport, he saw a panic situation.
“Since people are being evacuated without passports or visas or boarding passes, a lot of influx is coming to airport and creating a crisis situation,” he said.
“Yesterday, 150 flights took off from Kabul, giving hope to many more to come and leave the country.”
The rapid regime change in Kabul triggered instant reactions in Kashmir, with many trying to establish contacts with their friends and family members in the Afghanistan capital.
Once again rising to the occasion, J&K Students Association, in collaboration with student bodies of New Delhi, activated their contacts, channels and cadres to help students affected due to the emerging situation in Afghanistan.
“We launched a toll-free helpline number and while we were listening to the distressed calls which were mostly of Afghan students whose India visas were coming to an end, we received a call from a Kashmiri family in Kulgam,” Nasir Khuehami, spokesperson of J&K Student Association, told Free Press Kashmir.
The call was from the family of Prof. Aasif, hailing from Qiomoh, Kulgam in south Kashmir.
Another Kashmiri, Adil Rasool, is stranded in the country with his wife, Asfiya Jan. The couple also belongs to Kulgam.
While efforts are afoot to bring them home, Aasif said all ministries, including aviation, have come to halt at the Kabul airport.
“Some 15,000 people were there at the airport on August 16,” he said. “Many nationals of Germany, Switzerland, and USA are being evacuated with the help of their defence personnel present in Afghanistan.”
Notably, alongside Kabul Civil Airport, is the US-NATO’s Defence Airport, Aasif said, wherefrom they were/are evacuating their citizens.
“Somebody at the runaway fired an aerial shot on Monday,” the professor said.
“Reacting to this, the defence airport personnel shot dead the man who pulled the trigger.” Soon the images of this episode fared online and painted the panic situation of Kabul Airport.
Amid the ongoing airport crisis, Aasif found himself stranded due to grounded flights.
He has again booked his ticket to New Delhi for August 18, “but my travel agent said that the flights might remain suspended for some time, as India is yet to start evacuations.”
Situations like these have been making Aasif a little worried.
“Although the situation is peaceful and calm, I don’t know how long I can stay here,” he said.
“There’re so many layers and players involved in Afghanistan, how am I supposed to believe that this transition of power in coming days will remain completely nonviolent. I’m scared of that possible bloodshed.”
The young professor wants to come home in Kashmir, till the situation in Kabul becomes a little more certain and manageable. “I want to go back to my wife and daughter, Aaisha,” he said. “They are worried about me.”
Aasif even tweeted about it but due to his limited reach on twitter, his SOS went unnoticed, before Nasir Kheuhami shared his and the case of the other two stranded Kashmiris with Raj Bhavan for some hasty action.
“It’s an important issue,” the student leader said. “And I felt that details must be communicated to higher authorities as soon as possible for some speedy action.”
In a tweet, Office of LG J&K assured the families of the stranded Kashmiris in Kabul that they’re safe and will be home soon: “Spoke to MoS Foreign Affairs, Shri V Muraleedharan Ji for immediate evacuation of professors from Kulgam teaching at Bakhtar University in Kabul. He has assured the government is committed to bring back every Citizens safely as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, watching Kabul changing from the confines of his campus, the Kashmiri professor eagerly awaits evacuation, with a hope to return to teach in ‘new Afghanistan’ soon.