'All our hard work is now gone' – Afghan interpreter on Taliban takeover
- Credit: Rahmat Gul/Associated Press
An Afghan man who worked as an interpreter for the British Army said all of his hard work has now "gone" after the Taliban seized power in Kabul.
The interpreter, who now lives in Ipswich, said he is "heartbroken" by the scenes on television showing armed Taliban insurgents seizing control of his country.
The 32-year-old was born and raised in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, before the terrifying conditions of life under the Taliban forced his family to flee as refugees to Pakistan.
He shared his story on the condition of anonymity, to ensure the safety of his parents and siblings who remain stuck in the country.
"We didn't really go outside," he said about his childhood. "Everyone was really unhappy, we were scared. We would only leave the house if we really needed to.
"I was really young, but my parents did not allow us out. We made the decision that we had to flee as we were always in danger."
They lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan while he was a young child – with his family continuing to live under difficult conditions despite escaping the clutches of the Taliban's brutal hand.
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They later returned home after the Western invasion and he learned English in school, before seeing a job opportunity to become an interpreter in 2007.
"Life was good when we moved back," he said. "We felt safe, we could go to school. We could live a good life and be happy.
"When I left school, I did my exams and went to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province to help the Afghan National Army in 2008.
"It was a really hard job, us interpreters are just civilians – we had no weapons but were on the frontline. During ambushes we had to translate what the soldiers wanted to tell the Afghan army.
"We put our lives at risk from gunfire, bombings, explosive devices – all because we wanted to help build a peaceful Afghanistan."
The father-of-four relocated to the UK in 2017, where he and his family live a happy and successful life, but has continued to follow developments in his home country.
He said he believed Afghanistan could become a successful democracy, but that it needed the support of foreign powers for longer than the timeframe pushed by President Biden and his predecessor.
He said: "We thought withdrawing troops eventually would be a good idea – but not when they did. The ISAF (coalition) forces trained and funded the Afghan National Army – we had a good army, but it was never enough to control the whole country.
"Even recently, we had both the western forces and our own army here but it was still not enough to stop the fighting in some provinces."
He added he watched the recent developments on television in horror, with the Taliban taking Kabul over the weekend to the shock of even western intelligence services.
He said: "We thought there would be a bad situation when the foreign forces left, but we did not expect this. We did not expect the army to fall to the Taliban within one month.
"It was horrible for us to see the Taliban take control. We are scared – my parents and siblings are still there. I am scared for all of my people, but especially my family.
"Everyone is so frustrated, so unhappy. We thought we were beyond all of this. We have gone back 20 years.
"We put our lives at risk to make Afghanistan a peaceful place, for the good of our country – all our hard work has now gone."
The Taliban, who call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, said they have changed since the bloody years of the 1990s and early 2000s – and will respect the rights of women and ethnic minorities.
But the interpreter said people in Afghanistan remain deeply afraid and doubtful of the Islamist force.
He said: "They say they have changed as they don't want people to flee the country like they did when they last seized control.
"They are not different. They are just like they were in the past – they are scaring people. They are still using their weapons, firing at people.
"People do not think they are different. We just have to see what will happen."
Martin Simmonds, communications officer for Suffolk Refugee Support (SRS), who helped the interpreter, said some of the charity's first cases were from Afghanistan – including doctors and cardiologists.
He said: "We remember the cardiologist who sat in our waiting room kissing a photo of the wife and children he had lost, the young woman who had not left her house in three years for fear the Taliban would force her into marriage, and colleagues who had been persecuted for being members of the Hazara ethnic minority
"Without exception they have been dignified, polite, warm, generous, honest and resilient.
"We have shared with them their hopes and fears for the future of their country, and to see the Taliban back in power and yet more innocent Afghans uprooted and fleeing for their lives is heartbreaking.
"Already we are hearing from Afghan refugees in Suffolk that family members have been killed back home.
"Our thoughts are with all our Afghan friends and clients at the moment; we hope their basic wish for peace and freedom will one day be realised and that routes to safety can be quickly established for vulnerable refugees."
Those who would like to discover more about the services SRS provide can visit their website.