Taliban soldiers riding in Afghan army vehicles visited apartments in Kabul on Tuesday, looking for former Afghan government staff and other Afghans who worked with international organizations, according to an eyewitness.
“So scary; I was in my apartment around [noon], hearing screaming and crying from women outside the apartment,” said the witness, who CBC News is only identifying as Abdul out of concern for his safety.
When Abdul peeked out his door, he said he saw Taliban coming up the stairs, knocking on doors, including his own.
“I told my wife, ‘Tell them your husband is not here,'” he said, hoping that the Taliban members would abide by their strict interpretation of Islamic customs and not enter the apartment if only women were home.
Speaking in Pashto, they told Abdul’s wife they would leave.
Two hours later, though, they apprehended two men from the apartment block, seizing a weapon and two Land Rover vehicles from the parking lot, Abdul said, as frightened residents gathered in the stairwells.
Since Sunday, when its fighters entered Kabul and seized control of the country from the Western-backed government, Taliban spokespeople have made urgent statements, saying a Taliban in power would not seek revenge on former government officials or those who worked with international organizations.
But many Afghans are deeply skeptical, and thousands have tried to flee, fearing what their rule might bring.
When the Taliban ran Afghanistan in the late 1990s, it relied on an interpretation of Islamic law that was often violent and oppressive, particularly toward women, who were barred from attending school or working outside the home. Television and music were banned.
Despite its brutal history and two decades of violent war, the Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate in recent years.
‘These are our assets’
At a news conference Tuesday in Kabul, in the media room formerly used by the Afghan government, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid urged Afghans to stay and not flee, saying those with ties to international organizations would be “pardoned.”
“The youth who have talents, we don’t want them to leave. These are our assets. We would like them to stay here and serve,” he said.
“We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped,” said Mujahid.
Still, there have been multiple accounts of such visits over the last 48 hours, where Taliban are reported to be taking down names and seizing some property in residential areas.
Abdul has worked with multiple international NGOs and media organizations — including Canadian ones — as a freelance journalist and translator.
“I’m scared, but my family, especially my wife and daughters, are still crying,” said Abdul, who has moved from his apartment to a relative’s house in a poorer neighbourhood, where the Taliban are less likely to search.
Two other families have also fled his old apartment building after the recent Taliban visit, said Abdul. “They said, ‘If they come this time, they’ll come … another time as well.'”
Abdul said he hasn’t been able to sleep for the past couple of nights.
“Every time, I feel like someone is coming, behind the door and knocking, and saying, ‘Can you get this guy? … He did this or that for foreigners.’ It’s just insane,” he told CBC News.
A number of countries, including Canada, the U.S., Sweden and the U.K., have promised to help those who worked with them over the last two decades. Evacuation flights have resumed from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport but access is strictly controlled.
Canada said it has now successfully completed nine evacuation flights.
A taxi driver who was circling the entrance to the military side of the airport on Tuesday afternoon said those who are being let in hold foreign passports, foreign permanent resident cards or visas.
“The Taliban have informed us that they were prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport — and we intend to hold them to that commitment,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
But many Afghans with international ties still remain stranded — and frantically worried, including Abdul.
“I have contacted maybe 50 to 60 crews — media organizations, NGOs that I worked for,” he said. “Everyone is promising me, but I hope one of these promises becomes real, so I can get my family out of this country.”