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Afghan Women Wait To See What Their Lives Will Be Like Under The Taliban

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Taliban, now in control of Afghanistan, declared an amnesty across the country and encouraged women to join its government. But when the Taliban previously held power in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, women were denied basic rights, such as education and employment. I spoke earlier to Mahbooba Seraj (ph), the founder of the Afghan Women's Network, to discuss how she feels about the future of Afghanistan, especially for women.

Please, if you can, share with us how you're feeling right now in this moment of what I'm sure is a lot of uncertainty.

MAHBOOBA SERAJ: It's so much uncertainty that I honestly cannot tell you whether we are coming, going, what's going to be happening, whether we are going to be alive tomorrow, dead tomorrow, alive and dead in the next hour. We have absolutely no idea what's happening. The thing is that there is a void of government. There's a void in security. There is a void in power. There's a void in everything. And that is becoming extremely dangerous.

MARTINEZ: Why are you still there? What's keeping you there?

SERAJ: Well, the reason why I'm here is because, you see, I'm responsible for a group of women and girls in Afghanistan belonging to a category of women that they have been hurt and they have been abused and used all of their lives. They are - they have been under my protection for the longest time. And I'm still around because I don't know what to do with them. I cannot take, you know, 80 women out and put them on the streets. I cannot take them and put them on a plane and get them out of this country. I cannot do those things. But I have to keep my responsibility, be around, keep some law and order as much as we can around us and try to make a sense of what is going on and pray and pray very hard that nothing horrible will happen.

MARTINEZ: These women that you're responsible for, what are you telling them?

SERAJ: I'm telling them, be quiet, be calm, pray, take deep breaths, and look after your kids, keep yourself busy, don't worry too much because there's nothing you can do by worrying, and just - let's keep our heads high up, and let's keep our senses around us. Let's - I always tell them this joke, and I say, you know, let's have - we have two eyes and two ears; let's borrow two more eyes and put it in the back of our heads and be really aware of what is going on around us.

MARTINEZ: Are you at all telling them what might lie ahead for them?

SERAJ: No, that I'm not going to tell them, and I'm not telling them any of that because, to tell you the honest truth, I really don't know what lies ahead for them. And I'm not going to start speculating and making wild guesses. I don't want to do that.

MARTINEZ: The Taliban has said that they plan on involving women in their government. What would you need to see? What would you need to see to believe that?

SERAJ: I need to see action, actually, for them to do that. You know, they have said these things quite often lately, but - you know, but we want them to actually do it and see what - how they're going to be dealing with us and what they are going to allow us to do, whether our girls can go to school, whether our women can go to work, whether our policewomen can go to their jobs, whether our doctors can do - can go to the hospitals, whether our teachers can go to schools to teach. We have - our engineers can go and do their work, our policymakers can do their work. And we have women in all, all, all categories. So they have to allow us to do that. Then once I see it, then I believe it.

MARTINEZ: You mentioned how you don't want to speculate on what may happen.

SERAJ: No.

MARTINEZ: But is there anything that you're doing to prepare yourself for any possibility, anything at all, like maybe getting rid of documents, anything that you might not want the Taliban to see?

SERAJ: No, no. I don't. I don't want to start doing that. I find that - I find it very unnecessary. I'm not going to do that. I have been working in this country for the past 20 years. This is what we do. This is our job. We look after the women. We look after the children. We dug wells. We teach people how to look after their health, how to look after the health of their children. We try to have schools that can teach them. There is nothing that I'm ashamed of doing in this country. So for that matter, I'm not going to hide anything from anyone.

I'm an Afghan. I was born and raised in this country, and I'm going to stay in this country, and I don't want anybody to force me this time to get out of this country. The world left us. Like a hot potato, they dropped us, and we are where we are. So now we should do it. We should really stand for what we believe, and we should really work hard.

MARTINEZ: Do you feel abandoned by the United States?

SERAJ: I feel so abandoned by the United States that it's not even funny anymore, honestly. I cannot even talk about it without wanting to scream. I cannot. I'm sorry. I'm like, so, so upset because of the way it was done. I'm not saying that they should have stayed with us and hold our hands for eternity, no. But the way they did it was wrong.

MARTINEZ: You know, the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan for the past 20 years has been unpopular in the United States, but also, the way this has been handled has also been unpopular in the last couple of days. Mahbooba, what's the one thing you want Americans to know about the situation where you are right now and the future that lies ahead?

SERAJ: Please, as Americans, you have a country that has laws. You're a democratic nation. Don't allow your government to use you by taking you by the nose and directing any direction that they want. Don't allow that to be done to U.S. people. Please don't allow it. You are much greater, much bigger, much more powerful than that. Make sure that when you get involved in a country, when you do something for a country, when you get involved in a situation like Afghanistan, the way you went there, make sure that your government does not lie to you because your government has been lying to you from Day 1 about this, all the way. They have been lying to you so much that they don't even know what is the truth anymore. So please, tell them that, please. That's not who they are. American people are amazing people.

MARTINEZ: Mahbooba Seraj of the Afghan Women's Network. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. And please, please, stay safe.

SERAJ: Thank you. I will. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAODAIL'S "GAEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.