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Henaa Salehi embarked on a journey from Kabul to New York for her Fulbright Scholarship position, but everything changed during the first leg of her trip to Turkey.
Salehi, who worked in the legal office for former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, boarded her flight on the morning of Aug. 15. By the time it landed, Kabul had fallen to the Taliban. The Fulbright program arranged her flights, she told the Washington Examiner in an interview. She had requested her flight to the United States to take off between Aug. 13 and 16. If they had given her a flight on the later end of that range, she might not have been able to leave.
"I remember I went to the airport at 6 a.m., and it was just another normal day. I used the public terminal for check-in, on-boarding, and everything, and it was like, fully flooded with people," she said, describing the scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport before she departed.
As she prepared for the flight days before, the Taliban launched a successful military offensive against the Afghan forces, who had the support and training from the U.S. military. In saying her goodbyes, several people told her they were “happy that you’re leaving and you’re lucky.” They urged her to “go and focus on your studies” and “don’t think of returning.” At that point, amid the Taliban’s surge, she described “tension all over the air.”
The Taliban "were taking over the provinces, they were having so many targets with the provinces, but no one would think that Kabul would collapse overnight or within a few hours," Salehi added — though that unanticipated outcome became a reality the morning she left. Once she touched down in Turkey about six hours after taking off, Salehi turned her phone on and had “messages from over 50 people,” who notified her about Kabul’s fall.
She also left her family, not knowing the Taliban would gain control of the country. While Salehi expressed concern for her family's well-being, she declined to share specifics citing the possibility it could put her loved ones in more danger.
She had less than an hour from the time she landed to get to her connecting flight, leaving only a small window to communicate with friends and family before embarking on a transatlantic flight to New York City.
Back in Afghanistan, many of her colleagues at the National Procurement Authority of Afghanistan went to the office as if it was a normal day — until it wasn't. With the collapse of Ghani's government, her co-workers were left feeling "so unsure," while others were "running out of the office," Salehi said.
By the time Salehi's connecting flight landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport, "it was all over," she explained.
During her first week in New York, as Salehi tried to acclimate herself to her new surroundings, she described feeling “frozen" and "in shock." She was "numb to what happened" and hoped for "magic." She came to the U.S. to pursue her master's in international business and trade law at Fordham University, in addition to being a Fulbright scholar.
Before Salehi joined the Afghan government's legal department, she was a commercial lawyer in Kabul and a women's rights activist. She now fears for the rights of Afghan women and girls who will be subjected to Taliban rules about everything from schooling to attire.
“Now, we are certainly from all that freedom, democracy, rights. We are going back to the Stone Age,” she said, adding that women will no longer “have any authority over your life.”
The U.S. and other Western countries have said they will decide whether to recognize the Taliban based on how they treat minorities and women. The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet on Tuesday by naming additional ministers and deputies, though none were women, according to the Associated Press.
Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid spoke about the possibility of including women in the government, though he did not provide any specific details.
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Original Author: Mike Brest