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Young, modern Afghans fear ‘losing everything’ as Taliban regains ground

The former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, transferred command Tuesday amid the withdrawal of American forces, and as the Taliban continues its re-conquest of much of the country. Young Afghans, especially women, who have grown up with freedoms never permitted by the Taliban are now worried about what comes next. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan arrived in Washington today. General Scott Miller transferred command yesterday, as the withdrawal of American forces continues.

    At the same time, the Taliban continues its re-conquest of much of Afghanistan.

    Watching this from Kabul, members of a young generation who've grown up with freedoms never permitted by the Taliban are worried about what comes next.

    Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    If you are in the government, or a public figure in Afghanistan, Taban Ibraz will work to book you on her show with as much focus as she does hosting, directing, and producing it. The 26-year-old has been working in broadcasting her entire adult life.

    A year ago, she launched this interview show on YouTube, where she speaks to the country's powerful and influential, while playing 10-pin bowling.

  • Taban Ibraz (through translator):

    I have always wanted to work in and on TV, ever since I was a teenager. I worked towards it and succeeded. For the last seven years, I have been a host, editor, director, and producer.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    We joined Taban on one of her shoots, filming an episode of the show in this new bowling alley and snooker hall during Kabul's quiet morning hours. Today, it's the head of Afghanistan's postal service who faces both her questions and skills at the sport.

  • Taban Ibraz (through translator):

    I wanted to bring them on air to face the public in a new format, to talk to them about their personal lives and how they got to be where they are now.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Inspired by figures like Ellen DeGeneres, Taban wanted to build a platform that was light enough for her to show the famous and powerful in a way they haven't been seen before, relaxed.

    She faced numerous challenges building her career. After a 2016 bombing killed seven media workers, Taban had to commute to work covered in a burqa. But she may face the greatest yet in the coming months.

    The U.S.' military withdrawal from Afghanistan has left the Afghan security forces struggling to hold on, and the Taliban is advancing. As the group closes in on major cities across the country, they threaten to take over the capital, bringing with them their strict interpretation of Islam.

    When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000, women were publicly brutalized and imprisoned at home. When outdoors, they were forced to wear the burqa. Few have more to lose than young women like Taban, who have built lives and careers that could be taken away overnight.

  • Taban Ibraz (through translator):

    Emotionally, it has been really difficult dealing with the fear of losing everything. I often think, OK, if they do come, what will happen? What will happen if I can't work anymore, as a woman? I will have to put on a veil and not leave the house.

    I have no idea if they have even seen my program. But I'm certain that, if they ever got the chance, they wouldn't let me continue to have the show.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    She is far from alone. There are millions of young people here living lives the Taliban would not approve of; 70 percent of Afghanistan's population of 40 million are under 25, too young to remember Taliban rule. Two decades later, if those same Taliban commanders return to these streets, they may experience an extreme culture shock.

    If the Taliban were to return to power in Afghanistan and here in Kabul, they would find a very different city from the one they once ruled over. But they would also find a very different young, modern population, one they would likely feel much pushback from.

  • Khan Agha Rezayee:

    People think they will not have any right if Taliban take control of the country.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Khan Agha Rezayee is a parliamentary leader. As the Biden administration announced an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan, he argues, the Taliban were emboldened to push for a military victory against the Afghan government, no longer invested in any pretense for peace talks.

  • Khan Agha Rezayee:

    We were hoping the U.S. government will put conditions, Taliban should move forward on the peace process, toward the peace process, and then, gradually, according to the peace process progress, then we will have our withdrawal.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    But few are holding hope of that now. For the young men in this office, getting out of the country is the only way to survive. They are former interpreters working for the U.S. military, and this company helps them with the complicated paperwork involved in applying for a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV.

    The SIV program was set up by the U.S. government in 2006 for Afghans and Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the U.S. military. It recognized that they would be putting themselves and their families in danger of reprisal by insurgents.

    Interpreters in Afghanistan have been murdered by the Taliban while waiting for years to get these visas.

    Those like this young man, whose identity we are protecting, need a letter from the human resources department of the contracting company that hired them, and another from the American military supervisor they worked under, sometimes years ago.

  • Man:

    So, you have to find them YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Is this what everyone's doing? They are going on social media, and to find their supervisors?

  • Man:

    Yes, yes, yes, to their supervisor, to get a recommendation letter.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    There are 18,000 Afghan military interpreters like him still waiting for visas, not including their immediate families.

    The Biden administration announced today they will begin evacuating those visa applicants later this month in what is being called Operation Allies Refuge.

  • Man:

    I applied on 2016. I wait two years or most of 2019, but, unfortunately, I got denied. So that's why I have to find another supervisor to get another recommendation letter for me.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Why did they deny you?

  • Man:

    Because my supervisor didn't reply to the e-mail to the SIV, so that's a big problem for us.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    And how long did you work for American forces?

  • Man:

    I was working since 2005 until now. Right now, I have another contract in U.S. Embassy Kabul right now.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    So you are working for the Americans right now?

  • Man:

    Yes. Yes, yes.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    And you are still struggling to get the visa?

  • Man:

    Still struggling to get the visa. That's a big problem for us.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    For many young people in Afghanistan, getting out of the country is the best future they can picture. If more war is on the horizon, they see little choice if they want to survive and provide for their families.

  • Ehsan Ahmadzai:

    The time that I just born, that time until here, the war is going on.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    As the bowling alley and snooker hall fills up in the afternoon, most of the young men here are just like 23-year-old Ehsan Ahmadzai. They have known only war their whole lives. Has there been an increase in young people wanting to leave the country, like your friends?

  • Ehsan Ahmadzai:

    Yes, most of them.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    And are people applying for visas? Like, how are people leaving?

  • Ehsan Ahmadzai:

    Every way. Everybody was — just want to go to Europe, from the illegal way, not legal way, the illegal way. So they are just going out to the country because of the jobs, because of — there is money. Like, there is no hope left here.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    And yet he still has some hope, because life goes on, despite the war. What would be the ideal future for you the next 20 years?

  • Ehsan Ahmadzai:

    Next 20 years? I just got engaged.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Congratulations.

  • Ehsan Ahmadzai:

    Yes. I just got engaged, so also I hope, like, I live happily in here, peace will come, inshallah. But I also want to live with my family.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It's better to stay?

  • Ehsan Ahmadzai:

    Yes, it's better to stay here. I don't want to leave my country. I love my country.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Taban also doesn't want to leave.

  • Taban Ibraz (through translator):

    That would be the absolute last option, only if I knew I had no other chance, no other hope. I don't want that to happen. The impact that my program, my existence in society has on the youth, the ability I have to convey a message to my generation and my gender, I would never have that anywhere else.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    As she holds on and steels herself for what may come, millions of other young Afghans also face the future of immense uncertainty. Those like Taban hope their remarkable young lives of innovation and freedoms will not turn out to have been a passing moment in the country's history. For the "PBS NewsHour, " I'm Jane Ferguson in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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