How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

Even before receiving death threats, the group had played a vital role in helping the 86 individuals, including 35 children, make it to Pakistan

How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

Eighteen months ago, Majid Mohseni received a call from a cousin in the war-torn Afghan city of Kunduz. It was 2am, and the relative needed help. The teenager was under Taliban threat, and asked for help from a small group of expatriate Afghans who had helped running a sports camp for young Afghan athletes.

A few hours later, the group gathered at a local hotel and was whisked away in a small motorcade on a flight to Pakistan.

“Nobody gave them any advice on how to get there – we had to make it,” Mohseni says.

For the past eight months, the group of expatriate Afghans has been helping 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members fleeing the fighting and forcing by threats from the Taliban to flee to Pakistan.

As anti-Taliban groups gain influence, deep in rural Taliban heartland and flush with profits from lucrative illegal opium poppy crops, they are threatening people and places like Kabul, the site of many of the UN’s most pressing emergencies, the deputy director of the UN refugee agency’s Kabul office, Liz Markham, said.

Humanitarian organisations, like the US-funded UN World Food Programme (WFP), “have no money to match the shocking scale of need” in northern and eastern Afghanistan, she said.

Although aid workers are increasingly being targeted by the Taliban, this year’s fighting has taken on a more urgent nature in Afghanistan, where 4,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Afghan government.

Ahead of a presidential election this year, civilian casualties have almost doubled in the last year.

Across Afghanistan, the Taliban are reporting casualties and leaving some civilians with permanent physical disabilities, according to victims’ families. Civilians, including women and children, were killed while trying to leave the country or fleeing the battlefield.

In some cases, Mohseni says, the Taliban are going door to door to punish people for sending their children to school or working as policemen.

Ismail Shaheen, 41, of Laghman province, said two Taliban guns killed his wife and children. Shaheen worked in Kabul as a driver, and had helped feed a large group of displaced Afghans in Wazir Akbar Khan, the capital of Laghman province.

One day, a man came to their home and said, “My son has come here to see me and he will get his head cut off,” Shaheen said. He did not report the incident to police, as he did not want to punish his son for bringing death to a local.

In May, Shaheen’s sister-in-law and two of her three daughters survived a Taliban attack in Kabul, but her younger daughter was killed, he said.

“I have been looking for my sister-in-law, but I cannot go see her,” Shaheen said. “They are very disturbed and still live under the Taliban. They have learnt you have to face the Taliban whether you like it or not.”

Five of the six families, according to Mohseni, are in Pakistan. His cousin, who fled Kunduz eight months ago, is in Kabul.

In Kabul, the other Afghans now in Pakistan include Olympic athlete Mohammad Fahim, the only Afghan representative who reached the quarter finals in the men’s shot put at the 2012 London Olympics.

Fahim arrived in February and was supposed to move to Lahore, Pakistan, soon after. His wife and two children, however, decided to stay, as the Lahore-based team coach and the coach of Afghanistan’s shooting team.

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