Mohammad Ehsan Saadat left Kabul for Canada just seven days before it fell to the Taliban. His work with Western forces as a researcher on women and girls’ rights put him in danger and just days after applying to come to Canada, he and his family were on a plane to Toronto. He joined 'Your Morning' to share his story, weigh in on the state of the country, and more.
Below, Mohammad writes about Afghanistan, his experience evacuating the country, and its uncertain future. Read his words below, and watch the video above for our whole conversation with him.
Written by Mohammad Ehsan Saadat. Article has been edited for length.
"Today, August 18, is Afghanistan Independence Day, and I write this with tears in my eyes.
I am a newcomer to Canada from Afghanistan. I recently arrived under the Special Immigration Measures for Afghans (SIMA) program. This is Day 11 of my arrival to Canada, under a 14-day COVID quarantine. I am using this time to interview Afghan relatives, friends and colleagues about the situation and changes happening there.
As a project manager, I worked with the Reaching out for Peace Project implemented by the FES, APPRO and Mediothek Afghanistan in eight zones of Afghanistan from March 1 to July 25, 2021.
In this endeavor, I spoke to friends and event participants regarding security and changes in their province. They were upset about the situation but optimistic about the Doha peace negotiations.
In the early days of July 2021, I monitored the security situation and spoke with community members in different areas of the country. The situation was deteriorating day-by-day and because of this, I chose to leave Afghanistan. On July 29, I forwarded my information to the Canadian Embassy in Kabul and one week later I was provided with travel documents for my family.
We left Kabul on August 8. Herat Province fell on August 12. One after another, the rest suffered the same fate. Kandahar and Balkh fell on August 13, and Kabul succumbed on August 15. We were very lucky to have left Afghanistan during those days.
Independence Day was the catalyst for me and I began to contact my connections in Afghanistan. They spoke about the situation and agreed to change our conversations to “interviews”. In all, I talked to six key informants.
The interviewees spoke of the Taliban’s recent positive attitude and said that because of the presence of 5,200 US troops at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, Taliban fear US retaliation if we do any anything “bad”.
The interviewees said that the Taliban has new recruits who seem well-intentioned.
These fighters from other provinces are dangerous. They look at the Afghan citizens and we can tell that they want to kill us right now. There are BADR 313 troops (Taliban Special Forces) dressed in uniforms similar to the Afghan National Security Force (NDS), who were responsible for the protection of the cities, embassies and President’s buildings. There are also a number of non-uniformed Taliban in Kabul, which is very unsettling to the citizens.
Some of those interviewed mentioned that the Taliban, who entered Kabul on August 15, do not have any knowledge of how it will be governed.
During another interview, two university professors said it seems the Taliban have no plans to permit ongoing studies for students, especially women. They also said there has been no direction of which subjects are to be taught. They say they have not received any instruction whatsoever.
The interviewees said that there is no plan for any government structure right now either.
They said that the Taliban have published the name and phone number of a contact on social media, and that any problems or “urgent cases” to contact it. There is no place or contact available for the resolution of land and property disputes, which are long-standing issues in Afghanistan.
During the first days of Taliban control in Kabul, Taliban attitude was positive. Since then, there have been issues about the Afghanistan flag, female demonstrations, media and of course, Independence Day. There are altercations with Afghan citizens and reports of conflict with the Taliban.
However, some Afghan citizens are happy that the Taliban has the control of the cities and have concluded that security has improved since this takeover.
However, the Taliban have begun collecting government and military property and equipment.
I was a student at Abdulhai Gardizi High School in Paktia Province, Gardez City in 1996 when Afghanistan was under Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan rule.
I remember all their laws, including dressing, mosque attendance, the right to freedom of expression, women's rights, the right to demonstrate and litigate/advocate.
This time, Afghanistan is dealing with a different Taliban. I believe that they have changed since governing in 1996. They have said that they respect women's rights, freedom of expression and international human rights law, but it takes time to prove this claim and commitment and to prove that they are really committed to these positive changes and being truthful. I am sure we all remember the Doha peace talks. It is very early for the international community to begin to trust the Taliban but at the same time, the requirement for international humanitarian aid is urgent.
At the same time, by observing the current situation and movements such as women protesting for equal access and decision-making in government, people demonstrating in the provinces for flags in Kabul and other provinces, we are seeing that the people of Afghanistan want to change the situation and this may cause the Taliban to use force. I believe that they are trying to force the Taliban to take serious action it promised it would not. If this happens, I am sure that the international community will not support the Taliban government nor recognize the new government.
I, like so many Afghans, remember what life was like under Taliban rule 20 years ago. We know they say one thing and do another. This time, the Taliban says they want peace. We will have to wait to see if their actions do as well."