Afghani Warren Wilson student talks about concerns for family, U.S. withdrawal, Taliban

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Mah Begum Atimadi, a Warren Wilson student, speaks out against the Taliban's control of her home country of Afghanistan.

Mah Begum Atimadi, a sophomore at Warren Wilson, discussed the mishandling of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan by the U.S. government, the cruelty of Taliban rule and the uncertain safety of her family members who remain in her home country. 

"I want to warn America in general not to forget about Taliban history," Atimadi said. "They are a terrorist group. They know that. That's clear."

According to Atimadi, if Taliban rule continues unchecked, attacks will be imminent. She said the current situation goes beyond Afghanistan and affects the world as a whole. 

The international community lending aid to the people in Afghanistan, suffering under Taliban rule, needs to become a priority, Atimadi said. Putting pressure on the international community while also ensuring that assistance doesn't benefit the Taliban, she said, needs to happen for the Afghan people to persevere. 

Atimadi came to America when she was 17. That was the first time she flew on a plane, lived away from her family, and while learning the new language, was in the process of applying to college. 

Coming to Warren Wilson from her high school in New Mexico, Atimadi chose the small Swannanoa college after receiving a scholarship. She studies political science and global studies as part of her double major. 

Atimadi's family was living in Kabul when the Taliban entered. Her family has been targeted due to her brother's involvement with the Human Rights and Democracy Organization of Afghanistan, a non-governmental nonprofit dedicated to promoting peace-building and social justice through public participation. 

"He was targeted before the Taliban came to Kabul," Atimadi said. 

Her brothers were forced to flee to Pakistan when the Taliban took control, their jobs making them targets for the terrorist group. Now, they live in fear of deportation, knowing what awaits them should they be sent back to Afghanistan. 

Although the refuge of Pakistan is better for the time being, Atimadi said it's not much safer than Afghanistan, as the Taliban's influence extends beyond the reach of one country. Her brothers don't have Pakistani phone lines, so she cannot speak with them except on rare occasions. 

"They send me a quick voicemail, and I send them a quick voicemail and it gets to them a week or two weeks later," Atimadi said. 

The rest of her family remains in Afghanistan. Atimadi said she hasn't spoken much with them as they told her to distance herself. As someone living in America, her connection would be an easy reason for the Taliban to harm her family, she said. 

"They told me not to contact them," Atimadi said. "I count as a danger for them. The Taliban looks for excuses, and that could be a good excuse for them."

Atimadi said women specifically suffer the most under the Taliban. She said women are treated as commodities as the terrorists try to normalize a gender-based apartheid regime.

Atimadi is not alone in voicing her concerns. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement regarding the plight of ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan, specifically the Shi'a minority, part of the Hazara ethnic group. 

"As both an ethnic and religious minority, the Hazaras have long faced discrimination and violence," the statement says. 

At risk of crimes against humanity and even genocide, the Hazaras have also experienced social and economic marginalization in the wake of many physical attacks, according to the museum. Atimadi said this issue needs to be taken seriously since higher levels of government haven't taken much notice. 

From the beginning, Atimadi said the U.S. mishandled the situation in Afghanistan. She said the government was wrong to go to Afghanistan when the regular people were not to blame for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Atimadi said the U.S. military merely pretended to help but actually inflicted more harm when they abruptly left. 

"To get out overnight and leave them like that was not a strategic or smart plan," Atimadi said. 

One of the largest difficulties for Atimadi has been to get accurate information about her family. At first, she had wished she were with them in Kabul but soon realized the burden she would be, especially as a young woman. 

"I know they cannot get me here, or easily find me, but I'm worried for my family," Atimadi said. "It has just been incredibly hard to watch it from here."