It was Sunday and I was planning for a trip to Kabul the next day. That evening, I went out for a walk with my son, Hazheer, who has just turned four. The streets were filled with joy and happiness as everyone was celebrating the religious holiday Eid. There was music everywhere and girls and boys were visiting families and friends. I had ice-cream and went home from the crowds. No one could imagine our city, Kunduz, would fall to the Taliban the next day.
It was after midnight when I awoke to gunfire. Gunfights are a common affair in Kunduz and I did not think their latest manifestation posed any real danger so I went back to sleep. I was awoken again, this time by a phone call, after 3pm. Zarghoon Mulzam, the editor-in-chief of Kunduz Magazine, who knew about my trip to Kabul. “Please stay home," he said. "The Taliban are in Kunduz.”
Woke up to Taliban flag in the city
On Monday morning those who had fled the city centre informed me that the Taliban flag was flying all over Kunduz City. Call after call confirmed that Afghan security forces were only in Bala Hesar, Bagh-e-Sherkat Base and Kunduz Airport. From my window I could see a lot of smoke from the buildings burnt by the Taliban – UNAMA, the National Directorate of Security HQ, and the houses of some mujahedin commanders. It was terrifying – planes and helicopters were everywhere in the sky above us and gunfire scored the moment.
That evening, the battle intensified in the city and we had to stay home. Rumours circulated that the Taliban were on the verge of capturing Kunduz Airport, even if they never actually did. Everybody was concerned: Afghan security forces claimed that American air support had killed Mullah Salaam, the Taliban’s shadow governor in Kunduz, as well as two major Taliban commanders. People dared to hope that the Taliban would be defeated and normality soon restored.
On Tuesday, the Taliban still seemed to have high morale despite the loss of their senior commanders as claimed by Afghan and American security forces. After 8.30am, the Taliban riding on motorbikes came to our village through Zakheel. Our village is at the vicinity of Padshah Qalandar and connected to Bagh-e-Sherkat. Bagh-e-Sherkat and Padshah Qalandar Shrine were the two bases that the Taliban failed to capture.
When these army bases were informed of the Taliban presence in our village, they started to fire rockets and we were caught in the crossfire again. The majority of rockets fired hit congested residential houses and public places. People ran out of their burning homes with no idea where to go.
An abandoned Afghan army checkpoint in Kunduz
My family and I had to run for our lives too. We got to a public road hoping to find a vehicle to get away. We waited for more than two hours in the shadow of rockets – it was the longest wait of my life. I will never forget it. As we waited on the side of the road, Taliban fighters riding motorbikes headed in the opposite direction to join the battle. Three of our neighbours injured by rockets joined us. None of us knew where to go. All we could hear were gunshots from all sides: the airport and Bala Hesar.
I saw a rickshaw coming towards us and I asked him to take us to a safe place. He did not seem keen to be working, but did not let me down, since he is from my village and took the risk. We all rode in it – me, my wife, my son, my brother, his wife and his six-month-old daughter. We did not know where it was safe to go, so we went to the city.
We managed to get about 300-metres ahead when were stopped by a United Nations vehicle. Four people got out of the car and stood in front of us. Two of them were wearing white turbans. One had a mobile phone in his hand and it looked like the other was a Taliban commander. All the men were armed with their faces covered.
Taliban hijack UN vehicle
The United Nations vehicle, under the Taliban's control, blocked our way. We were held for a while longer but eventually, using sign language, we asked one of them to let us go through. They unblocked our way and we passed. When we got close to the city, we saw the Taliban flag near Zakheel High School and the house of Hadji Omar, an advisor to President Karzai.
At around midnight, we arrived in the city. It was empty, except for local residents sat with Taliban fighters in the light of the moon on sidealks. As we passed the second-hand market we noticed that we were getting closer to the battle. A Taliban car passed by us at high speed. We approached Al-Bayruni Hospital; bullets were flying over our heads.
Between a rock and a hard place
We were about to enter the main Kunduz-Kabul road when we saw a government forces tank coming towards us firing indiscriminately in all directions. Within seconds two more followed. Bullets were flying everywhere. The tanks were fleeing from Hala Hesar towards the airport as a result of the pressure from the Taliban. Every standing object appeared to be a Taliban fighter for the demoralised ANSF forces.
Eventually we reached the relative safety of Khaja Mashhad, via Sayed Abad District. Cars full of displaced people were heading towards Takhar.
We spent Wednesday and Thursday at a friend’s home in Khaja Mashhad. For 48 hours, we never left the house. Meanwhile, control of Kunduz swung backwards and forwards between the government and the Taliban.
Brother killed for burying brother
A call from my village on Friday informed me that rockets had destroyed mine and two of my neighbors’ homes. The three houses burned to the ground. We lost everything and the only viable option seemed to go to Takhar.
Pro-Taliban graffiti in Kunduz
We went to the bus station where there were only four cars. On the way I bumped into a friend from Sayed Abad. He said that on Wednesday night the Taliban killed a driver of the Provincial Transportation Department and his brother went out to recover his body. The Taliban killed him too. His nephew went out to recover their bodies and he was also shot dead by the Taliban.
The Taliban also killed another three people from the street next door to his. The plight of many of our friends and colleagues had changed in a matter of hours. A money changer from the market told me that he went to open his shop only to find out that his lock had been changed and that he could not get in.
The battle had scorched the city of basic living needs. Without food, electricity, water, or gas, we left Kunduz for Takhar.
Taliban kill for wrong heartbeat
On the way we were stopped several times at Taliban checkpoints between Charkhab and Khan Abad. According to some passengers, the Taliban checked heartbeats of passengers to identify government employees and local police. This is how they found those who were scared.
Half way through Khan Abad, the sight of pro-government militias was met with relief by everyone as we knew we were out of Taliban-controlled territory.
Suddenly the challenges of daily life returned, only bigger. Prices had soared in a few days. A 50 afghani phone (approx 1 USD) card was now costing 60. Drivers were complaining about higher gas prices. A sack of flour jumped up from 1200 to 1600 afghani. Gas prices leaped from 55 to as much as 80 afghani. Banks remained closed.
After the defeat of the Taliban in Khaja Ghar in Takhar province, we heard everybody was ready to fight the Taliban. We decided to go to Keshm in Badakhshan.
When we arrived in Keshm, the shockwaves and fear from Kunduz had followed us. It was rumored that Tagab District would soon fall to the Taliban. That would pave the way for the fall of Keshm to the Taliban, which they had already occupied in the past.
Fear follows to Badakhshan
On Saturday morning, we were on the road again, this time from Keshm to Faizabad. On the way, our driver stopped several police vehicles and told them that the Taliban were inspecting vehicles in Lie Aaba Area, eight kilometers from Badakhshan airport. They stopped there but we kept going. When we arrived in Lie Aaba, the Taliban had luckily gone.
A farmer flees Kunduz with his flock
After the partial fall of Baharak district in Badakhshan province, concerns started to grow in Faizabad too. The distance between Faizabad and Baharak is an hour drive. Baharak connects more than 10 districts in Badakhshan province.
With the road blockade from Kunduz, prices went up in Faizabad too. Some of the displaced stayed with their families and friends. Some rented hotel rooms and some stayed at Maryam Kofi’s home, a representative for Takhar to the Parliament of Afghanistan. According to the spokesman for the governor of Badakhshan province, over a 1000 families have been displaced to the province. They are still not registered and have not received any aid.
Thousands displaced in Takhar
The number of the displaced in Takhar is more than 3000 families. Some have been placed in the Spin Zar area by the government. Some have fled to other provinces, like Baghlan, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul. Their number is still unclear.
Some of the displaced left behind everything except for the clothes they were wearing. Most of them will be safe from the war for now, but the struggle to survive continues, especially with winter approaching.