Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, shakes hand with a journalist after his first news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday. Mujahid vowed Tuesday that the Taliban would respect women’s rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, shakes hand with a journalist after his first news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday. Mujahid vowed Tuesday that the Taliban would respect women’s rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Afghan woman in limbo at Kabul airport after Taliban sweep

Afghan woman in limbo at Kabul airport after Taliban sweep

With hundreds of Afghans rushing the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport desperate to flee the return of the Taliban, a young Afghan woman stood in limbo between two worlds.

In one world, the 22-year-old would board a flight to a country she did not know, destined to become a refugee. In another, she would stay in an Afghanistan under Taliban rule, forced to wipe out the last 20 years of all that she had built and achieved.

Sleepless, hungry and scared she has been waiting for hours at the airport for a flight she feared would never come with questions she could not answer.

“I am in the airport, waiting to get a flight but I don’t know to where,” she said, speaking to The Associated Press over the phone. “I am here, confused, hungry and hopeless. I don’t know what is coming my way. Where will I go? How will I spend my days? Who will support my family?”

A data analyst working for a U.S. contractor helping Afghan businesses, she said she had gotten the call on Sunday afternoon, informing her she had just 10 minutes to leave for the airport. She had been put on an evacuation list heading to the United States or Mexico — she was told nothing more. She did not have a visa in her passport.

She left a friend’s apartment in Kabul with just the clothes on her back, a knapsack, laptop and her phone.

“My dreams and my plans, are all inside this small backpack,” she said, speaking to the AP on condition that her name not be used for safety reasons.

As the Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing an end to a two-decade campaign in which the U.S. and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan, she and a group of Afghans working for U.S. media were rushed to the city’s international airport by their American friends.

The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse, the ensuing chaos and the near-complete takeover of the country — just two weeks before the final pullout of the last U.S. and NATO troops — has shocked many in Afghanistan and beyond. For Afghan women, it raised fears that all they had achieved in women’s rights, the right to go to school and work, would be swiftly taken away.

On the way to the airport, she looked out the window, taking in the last glimpses of Kabul streets, “filled with a scary silence.”

There was barely time to call her family in the western province of Herat, seized by the Taliban last week in the insurgents relentless sweep. Before the fall, she had fled the city of Herat, the provincial capital and her hometown, for the Afghan capital, “with hope that Kabul would resist.”

“But everything changed,” she said. “Everything collapsed in front of my eyes.”

Her family did not object to her leaving even though at 22, she was their breadwinner. That role brought her respect and pride — something the Taliban could take away. She also knew that by staying, she would become a liability for her loved ones — a young woman, educated at an international university and working with foreigners.

“When I left Herat I thought I cannot leave my family like this, but staying there I become a risk for them,” she said. If the Taliban found out, she is convinced “they will hurt my family.”

Afghanistan