© Reuters. From the file: Older brother Syed Abdul Wasi’ Majidi awaits his arrival with Majidi’s niece, Stich Majidi, 6, nephew Saeed Mustafa Meri, 38, and Afghan community organizer Bismillah Khurram at Sacramento International Airport in Sacramento, California. United States, August 5, 2021. Syed Abdul-Waseh al-Majidi was one of hundreds of Afghan translators who were able to bring to the United States as thousands more remain under threat in Afghanistan awaiting evacuation of the country. Photograph: Brittany Hosea/Small/Reuters
Written by Alexandra Olmer and Nathan Frandino
SAN FRANCISCO/FREmont, California (Reuters) – As the Taliban took control of Kabul on Sunday, Bismillah Khurram sat in his living room in Sacramento and video-contacted his family in Afghanistan.
Khurram said his 34-year-old brother was afraid of Taliban reprisals because he worked as an IT contractor for foreign charities and the Afghan government. The Taliban enforced a strict version of Sharia law during their 1996-2001 rule, which included imposing punishments such as public stoning, flogging, and hanging.
The brother hopes that Khurram, who has worked with USAID in Afghanistan and now lives in the United States with a green card, can help him.
“Is there a way out?” Khurram said his brother asked him. Khurram also stared at the screen with his elderly mother, his brother’s wife, and his two young children.
Weeping, Khurram told Reuters that it was impossible to get them out.
“Then there was only silence,” Khurram said. “No words.”
He did not reveal his brother’s name, citing the need to protect him.
Khurram, who is now a car salesman and is the leader of the Afghan community in Sacramento, wants the international community and the Biden administration in particular to do more for Afghans.
“They have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Americans to achieve their mission,” he said. “Now is the time for America to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans they worked with, and who risked their lives,” said Khurram, 36.
Thousands of civilians desperate to flee Afghanistan crowded the only runway at Kabul airport on Monday after the Taliban seized the capital, prompting the United States to suspend evacuations. Some clung to a US military transport plane as it flew over the runway, according to footage broadcast by Tolo, a private Afghan news station.
Amid criticism over the chaos, President Joe Biden on Monday defended his withdrawal and blamed Taliban control on Afghan political leaders who fled the country and the unwillingness of the US-trained Afghan army to fight the military group.
Some of the approximately 156,000 Afghans living in the United States, in Washington, which invaded Afghanistan in 2001, are demanding more Afghans.
Khaled Hosseini, author of the bestselling novel The Kite Runner, who lives in Northern California, tweeted, “The United States has a moral obligation. Accept as many Afghan refugees as possible.”
At least 60,000 Afghans live in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to estimates by Fremont-based Afghan Alliance Executive Director Rona Bhopal, making it probably the largest Afghan community in the United States.
Some came as early as the 1980s, fleeing the Soviet invasion, while others arrived more recently under special immigrant visas granted to vulnerable Afghans who worked for the US government.
Bhopal said the Afghan coalition is trying to help Afghans apply for visas for their relatives stranded in the country, but there is nothing else the organization can do.
Javed Amiran, 31, who runs an Afghan food import business in Fremont after arriving in the United States five years ago, said he felt helpless when he spoke to his crying mother at home.
Amirani, who is originally from Herat, criticized the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan.
Amiran said: “The timetable was not right. I hope the Biden administration has made a better decision and not let the country be destroyed by this extremist group.” We don’t know what will happen tomorrow in Afghanistan.”
(Writing and reporting by Alexandra Olmer in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Nathan Frandino in Fremont; Editing by Donna Bryson and Stephen Coates)