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'I have not lost hope'

TWO former Brunel University students — Ariana Abawe, 22, and Bizhan Neromand, 24, organised a charity event to help people in Afghanistan.

The event, which took place last month at the Milan Palace in Southall, was a showcase of Afghanistan’s history and culture through poetry, music, dance, and a fashion show featuring traditional Afghan attire.

Ariana told The Hillingdon Herald,: “Afghanistan now needs us more than ever. We planned this event to raise money for the less fortunate in Afghanistan, even before innocent men fell from planes and died, before the loss of innocent lives at the Kabul airport. We pray that God gives them all jannatul firdaws. If one part of Afghanistan bleeds we all bleed. This event was open to everyone, Afghans and non-Afghans to unite together.”

Ariana has been working as a journalist in the UK, after graduating from Brunel University. She is the founder of the Ariana Magazine, a magazine dedicated to Afghanistan, which aims to introduce the world to the beautiful side of the country, as compared to its war-torn image.

Ariana said: “With the Taliban fully controlling the provinces around Afghanistan, it is very worrying for me and all Afghans and non-Afghans around the world. This group is known for its brutal acts of violence and the harsh rules it enforces. I just pray people are allowed to live in peace, especially women and ethnic groups such as the Hazaras and the minority communities like the Sikhs, Hindus, and Jews that live in Afghanistan.”

Bizhan, also a Brunel graduate and is now a British-Afghan actor and producer. He is the founder of A&B Films, a film production and distribution company dedicated to Afghan cinema in the UK. Since its inception in 2019, the company has released its first movie Salam London in the UK, and another short film Tahammul. Bizhan played the lead role in Salaam London and was critically acclaimed for his performance.

Bizhan said: “We don’t know how long this situation will drag on, and if at all there will be an end to this harshness. At the moment mobile phones are still working properly in Afghanistan. I am getting to speak to my relatives a few times a day. I am worried if they put an end to the telecom, it would disturb us all.”

Women are at a vulnerable juncture in Afghanistan once again after 20 years since the last Taliban rule between 1996-2001. Speculations and fear loom large regarding women’s rights and liberty in the country.

Bizhan recalled: “We have seen numerous examples in the past how the Taliban forced people to do certain things that were even against our religion. Women were not allowed to educate themselves, they had to be accompanied by a male while going out, they had to wear a chadari which covered the full face while going out, and we can go on and on and on with the list.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in the first Taliban press conference after the takeover, said that the rights of women in Afghanistan would be respected “within the framework of Islamic law.” However, no clarification regarding the periphery of the “framework” was provided. It was also not clarified if dress restrictions including the mandatory usage of the all-covering burqa would be imposed on women or not.

Ariana said: “Islam gives women the right to education and right to work. The Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadija in Islam was a very successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. I do not know, and we will never know what this statement will mean to the Talibs, but if Islam is followed rightly, then women can have the same rights that they have worked hard to receive over these years.”

The Taliban spokesperson had further claimed that the Taliban has evolved from 20 years back, and now has better “experience, maturity, and vision,”

Can the Taliban really evolve into a better Taliban 2.0?

Ariana said: “People around the world including myself are very confused with this Taliban, saying one thing but doing another. The Taliban itself has many strict laws and has been very brutal ever since 1996. From all the innocent lives that have been taken over the years and recently too, I do not believe there can be a better version of the Taliban.”

Bizhan said: “We cannot trust the Taliban as we don’t know what its plans are regarding Afghanistan. It’s really hard to say anything about the future of the people in Afghanistan. All we can do is pray for the best.”

While shocking visuals of Afghans gathering in airports in their attempt to flee the country rolled through TV screens and social media, Ariana and Bizhan feel betrayed as Afghans.

Ariana said: “Afghanistan has been betrayed to an extent by its own people and the world at large. Over these 20 years, there hasn’t been complete peace in the country. Innocent people have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and people have fled the country for a better life. I am sorry for all those who lost their lives there, but I don’t understand the outcome of the Western intervention in Afghanistan. In terms of help, the UK has stated that it will allow 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan over a five-year resettlement plan. That is something which I am grateful for, but I wish the West would do more to help the people of Afghanistan.”

At the event, tribute was paid to those who lost their lives in Afghanistan. Afghan cricket journalist and presenter Diva Patang, who was also present at the event, addressed all Afghans and non-Afghans, and said: “I have not lost hope and the reason is you guys.”

See November’s issue of The Hillingdon Herald for an in-depth interview with a journalist who was present during the fall of Afghanistan.


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