“Don’t let them catch me alive”: facing the Taliban, the incredible disguised escape of an Afghan celebrity

This is surely the most spectacular story that this social media professional will have to tell in her life. Aryana Saeed, the most popular Afghan singer with 1.4 million subscribers to her Instagram account, whose appearance is reminiscent of the queen of reality TV Kim Kardashian, has long drawn the wrath of religious and conservatives of his country for his songs defending the rights of women and denouncing violence against them.

So, like tens of thousands of Afghans, the coming to power of the Taliban pushed him to find out how to leave his country, to flee his tormentors. Now a refugee in Istanbul, Afghan pop star Aryana Saeed tells how she left Kabul in disguise, in the fear of being recognized by the extremists who have threatened her for so long.

President of the jury of The Afghan Star, a telecrochet of young talents organized by a television channel, Tolo News, herself in the sights of fundamentalists, the 36-year-old star could no longer walk freely in Kabul and lived in her city under high protection, limiting its movements.

So on August 15, she attempted a first departure a few hours after the Taliban entered Kabul, while the American forces were finishing their preparations for withdrawal. But the plane she was on never took off. She took refuge with relatives before a second attempt the next day. The insurgents are now present at all the roadblocks, their fighters armed with Kalashnikovs surround the airport and the last foreign forces are struggling to channel the desperate crowd that is pressing.

Recognized at the last moment

A convoy forms: her fiancé and manager, Hassib Sayed, in a car, she in a second, the two exchanging by walkie-talkie. “That’s where I told him, if they’re about to catch me please kill me.” With a bullet to the head. Don’t let them catch me alive. This is what I feared the most, much worse than death ”.

The pop star knew she was taking a risk by launching her fashion label in Kabul in July just as Westerners were leaving her country. “I always wanted to believe in the future, so I decided to invest,” she explains. That evening, she is draped in black, her face obscured by an anti-Covid mask and fake eyeglasses, a nephew of Hassib sitting on her lap in order to pass for an ordinary family.

“We were trying to get him to repeat his lesson in case of a check: if we get arrested, I’m your mother and my name is Fereshta. Will you remember? Arrived at the gates of the airport, guarded by American soldiers, Hassib is the first to appear, breaking through the compact crowd. “People were jostling each other, there were children, babies, women were fainting,” she recalls.

The soldiers in factions initially refused to open to them, privileging the American nationals. But one of their interpreters suddenly identifies Hassib and explains that he is the companion of the most famous Afghan star, whose life is really threatened.

“These Taliban are the same as in 2001”

Thanks to him the couple will reach Doha, then to Kuwait and finally to the United States from where he joined Istanbul, his new place of residence. From her terrace overlooking a district of Istanbul, Aryana Saeed points out that Afghan women are more educated today and more informed of their rights than during the previous Taliban regime (1996-2001).

“Afghan women are no longer those of twenty years ago,” she insists with pride and sadness, while her compatriots continue to demonstrate in Kabul, braving the brutality of the Taliban. “They are certainly not going to let it go,” she bet. On the other hand, she calls on foreign governments to understand that the Taliban today, “they are the same” as those driven from power by the West after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“I hope the world realizes that there are no new Taliban. Aryana Saeed dedicated most of her songs to Afghan women, at the risk of perishing. “With the Taliban, I have no space because they want my life, my blood.” While recognizing the share of artists who inspire her, such as Jennifer Lopez or Beyonce, she emphasizes the world that separates them.

“Imagine judging a musical show in a bulletproof vest so as not to be killed: I don’t think they had to go through that (…) Our lives are different. I would have liked to have the same as them. But what to do against the fate which gave birth to you in a country at war like Afghanistan. “

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