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Remembering the day the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow marks one year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan as U.S. military forces and their allies were preparing to withdraw from the country. It was a time of chaos, terror and uncertainty in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The scenes of crowds massed outside Kabul's airport, desperate for a flight out, shocked people around the world. Fazelminallah Qazizai is a journalist and author who works as NPR's producer in Kabul. He was there last August 15, when the Taliban took over. He's written about that day and its aftermath for New Lines Magazine. And Fazelminallah Qazizai is with us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us, and thank you for your hard work.

FAZELMINALLAH QAZIZAI, BYLINE: You're most welcome. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: Could you just start by telling us what stands out most vividly in your memory about last August 15? And I recognize that this is not a - not an easy thing to talk about. It was a time of - it was a very painful time for so many people and for you. But could you just describe, like, what was the city like as it became clear the Taliban was taking over?

QAZIZAI: The memory that always stand in my mind is in that morning, when convoys of refugee flooded into the city. The refugees had came from the north, which had already been taken by the Taliban. I was there to interview them. For some reason, I remember the sound as a sad melody - the noise of the car, the beeping and the people. People around me looked worried. We were afraid of a repeat of the civil war in the '90s, when different armed groups destroyed Kabul.

MARTIN: And then the Taliban did, of course, enter the city. When it became clear that that was the case - that the Taliban were in control - first, I was wondering, how did people know that that was the case, and what were people's reactions where you were? Like, what - how did they feel, or how could you - what could you see in their reaction?

QAZIZAI: I can tell you about my reaction. I was frozen. Even though they had promised to enter the city peacefully, I was afraid that the fighting would break out - another civil war will break out. But then, after a few minutes, people begin shouting (non-English language spoken) - God is great. They were shouting in support of the Taliban - men and boys giving them water, energy drink and posed for selfies. Then I was happy that they entered peacefully. And I wanted to add, it was a very surreal day. The street kids usually beg for the change had run up to the roof of the police post. They were ripping up and throwing the papers.

MARTIN: You've mentioned the civil war that raged in Kabul during the '90s. I mean, you grew up then. I am assuming that you had to have been thinking of that experience when you witnessed the Taliban entering Kabul that day.

QAZIZAI: Yes. When the war was raging in Kabul, I was a child. Yes, it was tough, but I was a child. Our school was a shelter for displaced Afghan. So I used to run and play with them - with the kids there. Now, as a man with an elderly mother, with a wife and young children, I began to understand the pain and worry of my parents trying to protect us in conflict, and I began to cry.

MARTIN: I can imagine. Well, it's been a year since that day. You're still living and working in Kabul as a journalist. The Taliban remain in control. The U.S. government still classifies them as a terrorist organization subject to serious economic sanctions. As a journalist, what would you like those outside of Afghanistan to understand about the country today?

QAZIZAI: I want the world to understand that the Taliban have changed, but they haven't changed to the extent that most Afghans want them to. And this is the most security we have enjoyed in decades. We have been living in war for four decades. Now we have relative peace. We don't worry about violence like we did before. We worry about the economy, about the political situation. And I want the people to know the sanction on the Taliban are hurting only Afghans. Most people don't have enough to eat.

MARTIN: And finally, I have to say that I think many people are aware that many Afghan journalists chose to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took over. Would it be OK if I ask why you decided to stay - why you chose to stay in Kabul and Afghanistan?

QAZIZAI: Yes. Yes, please. First, I should say that I really respect and pray for those Afghans who left the country. And then I decided to stay in the arms of my mom and my Kabul jan (ph), out of the love with them. I owe them a lot - my mother and the city. There is a Pashto saying that I shackle my hands to their feet. And I decided to stay and continue my journalism work.

MARTIN: That was NPR producer Fazelminallah Qazizai speaking with us from Kabul. Fazelminallah Qazizai, thank you so much for speaking with us.

QAZIZAI: You're most welcome. It was pleasure to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.