Two days after the Taliban regained control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, 23-year-old news anchor Beheshta Arghand reluctantly made history. A Taliban commander suddenly entered her studio and demanded an interview, making Arghand the first Afghan woman to give an interview to the Taliban. Meanwhile, the young journalist fled her country. “Like millions, I fear the Taliban.”
The iconic images spread around the world: a female journalist interviewed the Taliban leader on a leading news channel in Afghanistan. Under the previous Taliban rule, it did not make sense to allow women to do this. The images reinforced a more moderate picture: Will women do better under the ‘new Taliban’?
News anchor Beheshta Arghand did not wait for an answer. She fled Afghanistan on August 24. “I’m running away because, like millions of other Afghans, I fear the Taliban,” she told CNN.
The Taliban do not accept women. “If a group doesn’t accept you as a human being, it’s very difficult,” she told Reuters.
Shocked in the studio
Argand graduated as a journalist from Kabul University and was only working for the Afghan news channel Tolo for a month and 20 days when the Taliban invaded Kabul.
She was in the studio when the Taliban leader suddenly intervened on August 17. “I was shocked, I lost control. I told myself they might come and ask what I was doing there.” She quickly pulled her hijab on and made sure she wasn’t showing much skin. “Fortunately, I always wear long clothes in the studio because we have different people with different ideas.”
After she caught her breath, the live interview began. She says she did it for Afghan women. If we stay in the office and don’t go to the office, they’ll say women don’t want to work. But I said to myself, “Get started.”
Help from a Nobel laureate
The interview was part of a media campaign to make the Taliban appear moderate and pledge to respect women’s rights. But soon after, Argand saw that the situation was deteriorating.
The Taliban demanded their employer, Tolo News, that all women be required to wear the traditional headscarf, and suspended the presentation of female news anchors from other channels. They also asked the local media to stop reporting their takeover. “If you can’t even ask questions, how can you be a journalist?” Many colleagues had already left the country when Argan decided to do the same.
She called Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who had interviewed her before, and asked if there was anything she could do for her. The women’s rights activist included her on an evacuation list to Qatar, and she and her mother, sisters and brothers became one of tens of thousands of Afghans who managed to escape through Kabul airport on an evacuation mission.
Arghand, now residing in Doha, says she loved her country and her work, and she misses it. “When I was on the plane, I thought, ‘Now you have nothing. “I am not happy that this generation has already worked and fought for a new Afghanistan.” She hopes to return to Afghanistan when the security situation improves and the Taliban do what they promised: let the women work. “But now there is nothing there.”
“Creator. Award-winning problem solver. Music evangelist. Incurable introvert.”