Afghan police, women return to work at Kabul Airport

By: AFP      Published: 03:07 PM, 12 Sep, 2021
Afghan police, women return to work at Kabul Airport
A woman busy in work at Kabul Airport.

Less than a month after the Taliban rolled into the Afghan capital, Rabia Jamal made a tough decision -- she would brave the hardliners and return to work at the airport. The members of the police forces also followed the women and joined their work at the Kabul Airport.

With the hardliners saying women should stay at home for their own security the risks were all too clear, but the 35-year-old mother of three felt she had little choice. "I need money to support my family," said Rabia, wearing a navy-blue suit and make-up. "I felt tension at home... I felt very bad," she told AFP. "Now I feel better."

Of the more than 80 women working at the airport before Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, just 12 have returned to their jobs. 

But they are among very few women in the capital allowed to return to work. The Taliban have told most not to go back until further notice.

Six of the women airport workers were standing at the main entrance on Saturday, chatting and laughing while waiting to scan and search female passengers taking a domestic flight. 

Rabia's sister, 49-year-old Qudsiya Jamal, told AFP the Taliban takeover had "shocked" her.

"I was very afraid," said the mother of five, who is also her family's sole provider.

"My family was scared for me -- they told me not to go back -- but I am happy now, relaxed... no problems so far."

- 'Take me to Paris' -

Women's rights in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule, but since returning to power the group claims they will be less extreme.

Women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban's education authority has said, but females must also wear an abaya, an all-covering robe, and face-covering niqab veil.

Still, Alison Davidian, a representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, warned on Wednesday that the Taliban were already neglecting their promise to respect Afghan women's rights.

At the airport, which is returning to action after the hurried US withdrawal left it unusable, Rabia says she will keep working unless she is forced to stop.

Under new rules, women may work "in accordance with the principles of Islam", the Taliban have decreed, but few details have yet been given as to what exactly that might mean.

"My dream is to be the richest girl in Afghanistan, and I feel I am always the luckiest," said Rabia, who has worked since 2010 at the terminal for GAAC, a UAE-based company providing ground and security handling.

"I will do what I love until I am not lucky anymore."

Rabia's colleague, who gave her name as Zala, dreams of something completely different. 

The 30-year-old was learning French in Kabul before she was forced to stop and stay at home for three weeks after the takeover.

"Good morning, take me to Paris," she said in broken French, as her five colleagues burst into laughter.

"But not now. Today I am one of the last women of the airport."

Police force

Afghan police at Kabul airport have also returned to work manning checkpoints alongside Taliban security for the first time since the hardliners seized power, officers said Sunday.

When the Taliban swept into Kabul last month ousting the government, police abandoned their posts, fearful of what the Islamists would do.

But two officers said they had returned to work Saturday after receiving calls from Taliban commanders.

On Sunday, an AFP correspondent at the airport saw border police members deployed at several checkpoints outside the main buildings of the airport, including the domestic terminal.

"I came back to work yesterday more than two weeks after being sent home," one of the police force members told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"I received a call from a senior Taliban commander who asked me to come back," another officer said. "Yesterday was great, so happy to serve again."

The Taliban say they have granted a general amnesty to everyone who worked for the former government -- including the army, police and other security branches.

Officials say they want to integrate the opposing forces, but have not spelled out how this will happen -- or how they will sustain a security apparatus made up of around 600,000 people.

Kabul airport was severely damaged during the chaotic evacuation of over 120,000 people that ended with the withdrawal of US forces on August 30.

The Taliban, who swept into Kabul after routing government forces on August 15, have been scrambling to get the capital's airport operating again with Qatari technical assistance.

The United Arab Emirates has set up an air bridge to deliver tons of aid to Afghanistan, with aircraft bringing in hundreds of tonnes of medical and food supplies.

An airport employee who handles security for a private company confirmed that the border police had been deployed around the airport since Saturday.

"They are sharing the security with the Taliban," he told AFP.

Qatar Airways has operated charter flights out of Kabul in recent days, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed being taken out during the evacuation.

An Afghan airline resumed domestic flights last week, while Pakistan International Airlines is expected to begin flights from Islamabad to Kabul in coming days.