Internally displaced Afghan families wait at the Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP
Internally displaced Afghan families wait at the Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

PoliticsAugust 17, 2021

‘It might be too late’: resettled NZDF interpreter on fears for family in Afghanistan

Internally displaced Afghan families wait at the Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP
Internally displaced Afghan families wait at the Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

An interpreter who worked for the New Zealand Defence Force in Afghanistan for a decade says he has grave fear for his family who remain in the country as the Taliban takes hold.

He worked as an interpreter for the New Zealand Defence Force for 10 years in Bamiyan and was resettled in New Zealand in 2013. His siblings and parents remain in the country, however, and he says he has serious concerns for their safety after Bamiyan was reportedly taken by the Taliban yesterday. He says if the Taliban discover that he worked for the NZDF, then their lives are at risk.

“It’s just a matter of time before they find out and there’s no escaping,” said K, whom the Spinoff is not naming to avoid further imperilling his family.

The Taliban were already “pulling out people of interest who have been pro-government or have had affiliation with Afghan security forces and people who have had affiliation with the international armed forces, like the New Zealand Defence Force. We don’t know what to do from here. Who do we contact, who do we speak to? We believe it might be too late. I don’t know what to do or what’s going to happen or if New Zealand can help,” he said.

“Everyone is scared. Everyone is trying to get out of the country so they don’t have to witness what they’ve witnessed in the past. The problem is all of the borders are closed and the airports have stopped commercial flights.”

He says no one expected the Taliban to take hold of the country so quickly and it has left his family with few options if his role with the NZDF is discovered. “Previously the case was a matter of if somebody finds out and it was a concern but we knew we could find ways to get out of there in the past. But now it’s a matter of when.”

Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that the NZDF will deploy 40 people in Afghanistan to help evacuate New Zealanders and Afghan allies. She said 53 New Zealanders and 37 Afghan nationals who worked alongside the NZDF were still in Afghanistan. However, it is not yet clear if that will extend to the families of the NZDF interpreters who were offered repatriation in 2012. The scheme allowed interpreters’ partners and dependent children to accompany them to New Zealand, but not their siblings or parents.

K is in contact with his family “every few hours” and says “their lives have changed overnight”.

“From the hopes of getting up in the morning, going to work and having a normal life, it’s gone back to being fearful night and day for them. Everyone is scared. Nobody knows what to do, what’s going to happen. The whole country is fearful because we have witnessed firsthand the Taliban brutality in the past and we know what is coming to us. That’s why we are overly concerned about everything, from surviving to the future of our children and girls and daughters. It’s just been chaos.”

He says people expect the Taliban regime to be the same as they experienced in the 1990s.

“That’s what is expected and that’s what they’ve been doing. Since they [the Taliban] started this a couple of months ago they’ve been burning houses, they’ve been executing people who have some association with the government or the international community or international forces. Now what’s happening is at night time they go house to house searching for people of interest and what the villagers are seeing is they wake up to dead bodies in the street,” he said.

“They’ve been kidnapping girls as young as 12 to marry them to jihadists and looting – they just get in and take what they want to. It’s the same as 20 years ago. That’s what friends and family have witnessed over the past few months.”

Despite his fears, K, who lives in Hamilton and works as a software developer, says he has no regrets about helping the NZDF.

“No, no regrets. It was a great part of our lives. We were not just helping the NZ Defence Force, we were helping rebuild our country and that feeling of pride was what kept us going for 10 years. So no, no regrets. However, we do understand back then that it had its consequences and one of them was to our lives, and everyone who is part of our life, like our siblings and parents.”

However, he says the recent withdrawal of international troops which prompted the Taliban takeover has meant two decades spent rebuilding the country has been wasted.

“I look at it now, after what I’ve seen over the last few days, I see it as a waste of money and time and resources and the sacrifices that people have made. The NZ Defence Force lost 10 lives and hundreds of thousands of Afghans have lost their lives in the past 20 years. Those sacrifices have all gone to waste. It has been shocking.”

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