“I felt I had reached the end of my life”: Journalist Bais Hayat recalls the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul

“I was born in a war, I spent a huge part of my life covering its atrocities and I have some very bitter memories,” said journalist Bais Hayat, as he begins recounting his life’s journey.

As political correspondent for Ariana News, Bais Hayat covered the war in Afghanistan for 10 years. From making documentaries on destroyed cities to reporting on the conditions of its displaced residents, he worked to highlight the human costs of the conflict.

“In the second decade of the war, I traveled to many provinces, saw many battlefields up close, reported on many security and war incidents, and I really understood how much the war was harming civilians. I considered it my mission and responsibility to ensure that the voices of war victims, women, and children be heard.”

In 2016, his report on the sexual exploitation of Kunduz refugees in a camp in Kabul led to the sacking of the responsible security personnel. His work to document the Taliban’s ruin of Ghazni, a strategic city on the road to Kabul from Kandahar, earned him an advisory role with United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for their annual report.

“I was present at the signing of the US-Taliban agreement,” Bais continued. “In covering the Afghan peace talks, I tried to report from angles that put pressure on the Taliban to preserve women’s rights, minority rights, human rights issues, and Afghanistan’s achievements over the past two decades.”

Due to intensifying security threats in 2021, Ariana News pulled Bais from reporting in the field and he spent much of last year producing news bulletins for Ariana and Ariannews TV. He would often try to produce reports from within the office. For his safety, he would sometimes spend the night at work. “I had to leave the house we had worked so hard to build in Kabul and rent one in another part of the city to lessen the threat for my family,” he shares.

“My father, my mother, my wife, and all my family members kept telling me to say goodbye to this job. They said we could not stand hearing bad news. My work to travel to other provinces and report from the battlefields scared them. But I repeatedly resisted the pressures of my family and friends and did not give up my work.”

Even though Bais says he expected the fall of Kabul after the withdrawal of foreign troops, the rapid pace of Taliban’s advancement shook him. “When the Taliban officially announced on August 15 that they were entering the city, I felt I had reached the end of my life. Our dreams were buried, our goals in life were shattered, our 20 years of effort failed, our tomorrow was dark. More than a cemetery. Not only me, but this was the story of my family and thousands of Afghan citizens. In my life, I had never looked for an opportunity to leave my country because I believed that when my country brings me to a position, I should serve its people, but that was no longer possible.”

In October 2021, Bais and his family were relocated to another country. “JHR did not let go of my hand, but paved the way for me to leave Kabul safely,” he said. “They facilitated our accommodation, gave us financial support, and helped us with the paperwork for our permanent residence. I really thank JHR and Daniel Pearl Foundation for thinking of humanity during this terrible time. I hope that the efforts of these institutions bear more fruit and that many journalists will start new lives in safer countries.”

Bais Hayat’s evacuation from Afghanistan was generously funded by the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

JHR continues to fundraise for our ongoing evacuation effort in Afghanistan. Please visit bit.ly/JHRAfghanEvacFund to donate today.

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