Their crime in Taliban eyes was teaching a generation, now fled or in hiding, about freedom. They discussed and promoted free markets and free people ideas on now liquidated TV and radio stations. With the support of the Network for a Free Society they distributed books translated into Dari and Pashto, including classics such as the Islamic Foundations of a Free Society. Where the IEA debates these things, often in the abstract in the security of the robust institutions we defend, these brave Afghans, their students and supporters were delivering them, in the hope of building a new country.
Our first reaction, to be frank, was a combination of shock and despair. This was not a hypothetical situation. Lives were at stake, and the situation looked hopeless. Further, we are not a refugee charity; we process visas occasionally, but our working knowledge of asylum procedures is light in normal times, let alone during an international crisis. But we began asking for help, to staff, contacts and even our interns; phone calls were made. It quickly emerged there was hope. We could escalate them through rapidly developing official channels. We could get them permission to leave as ‘at risk’ and high-profile targets. MPs, peers, and members of staff spoke, documents were approved, a British path was opened. Meanwhile Atlas, most notably their heroic board member and our Trustee Linda Whetstone, were working all hours on unblocking the US path.
The fundamental issue however remained, how to get targets from safehouse to airport gate, through the gate, onto a plane, and to third country safety, before final asylum claims could be made. Here again we do not typically have access to ‘assets’ with the capability to deliver secure transport through occupied territory. Partners and friends on the other hand turned up some surprising connections. Some had served, another’s friend was running security operations for diplomats and parts of the media, on the ground in Kabul. There were then ‘assets’ on the ground, and links into the parts of the UK military running rescue operations. Others scanned public sites for evidence of flights with spaces.
These new friends were also trying to get their people out. The help we were able to provide ensured a path was found for their people. Another nine, Afghan workers and their families, used the routes established. They were extracted on Monday. Meanwhile to all our relief the American path reopened. Our AELSO friends were also transported, and by Tuesday, now a party of six, were leaving their home for the last time, with hopes for the future, far from danger. Unaware that in building the contingency, further lives had been saved. The relief of which was tempered only by the appalling situation for those we could not help, and now must find alternative and longer routes to refuge.
The West’s exit from Afghanistan represents a retreat from liberal democracy. Institutions of a free society, justice, human rights, property rights, freedom of expression, freedom to work, freedom to learn and live a life generally free of fear of being murdered, raped, or enslaved. That is what has been leaving the country these past two weeks. Behind that destruction there are the individual stories, flights to freedom, heroic acts, small acts of kindness, and the tireless work of people you will never know, helping people they may never know, so those stories can be told. We played a small part in that, we can never properly thank those that did the heavy lifting, but will do our best, and look forward to them telling their stories for themselves, with us and others in the years to come. In safety and freedom.