Two victims of the conflict in Afghanistan, the subjects of two documentaries one year after the withdrawal of American troops

As all eyes are on the war in Ukraine, two documentaries have chosen to shine the spotlight on the stories of victims of the conflict in Afghanistan, more than a year after the abrupt withdrawal of American troops and the return to power of the Taliban.

The documentary Retrogradeproduced by National Geographic and broadcast in the United States in early December, follows an Afghan general who tried in vain to contain the advance of the Taliban in the summer of 2021. The film In Her Hands: An Afghan Destinyalready available on Netflixtells the story of one of the youngest female mayors in Afghanistan, who had to flee the country when the Islamists took power.

No one talks about Afghanistan anymore, the directors lament

We forgot what happened” in Afghanistan, underlines the director of Retrograde, Matthew Heineman. “Not many people talk about this country we left behind“, he regrets.

Zarifa Ghafari, the former mayor on the poster of In Her Handstold AFP that under the rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan is “the only country in the world today where a woman can sell her body, her children, whatever she wants, but cannot go to school“. But, she laments, “Afghanistan is no longer the subject of discussion” in international diplomatic meetings.

Both films begin a few months before the withdrawal of American troops, as the protagonists attempt to build a better future for their country. They end with the latter, forced to watch from abroad the Taliban destroy what they tried to build.

An Afghan general against the Taliban at the heart of “Retrograde”

In Retrograde, Afghan General Sami Sadat agreed to let Matthew Heineman’s cameras follow him as he led operations to push back the Taliban, after the Americans left a base in the south of the country. “All the signs said ‘stop, give up, it’s over’, and he had this blind faith that maybe, just maybe, if he clung to (the city of) Lashkar Gah or (the province de) Helmand, they could defeat the Taliban “, recalls the director.

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Sami Sadat finally had to flee in the chaos of Kabul airport in August 2021, filmed by the film crew, as Afghans massed at the gates, hoping to find a place in the last departing American planes. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve witnessed in my career“, says Matthew Heineman, nominated for the Oscars for Cartel Landreleased in 2015.

An elected official who fled the Taliban in “In her hands: an Afghan destiny”

Zarifa Ghafari survived assassination attempts and saw her father shot dead by the Taliban before she too left Afghanistan when the Islamists moved in. “Speaking of this moment, I still can’t stop crying…“, confides the elected, she who drew the ire of the Taliban by defending the access of girls to education after being appointed mayor of Maidan Shahr, near Kabul, at 24 years old.

The directors of In Her Hands: An Afghan Destiny have since returned to Afghanistan to film Massoum, a former driver for Zarifa Ghafari who is now unemployed, getting closer to the Taliban, even after they had targeted his client in the past. “Massoum’s story is that of Afghanistan, where people feel betrayed“, adds Zarifa Ghafari.

Although the conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine are very different in nature, the two films offer a cautionary tale of what can happen when the West turns from one confrontation to another. “Obviously this has happened throughout history and will continue to happen in the future. And so, what can we learn from this experience?asks Matthew Heineman.

No matter what is happening in Ukraine and what happened in Ukraine, we have been living the same thing as them for 60 years” in Afghanistan, says Zarifa Ghafari. “We share their pain“.

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