Two years ago, Afghan government officials approached the Quetta people, who lived in separate villages, about forming a refugee resettlement committee. The official told the Quetta ethnic minority group to choose a leader, who would then ask the Quetta minority’s government and warlord leaders to help house Afghan officials, family members and athletes who wanted to leave the Taliban’s growing power.
The Afghans got $10 per family per month. Their first priority was to move their families to two residential areas the government had already approved for them, four miles apart. The goal was to provide each family with 10 kilograms of rice, chicken and cooking oil — staples that would keep them alive in Pakistan.
But when the group went to pick their children up to leave, the Taliban guards forced them to reconsider. “They thought we’d let them take our children. But we wanted to keep them,” said Mohammad Gul, a 32-year-old cook who was among the refugees. “If we let them take them, how would we ever come back?”
In addition to demanding their children be kept, Taliban commanders demanded $50 per person, Gul said. “The Taliban said we should be willing to fight for them.”
Gul said his group, nicknamed “the ragtag group,” saved nearly $7,000 to get to safety. They got clothes and money from people in Quetta and they sold their weapons and other belongings. The Afghan government got a loan from a commercial bank. The entire population of those two villages took over a mosque in Karachi to host the Quetta refugees.
One member of the group, Guluwah Gul, a teacher in a makeshift school, said they also sold their sheep to pay for traveling expenses.
When they arrived in Quetta, the two communities’ groups exchanged information to avoid abductions by the Taliban. All the Quetta officials they met — prime ministers, provincial governments, the central government, Quetta’s police and army — took the refugees in.
To save money, the Quetta farmers lived in one valley, and the refugees in another. “We lived like friends because we couldn’t feed ourselves,” Gulwah Gul said.
In Peshawar, a town in the country’s northwest, the Afghan soccer team trained in a makeshift camp. Team members lined up on the field and swapped the names of their teammates. The Afghan soccer officials, Gulwah Gul said, sent them home with gift baskets: socks, body lotion, polo shirts and scarves, and bouquets of flowers. The coaches urged them to study and encouraged them to study their games on video.
On the soccer field, the kids shouted “Pakistan” in English. The coach yelled back, “We love you!”
The Afghans are adjusting to life in Pakistan, where they compete in three national tournaments and plan to return to Afghanistan in 2023.
But while the Quetta refugees are successful in their new home, the school they started was closed for the last two years after the Taliban threatened to kill the principal. He’s waiting to hear if the school can be reopened.
Meanwhile, several runners from the Qatari Marathon, under threat of Taliban death threats, arrived home from Kabul on Sunday.
Gul says his team held a public soccer competition at the school one time, where the Quetta kids wore the Afghan colors and dyed their hair. But one day, an insurgent opened fire on a local militia, killing some members. The gunmen also took control of the local mosque. Two of the school guards and a teacher were killed, Gulwah Gul said.
“We need to have security in all our local schools. Otherwise, we cannot cope with extremism,” he said.