Former international footballer Khalida Popal is one of Afghanistan’s first female national team players. She was forced to leave her home country recently after her husband decided to leave her and their children and join the Taliban.
In this FOXNews.com exclusive, Popal, now a mother of four, speaks about her hopes for Afghanistan after decades of international conflict.
Afghanistan’s women have gone from living in peace to living in fear after leaving their homes to escape harsh punishment from the Taliban.
“When you’re with my husband, you’re safe. That’s what I love, but when he went outside, they were chasing us, and telling us to go away, from his brother who was in Peshawar,” Popal said.
Popal said she packed up her children and left, living in a refugee camp in Pakistan.
“We arrived in Pakistan in 2004, when I was 21 and when I had my second baby,” Popal said. “We were in Pakistan until 2007, when we left for Afghanistan. We didn’t have any connections. All we did was live. If you don’t have a job, you don’t have no food. So I came to Afghanistan, and the parents were so grateful that we came. And I never lived in the refugee camp. My mom and dad wanted me to have a family in this society. They came here to care for me, so I can be a good mother and a better mother for my children.”
Jasim Basardah, Popal’s husband, said Popal’s exorbitant dowry had scared him away from a life of happiness and opportunity with her.
“She collected all my money — a lot of money, over $100,000,” Basardah said. “She helped me pay my family’s private school fees, expenses, and then she came to Pakistan to start a house for me. Unfortunately, when she wanted to move the house to Afghanistan, I’d already signed an agreement with the people in Peshawar, the government of Pakistan, saying he could stay for five years or less. So they wanted me to sell the house. That’s the agreement we had. I couldn’t sell the house, and it was impossible for me to leave Pakistan.”
As Popal’s children grew up in Pakistan, her husband grew more distant.
“The people don’t want me to be there. They called me every night to say goodbye, to tell me what they thought of me,” Popal said. “One night, I decided to stay in Peshawar, but my children could not do the same. My eldest brother said he wanted to go with me, but his wife wanted to go to her home. At that moment, I decided to leave. I went to the police station, to a shelter, and said I want to leave my husband. At this time, I had a lot of pressure from the hospital director, who said his health is very bad and he couldn’t run away from the Taliban, even if he wanted to. But I always said if you want me to leave, we will find ways to run away and get to safety.”
Popal said her family knows she is forced to leave, but at the same time, she thinks her husband left because she would have become his third wife, and that would have forced him to submit to Taliban rules.
“I told them the truth, that I need my husband. But they didn’t believe me,” Popal said. “It’s really clear that all they want from me is a husband, a home, but there is no other place for a woman in this society, for me. I was lucky to get accepted in Pakistan. I don’t know what is going to happen to my children, but I don’t think they will have a home.”
Basardah said he has no regrets leaving, and he is disappointed with Popal’s treatment.
“There are only two people in the whole world that can respect a woman who knows what she wants, and that is her husband and her mother,” Basardah said. “I always told her that she is my best friend and that I will always be there for her, but she really didn’t want to do it.”
Popal said she believes she can make a positive change in her homeland, despite the fall of her husband.
“It will happen. People want peace. This is a peaceful country, and we have the capacity to make it like that,” Popal said. “Because, you know, we can continue like this. We have the knowledge, but we don’t have the unity and the strength to stand up to the Taliban.”