What it’s like to stay silent about being shot in Kabul

This fall, Khalida Popal was sitting on a bus in Kabul, Afghanistan, when she was unexpectedly attacked, one of many reports from the man who knew the terror she suffered in the eyes of…

What it’s like to stay silent about being shot in Kabul

This fall, Khalida Popal was sitting on a bus in Kabul, Afghanistan, when she was unexpectedly attacked, one of many reports from the man who knew the terror she suffered in the eyes of her hometown’s Taliban over two decades ago.

For more than a month, Popal had remained silent after she was shot and stabbed in the street on September 13. Her attackers had followed her from her homeland, training with former Afghan athletes to incite fear in her hometown. When Popal had left her house, a group of armed men had followed behind her as she headed to a neighboring home, where she was a friend’s house for the past two decades.

She thought she was being followed home, but when she arrived home, her house was in disarray, people were running around and she was stabbed with a knife. The assailants murdered her friend, and only stopped after Popal’s husband confronted the attackers.

Popal was rushed to the United States for reconstructive surgery. “I am hurt, but strong in my faith and in my resilience,” Popal said of the attack. “I am back home [but] I cannot speak because I have lost my voice.”

Popal’s ordeal had some irony as she is currently active in the charity, the United States Sports Council, in Afghanistan. While in her home country, Popal was a charismatic soccer icon. She was a captain of the national women’s soccer team and was considered the face of women’s soccer in Afghanistan. Popal traveled the world and hosted International Women’s Football Conference, works with other sports organizations in Afghanistan and was also a spokesperson for the United States Olympic Committee. The Taliban raided her home in February 1999, where she was playing soccer with friends. When she resisted their demands to leave the house and stop playing soccer, the Taliban abducted her and the four other girls at gunpoint. The six hours of captivity were horrific and now Popal must explain the events to her children, along with her ex-husband and other family members. The Taliban forced the girls to either convert to Islam or risk severe punishment, but one of the girls ignored the order and grew weary of the interrogation. During the entire ordeal, Popal’s face was barely visible because the Taliban had burned her face to hide her identity. After weeks of captivity, the Taliban released Popal after the United States promised to provide aid to Afghanistan. She suffered brain trauma and other injuries, and has been unable to work after her injuries required her to be hospitalized in America for 10 months. Popal is also haunted by memories of the two years that followed. She recalled: “They tried to push me outside the house and from the top of the house. They told me that they don’t want this woman to return to Afghanistan.” After two years, the Taliban returned and kidnapped her again. The Taliban refused to release Popal until they were told that the United States had promised that its policy on women’s rights would change. The United States stated that it would provide the money, which the Taliban received after paying a $15 million ransom, to an international rehabilitation program for Popal. Popal has no doubt about the results: “The program has really helped me,” she said. “And has stopped the cycle of violence within women in Afghanistan.”

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