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'They'd shoot him right there': Afghan-American marriage in perilous limbo as Taliban return

"We feel like we were betrayed," said Zorah Aziz, whose husband is trapped in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 17, 2021.
Hundreds of people gather Tuesday outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.AP

Not long after Kabul fell, the love of Zorah Aziz's life found himself with thousands of other terrified Afghans at the city's airport desperately seeking an escape from the Taliban.

Aziz, who lives in California, said her husband, Nazir Ahmad Qasimi, called her from the chaos that was captured on camera and broadcast around the world. She said she could hear Afghanistan coming apart in the background.

Zorah Aziz and her husband, Nazir Ahmad Qasimi.Couertesy / Zorah Aziz

"All you hear is shots. All you hear is people screaming," Aziz, 30, said Tuesday. "And he is just: 'Zorah, should I go forward? Should I go forward?' I'm like: 'Yeah, go! Go! Because you have no choice. If you turn around, there's gunfire. If you move forward, there's gunfire. At least forward, there might be a little hope.'"

That little bit of hope is what thousands of Afghans living in the U.S. are holding on to as their struggle to be reunited with loved ones still in Afghanistan has taken on a new urgency after the Taliban's unexpectedly swift takeover of the country.

Aziz said her husband, whom she married in June 2019, has already been approved for a visa by U.S. immigration authorities. But his departure has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Aziz said, with Afghanistan in a regime change and with Afghans who worked directly with U.S. forces getting first preference from Washington, she doubts that they will be reunited before she delivers their first baby, a child conceived while she was visiting him in Kabul.

"I'm four months pregnant," said Aziz, who lives in Fremont, which is home to a large Afghan expatriate community. "My husband, you know, the father of my child, is in the middle of a war, in the middle of a civil war. So I don't know what to do. My hands are just tied."

Even though Qasimi has no direct ties to the U.S. forces now leaving Afghanistan, the fact that he is married to an American and works as a purchasing manager for a U.S.-based company means he could be in danger.

"If they came in and searched his home and saw that he has plans to go to the U.S. ... they'd shoot him right there and then," Aziz said. "He's a traitor, and there it is. I don't even want to imagine that. I've been having nightmares."

They met, as so many modern lovers do, on the internet.

"He is, you know, a family friend to my mom's side of the family in Kabul," Aziz said of her husband, who is 24. "We used to talk all the time on Facebook."

For four years they were Facebook friends until Qasimi's father said they were meant to be married — even though they had never seen each other anywhere but on a computer screen.

Aziz, who was born and raised in the U.S., said the suggestion took her by surprise.

"And then I thought about it," she said. "I was like: 'You know what? What do I have to lose? I like him.' I always told myself that whoever I marry I have to be friends with first. And here's this guy that I've been friends with for years."

They were engaged in January 2018, she said. And they met in person, for the first time, a week before they married on June 8, 2019.

Now, thanks to forces way beyond their control, their lives are in a terrifying limbo.

"We feel like we were betrayed," she said. "We felt like we were being such good people. We were waiting. We were so patient. And honestly, I feel like I got stabbed in the back."

Aziz said neither she nor her husband blames President Joe Biden for wanting to get U.S. forces out of Afghanistan after 20 years.

"It's the way it happened, the transition, the way the Taliban just swarmed in and took over," she said. "There should have been a proper transition in place."

Aziz said she also understands that many Americans, weary from 20 years of war, just want to be done with Afghanistan.

"I need people to understand that if you're not going to feel for the people of Afghanistan, well, I'm a U.S. citizen," she said. "I'm your people. Can you feel for me?"

Aziz said that in the meantime, she's staying close to her cellphone.

"I can't really talk to him much, because, you know, he's worried that they're going to take his phone away," she said. "So I try to keep the conversations very short and simple. Hearing his voice or just receiving a message from him is a breath of fresh air, because my whole thing is he's alive. He's alive. He's alive."