I identified my precious brother after he fell from a plane fleeing the Taliban

Zaki Anwari was just l7 and a striker with the national youth football team when he attempted to flee Taliban rule by clambering on to the fuselage of a US cargo plane in Kabul.

Ironically, the images of his falling body in August 2021 echo those made famous by the so- called “falling man” following al Qaeda’s terror strikes almost 20 years previously, on September 11, 2001.  On that day a man was seen plummeting from  the highest floor of the North Tower where, until that morning, he had worked at the Windows on the World Restaurant.  

It was, of course, those attacks which brought the West to Afghanistan,  and which ushered in two decades of increasing prosperity, fledgling democracy and real hope for a historically luckless country.

The last two years have seen that hope snuffed out by a merciless fundamentalist sect riven with internal strife.

“Zaki and I were not yet born when the last Taliban regime took place, but we were told lots of stories and the ugly face of the Taliban was in everyone’s mind,” said his 20-year-old brother, Zaker, from his home in Kabul, last night.

“Because we had seen the videos, videos of men and women being beaten, of men being beaten just  for shaving their beards and wearing Western clothes, we never imagined the country would allow them to return to power so easily.

“But in the end, the treacherous leaders ran away, and turned the dreams of the Taliban into reality.”

Unsurprisingly, Zaker’s life has been completely transformed from one of middle class comfort to perennial misery – and fear.

READ MORE: Taliban branded ‘judge, jury and executioner’ silencing Afghan women

“I lost my brother and I have lost my father, who died a few months ago of grief. Over time, my studies stopped and we lost our jobs and the shop. Then I lost my freedom,’ he said.

“Now we live in secret, fearful that the next Taliban we are forced to deal with will be our last.  I can’t go to college, I can’t do sports and go to football or the gym. We are alive but we are not living.”

Zaki’s death has left a hole so immense that no time will ever be able to fill it.

“There are so many memories which are very difficult for me to tell,” said Zaker. “Zaki was my friend, my companion, a supporter – he was my everyone.

“One of my fondest memories was playing Playstation with Zaki. In real life we both supported English teams – he followed Liverpool and I’m a Manchester City fan  – but when we played PlayStation we would both fight to be Barca (FC Barcelona).“

Though Zaki was known as “little Messi” after the Argentine captain for his skills on the pitch, on the sofa it was a different matter.

“Zaki was very smart but he would hate to lose to me,” said Zaker. “If I was ever two goals ahead of him, he’d just turn the game off and walk away.”

The brothers had enjoyed a particularly close bond, with Zaker often choosing to copy his brother’s outfits while attending the prestigious Franco-Afghan Esteqlal High School.

As provincial capitals began to fall to the Taliban in the weeks leading up to collapse of the government and President Ashraf Ghani’s ignoble escape, the boys even joined together to raise funds for displaced Afghans who had fled to what they hoped was the safety of Kabul.

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Two of seven siblings, they had enjoyed a prosperous middle class upbringing in Kabul’s Kohte Sanghi neighbourhood.

Zaker’s father, Gholam Ghaws Anwari, worked for the Ministry of Telecommunications and the family supplemented their already good income with the proceeds from an electronics goods store owned by the eldest brother, Zekaria, who had missed out on a college when the Taliban last ruled between 1996-2001.

Zaker was studying political science at the private Rana University. He had previously won an undergraduate place at a Turkish university but couldn’t attend because of the pandemic. His oldest sister was at university in Kabul, and his other sister was studying theology at a seminary.

Nasser, the second son, completed high school in 2004 and had worked in the Gulf.

As the only sibling with a passport, it was Nasser who was encouraged to try to legally board a flight on that fateful day of August 16, the second day of Taliban power.

“It was 10 O’clock in the morning when Zekaria came home to get Nasser. He told him: “Get your documents and passport. We are going to the airport’

“Zaki was sitting next to me revising maths for an exam. Although he hoped football was his future, he also wanted to go to college abroad.

“Suddenly he got up and said he should go along too, because the airport was very busy and they would need someone to look after the car. The mood was light, They were all laughing, as if the whole thing was a joke. They left and I stayed home.”

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At 11.45am, Zaker received a phone call from his brother.

“He told me that he was inside the airport,” said Zaker. “He told me: ‘this is a chance, I want to go’.

“I got angry with him and said: ‘How do you want to go out without an ID and passport when you have nothing?’. He just replied: ‘Pray’ and hung up.”

Zaki then called his mother,  telling her not to worry when she posed the same questions, and asking her to pray for him.

Less than half an hour later Zaki’s mother received a call from his phone. His sister answered it. But instead of hearing Zaki’s voice, a stranger told her to come to Fardgah with an ambulance and to retrieve his body.

It was Zaker who went.

“After a lot of searching, I found him in Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital,” he said.

“There are too many stories of that day that cannot be told. What things I saw and how much I was tortured by the Taliban that even my clothes were covered in blood. The condition of the children whose parents were missing was so bad that I still have nightmares about those days.

“I was shown a photo first and then later identified his body in the hospital.

“I recognised him from his hair. His face was completely gone, that is, it was flattened ,and covered in blood which made him unrecognisable.  It was a very bad day. I couldn’t bear what I saw, and I fainted. I still have nightmares about that day.”

He added: “We need the support of the world; the support of benevolent people and people who value human beings and humanity.

“We need a company or charitable organistin to get us out of here. We have so much to offer.

“At any moment, it is possible that the Taliban will reach us and destroy us. Without anyone knowing. And even thinking about that day and imagining that day is very difficult and this fear is always with me.”

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