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Afghan Gynecologist Said She Fled Country Because The Taliban Sent Her Death Threats

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In recent days, Taliban leaders have promised to moderate the harsh restrictions on women that the group imposed the last time they ruled Afghanistan. A spokesman has said, this time around, women will be involved in government. They will be permitted to work in sectors like health care. But women on the ground say the reality is more complicated. NPR's Nurith Aizenman brings us the story of one Afghan doctor who says the Taliban has already forced her to flee.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The doctor has asked NPR to protect her identity by only using her last name, Akbari (ph), which is a very common one in her city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. Dr. Akbari says her troubles began there about eight months ago when a girl arrived at the private clinic Akbari runs. This girl was just 13 years old, but she'd already been married to an older man as his second wife.

DR AKBARI: (Through interpreter) She told me her husband wanted to get her pregnant.

AIZENMAN: Akbari says the medical guidance in this situation was clear.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) She's a child. It's risky for any child to get pregnant. And this girl was also physically very weak.

AIZENMAN: What's more, the girl did not want to get pregnant.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) She begged me for help.

AIZENMAN: So Akbari gave the girl a contraceptive injection that would last for three months. Soon after, she got a furious phone call from the girl's husband.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) He said, why did you do such a thing? Now I cannot have babies.

AIZENMAN: The man kept calling to rage at her almost every day, and Akbari soon learned that he was no ordinary citizen. He was a leader of a Taliban contingent that was active in the rural area outside the city.

AKBARI: (Foreign language spoken).

AIZENMAN: As the local Taliban started to make military gains, Akbari noticed a shift in the tone of the man's phone calls

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) The stronger the Taliban got, the stronger the threats got. He would say, you're an infidel. You're against Islam. You're killing generations. We know what to do with you.

AIZENMAN: Soon, other Taliban were also sending messages. Ruchi Kumar, a journalist from India who was staying with Akbari for some of this time, saw some of the texts.

RUCHI KUMAR: They would send her these really horrible photos of, you know, dead bodies, telling her that this is how she's going to end up.

AIZENMAN: Other times, the Taliban members would try to extort Akbari.

KUMAR: They wanted her to pay money or buy them motorbikes or guns in exchange for her life.

AIZENMAN: But Akbari was determined to stick it out.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) I wanted to serve my people in my own country.

AIZENMAN: Then, on August 8, Akbari was at her clinic when she got a call from the Taliban commander that was the most terrifying yet.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) His voice was actually really soft. He said, we're entering the city. Soon, we'll come and get you.

AIZENMAN: Akbari says she headed straight to the airport, didn't even stop at home for a change of clothes. She was shocked to see the plane almost entirely filled with other women also traveling alone, a rare sight in Afghanistan.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) That's when I knew, for sure, that the Taliban had taken the city.

AIZENMAN: Now she's in a neighboring country but wracked with uncertainty. She has just $400 on her, and she's mourning the loss of everything she's left behind - her family and the medical practice she spent more than a decade building.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) I haven't been able to sleep since the day I arrived. I can only sleep two hours in a day. Overnight, everything I had vanished.

AIZENMAN: But, she says, returning is not an option.

AKBARI: (Through interpreter) If I see a woman in trouble, I will want to help her, and the Taliban will say it's un-Islamic.

AIZENMAN: And so, she says, I can't practice medicine under people who run a country like that.

Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIRK MAASSEN'S "SINAAI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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