Afghan citizens, refugees face uncertain future as explosions recall country’s violent past

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(KABUL, Afghanistan) — When Waheed Arian heard of the two bombings out Kabul’s airport in Afghanistan, he rushed to call his family members to ensure that they were safe. Arian is a doctor and ex-refugee, who fled Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule in 1999, and now lives in the United Kingdom.

With sweaty palms, a racing heart and the memories of death and destruction from his time in Afghanistan as a child, he’s wary of what the future might hold for him and his family.

“When I get off the phone, I break down in tears because I feel helpless,” Arian told ABC News. “This is the case for so many Afghans whose families are over there. … It haunts you forever.”

The bombings, for which the terrorist group ISIS-K has claimed responsibility, left at least 60 Afghan civilians dead, as well as at least 13 U.S. service members, according to the Pentagon.

The attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport, the main source of hope for those trying to escape the city and seek refuge elsewhere, has left many Afghans feeling desperate.

Waiting for news from home

Shabnam, who asked ABC News to use only her first name for the safety of her family in Afghanistan, said she can’t concentrate. The ex-refugee, who is now a citizen living in the U.S., said she is numb and can’t focus on her work, her schooling or her responsibilities as she awaits news about her family’s fate.

When Shabnam was asked if her family was safe, she responded: “What does that mean? If I say that they are safe, they’re safe as prisoners. … The banks are closed. The businesses are closed. Everything is closed, and they don’t have freedom of speech anymore.”

Shabnam is calling on international forces to step up and help the Afghan people before the country reverts back to its old ways, particularly calling on the U.S. to take the lead.

“It is their responsibility as our leaders, the responsibility of the international community not to just not watch and be silent,” Shabnam said.

Uncertainty plagues Afghan families

With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops, many citizens fear what could come of their country and their livelihood in the Middle Eastern nation.

Activist and Afghan journalist Mahbouba Seraj returned to Afghanistan from exile in 2003 with the mission to advance women’s rights in the country. In an interview with ABC News Live, she said she made a commitment to Afghanistan to continue to move the country forward and won’t leave the country despite the danger.

During the interview, her words were interrupted by a blast, later determined to be the U.S. military disposing of equipment before exiting the country.

“I cannot leave Afghanistan at this point,” said Seraj. “Everybody worked together to make this country really the way it is. … We all worked very hard, and then it disappeared, and I knew that I have to stick around. I have to stick around to prove it to myself, to prove it to whoever, as far as my young girls.”

Many women in the country fear that the Taliban will revert to the oppressive tactics they used when they ruled in the 1990s, like keeping women at home, out of work and out of schools.

Many also fear that the militant group will retaliate against citizens with connections to America, who’ve worked with the U.S. or Afghan government or who have criticized the Taliban in the past. Under the Taliban’s previous rule, citizens could be stoned to death, have their hands cut off or be publicly executed for violating the Taliban’s laws.

For Arian, the violence Thursday reminded him of the civil war he experienced as a child, when the Soviet Union withdrew from the country and mujahedeen forces turned on each other in 1992.

“Bullets flying, rockets flying and we had to just leave everything, abandon the house,” said Arian. “The schools were destroyed, the hospitals were destroyed, the whole infrastructure was gone.”

Arian believes he’s echoing the voice of the millions of Afghans who’ve lived through the civil war.

“They remember — that’s why they’re physically, mentally tired,” Arian said. “They’re exhausted from running. They’re exhausted from refugee camps, they’re on high alert constantly. And now we see today that there’s nowhere safe for them.”

The future of Afghanistan

For many, the future of Afghanistan and its people hangs in the balance as U.S. troops leave the country behind. While many continue to flock to airports and plan escape routes out of the country, some are hunkering down, determined to rescue the nation they call home.

Arian’s family is divided — his father wants to stay and his siblings want to flee.

“He just told me, ‘Son, I’m tired of running. I’ve spent my entire life running. I just want to die in peace here if there is any peace,'” said Arian. “When I speak to some of my sisters, they’re fearful for their lives. They don’t know whether we would go back again to the civil war that most of them had witnessed along with me, and they have children now.”

Seraj, who has dedicated her life to activism and bettering the conditions of Afghan women for decades, said that all her fears are coming true.

Without plans to leave Kabul, she’s faced with ongoing questions about what’s next for the nation.

“The control is getting out of everybody’s hands,” Seraj said. “We’ve lost a lot of our people. Our soldiers are no longer what they were and keeping us safe. The U.S. Army is no longer there. Nobody’s there. What is going to be happening?”

-ABC News’ Allie Yang contributed to this report.

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