This is not the story we intend to tell.

Since the United States signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, we have been investigating the killing of Afghan women.

Such killings have been on the rise, and record figures recorded by the United Nations show that 219 women were killed in the first six months of this year, compared with 138 in the same period in 2020.

But few people seem to be responsible for these murders.

In July, we spent two weeks in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, learning about the lives of the victims, talking with women living in fear, and trying to get answers from the authorities.

But when we put the story together, the country disintegrated, the Afghan president fled, and the Taliban took over the presidential palace.

In 2015, a woman and her granddaughter at the Chahari Qambar IDP camp in Kabul [File: Sat Nandlall/Al Jazeera]

The news from my friends began to arrive on the morning of Sunday, August 15.

“The Taliban have taken over our community.”

“They were in our mosque and told us to wear headscarves when going out.”

“I’m at home. I can hear gunshots. We just pray.”

Their despair was beyond words. At the same time, the Taliban leaders formally pledged to the world that there will be a peaceful transition.

Women dominate their own destiny

I first learned about Afghanistan in 2006. Five years after NATO troops were deployed there, I joined the Canadian army in Kandahar. I have always wanted to know how these women are doing because the war has been sold to us and promised to “liberate” them from the cruel rule of the Taliban.

Over the years, I have witnessed the tentative girls I met grow into confident young women, and confident young women grow into confident professionals-they know they can control their own destiny.

I visited the school and reported on the obstacles that girls still exist and how they will overcome them. I watched female athletes playing football in a stadium where the Taliban used to execute women for “moral crimes.”

I have met incredible women and I am proud to call them friends now; politicians who promote legislation to better protect other women, police officers who also serve as community leaders, and journalists who have never stopped holding the government accountable.

Girls in a school in Kabul in 2013 [File: Mellissa Fung/Al Jazeera]

For those who think that 20 years and billions of dollars were wasted after the Taliban regained power last week, remember that a generation of women is educated and believes that they are free to pursue their dreams as adults.

But then they started to be killed. In May 2022, more than 70 girls were bombed on their way home from school in Kabul. In January 2022, two judges opened fire in Kabul. A reporter opened fire in Jalalabad on his way to work in December 2020. This list is still increasing. There are very few reports on the investigation and arrest of those responsible.

This is the story we want to tell.

But shortly after we finished filming and left Kabul last month, the Taliban swept the country.

The provinces hardly resisted. The Taliban occupied the main cities: Herat and its beautiful Blue Mosque; Kandahar, the birthplace of the group; and Mazar-e-Sharif, the former stronghold of the Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban military alliance. Suddenly, they arrived at the door of Kabul. They make it look very simple.

On the day the Taliban occupied Kabul, a photo was widely shared. A photo was a picture of a woman painted by a man who decorated the city’s clothing store-actually wiped them off. I remember driving past these photos last month, smiling at the face of the beautiful Afghan woman in the model’s wedding dress. I thought the Taliban could no longer subdue women.

Those painted faces broke my heart; they were erased again. Now I worry that the progress that women have made in the past two decades will easily be erased.

‘Pray for us’

The Taliban now says they will implement inclusive governance, invite women to join the government, and promise to continue to be part of the workforce as long as they “comply with Sharia law.”

But many Afghan women do not believe it. They remember that the Taliban had publicly beaten women, forced them to wear burqas, and refused to let them go to school.

So news keeps coming.

“I don’t know what will happen to me.”

“Pray for us.”

“I’m scared.”

Photos of women on the streets of Kabul in 2007 [File: Mellissa Fung /Al Jazeera]

When women talk to me about the Taliban, this is a special fear. This is the fear of going back to the dark days of being conquered and imprisoned. Fear of losing control of your own destiny. Fear of not being able to dream anymore.

Most of the women I know are hiding, afraid that the Taliban will find them and ask if I can help them leave the country. Some people have already left and I don’t know if they can come back.

For those who stayed, the despair of strong women who now feel that they are in serious danger is rising.

A woman who told me she would never leave Afghanistan sent me this email: “I am afraid of what might happen. I don’t want my daughter to grow up here. It’s getting worse and worse.”

I am heartbroken for all of them, for everything they will lose — their homes, their dreams, their future.

I am heartbroken for the country I love. When I left Kabul last month, I worried that I would not be able to return to the same place. Now I know it will never be the same again.

This is a story I never wanted to tell.

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