BENNINGTON — Ziaulhaq Zia, a native of Afghanistan and a 2012 Mount Anthony Union High School graduate, said he’s not getting much sleep these days while trying to assist about two dozen relatives who are trying to reach the Pakistani border.
He said they were blocked by crowds from reaching the airport in Kabul in an attempt to leave the country; they also narrowly missed a terror attack Thursday that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans among an estimated 5,000 people trying to get on an outbound flight.
Zia said he was in intermittent contact with his siblings, their children and other relatives via cell phone and email as they unsuccessfully sought access to the airport. He said they later left the Afghan capital in vehicles to attempt a border crossing, and phone service in some areas has been spotty.
“They could not get near the airport,” he said during a phone interview over the weekend from his home near Rochester, Minn. “They were there for two days but couldn’t make it inside.”
Adding to his stress, he said, was the deadly terror attack Thursday in which an ISIS-K suicide squad detonated devices in the crowd around the airport.
Zia said his family members were “at that exact location, the exact gate, hours before” the explosions.
Round-the-clock efforts to assist his relatives by providing information and advice, talking with a lawyer, and helping to apply for humanitarian parole have left him exhausted, he said.
“This is why I didn’t go to work,” he said. “I just can’t. Some nights there is not much sleep.”
In Minnesota, Zia works at an auto dealership.
Zia said Saturday that there was word Pakistan would begin allowing people to cross the border sometime Sunday, but he had not heard further news as of Monday afternoon.
“I don’t know what else to say except being disappointed and lost for the lack of effort the United States and the international community has on Afghanistan right at this moment,” he said in an email. “How do you leave your allies in the dust? How do you leave so many Afghans who fought for the country right beside you to leave for the Taliban to slaughter them? How do you leave so much progress behind over night?”
He added, “I feel and share the pain that our U.S. men and women died fighting for the cause that is freedom. I feel your pain, but what kind of withdrawal was this? Deep down, I know it hurts a lot for those who lost loved ones, but I know how deep it hurts for the ones who are fighting right now to take their last breath escaping their slaughter like my family and sibling family is. My family and my five sibling family members and my uncle are running away to another country for their lives right now.”
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Zia, 29, said family members fled Afghanistan twice before during the 1990s as the Taliban established a fundamentalist theocracy in much of the country.
They lived in Pakistan, but returned after the U.S. and NATO allies led an invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack in New York, because the Taliban had allowed Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to operate from there.
During the U.S./NATO occupation, Zia said he took part in a student exchange program, which brought to him to MAUHS for the 2009-10 school year.
After that experience, he said, he went home but later returned to the U.S. while participating in another program and eventually graduated from the Bennington school in 2012.
This time, he decided to stay in the U.S.; he now has an immigration Green Card and hopes to become a U.S. citizen in March.
While living in Pownal, Zia spoke about his country at public events, including a meeting with Vermont National Guard troops who were about to deploy overseas and at the Oak Hill Children’s Center in Pownal.