Musicians in Afghanistan are among those living in fear of being targeted by the Taliban.
Qatar facilitated the travel of more than 100 students, alumni and faculty members of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and they are now on their way to their final destination to Portugal, the institute’s director said on Monday.
The flight departed Kabul on Sunday to Doha, carrying a total of 235 people and was the largest such flight to leave Afghanistan since 31 August. It was also the fifth passenger flight to depart from the country.
“You cannot imagine how happy I am. Yesterday I was crying for hours,” the school’s founder and director, Ahmad Sarmast, said from his home in Melbourne, Australia.
Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said the musicians were flown out of Afghanistan with their families and noted American cellist Yo-Yo Ma was personally following up with the process.
“Pleasure to announce that in today’s flight we were able to facilitate the travel of around 90 musician from The Afghanistan National Institute of Music & their families. Thanks to everyone who helped us reach them especially the great Yo-Yo Ma who was personally following up,” she tweeted.
Members of the all-female Zohra orchestra, in addition to former students, faculty and relatives, have also been flown out of the country through Qatar.
Qatar has been at the forefront of facilitating evacuations since the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August, carrying out the largest airlift of people in history.
The Gulf state has managed to evacuate over 50,000 Afghans and foreigners from the country, placing some at the US Al Udeid Air Base and others at temporary residential compounds, initially built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Doha also evacuated several members of Afghanistan’s female robotics team the “Afghan Dreamers”.
Women, former officials and artists have been living with uncertainty since the militants seized power due to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam in the late 90’s. Among the rules was the banning of music and prohibiting females from working and accessing education.
Afghanistan’s art and music scene has been flourishing over the past 20 years and its National Institute of Music was founded by Sarmast in 2010.
The musical institution, known for its inclusiveness, performed in the US and Europe.
However, the militant rule forced 350 students and teachers to leave its classrooms when it captured control of the country in late August. It is now being guarded by loyalists from the Haqqani network.
“We want to preserve the musical tradition of Afghanistan outside of Afghanistan, so that we can be sure that one day when there are better conditions in the country, hundreds of professional musicians would be ready to return and relight the music,” said Sarmast.
“The mission is not complete, it just began,” he added.
Despite promises of a more moderate regime, latest developments on the ground in Afghanistan have shown signs that indicate a repetition of the former Taliban’s rule.
“The recent actions that we have seen unfortunately in Afghanistan, it has been very disappointing to see some steps being taken backwards,” said Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Thursday in a joint press conference with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell in Doha.
“We need to keep engaging them and urging them not to take such actions, and we have also been trying to demonstrate for the Taliban how Muslim countries can conduct their laws, how they can deal with the women’s issues,” noted Sheikh Mohammed.