‘They would come to kill me’: The tax reformer hunted by the Taliban and abandoned by the Britain he served – The Guardian | Vette Leader

Abdullah Sayyid often thinks of the moment the Taliban broke down his door, stormed in and shot his wife. The gunmen left but would soon redouble their efforts to kill him for his work for the British government.

Sayyid’s wife was murdered during the chaotic aftermath of Operation Pitting, Britain’s mass airlift from Kabul, which began on August 13 last year.

This Wednesday marks a lesser-known anniversary – that of Sayyid’s application for a Home Office resettlement scheme that should have given him a fresh start in Britain. He is currently hiding in Iran’s eastern desert and his last contact with the British authorities, whom he served for years, was in mid-May. Sayyid (not his real name) suspects they lost his file – again.

Like many others, the 45-year-old was pleased that Afghanistan was apparently on the right track. He was at the forefront of a Department for International Development-funded program to reform Afghanistan’s tax system, which was praised in evidence presented to the UK Parliament.

“I was quite well known, with media appearances. Everyone knew what I was doing,” Sayyid said. This high regard – the widespread knowledge of his ties to the British – put his life in danger when the Taliban took power and RAF transport planes began evacuating Afghan nationals – the first landing at Brize Norton just after midnight on the 14th August last year.

Sayyid, who is eligible for the UK’s (Arap) Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy, submitted his application on August 17 and waited while nervously watching the daily crowds outside Kabul airport as 100 RAF flights outnumbered 15,000 brought people to safety.

When Pitting ended on August 28, Sayyid accepted that he had to flee Kabul. He drove south to Kandahar and over to the town of Spin Boldak, from where he crossed the border into Pakistan under cover of darkness.

He made his way to Islamabad, checked into a guest house and kept a low profile. In mid-September – with no sign of the British government coming to his aid – his brother-in-law visited his wife at her home in Kabul.

In the weeks following Pitting, the Taliban busily gathered information on those who had aided the British. Sayyid’s house was among those likely to be under surveillance. “Maybe someone reported that their brother was there and they thought it was me,” he said.

In the early hours of September 17, his wife awoke to a state of chaos. A group of armed Taliban rushed in. But their destination was 500 km away. “They wanted me: they shouted, ‘You are the son of a Briton’. They came to kill me.”

His wife was shot at point-blank range and taken to nearby Ali Abad Hospital where surgeons operated to save the 29-year-old’s life. “But the internal bleeding didn’t stop,” Sayyid said. Doctors fought all day to keep her alive.

“Then, in the evening, the Taliban troops came to the hospital and said: ‘She cannot be treated here – take her away.’ They just kicked her out of the hospital.”

She was taken to Sayyid’s sister, a doctor, with Sayyid kept abreast of all developments as he knew he would be killed if he returned to Kabul. Regular updates confirmed that his wife’s condition continued to deteriorate. “The bleeding was continuous,” Sayyid said. On September 20th she died.

Justice, even revenge, was impossible. Sayyid discovered that among those involved in his wife’s death was a senior figure in the Taliban’s intelligence services.

Without a word from the British Home Office, he traveled to the Pakistani city of Peshawar and found work at a medical company.

At the beginning of 2022 came more grim news. “On January 1, my clerk told me they couldn’t find my application,” he said. Five days later, Sayyid applied to Arap again. “They told me everything was received, everything is going well,” he said.

Several months passed while Sayyid kept his head down and awaited new developments at the Ministry of the Interior.

They never came. Instead, he was recognized in Peshawar by a member of the Haqqani Network, a pro-Taliban organization blacklisted by the US as a terrorist group and backed by Pakistan’s feared ISI. “He said, ‘We know you, we know you’re a very senior official in the last Afghan government and you’re in hiding.’ The Haqqani network has a very big influence in Pakistan, they are very dangerous.”

Fearing being assassinated in the frontier town, Sayyid hastily adopted a disguise, including a “very long beard”. He fled south to Quetta in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and on to the Iranian city of Zahedan, east of the Dasht-e Lut desert. “They are Baloch, there is no Haqqani network, no Taliban influence.”

But Sayyid fears that there is no place in the region that will remain safe indefinitely. His last contact with the Interior Ministry was on May 17. “I think they lost the application again. I have no plan now, only that I want to leave Asia forever, not just Afghanistan, and never come back.”

The Home Office has been asked for comment.

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