Sisters Nialb and Nahila Habib drove two hours from Roseville to attend the San Francisco protest to support Afghans. (Annelise Finney/KQED)
San Francisco joined more than 40 cities and 17 countries around the globe on Saturday in a day of protest for Afghan lives. Beginning at 2 p.m. at United Nations Plaza, more than 200 marchers took to Market Street chanting "from Kabul to Kandahar, our freedom is not too far."
"We have come here today to protest against the killing of Afghans," said Yasmine Ebrat, president of the Afghan Student Association at UC Berkeley and one of the rally's co-organizers. Ebrat said the rally was intended to pressure the international community to protect the rights of all Afghans, and to pressure the U.S. to end quota limits for fleeing refugees and open up its borders to Afghans more broadly.
The worldwide rallies are an effort to make civilian voices heard in the wake of a deadly bombing at the Kabul airport Thursday, and amid the United States' struggle to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan people seeking refuge. Evacuations are still ongoing, but the remaining contingent of U.S. forces at the airport now numbers fewer than 4,000, according to The Associated Press.
The military began its final withdrawal ahead of President Joe Biden’s deadline for ending the evacuation on Tuesday. Since mid-August, the U.S. has evacuated roughly 110,000 people, according to the Pentagon.
In San Francisco Saturday, Ebrat said seeing the worldwide protest commence in European cities earlier in the day has "been a beam of hope."
Ebrat was born and raised in Fremont, and said the plight of Afghans "is something that's really near and dear to my heart because my parents are refugees."
Others, like Shabnam Hasani, 22, traveled from San José to show support. "I'm Afghan myself, and I'm out here to support my people," she said.
"It's hard to continue to have hope," she added. "I'm very proud of us for coming together as Afghans and for standing up for what we believe in."
Saturday's protest was hosted by the United Afghan Association, a joint project of human rights activists in over 30 countries, including Bay Area students.
Oakland-based Alia Rasoully has been involved with previous protests in the Bay Area to raise awareness of the situation in Afghanistan. The organization she founded, Wise Afghanistan, has helped women and girls in Afghanistan since 2013. Rasoully said it's important to focus on the almost 39 million people who still remain in Afghanistan and don't have the privilege to evacuate.
"We need to really focus on the women and girls that are left there and make sure that they continue to have the opportunities that they've been struggling for, for the last twenty years," she said.
"At the end of the day, the innocent Afghans not even involved in this war — are the ones that are the victims," Rasoully said.
For those new to Afghanistan's history, she advises looking at it from a humanitarian perspective. "Look at what Afghans are going through right now. You see a pool of blood. You see thousands of people that are trying to escape," she said. "There are people that are handing their children over to military officers. ... That's how scared they are."
And that situation may become more violent. On Saturday, President Biden warned that another attack on the Kabul airport was "highly likely."
After being briefed on a U.S. drone mission in eastern Afghanistan that the Pentagon said killed two members of the Islamic State on Saturday, Biden pledged more attacks on ISIS-K, the group responsible for the Kabul airport bombing.
In San Francisco, more than 200 marchers convened at U.N. Plaza to focus on peace.
The event began with organizers playing the song "Sarzamine Man," or "My Homeland," followed by several speakers, including Mary Steiner, president of the United Nations Association San Francisco Chapter; Nahid Aria, Dari translator and Afghan community outreach coordinator at the Alameda County District Attorney's Office; and Shahid Buttar, a lawyer and candidate for California's 12th Congressional district.
Aziza Popal, who attended the rally, said she fled Afghanistan many years before because she was not able to practice Islam under the then-rule of the Soviet Union. On Saturday, she came to protest on behalf of voiceless people in her former home. "I'm here to raise my voice on behalf of all men and women. We are very upset with what is going on in Afghanistan right now," she said.
"President Biden, you have not ended the war, you've caused global chaos and we are now seeing the consequences," she said. "These Afghans have been betrayed by the world, and now they need help."
Protest organizers said war waged by the United States has disintegrated Afghan society. "Afghan citizens are left with no choice but to flee their homes or stay and risk death at the hands of these forces," organizers wrote in a statement.
In remarks to the crowd, organizer Nagar Nawabi called on the U.S. to promote social equity among genders and among marginalized groups and to establish a committee to investigate the actions of the U.S., Pakistan and others in Afghanistan over the last two decades.
"We are not asking for much, but we are asking for human rights. But clearly, that's too much to ask when you're an Afghan," she said.