Where is Kareem? The Story Unfolds of Souls Trapped in Taliban-Run Afghanistan

COMMENTARY: Kareem’s story is a window into the soul of Afghanistan. It is the icon of the suffering Christ; hungry, bruised, beaten, forsaken, left for dead.

Children stand in front of their house in the old quarters of Kabul on November 8, 2021.
Children stand in front of their house in the old quarters of Kabul on November 8, 2021. (photo: Wakil Kohsar / AFP/Getty)

As the situation in Afghanistan crescendoed into chaos late last August, I was introduced to Kareem via email. As Operations Manager for Catholic News Agency, I monitor the email account to which he sent his plea for safety: “My name is [Kareem]. I am a Christian. Please help me,” he wrote. “I have no one without you. You are my last hope.” 

Though we were worlds away, our lives were about to become closer than we imagined. For the next week until the last American troops withdrew, I ducked out of dinners with friends early and stayed awake nights to watch, wait, pray for and communicate with Kareem. 

Contacts among humanitarian groups promised hour by hour that it would be possible to get him on a plane if we could respond with enough speed. But slowly the hours elapsed and the flight never materialized. 

We would need to find another way for this Christian to flee

Kareem is a survivor. He survived the murder of his father and brother, the disappearance of his mother, and the suicide bombing outside Abbey Gate that claimed almost 200 lives, 13 of them U.S. military members. He survived Taliban patrols making rounds at night outside the airport by sleeping in garbage dumpsters and the feeling of despair when the last American plane left Kabul. 

Because his story is emblematic of the entire Afghanistan crisis, I often receive questions about the fate of Kareem. Where is Kareem?

The sensitive nature of reporting on rescues in Afghanistan makes this a difficult question to answer. I am not at liberty to give the details of his whereabouts, but in every story from Afghanistan I see the fate of so many Kareems unfolding. 

In the reports of starving and emaciated children, dying of hunger, I see Kareem. This winter, according to the Wall Street Journal, Afghanistan will face its worst famine in 35 years. Richard Trenchard, director of Afghanistan’s arm of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, says that roughly 23 of the 38 million population are already facing food insecurity so grave they do not know where their next meal will come from. The head of World Food Programme told the BBC that fully 95% of Afghans don’t have enough food. Without outside assistance, nearly half of Afghanistan’s population is “marching towards starvation,” he said. 

A child suffering from malnutrition receives treatment at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar on September 27, 2021.(Photo: Bulent Kilic)

My Jesus, mercy. 

In Jalalabad last week, unconfirmed reports surfaced of a mass grave of Afghans killed for opposition to the Taliban. After a boy drowned in the canal, the town drained the water to lay his body to rest. Human rights organizations are looking into what was found at the bottom in addition to the boy’s body: weighted stones attached to the bodies of 17 people. If true, this is yet another horrific chapter for so many Kareems. 

My Jesus, mercy. 

This week, reports surfaced that the Taliban began a house-to-house operation to make examples of all those who did not have a reason to be in any city where flights leave for foreign lands. Continuous gunfire, crimes against humanity, and targeted assassinations allegedly followed Taliban footsteps through the cities. How many Kareems drew a final breath? 

 My Jesus, mercy. 

In the reports of women killed for their participation in civil society, in the reports of those hunted for their involvement with the U.S. military, in the reports of those tortured for their Christianity, I see Kareem. 

My Jesus, mercy. 

And it is not just the Taliban that Kareem now stares down. I see him, too, among the murdered in the military hospital, killed in a bombing blamed on ISIS-K, the terrorist group responsible for genocide in Syria and Iraq which is now attempting to gain control of Afghanistan. 

Kareem’s story is a window into the soul of Afghanistan. It is the icon of the suffering Christ; hungry, bruised, beaten, forsaken, left for dead. 

Where is Kareem?

It is a larger question than I can answer given the scope of the tragedy unfolding before us. 

Perhaps that greater question is, “Where is Christ?” And to that I would answer: He is in Afghanistan, suffering with his people. 

Kelsey Senftner Wicks is the operations manager of the CNA/ACI Group, a part of EWTN News.

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