Australian reporter receives surprise call from Taliban while she’s live on-air

An Afghan-born BBC anchor received a startling call from a Taliban spokesman while she was reporting live on air, after the extremist group toppled the government.

Yalda Hakim, whose family fled Afghanistan on horseback when she was a baby before settling in Australia in the mid-1980s, kept her poise when Suhail Shaheen dialled her mobile phone while she was conducting an interview.

She quickly switched gears, transferred Shaheen to a loudspeaker and peppered the rep with questions as the Taliban declared victory in Kabul 20 years after being removed from power by US-led forces.

“OK, we have got the Taliban’s spokesman Shail Shaheen on the line. Mr. Shaheen, can you hear me?” the Australian journalist said.

After confirming that he could hear her, Shaheen launched into a speech in which he promised “peace” in the war-ravaged country.

“There should not be any confusion, we are sure the people of Afghanistan in the city of Kabul, that their properties and their lives are safe. There will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country,” he said.

“Our leadership has instructed our forces to remain at the gate of Kabul, not to enter the city. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power,” added Shaheen, who did not rule out that public executions and amputation punishments could be used.

“I can’t say right now, that’s up to the judges in the courts and the laws. The judges will be appointed according to the law of the future government,” said the spokesman, who also confirmed that the country will return to the extreme version of Islamic Sharia law.

“Of course, we want Islamic government,” Shaheen said during the half-hour interview.

He also claimed the Taliban will respect the rights of women and allow them access to education.

Hakim’s colleagues praised her for maintaining her composure when she got the surprise call — and also for her probing interview.

“Have never witnessed anything quite like what happened in studio this morning, pointing our guest mic at @BBCYaldaHakim own mobile phone as a Taliban spokesman rang it in the middle of her juggling another live interview,” a BBC TV floor manager said on Twitter.

“Timing is everything, there was no rearranging this,” he added.

Broadcaster Aasmah Mir wrote: “That BBC Taliban interview is just mind-blowing. All 32 minutes of it. Yalda Hakim is an absolute boss.”

Who is Yalda Hakim?

Hakim was only six months old when her family fled to Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet War. Her father was an architect and avoiding conscription so put Hakim and her mother on one horse, her older brother and sister on another and led them out of the country on foot.

They walked for 10 days before arriving in Pakistan, where they stayed for two years before being sponsored by an Australian couple to move to NSW.

She attended Macarthur Girls High School in Parramatta before studying journalism at Sydney’s Macleay College. She worked for the SBS before moving to London and taking up a role with the BBC in 2012.

She is a star in Afghanistan, which she visited for the first time in 2008. Hakim interviewed then-Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai in 2013, has received the United Nations Media Peace Prize and now fronts the flagship BBC program Impact.

In 2018 she told Women’s Weekly her first stop in any country she was visiting as a reporter was the salon.

She revealed the unique strategy allowed her to tap in to what often-repressed women are really experiencing.

“I get my hair done, they’re getting their hair done, they take off their head scarves and I suddenly see what’s going on under the scarves – peroxided blonde hair and incredible dazzling outfits,” she said.

“Then they talk about everything from how they’re dealing with motherhood to marriage, but also politics and their place in society and what’s going on, and the struggles and challenges they face. That helps me tap into something that my male colleagues just could never, ever do.”

What’s the latest on Afghanistan?

US President Joe Biden broke days of silence Tuesday on the chaotic American pullout from Afghanistan, doubling down on his decision as he fired scorching criticism at the country’s former Western-backed leadership for failing to resist the Taliban.

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said in a televised address from the White House.

As images of chaos and desperation beamed in from Kabul, where American soldiers were trying to mount an evacuation from the airport while Taliban fighters flooded the city, Biden said: “The buck stops with me.”

Brushing off criticism that the evacuation is a debacle, Biden said the priority is to stop a war that had expanded far beyond its initially modest goals of punishing the Taliban for links to Al-Qaeda after 9/11.

“The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” he said, vowing that despite the departure of US troops anti-terrorism operations would continue.

Biden said “thousands” of US citizens and Afghans who had worked with American forces are to be evacuated over the coming days. He threatened a “devastating” military response if the Taliban launch attacks in the meantime.

– with New York Post, AFP

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