Earlier this month, Beheshta Arghand made history in Afghanistan.
Arghand, a female anchor at TOLO, an Afghan news network, interviewed a senior Taliban representative on the air. The interview garnered headlines around the world.
Two days later, Arghand did it again, interviewing Malala Yousafzai, the activist who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, in what TOLO described as the first time Yousafzai had ever been interviewed on Afghan TV.
Arghand was blazing a trail, but her work has been put on hold. She decided to leave Afghanistan, citing the dangers that so many journalists and ordinary Afghans are facing.
Arghand corresponded with CNN Business via WhatsApp and recounted the experience of the past two weeks.
Ultimately, she said, “I left the country because, like millions of people, I fear the Taliban.”
Saad Mohseni, the owner of TOLO, said Arghand’s case is emblematic of the situation in Afghanistan.
“Almost all our well known reporters and journalists have left,” Mohseni said on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday. “We have been working like crazy to replace them with new people.”
“We have the twin challenge of getting people out [because they feel unsafe] and keeping the operation going,” he added.
Arghand is 24 years old. She told CNN that she decided to become a journalist in ninth grade after one of her teachers let her come to the front of the room and read the news “like I was the anchor on TV,” she said.
Arghand studied journalism at Kabul University for four years. She worked at several news agencies and radio stations for short periods of time, then joined TOLONews as a presenter earlier this year.
“I worked there for one month and 20 days, then the Taliban came,” she recalled.
Her August 17 interview with the Taliban was “the first time in Afghanistan’s history that a Taliban representative appeared live in a TV studio sitting across from a female presenter,” Mohseni said in a column for the Washington Post, asserting that the Taliban was trying to “present a moderate face to the world.”
Arghand said the interview was difficult, “but I did it for Afghan women.”
“I told myself, ‘One of us must start … If we stay in our houses or don’t go to our offices, they will say the ladies don’t want to work,’ but I said to myself, ‘Start working,’” Arghand said. “And I said to the Taliban member, ‘We want our rights. We want to work. We want — we must —be in society. This is our right.”
With each passing day came new accounts of Taliban intimidation targeting the news media.
Two days after interviewing Yousafzai, Arghand reached out to the activist for help. On Tuesday, she boarded a Qatari Air Force evacuation flight along with several family members.
She said she hopes to return: “If the Taliban do what they said – what they promised – and the situation becomes better, and I know I am safe and there is no threat for me, I will go back to my country and I will work for my country. For my people.”