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The death of Zaki Anwari

The death of Zaki Anwari


The day after the Taliban took Kabul, a young man fell to his death from a US airplane. The tragedy revealed a lot about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

BASIA CUMMINGS, narrating:

Hello, I’m Basia and this is the Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world. 

Over Christmas and the New Year, we’re doing something a little bit different here on the Sensemaker podcast, we’re reviewing the year and asking: who are the 10 people that really helped us make sense of 2021?

Now.. you don’t usually hear me on here – I usually present another of our podcasts, a weekly investigative show. If you like true stories with twists and turns, go and subscribe to the Slow Newscast. 

But today, here, I’m going to tell you the story of Zaki Anwari.


[Clip of people running alongside a plane]

I’m watching a video filmed on the 16th August, 2021. 

It was shot at Kabul airport. 

In it you can see a grey American military jet – US AIR FORCE emblazoned across it – taxi-ing along the tarmac. As the plane moves, dozens and dozens of people are running. 

Some of them, a group of young men, have climbed up onto the plane and are clinging to the landing gear.

Just a few hours before this video was taken, the Taliban had re-taken control of Kabul. American and British forces were leaving Afghanistan after 20 years at war – and the Taliban were roaring back to power.

“Taliban forces entered the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul today the culmination of a rapid advance and retaking of control almost exactly two decades after they were ousted from power.”

BBC News

Everthing was about to change – Afghans knew what was coming for them: a return to the Taliban’s strict, Islamist rule. And, as Taliban forces began to enter the city, a conversation took place between two brothers: Zaki and Zakir Anwari.

They were meant to be guarding their family’s car outside Kabul airport. Their older brother, Naser, was trying to sort out documents to help them leave the country.  

Aged just 17, Zaki Anwari was desperate to leave.

He was a talented footballer who played for the Afghan national youth team, he knew that the arrival of the Taliban would probably mean the end of budding sports career. 

With no passport, Zaki Anwari hatched a plan to scale the airport’s wall. His brother Zakir tried to talk him out of it. 

But Zaki Anwari saw it as his ticket to freedom.


The harrowing scenes at Kabul airport that day became emblematic of America’s catastrophic exit from Afghanistan. 

Back in April, US President Joe Biden announced he would be withdrawing American troops from the country. America had been there too long, was Biden’s argument. They had gone there originally, back in 2001, to rid the place of the Taliban – and to kill terrorists.

“We went to war with clear goals.  We achieved those objectives.  Bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is degraded in Iraq — in Afghanistan.  And it’s time to end the forever war.”


He gave a deadline. September, 2021. 20 years. 

But the Afghan government wasn’t ready. 

For months beforehand, experts had been warning that once Western forces left, the Taliban would pick up where they left off. 

But Joe Biden was resolute. 

And when the deadline was up, the United States didn’t really seem to have any plans to get vulnerable Afghans out of the country – and out of the reaches of the Taliban. 

Not even, really, a plan for those who had helped Americans there – interpreters, embassy workers and contractors.

“It would be an improvement to call this a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s not even clear what the bureaucratic plan is for some of these Afghans.”

PBS news

The result? 

Thousands of people racing to reach the airport.


Zaki Anwari made it over the airport wall where he tried to make it on to a plane. 

But there was so much confusion, and so many people, that he couldn’t make it on. 

Instead, as a US air force jet began to take off, he was left running along the tarmac – trying to grab a hold of it. 

And then…

“Later a plane takes off, and what you’re about to see is disturbing, as the plane ascends, two objects, or people, appear to fall from the fuselage”


The scene turned fatal.

“One of the young men who fell from the plane, clinging to it even after take off, was a talented footballer who had played for the national youth team. Part of a generation of Afghans now facing an uncertain future.”

BBC News

Zaki Anwari had his whole life ahead of him. 

He was part of a new, liberal generation growing up in Kabul. 

In the days before his death, he was revising for a maths exam. 

But his hope – for what his life could be – dissolved as the Taliban advanced. He’d never known what it was like to live under them, he was too young, of course, but he’d heard the horror stories from his parents’ generation. 

Scared for his future, he tried to escape. 

And he was, as millions of Afghans were left behind.

Today’s story was written by Ella Hill and produced by Studio Klong.