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Afghan sisters who defied family and the Taliban to sing "lost everything" and now battle depression

Escaping the Taliban
A group of girls describe their escape from a Taliban controlled Afghanistan | 60 Minutes 02:40

Islamabad — In 2010, two Afghan sisters rebelled against their family's wishes and their country's traditions by not only singing, but singing in public, even posting videos of their music online. Singing and dancing are largely taboo in Afghanistan's deeply conservative society, for men and women. The pair were reprimanded lightly by a local court, but it didn't stop them.

Khushi Mehtab, who's now 32, and her younger sister Asma Ayar, 28, kept performing at local shows and posting their videos, and they gained significant popularity.

Afghan refugee sisters Khushi Mehtab, left and Asma Ayar, 28, practice their music in the one-room apartment they share with their younger brother in Islamabad, Pakistan, as they speak with CBS News in mid-May, 2023. CBS News

But just as they were rising to fame in Afghanistan, the U.S.-backed government collapsed and the Taliban took back control of the country in August 2021.

"We were banished"

"I couldn't believe how suddenly everything collapsed and changed 360 degrees," Ayar told CBS News. "The next day, we saw the Taliban patrolling the streets. We tried to hide our instruments but there was no one to help us. On the third day after Kabul was captured, Taliban forces knocked on the door and took my 18-year-old brother. They knew about our profession and told him that we should go to the police station and repent." 

"I separated myself from my family and got to the airport to escape. Amid the chaos, a Taliban guard stopped me and stuck the barrel of his gun into my forehead," said Mehtab. "At the time, I thought, 'I'm a singer, which is sinful to the Taliban, they will surely shoot me,' but luckily he got distracted with another person. I ran toward the airstrip but didn't manage to catch an evacuation flight."

"We were banished from our inner family circle for our choice of making music. The [previous] court ruled in our favor, but now the Taliban and some family members were against us, so we dumped our musical instruments," she said. "It was liking throwing away our dreams."

Education activist Malala Yousafzai on the Taliban banning women from universities 04:23

The sisters hid out in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif for about four months until they finally managed to escape across the border into neighboring Pakistan, where we met them living in rented one-room apartment with their brother, who's now 20.

They reached out to everyone they knew in the country for help but found only further threats.

"At one point, a Pakistani girl offered us shelter, which we accepted, but we came to understand that she was trying to exploit us as sex workers, so we escaped from there as well," Asma told CBS News.

Nightmares and depression

Qais Ayar, the women's brother, said Asma has struggled to sleep since they fled their country. Nightmares keep her awake.

Afghan refugees Asma and Qais Ayar stand in the apartment they share with their older sister in Islamabad, Pakistan, in mid-May, 2023. CBS News

He said he and his sisters were turned back twice at the border by Pakistani border police, who handed them over to Taliban officials, before they made it into the country.

Qais said his sisters have been so traumatized by their ordeal that they're both now taking antidepressants.

"I went to a doctor, begged him not to charge," Mehtab said. "I'm grateful to him for giving me medicine."

"I dedicated my life to the art of singing, but I lost everything," said Asma. "First, I was exiled by my family, then in 2021, I was forced into exile from my homeland by the Taliban… Life has become meaningless for me and my sister. I don't know how long I will be alive without a clear fate and destiny. Americans helped us for 20 years, but in the end, the U.S. left us and my country to the Taliban."

"The Taliban is responsible for our current mental state," added her older sister. "One day, when the Taliban is destroyed, our minds and nerves will calm down, and I will continue my art."

If you or a loved one is struggling or in crisis, help is available. You can call or text 988 or to chat online, go to

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