Fawzia Koofi: “The world cannot give a blank cheque to the Taliban while they ignore human rights”.

Fawzia Koofi, a pioneering politician in Afghanistan, is one of those involved in negotiations with the Taliban. She now believes that Joe Biden would only have had to delay the withdrawal of US forces by one month to make a significant difference in the ongoing peace talks with the Islamist group’s leadership.

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In the view of the Afghan politician and women’s rights activist, the chaotic withdrawal has undermined the leverage the US and Afghan government had exerted over the Taliban in the Qatar talks. “Afghanistan has been the victim of chain errors,” she says.

“President Biden could have delayed this to wait for a political agreement. Just delaying the withdrawal for another month would have helped to reach a political agreement,” she says from her home in Kabul. She has been the victim of two assassination attempts. The abrupt withdrawal, she says, has put many more people in unnecessary danger.

“We all want the international forces to leave,” she says. “From no point of view is it sustainable or logical to have a foreign force protecting your country, but for the U.S. to have chosen this moment is very inopportune, in the middle of negotiations and before an agreement was reached.”

“If the Americans had kept exerting their political influence, pressing the Taliban and using all sources of pressure against them, I think they would have reached a negotiated settlement,” he says.

Taking advantage of travel

According to her, the lifting of limitations on Taliban travel imposed by the UN so that leaders could attend the talks in Doha. These trips allowed them to seek support.

“They used the trips to reinforce their position; they went to China, to Russia, to Iran and to Turkey to reinforce their support and to enjoy the prestige and the position that they want…. That’s why I think the world should watch very carefully the development of events, to make sure that they are not given a blank cheque while ignoring human rights,” he says.

Koofi was a member of parliament in Kabul and was the first woman to be appointed deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s National Assembly. Despite the high risk she is at, Koofi says she does not want to flee abroad but feels very afraid for Afghan women and girls. “Women feel abandoned; men feel abandoned; women feel betrayed; world leaders have not been consistent in what they said,” she says.

She still feels hope for the women of her country. “Women are resilient and can still be agents of change in Afghanistan; they want to contribute to a better Afghanistan, to help build the country, and this time it’s going to be different. They are capable of making things better. They are not part of the destruction, they are part of building their country. They have not fought militarily.

“This week there was a demonstration in Kabul, with only six or seven women, but it’s a sign of how women are going to raise their voices. I think they will, to bring to the world’s attention what is being imposed on them. Women just want equal rights and respect.

“I don’t know what will happen next. In statements to the press, the Taliban say that this time things are going to be different. But for that to happen they have to take bold steps at all levels, because the political leaders may say one thing, but the foot soldiers do things that don’t match those statements.”

“Political office holders have been exposed to a lot of international experiences living in Qatar for negotiations. Living in an Islamic emirate that does allow women to go to school and where there are women in politics has opened their eyes. But the Islam of the Taliban is deeply conservative, mixed with a tradition that is not Islamic; the burqa has no place in Islam, it is not Islamic, but the younger Taliban have not even been educated.”

“Yesterday I spoke to a young Taliban man and asked him why he joined. ‘My religion called me,’ he replied. But I don’t know what he can know about his religion if he hasn’t been educated.”

He doesn’t want to leave

“Would I leave the country for good? No. There is a lot of hope in what I do. A lot of people have confidence and are watching”.

“This is my country and all my life I have lived with the ups and downs of Afghanistan. I think it’s not a matter of choice. I would never substitute the climate and the warmth of my people for any other country in the world. I have given my blood for it… But right now I am in danger, in danger because of who I am and what I do. To speak out is to irritate those people I oppose. It’s not just the Taliban, there are other groups too.”

“I have already been the victim of two assassination attempts. In August last year I was hit in the arm with bullets that missed my chest. My daughters live in Kabul. My sister’s house has already been attacked. She and my niece are in this work and are in danger. All my family members are in danger, women and men.

“If I had a choice, I would leave, take my daughters to a safe place and then come back.”

Anger with the US

“People are very angry and disappointed and there are many who will never trust the US again, because of the withdrawal and the way it has been carried out. But you also have to remember that in 2014 it was John Kerry who came to Kabul and, with his intervention, made Ashraf Ghani president.”

“It’s very difficult to know what will happen. Things are very uncertain. The best scenario is that we are able to establish an inclusive government that reflects all the people of Afghanistan and that we have elections in which women and all other social groups participate. The worst-case scenario is that the international community turns its back on us and an Islamic Taliban emirate comes into effect and turns Afghanistan back into a disgrace.

“I can only stay here and fight for this country, for the women and for the men,” she said.

Translation by Francisco de Zárate

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