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Monday, October 18, 2021

India must tread narrow line between interference and working together with Afghanistan, says Fawzia Koofi

Former Afghan deputy Speaker urges India not to abandon Afghanistan

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
September 29, 2021 8:30:41 am
Speaking at a webinar organized by the South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), Koofi, who was one of the four women representatives of the Afghan government that negotiated with the Taliban at Doha last year, said that for extremist groups women have always been the main enemy. (Express Photo)

India should accommodate more Afghan refugees while respecting the “narrow line between interference and working together,” said Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan’s first woman deputy speaker of Parliament, and added that Taliban is still very much the same bunch of people with same ideology and for them, like any other military extremist group, “women are the main enemy who they fear even more than the B-52 bombers of the US”.

“I understand India’s position. Off-late they have been trying not to engage, but abandonment is not a solution. India should continue to support the people of Afghanistan and ask other regional countries to do the same. People of Afghanistan have been very sensitive towards people of different countries speaking on their behalf. There is always a narrow difference between interference and working with each other. Indians, like any other neighboring country, should respect that narrow line of interference and work with people of Afghanistan. Our relationship with India is not just the government to government. It is a deep-rooted nation to nation relationship,” said Koofi, a lawmaker from Badakhshan province.

Speaking at a webinar organized by the South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), Koofi, who was one of the four women representatives of the Afghan government that negotiated with the Taliban at Doha last year, said that for extremist groups women have always been the main enemy.

“For women in Afghanistan, it has been a fight to survive, to not give up. For military extremists groups, women have been their main enemy. They have targeted women in many ways. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban seem to be more afraid of women than anybody else. They aren’t as afraid of B-52 bombers as they are of the women. The Taliban’s ideology contradicts with Islamic principles. In Islam, reading and writing is obligatory for both men and women, but the Taliban has decided not to let women go to school,” she said.

Asserting that the only way forward for the Taliban was to have an inclusive, comprehensive government that ensures equal participation for all, Koofi said, “Today’s Afghanistan is a progressive Afghanistan. Women are on streets protesting for their rights. During our meetings, we told the Taliban that they need to adopt the new Afghanistan. The Taliban need to have an inclusive, comprehensive, participatory government. They have not included ethnic and religious minorities and women in their government… At this critical point, the role of the international community is very important. Taliban cannot be the only power…They have to agree for a parliamentary system, a government which includes all.”

Koofi, who had set up a home school for girls during the previous Taliban regime and was the face behind the ‘Back to School’ campaign for girls in 2001, said it needs to be asked why the Taliban was so afraid of the public appearance of girls and women in schools and universities. “Taliban has issued a decree that girls only upto class 6 can go to schools where they will be segregated. Girls aren’t allowed in secondary and higher schools because they (Taliban) say they are working on rules to make the environment safer (for girls). Maybe their definition of safer is segregating classes in the universities too. There are no female teachers,” she said.

“If they (Taliban) really want Afghanistan to move forward, they should have an inclusive government. We have to find an entry point for women in politics. For women, it is going to be very difficult to work with someone who doesn’t even recognize you as a human being. Who is going to monitor what the Taliban does? We too want to give the Taliban a chance but they have to adopt a new Afghanistan,” said Koofi.

On the near-end of existence of religious minorities in Afghanistan, Koofi said that it were not just Sikhs and Hindus who were feeling ‘excluded’ but also Shia Muslims were feeling the same. “Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are our brothers and sisters, they are proud Afghan themselves. But the Taliban’s view of diversity is that everyone should believe like them. It is not only Sikhs and Hindus who are feeling excluded but also Shias,” she said.

Koofi, who was among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize 2020, was forced to flee to Qatar following the Taliban takeover. She said that contrary to the notion that Afghan society was a conservative one, “people of Afghanistan have always been democratic” by nature.

“The general perspective is that we are conservative but we have a mixed society. People generally support women and freedom. We had local decision making bodies and the engagement had always been there. For most of the development in past years, the credit goes to people of Afghanistan. We are a nation fighting for freedom. Article 22 of our Constitution says that everyone is equal before law irrespective of religion or gender. In the Parliament, we all had put our energy for laws that provide space to everybody. We got a law to protect women and children from harassment. The previous government tried to empower women,” said Koofi.

“I did not work for years to leave my country. I wanted to resist and be there in the streets of Kabul but the situation did not allow it and I had to flee. My sister and niece were taken hostage by the Taliban when going to the airport. I never expected that a situation would come that our own President would leave Kabul. It is the people who pay the price. No one can really understand what people of Afghanistan have been going through,” the former lawmaker added.

She said that it was a wrong claim that people from rural Afghanistan, especially women, were welcoming the Taliban and their idea of women staying inside homes and girls not going to schools. “From where do we have this claim? Even when we were holding talks with the Taliban, many male colleagues claimed that only women in cities have this demand of being included, women in villages don’t. This is wrong. How many male leaders come from the grassroot and represent villages’ voices? A survey conducted in Afghanistan by an Afghani Search Unit, which had group discussions by rural women, said that they were even more critical than women in cities, they demanded even more. When I was in Parliament, people would come asking for more schools everyday,” she said.

Koofi said that most Taliban fighters were “young and uneducated” and “we have to integrate them in our system”. “They go to extremism in the absence of opportunities. We have more than 22 military extremist groups that operate between Central Asia and South Asia crossing Afghanistan and in the absence of constitutional order or accountable government, we pave the way for other military extremist groups to come in”.

An assassination attempt survivor, Koofi said that women of Afghanistan were not reading from any books but speaking for what they have experienced during previous Taliban regime and now all they are asking is for their basic, fundamental rights in absence of which the Taliban should not be given any international recognition.

“There should be international recognition for the Taliban only if they take serious measures and implement what they said earlier. Even during the negotiations, we asked for constitutional, decentralised and an elected government. Earlier they said that women could be even Prime Minister or ministers but now they aren’t ready to have them even as ordinary employees. Women aren’t asking for any luxuries but basic fundamental rights such as access to education. The question is why should always women compromise? We have opened this debate with the Taliban.”

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