Having survived the bloody conflict, the story of Fawzia Koofi, 44, Afghanistan’s first woman member of parliament over the past three decades, encapsulates the trials and tribulations of an ordinary woman under different regimes in the war-torn country. Of late, she has emerged as a crucial and vibrant voice for Afghan women.
Originally from Badakhshan province, she had intended to run in the Afghan presidential election on a platform of equal rights for women, promoting universal education and opposition to political corruption. She took part in the two rounds of intra-Afghan talks aimed at bringing together Taliban representatives and Afghans from the government and civil society to find a way to end decades of war.
In an exclusive interview with the Anadolu Agency, she spoke about the prospects for peace, regional dynamics of the conflict and her personal ambitions in the troubled Afghan political arena dominated by strongmen.
AA: Afghan traditions have not allowed a woman to take a lead role. As a female politician, how do you fight this tradition and perception?
Fawzia Koofi (FK): We need to differentiate between real Afghan traditions. Certain things in contemporary Afghan traditions are not part of our culture, religion or tradition. For instance, the practice of ‘bad’ [exchange of a girl to settle a feud over murder] is not part of our religion. This has to change. Or for instance, when girls are not allowed to go to school after a certain age, it is not part of our history or religion. We had a very progressive history in the past. We have to fight against these evils. Sometimes, politicians and western media analyze Afghan women in comparison to the Taliban regime, but the fact is that we had a very progressive and robust political arena with female members of parliament and even ministers long before the dark age of the Taliban. The social evils we have now are ‘war products’ and we stand against them.
AA: Western countries had come to Afghanistan to bring security and stability. Why have they failed?
FK: Expectations among the Afghans after 2003 were raised in an unrealistic way that were later not properly managed. The second major blow to efforts for peace came when the focus of the West shifted to Iraq. Afghanistan was all of a sudden no more a priority. Later, the foreign military forces focused on looking for the insurgents in the villages across Afghanistan instead of going after their bastions in Pakistan. They also did not apologize for their mistakes in causing civilian casualties and interfering in the internal political affairs of Afghanistan. All of these culminated to hamper efforts for peace.
In 2009, then U.S. President Barack Obama increased the number of troops in Afghanistan and later withdrew thousands of them, causing mistrust and concern among Afghans.
- Taliban needs to clear ranks from foreign militants
AA: Despite their failure to bring security, why do many politicians like you also argue for their continued stay in the country?
FK: Since 2014, though, our own brave Afghan forces have been on the front lines against terrorism. We want the U.S. not to repeat past mistakes, when the whole world abandoned Afghanistan after defeating communism in the 1990s. It gives the Taliban and other terrorists the wrong message that the world would once again abandon Afghanistan and leave it at the mercy of regional hostile powers and terrorist groups.
In meetings with the Taliban in Moscow and Doha, I together with other politicians urged the Taliban to compel foreign fighters in their ranks to leave along with the withdrawal of foreign soldiers. We told them no one wants a permanent stay of foreign troops in Afghanistan. But this should also apply to foreign extremists and militants present in their ranks as well.
AA: Afghanistan is becoming a turf for India, China and Pakistan. What would you tell these countries?
FK: Our strategic location has for long been seen with hostility by the regional and global powers. We want to tell to all including China, India and Pakistan and the rest of the world to work together with us in improving connectivity for improved ties, trade and mutual benefit rather than fighting each other. We need to get away from the traditional approach of devising political strategies inspired by strategic and military objectives. Instead, we should have a more human approach aimed at collective economic growth in the region.
AA: If the country faces instability due to the intervention of a neighboring country, why are there no negotiations to calm them and address their core strategic interests, instead allowing the country to become a turf against them?
FK: We have been and always supported greater information sharing and communication. As I said earlier, unfortunately, in this region, the traditional politics dominated by security and strategic interests dominate ties between the nations. It would only improve if major players in this region move away from that mindset and strive towards collective gains.
- Afghanistan no battleground for India, Pakistan
AA: India doesn’t share borders with Afghanistan but is still seen as a player by Kabul to the annoyance of Islamabad. What are your views?
FK: Afghanistan desires balancing ties with both. We certainly do not want to be seen as a battleground for any proxy wars. They need to listen to our legitimate demands as well while pursuing their agenda.
AA: As a woman who suffered during the Taliban regime when your husband was imprisoned, what are your impressions about recent peace talks with the Taliban and prospects for their return to power?
FK: We all have suffered in one way or the other. Firstly, my father was killed by the Mujahideen during the civil war in the 1990s. Later, four of my brothers were killed by different groups during the civil war. I think it is time now for us to move on. Forgive and forget is the catchphrase we need to pursue.
Instead of crying over the past, we need to strive and protect our future generations. The Taliban also have to lower their expectations and respect the choice of the people. The power-sharing agreement would be a very difficult one, but we have to bake a bigger cake for all of us to share.
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