As It Happens

Afghan women should be at the table in U.S.-Taliban peace talks, says MP

Women in Afghanistan are worried what will happen to their rights if the United States negotiates a peace deal with the Taliban without their input.

Women who suffered under Taliban rule 'don't want to be a victim of the peace process,' says Fawzia Koofi

Afghan MP Fawzia Kofi says the peace talks between the United States and Taliban have excluded the people of Afghanistan, especially the voices of women. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

Story transcript

While many Afghans would welcome peace after nearly two decades of fighting, some women in the country are also wondering what the cost will be — and whether their rights are in jeopardy.

U.S. negotiators have been meeting with the Taliban and have drafted a framework for a peace deal to end the long-running conflict there, but no Afghans are a part of the negations. 

Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan MP and women's rights advocate, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about her concerns.

Here is part of their conversation.

What are your biggest concerns with these negotiations being worked out between the United States and the Taliban?

The biggest concern for me is not from a politician, but as a woman.

As a woman who lived in Afghanistan all my life, including during Taliban, I know what Taliban perspective and views towards women's freedom was, and they have not come again to explain to the people of Afghanistan that they have changed.

As a mother, I hope we will put an end to this war. The people of Afghanistan have suffered for 40 years. So there is a need for peace, but the peace process should be inclusive. Especially women should be at the negotiation table.

And when you say inclusive, what's interesting is that so far the Afghans, other than the Taliban ... have been excluded from these negotiations. It's just going on between the United States and the Taliban. Is that right?

That's true. In fact, everybody else is involved in the process except the people of Afghanistan. And that's why we're worried, because as a country, and as people who paid the highest price during the war, we don't want to be a victim of the peace process. 

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the United Nations General Assembly in 2017. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Can you remind people of what it was like for everyone, and particularly the women and girls, to live under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. What was it like for you and others?

In 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, I knew there were foreign troops in my country. But as a woman, the important thing for me was that I could, in the streets of Kabul, breathe as a human being without the fear of being beaten up by Taliban for small issues like wearing a white burka. Taliban would regard that as disrespecting their flag.

So basic human rights were violated. It's true that there was peace. But there was no life, basically.

Life under Taliban is kind of unforgettable scenario. All of us remember how it was for girls to stay home, and education was abandoned for women. I had to stop my education from going to school and becoming a medical doctor.

I was, and hundreds of other women like me, we were looking at the world with its beauties and opportunities from the small window of our burkas. And that burka had to have a particular colour.

It was like a graveyard of humans that were alive, but they still could not breathe.

I hope the Taliban will come forward and say that we would like to now rule a nation that has become so progressive.

After 2001, the nation has transformed. There is freedom of media, freedom of speech, girls go to school, women in politics — so much changed socially that I don't think anybody could reverse these changes [and] could take us back to pre-2001.

Koofi with her two daughters in Kabul in 2012. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

What is the chance that the Taliban is actually going to sit down and make these kinds of agreements to protect the rights of women?

You see, these are the points that we would like to hear from Taliban. As people who will be the victims, as women who have been the victim of war by losing our husbands, our children, our family, during the war — and above all, losing our freedom.

We don't want to lose in the peace process and become victim of the peace too.

I would like to hear from a Taliban what is his perspective about my daughters going to school? They definitely can not stop children like my daughters from the progress they have experienced. They have explored the opportunity of the world.

They have to come forward and tell us what do they think? Because I'm sure some of the Taliban family members live abroad and go to the better universities, including their girls.

So they have to give an assurance to the people of Afghanistan that they are willing to rule in Afghanistan in 21st century, post-2001, which everybody has a mobile phone. Everybody is connected with the world.

And the United States, above all, should give a guarantee that we will not go back to scratch.

Written by Kate Swoger and John McGill. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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