Fawzia Koofi is a woman talking peace with the Taliban. She is one of the four female members of the negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the intra-Afghan talks happening in Doha, Qatar since Sept. 12. She was attacked while traveling on Kabul-Parwan Highway in Qarabagh district in August. She survived the unclaimed assassination attempt but received minor injuries. She has now joined the negotiating team in Doha. OrbandNews has conducted an exclusive interview with her about the ongoing peace process.
Please read the full interview here:
- Why do you think you were targeted and shot by gunmen in August? Which group do you think was behind that incident, as well as the recent spree of assassinations, and why?
I think the plot against me is part of the series of assassinations that have been targeting prominent women, journalists or activists in Afghanistan. Many of these targeted assassinations have gone unnoticed and there have been less thorough investigations regarding who are the perpetrators.
Recently, innocent people, including students, journalists and females, have fallen victim to unfortunate incidents, which should be properly probed. We need to have a follow up because the public needs to know who is/was behind them all.
Also, in my case, I don’t know specifically who was behind it because the security organizations haven’t yet briefed me. However, my personal assumptions are that it was certainly linked to the peace negotiations and was the handiwork of those who are the spoilers of the process. By doing so, they thought they could delay the process and prolong the blame game discussions.
This assassination trend indicates one thing that the enemies of the prosperity of Afghanistan do not want to see this country being led and represented by the best versions of its citizens.
- You are a member of the peace negotiation team representing the Republic against the Taliban; please tell us about your interactions with the Taliban.
My experience from the talks, when I sat across the table with the Taliban, was that they regarded me as a politician and I have not witnessed any sign or reaction that is gender-based. So our arguments with them are based on the idea that we are two political sides discussing the future of our country.
But that mentality and attitude are not there among some of the Taliban who have recently joined the negotiating team. Therefore, we have a long way to go as it’s not only about our experience because the Taliban have to really be more vocal in terms of what their perspective, policies and views about women’s rights are because that will give assurance back home to women who are rightfully worried about the outcome of the peace process.
- How optimistic are you regarding the intra-Afghan talks and peace?
There is no way out of this conflict, bloodshed and losses that we experience in Afghanistan every day other than to be positive about the process. We know that it’s taking more time and is slow-paced.
The violence on the ground in Afghanistan is not justifiable and it distracts us from being focused on what is best to come out of these negotiations. It certainly disrupts us when we see university is stormed; students, civilians are being killed and big cities are attacked because based on the agreement with the Taliban and the US, they are not supposed to attack urban centers.
The Taliban need to stay committed to a reduction in violence, at least if not a ceasefire. But that hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, the process has its, of course, frustrations but there is no way out but to be positive. We are positive and we hope that this will result in a peace that is justice-centric whereby the victims of war will be listened to. I assure Afghans that we are working towards that.
- How different are the Taliban of 2020 compared to those in power during the 1990s?
The Taliban with whom we talk here in Doha or with whom we met in the dialogues had been exposed to a different world, freedom, liberties that people and citizens in other Muslim countries have, including in Doha of Qatar or even in our neighboring countries. If you go deep down into those societies, despite being Muslim, they still value their citizens’ rights in terms of access to education, social services, fair justice, inclusivity, engagement and participation in the government.
So having been witness to those kinds of opportunities, the Taliban’s perspective towards these issues has altered. Now my concern is how they will translate that change of perspective into practice in a way that their foot soldiers and troops also follow and practice the same attitude. It’s because we know that as the talks are going on, there are girls’ schools and universities being targeted. This necessitates efforts on their part to amplify the same attitude onto their troops at the ground level and the community levels. Then, we will see and claim whether the Taliban have changed or not. Also, they have to demonstrate that they have changed their mindset on the negotiation papers going forward.
- Has the Taliban’s view on women changed? Do you think the Taliban would allow women to have active participation in social, economic and governmental affairs?
As I stated before, those Taliban that we met, they have been exposed to many things. Their own daughters go to universities and schools; their family members are educated. I don’t think they will go against the will of the people and stop women from going to school. In the meantime, we have to clarify our expectations and visions for the peace process. We are talking so that Afghanistan is not surrendered to one particular ideology or the other. We are talking to ensure that different views are heard – including but not limited to respecting human rights and not going against the universal standards of the international community.
We are negotiating so that we have a platform where everybody, including the Taliban and women, has a say and people have a future in that. So, my expectation from the peace process and its outcome is that we don’t surrender Afghanistan to one group. If that happens, there are certainly valid concerns that the insurgent group will try to influence the situation based on their own ideology but we hope that we agree on something acceptable to everyone, including the women of this country.
Therefore, the Taliban need to adapt themselves and we need to use other Muslim countries as a model. With that being said, let me emphasize that we haven’t really discussed women’s issues at this stage and we don’t think this will shortly come up for discussion but as soon as we discuss this matter, the Constitution of Afghanistan will be the main guiding principle for us.
- What are your major concerns about the peace process?
The peace process falling apart is my major concern. I think the people of Afghanistan have really suffered enough to the extent that they want to see a change, experience a different life and different future for their children. A mother doesn’t want her daughters or sons to leave the house in the morning and see their bodies brought home in the evening. The status quo is so painful for our people. While I am hoping that the process doesn’t fail but this still constitutes my biggest concern. In the meantime, I am also worried about the possibility of the two sides – if brought under pressure – agreeing on things that contradict the will of people. I hope that will not happen but if we rush the process in a way when there is no consensus then this is a matter of concern.
- In your debate with Farahnaz Frotan, Deborah Lyons and, Adela Raz on November 5th, you have emphasized an external source for overseeing the talks and peace agreement in Doha; why?
I think anywhere in the world a peace process won’t be successful if international organizations or big credible international partners do not oversee the process and guarantee the outcome of the process. Therefore, we need to have a guarantor.
If you look at the peace processes anywhere in the world, there has been the engagement of a third party in many layers; for example, before the process to facilitate and pave the way for actual talks, engagement during the process as facilitators and mediators, and then engagement in the post-peace period – all in the capacity of a guarantor or supporter. So I think we need international backup and support in the whole process because the war in Afghanistan, at the end of the day, is not just a civil war. It has a lot of multi-dimensional actors who are engaged in many forms. We are the victims of a proxy war in Afghanistan.
So, in order to ensure that each actor will play the required supportive role in the process, we need to have some international organizations, including the UN and big strategic partners of Afghanistan, to play their role to make sure: Firstly that the peace achieved will be long-lasting and just, secondly that the rights and liberties of the people of Afghanistan are not sacrificed as a result of this process. This is because the international community certainly wants to support a process and fund an outcome of the process that respects democracy and people’s power.
- “Human rights are not negotiable,” can you outline which human rights are stressed more in the negotiations?
We are focusing on finishing this code of conduct or rule of procedures and we assume that this is going to be just a technical discussion. However, we have recently gone deep into some substantive issues that concern our people in terms of inclusivity. For instance, human rights are about inclusivity.
Inclusivity of religious and sectarian minorities while taking into account social, gender and political aspects as well. All this exists in our society and we have worked to promote them to make our society more diverse and to be representative enough to represent every angle and walks of life in our society. This is what human rights mean for me, as well as for our donors, because we have a Constitution that ensures everything, especially the second part of the Constitution.
Now, we needn’t go and discuss things that are already established and stated in our laws because when it comes to interpretations of Islamic principles, various countries, Ulema and religious schools of thought have their own way of interpretations about women and human rights, minorities and sectarian inclusivity. I admit that peace negotiations are a political process but we need to make sure that even if we discuss those things, they should be according to what we have in the Constitution and the applicable laws of Afghanistan.
- Why are the talks not advancing; the reason behind the deadlock?
First of all, the reason behind the deadlock is the nature of the talks. In Colombia, for example, it took them seven months to just agree on the agenda. The talks are especially slow when there exists a trust deficit. One side does not trust the other side and for every small sentence, there is a doubt and predefined boundaries that we have set for ourselves.
Therefore, for us to be able to convince the other side and for the Taliban to be able to convince us, this will take time. We need to have trust-building measures because the circumstances in Kabul and Afghanistan in terms of violence certainly have an impact. But I am hoping that we will come to some sort of agreement to end this very prolonged discussion on the code of conduct. We need to get into actual discussions and actual agendas which will benefit the people of Afghanistan and the peace process.
- In your opinion, how long will it further take the sides to conclude the talks?
We have a kind of a draft plan and agenda that was consulted with officials and leaders in Afghanistan and that is the roadmap for us in terms of pursuing the talks. But in the meantime, we are here as two groups and negotiating sides with each side having its own priorities and issues.
Therefore, it will be very difficult to predict how long this will take. We initially forecasted the talks will only take two weeks but now it’s been two months and still, we have issues to debate. I agree talks are tough but I hope the sooner we manage to put an end to what’s going on in Afghanistan, the better it will be for the talks to conclude sooner.
- What will happen if the talks fail?
The worst-case scenario is the current peace talks’ failure.
There are two possible scenarios in that situation; the first being either side’s making efforts to secure victory on the battleground and escalate their offensives and level of violence. In that situation, our countrymen will continue to be killed and the country destroyed.
I am not sure that if that happens, the international community would support any side. However, there is this perception in Afghanistan that the Afghan government is legitimate and internationally recognized so it should have strategic partnerships with the world. But given global politics, it’s not certain how long will the world actually stand by the government of Afghanistan. The talks’ failure is thus not an option.
In that case then, the neighboring and the regional countries would probably try to reshape the politics and influence the situation, something that makes everything complicated. Therefore, I hope that failure isn’t an option, at least from our side.
With that being said, I think there is also a limit to what extent we can be flexible. We cannot afford unlimited flexibility for everything. We have a defined agenda, defined rules and defined principle policy-level issues and those should be respected.
“Sketch by Maryam Farzami”