From exile, female former Afghan leader keeps fighting

From exile, female former Afghan leader keeps fighting 3

Two months after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, one of the country’s once-prominent female leaders — a former parliament member, candidate for president and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize — is visiting the United Nations, not as a representative of her government but as a woman in exile.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fawzia Koofi called for humanitarian aid sent to Afghanistan to be contingent on the participation of women in its distribution, as well as free and safe travel for Afghans into and out of the country.

Aid “should not be politicized. … Women should be involved in every stage of it and they should be listened to. Women should not be only the recipients,” said Koofi, part of a delegation of Afghan women visiting the U.N. to urge member states not to compromise on inclusion and equal rights in Afghanistan.

Since fleeing Kabul in August, Koofi has been living in hotel rooms in Europe. She described the pain of separation from her country, of two decades of hopes dashed and of searching for permanent residence for herself and her two daughters.

“This is not an Afghanistan I fought for,” she told the AP. “The Afghanistan that I was hoping for was (that) women should not suffer as much as I suffered during my childhood, during the time that I was a teenager, when (the) Taliban took over.”

“I wanted other girls to enjoy at least the freedom of choosing which school they should go. But now, their choice is limited to which room in their houses they should spend during the day. This is heartbreaking.”

Koofi, a former deputy speaker of parliament, was one of only four women in talks to reach a power-sharing deal with the Taliban, which ultimately failed. She described watching the Taliban’s commitment to negotiations change after they signed a peace agreement with the United States in February 2020.

“After they signed the agreement, they were more extreme and they were more into buying time, preferring a military strategy,” she said.

Taliban fighters pursued that strategy in the summer, seizing province after province until they reached Kabul in August. When then-President Ashraf Ghani fled, the Taliban entered the capital, sparking panic among many who had opposed their rule and feared for their lives and futures.

That was the fatal blow to reaching a political settlement many had hoped would cement the gains women had achieved in access to education, work and the legal system, Koofi said.

She also blamed “world leaders,” seeming to point a finger at U.S. President Joe Biden. “As a superpower, the United States has a major responsibility and should be held accountable,” she said.

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