Afghanistan’s first woman Deputy Speaker in Parliament Fawzia Koofi talks about being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, negotiating with the Taliban in Doha, and the most recent attack she faced
Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan politician and negotiator at the peace process underway with the Taliban in Doha, says her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was disclosed by a Norwegian Peace Council list of frontrunners last week, is recognition for all Afghan women fighting to be included in the reconciliation process, and to have a place at the table.
How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize, and also for being considered one of the frontrunners?
I think it’s a combination for all the efforts that people of Afghanistan have made and the struggles and sacrifices that they have paid during the war, because everyone in Afghanistan is a victim of war. Women in particular have faced injustice, discrimination, lost their loved ones, but also had opportunities taken away from them – opportunities for education and work [during the Taliban regime]. So, they needed to be part of the peace process, they need to make sure that their rights will not be compromised.
And I think this [nomination] is a recognition of all the efforts that women have made to be included in the process and to be heard. And I think it will help a lot in the process by giving such a high recognition to the efforts of the Afghan woman. It gives me personally, much more power, along with my other three sisters [women on the 21-member negotiating team] who are in this process of negotiation.
Do you expect to win?
The fact that we have come up to here is a big achievement for Afghan women. It indicates that the international community and the world is watching the peace process and understands the importance of inclusion of women. Even if I don’t win, and I know that they have a tough process of selection, just the fact that we have come up to here [in the Nobel nomination process] is a big success for not only the women but for all of Afghanistan.
How are the talks in Doha going?
What we have to keep in mind is that the war has gone on for four decades in Afghanistan. I understand the expectations back home are high, people want to see the peace process impact their life quickly. But the process has its own challenges as well, we want to really make the foundation of these talks strong. So right now, we are working on the foundation, and the rules of procedure.
Taliban has in the past said that women should not be part of the talks process. How did the Taliban leadership react to your presence there?
Well, at this stage, I do not want to be considered as just a woman. I want to be considered as a representative of my country and as a politician, who has equal rights to sit across the table and discuss the future of her country. Not only the future of women but the future of everyone in that country. I don’t expect the Taliban to react negatively to the representative of 55% of their society, if they want to really reconcile and if they want to pursue their political agendas, not through bullets, but through ballots. They have to respect the diversity and understand that we are part of the new Afghanistan.
If the Taliban is to come back into the mainstream, how will the progress made in this “new” Afghanistan, in terms of rights for women and minorities, of democracy be protected?
I know that the people of Afghanistan are worried and women in particular have legitimate concerns [about this]. The kind of situation they have been through during the civil war, but in particularly during the Taliban regime, because the Taliban basically denied all basic human rights for women. If the perception is that we surrender to one ideology, or to the other, I don’t think that talks will actually succeed. We are working together, we have differences, huge differences, and these talks aren’t easy.
My understanding is that we hope we will come to a political agreement, not an agreement that will surrender Afghanistan to one or the other idea. So hopefully, we will get something that will accommodate the diversities of Afghanistan today.
Is there a bottom line? Are there things that are non-negotiable, that women cannot be taken out of the workforce, that women will be able to enjoy equal rights?
Women have already suffered a lot. If you look at the social indicators, yes, we have had progress over the past 20 years in terms of women’s education, health, political participation, access to economic resources, nothing to compare to the time when Taliban were in power, but still Afghanistan is a country which has the worst indicators, the highest numbers for maternal mortality, highest illiteracy rates etc. So how much more shall we pay for the sake of peace?
Peace, with integrity and with dignity and inclusivity is the only way to bring stability. We also have Hindus and Sikhs in our country, we have sectarian minorities, so no peace will be long lasting if everyone in Afghanistan does not feel that they are being heard.
Tell us about the most recent attack you faced?
About a month and a half ago, I was coming from one of the provinces. I had gone to offer condolences to the family of an army officer who lost his life in the battlefield. On the way back, two cars began chasing us and while [militants in] one car stopped my car, those in the other one began shooting from the back. My right hand was fractured, and I still have to go to the hospital here every day to clean the open wound. My daughter was with me during the attack, and I was lucky, if it was three or four centimetres closer to my chest, probably I would have not been alive.
What has it been like to engage with the Taliban, given they were responsible for the violence in Afghanistan, and for the violence that you have suffered personally? What was it like to be at the table with them?
I did go through some emotional moments. I had to go through certain process to accept the fact that we cannot continue to pursue our agendas through violence and more killing and more bloodshed. Every day in Afghanistan, people are losing lives. So yes, we are all victims of war. I have personally gone through so much, not only in terms of losing my family members, my brother, father, my husband, into the war. Even parts of my body, and my right hand [injured in an assassination attempt in August 2020] is not fully operational yet.
It’s also about the opportunities that were taken away from us, from me as woman. I could have been a medical doctor; the other young women of Afghanistan have also lost opportunities. Now the option is, are we going to continue to kill more people to pursue our political agenda, or there is a better way, by being an example of humanity that can rule minds and hearts of people. If Taliban think they will have a victory through bloodshed, they have to really correct themselves.
What are your expectations from India at this point in Afghanistan’s history?
Regardless of what the politics of our governments have been, we have always had a friendly relationship with India. My expectation is that the regional countries will put their efforts forward to support the establishment of a peaceful settlement. I hope that India as one of our great friends will get engaged. I also hope that India continues to support our education system as they have been doing.