Afghanistan’s First Deputy Speaker in Parliament, Fawzia Koofi, talks about her Nobel Peace Prize nomination, talks with the Taliban in Doha and the most recent attack she has faced
Fawzia Koofi, Afghan politician and negotiator of the ongoing peace process with the Taliban in Doha, she says nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was revealed by a Norwegian Peace Council pioneer list last week, is recognition for all Afghan women who are struggling to be included in the reconciliation process and to have a seat at the table.
How do you feel about being selected for the Nobel Peace Prize and being considered one of the favorites?
I think it is a combination of all the efforts of the Afghan people and the struggles and sacrifices they paid for during the war because everyone in Afghanistan is a victim of the war. Women in particular have faced injustice, discrimination, lost loved ones, but also been denied opportunities – education and work opportunities [during the Taliban regime]. So they had to be part of the peace process, they had to make sure that their rights would not be compromised.
And I think that [nomination] is a recognition of all the efforts that women have made to be involved in the process and to be heard. And I think it will help a lot in the process by giving such high recognition to the efforts of the Afghan woman. It gives me personally, much more power, with my three other sisters [women on the 21-member negotiating team] who are in this negotiation process.
Do you expect to win?
The fact that we have arrived here is a great achievement for Afghan women. This indicates that the international community and the world are following the peace process and understanding the importance of including women. Even though I don’t win, and I know they have a tough selection process, just the fact that we came here [in the Nobel nomination process] is a great success not only for women but for all of Afghanistan.
How are the discussions going in Doha?
What we have to keep in mind is that the war has been going on for four decades in Afghanistan. I understand that the expectations here are high, people want to see the peace process have a quick impact on their lives. But the process also has its own challenges, we really want to strengthen the basis for these discussions. So at the moment, we are working on the foundations and the internal rules.
The Taliban have in the past said women should not be part of the negotiating process. How did the Taliban leadership react to your presence there?
Well, at this point, I don’t want to be seen as just a woman. I want to be seen as a representative of my country and as a politician, who has equal rights to sit on the other side of the table and discuss the future of her country. Not only the future of women, but the future of everyone in this country. I don’t expect the Taliban to react negatively to the representative of 55% of their society, if they really want to reconcile and if they want to pursue their political agendas, not by bullets, but through the ballot box. They must respect diversity and understand that we are part of the new Afghanistan.
If the Taliban are to re-enter the mainstream, how will the progress made in this “new” Afghanistan, in terms of women’s and minority rights, of democracy be protected?
I know the Afghan people are worried and women in particular have legitimate concerns [about this]. The kind of situation they went through during the civil war, but especially during the Taliban regime, because the Taliban basically denied all basic rights of women. If the perception is that we surrender to one ideology or another, I don’t think the talks will really succeed. We work together, we have differences, huge differences, and these discussions are not easy.
I understand that we are hoping that we will come to a political agreement, not an agreement that will abandon Afghanistan to either idea. So hopefully we will get something that takes into account the diversities of Afghanistan today.
Is there a result? Are there things that are not negotiable, that women cannot be taken out of the labor market, 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 last 20 years in terms of women’s education, health, political participation, access to economic resources, nothing like the days when the Taliban were in power, but still in Afghanistan. is a country with the worst indicators, the highest maternal mortality figures, the highest illiteracy rates, etc. So how much more do we have to pay for peace?
Peace, with integrity, dignity and inclusiveness 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 lasting if not everyone in Afghanistan feels that they are heard.
Tell us about the last attack you suffered?
About a month and a half ago, I came from one of the provinces. I had gone to offer my condolences to the family of an army officer who lost his life on the battlefield. On the way back two cars started chasing us and while [militants in] one car stopped my car, the other’s started to pull behind. My right hand was fractured and I still have to go to the hospital every day to clean the open wound. My daughter was with me during the attack, and I was lucky, if she was three or four centimeters closer to my chest, I probably wouldn’t have been alive.
What was it like to engage with the Taliban, given that they were responsible for the violence in Afghanistan and the violence you suffered personally? What was it like to be at the table with them?
I went through emotional times. I had to go through a certain process to come to terms with the fact that we cannot continue to pursue our agendas with violence and more killings and more bloodshed. Every day in Afghanistan people lose lives. So yes, we are all victims of war. I have personally experienced so much, not just in terms of losing my family, my brother, my father, my husband, in the war. Even parts of my body and my right hand [injured in an assassination attempt in August 2020] is not yet fully operational.
It is also about the opportunities that have been taken away from me as a woman. I could have been a doctor; other young Afghan women have also lost opportunities. Now the option is, are we going to keep killing more people to continue our political agenda, or there is a better way, by being an example of humanity who can rule the minds and hearts of the people. If the Taliban thinks they will have a victory by bloodshed, they really need to correct themselves.
What do you expect from India at this point in the history of Afghanistan?
Whatever the policy of our governments, we have always had friendly relations with India. I hope that the countries of the region will make efforts to support the establishment of a peaceful settlement. Hope India, as one of our great friends, will get engaged. I also hope that India will continue to support our education system as it does.