Fawzia Koofi, 35, has been a member of parliament since 2005, and its first female deputy speaker; she worries that talks with the Taliban will set back the real, if halting, gains Afghan women have made in the last decade.
“There is a very confusing and uncertain situation when it comes to talks with theTaliban,” she told me in her living room, which is lined with plush, gilded couches for constituents to sit on when they arrive to tell her their troubles. When I arrive, a woman with dark bruises on her face was begging Koofi for help in dealing with an abusive husband.
“It’s not clear who we’re talking to,” she says.”If we’re talking to the Taliban as an ideologic group, those Taliban willnot change. They say they will accept that some girls go to school but not to have women in politics.
“I lived in Kabul under the Taliban and I know what their attitude is like. They want to have an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. What values are we willing to sacrifice?” Even now, Koofi is at risk as a woman leader; she lives in a walled compound with four government guards outside the front gate, and her car was attacked by gunmen on a highway near Kabul last year.
She was one of 23 children in a respected family from rural Badakshan province, the first girl in her family to get schooling. Her husband was imprisoned by the Taliban and contracted tuberculosis which killed him in 2003.
Contrary to the impression in the West, “talks with the Taliban are not a priority in rural areas,” she says. “They want schools, jobs and services.” And she complains that the Karzai government does not listen to the parliament, where “there might be a minority who support the Taliban, but that doesn’t mean we have to go back” to the awful times of Taliban rule.
She says Afghans desperately want peace, but not “a dirty peace where my daughters can’t go to school. Hillary Clinton says you won’t sacrifice women’s rights (in peace talks) but can you guarantee that?” She hopes that Afghan civil society groups can organize to lobby against any proposed deal that would sell out their civil rights. \
Ironically, as U.S. officials seek to jumpstart talks with the Taliban, a meeting of Afghan civil society groups from across the country is being sponsored in Kabul by USAID, to give them a chance to make their positions known prior to any negotiations.. Should talks actually begin, it will be very important that voices such as Koofi’s be heard.