United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned this week that Afghanistan continues to face the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today, with a two-day summit in Doha ending without formal recognition of the Taliban government that has ruled the country since August 2021. Since their return to power, the Taliban have cracked down on women’s rights, including restricting access to education and banning women from working with international aid groups. Poverty has skyrocketed in Afghanistan as years of conflict, corruption and international sanctions have battered the economy. We speak with Farzana Elham Kochai, a women’s rights activist who was elected to the Afghan Parliament in 2019 before fleeing the country for safety, and Jumana Abo Oxa, who works with the Greek refugee project Elpida Home helping Afghan women lawmakers find refuge in other countries.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is warning Afghanistan continues to face the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today. He made the comment earlier this week during a two-day U.N. summit on Afghanistan that was held in Doha.
SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: It is difficult to overestimate the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan. It is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today. … The current ban on Afghan women working for the United Nations and national and international NGOs is unacceptable and puts lives in jeopardy.
AMY GOODMAN: The meeting in Doha ended without any formal recognition of the Taliban, which has ruled Afghanistan since August 2021. U.N. officials have repeatedly criticized the Taliban’s intensifying crackdown on Afghan women and girls. A recent report by the U.N. special rapporteur on Afghanistan warns the Taliban has “normalized” systemic violence and human rights abuses against women and girls, and says it may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity. This is U.N. Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett.
RICHARD BENNETT: The Taliban’s intentional and calculated policy is to repudiate the human rights of women and girls and to erase them from public life. It may amount to the international crime of gender persecution, for which the authorities can be held accountable. The cumulative effect of the restrictions on women and girls has a devastating long-term impact on the whole population, and it is tantamount to gender apartheid.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Jumana Abo Oxa is a project manager at the Greek refugee project Elpida Home. She’s in Washington, D.C., right now, where she’s meeting with Biden administration officials and lawmakers in an effort to seek help for 82 families, including many women parliamentarians, who evacuated from Afghanistan but have been stuck in Greece for over a year and a half. We’re also joined by Farzana Kochai. She’s an Afghan women’s rights activist who served as a member of the Afghan Parliament. She’s joining us from Winnipeg, Canada.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Farzana, if you could start off by talking about this meeting in Doha? Were you invited to the meeting? And what about the possible recognition of the Taliban, consenting to legitimizing it?
FARZANA ELHAM KOCHAI: Yeah. Thank you.
No, I was not invited. I haven’t been part of this recommendation or the meeting itself or anything about it. But about the recognition or trying to recognize the Taliban, everyone knows it’s like a huge, a huge mistake. Like, no one wants to be part of that any way, no way. No one wants it. It’s a huge mistake. And it’s a huge, like, abandon to women and human rights and everyone there in Afghanistan, but despite Taliban. It’s just on the good of Taliban, no one else. I haven’t been part of that. But following the meeting, I think it was not to recognize, and it haven’t ended in a way that we should say it was to recognize the Taliban. But, of course, we need to talk about what’s going on inside Afghanistan and to come together and find a way.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Farzana, what do you think the risks are of recognizing the Taliban government? I mean, now there’s not a government in the world that recognizes the Taliban, whereas when they first came to power in 1996, there were three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — that did recognize the Taliban. What do you think the risks are? And do you see any possible benefits to recognizing the Taliban government, in the sense of potentially releasing funds and more assistance, given the grave humanitarian crisis there?
FARZANA ELHAM KOCHAI: Everyone knows, like, how it would be for the civilians, for the people, for the nation, inside the country, and for the progress of the things that is going on inside the country, when we do not have a recognized and legitimate government, which would have diplomatic relations, which would have a responsibility toward the world and the people inside Afghanistan, and which would be committed to some responsibilities and some, like, commitment, agreements, outside, inside Afghanistan. Of course, we know how important these things are. These are crucial things.
But the risks — like, what are the risks, as you asked about, the recognizing Taliban as a legitimate government? We all know where they came from. They killed Afghans and the allies for 20 years to take the power. Like, we know. At least this should be enough to know how dangerous it could be for everyone to start a war, to kill the people for 20 years, millions of people, to destroy the country and then claim the power. It shouldn’t be a normal way of getting to the power. Like, we cannot renormalize this. And then, how responsible Taliban are for the values that we share in our current time, like the democracy, the human rights, women’s rights, education and common responsibility, terrorists, terrorism, and drug trafficking and other things that we are concerned about, especially the human rights and women’s rights and how people could have their civil rights? But Taliban are not providing people the opportunity to practice their rights and their — what they have, the privilege that the concession can give them or that give them. So, it’s like the risks are huge, while we know how are we paying as a nation, the Afghans, and how our country is being destroyed and stayed back from the development when we do not have a legitimate government.
But we also think about: Is this an option to legitimize the Taliban in a way that they came, in a way they practice, in the way they hold the power, in a way that they govern, in a way that they do the things inside Afghanistan? Like, the risks are huge for international community, for the region and for the Afghan people. And it’s a huge — like, a huge thing to be involved to recognizing a terrorist group who are killing, who is still killing the people, and who is, like — who do not believe in human rights and women’s rights and democracy and freedom of speech. And anything that we all, as global citizens, as global nations, as part of international community, we all agreed on, and we believe those are our values. And we stay on those values, and we fought for that, and we are fighting for them. But how to give up? Like, the risks are clear.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you talk about your own decision to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban first came to power in August 2021? You had said explicitly that you wanted to stay. What happened? You were a member of the National Assembly in Afghanistan. Are you still a member? What is your status now? Could you explain what happened and what made you leave?
FARZANA ELHAM KOCHAI: When the Taliban came, as a person who are in the power, part of the power, I could have, like, encouraged people, motivated people to stay or to be brave and to not give up, and then I could have sent a message like “The life has ended inside Afghanistan, and we all have to run.” I did the first thing. I stayed there, and I was speaking about that so loud, that I will stay, and we need to stay. This is our country, and we need each other. Like, we can’t all leave. It’s not an option. Around 40 million people, and half of them women, where we should go? At least some of them are educated and had jobs in occupations which they believed that they fought for that so hard. So I said I will stay.
But the things, like, become in a way that the option of living an active life for women like me, who are active and who are not willing to give up on everything and just be inside the walls and just sit in the house and then do nothing and not speak about things how it’s going on, how the life is, how things are good or bad in a way. So, when this option was taken from me, and I was warned again and again that this is not going to happen to you, that you stay inside Afghanistan and do whatever you do. Like, speaking to the media, part of it, like, could be an interview that we are just having this right now, it was like a huge crime inside Afghanistan while I was there. I was speaking to some national and international media at the moment, and because of my past activities in my stand against the terrorist groups, including the Taliban, and extremism in the country, and awareness and all the values that I was working for, so it was like two things that made me a person at high risk.
And then I was taking the risk. I was willing to take the risk, because everyone takes a risk when they are doing something good in a country like Afghanistan, in a war country, in a conflict zone. But the thing is, like, when I was not able, and the result was — I was not able to give up on those things, the values and the things that I believe it needs to be worked for. And it has — it’s a valued thing, and it’s important. It’s essential for our society, for ourself, and we cannot give up and cannot choose another path or another way, or to come together and just legitimize the Taliban and say the Taliban are now good, Taliban have been changed, Taliban — like, things that are not true or good for anyone, and it’s not real things. So, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t lie. But I was not able to do the truth, like to say the truth and to speak up and be active or have a job or have any sort of connection to the media or the people who we were working on. And then —
AMY GOODMAN: Farzana?
FARZANA ELHAM KOCHAI: Or I would be, like, killed. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Farzana, I know that the Taliban disbanded the National Assembly. Do you consider yourself still a member of the Afghan Parliament, even if it’s been disbanded?
FARZANA ELHAM KOCHAI: I mean, it’s not important if I’m a member of Parliament or not. I’ve never been so much into the power. But the thing is, like, if I am not accepting any other thing coming from the Taliban, why should I accept something about myself being a member of Parliament or not? Like, do the Taliban have law? Do they have any constitution? Do they have a parliament? Do they have anything? Do they have a legitimate government? I can’t allow Taliban to decide about who am I. I can’t. I believe we are in exile. We are not a parallel or something. We are in exile. We don’t have a government. We don’t have a parliament inside Afghanistan. And I truly feel responsible for what I was doing to continue those work.
Today is #GivingTuesday — don’t miss your chance to give!
Millions of people are supporting nonprofits like Truthout for #GivingTuesday. Will you join them?
As an independent newsroom, Truthout relies on reader donations to remain online. Your tax-deductible donation of any amount — even a few bucks! — helps make it possible for us to publish award-winning journalism that amplifies the voices of changemakers everywhere.