Amid stalled U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between Afghanistan's government and the Taliban, and with no clear indication whether President Biden will withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by a previously agreed May 1 deadline, pressure has been mounting for progress on peace.
Meanwhile, attacks on Afghan civilians have risen dramatically, with hundreds of targeted killings and assassinations — especially of educated professionals and activists — since the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement was signed in February 2020.
Fawzia Koofi, a member of the Afghan parliament and women's rights activist, has survived two assassination attempts — the first in 2010, when her convoy was targeted by the Taliban, and the second in August, when she was shot by unknown gunmen. Both times, one of her daughters was with her.
Still recovering from a bullet wound to her right arm, Koofi flew to Doha, Qatar, to sit across the table from Taliban representatives as peace talks began in September. She is one of just four Afghan women at the negotiating table.
In an interview with Morning Edition's Rachel Martin, Koofi says it's vital to protect Afghanistan's hard-won gains since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
"For the past 20 years we have invested, along with our partners and allies like the United States, blood and treasure for these [democratic] institutions," Koofi says. "Now, we cannot easily let them collapse."
The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
On Afghanistan's peace talks
We have entered issues of substance over the last two or three weeks. We have been discussing points that matter for the security and safety of our people, including extrajudicial killings and the security of the highways and roads. We have also been discussing how prisoners should be kept according to the rules and procedures. And I think we have kind of come to some sort of agreement on these issues.
We certainly need some pressure on the other side to enter the main topics for discussion. We started with not-so-complicated issues as a means of trust building and to understand each other's points of view. From our side, the main issue is a discussion on cease-fire, because we know that there is an unacceptable level of violence, especially extrajudicial and targeted killings that have targeted human rights activists, journalists, et cetera. And also people are stopped on the highways traveling between cities, villages, and districts. And they are being unlawfully punished.
From the other side, I think the first thing that they have put in the agenda is a kind of a political pathway and a discussion on Islamic structure. But I think they probably want more time to see what the final U.S. strategy will be.
On the U.S. draft proposal for an interim government and a U.N.-led peace conference in Turkey
We welcome any ideas about how a political settlement should look like. And I'm happy that the U.S., like many other democratic countries, is thinking about preserving democracy and institutions like the Human Rights Commission, as we can see in this draft, because these are the things that there was no mention of in the previous Doha agreement between Taliban and the United States. So we welcome that.
But in the meantime, I think we need to give the space and the chance to the negotiation teams to sort out what they want.
Given the fact that our people have been, unfortunately, in an active war for more than four decades, and with the Taliban for more than two decades, we want to see this war end tomorrow — and even tomorrow is very late.
Personally, I have left my children back home. And every morning when I wake up, I do not want to open my phone because I do not want to really hear more bad news of what happened to my own daughters. So we are also impatient. But we need to have a balance between how much trust we can have and how much the process can be sustainable. If the process is hard and if it's discredited, then it's difficult to restart everything.
On negotiating with the Taliban
It is difficult on some occasions to digest some of the memories, but we have a proverb that says — you cannot wash blood with another blood, you need water to wash blood. So we really need to pour a lot of water to clean up all the blood that has been shed in this country for decades.
We need to listen to the victims of war. This is the core issue for the negotiation team, at least for me personally, because I too have been a victim of this war. My right hand still does not work properly. But I have also lost my father, brothers, my family members, like many other people in Afghanistan. And on a daily basis, we wake up with this horrible news of losing somebody.
My arm was targeted on Aug. 14, and as a result, it was injured. But we were lucky and we escaped. It was a targeted bullet shooting. One bullet got to my right arm and there was a bone fracture. And I actually came to the negotiation when my hand was still in a bandage. It was in a cast.
I wanted to demonstrate to the Taliban that the power of words is stronger than the power of bullets.
On the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan
If there is a peace settlement, which would really result not only in political peace, but also hopefully social peace and coexistence, then I don't want any foreign troops in my country.
But the fact that U.S. troops came to Afghanistan was not only for the security of Afghanistan, but also the fact that your own territory was at risk when the Sept. 11 attack happened. Therefore, the U.S. troops decided to come to Afghanistan.
So let's all make sure that Afghanistan is not once again [used] for the purposes of any terrorist attacks. And if we have that assurance, then the U.S. troops leave, but if they do not have that assurance and if still there are terrorist groups or military extremist groups in Afghanistan that can threaten the world security, I think the withdrawal should be condition-based instead of like dates and deadlines.
On the strength of Afghan women
I have struggled all my life to make the life of my daughters and other women better. I hope the legacy of our struggle will be a better life for my daughters and for other women.
[My daughters] have no plan to leave Afghanistan. And you can imagine, even under this extremely difficult situation, they are still in Kabul. And when I call them, they keep giving me positive vibes and tell me not to worry.
This is the strength of Afghanistan's women today. This is the resilience not only demonstrated by my daughters, but by a lot of women on the ground in Afghanistan. And we would like all of us together to change the country in a way that is safe for us to live.
This story was produced for radio by Jeevika Verma and Kelley Dickens.