Few people have such an insight into the politics and conflicts of Afghanistan: Fatima Gailani was one of only four women engaged in peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha for the past 11 months. After Kabul fell to the militant Islamists on August 15, those efforts now seem like a distant past.
The former president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society holds a master’s degree in Islamic studies and jurisprudence from The Muslim College in London. She hails from an influential religious family. Her father was one of the Afghan mujahideen leaders who fought against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
After the Taliban regime was overthrown by the US-led intervention in late 2001, Fatima Gailani became a constitutional commissioner and helped to write the new constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
But after the Taliban marched into Kabul and assumed power, that Afghanistan and its constitution have effectively ceased to exist.In an exclusive interview with DW from Doha, she was still trying to come to terms with recent events.
The interview was conducted shortly before a massive suicide attack killed more than 100 people outside Kabul airport on August 26.
DW: How are you feeling right now?
Fatima Gailani: I’m still totally shocked because we were so close. We were really so close to having an orderly transfer of power. And then Mr. Ghani ruined everything to rescue his money. His sudden departure caused what you see today.
There are lots of rumors out there. But is there actually any proof that Ashraf Ghani and his close associates, like the former national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, really took coffers of dollars with them?
You tell me! It has to be investigated. But why would they leave in such a hurry when they had an assurance that the Taliban would not enter Kabul for two weeks? The only thing I want to get across here is that this traitor should not get away scot-free.
Is it really fair to put all the blame on Ghani alone?
Look, no one can put all the blame on just one person. There are chains of blame for what has happened in Afghanistan during the past four decades of war and violence. But this last chaotic situation, this collapse, was definitely his fault. He betrayed his country. He betrayed people very close to him. He could have waited. He could have left the country in an orderly way — and transfer of power would have happened. What he did was a total disgrace.
The first step was that he put a lot of obstacles in front of these talks right from the start because of his ego and the world that he had created for himself. And then, of course, came this fantastic act of running away. There is only one credit now that I could give to him — for his Oscar-worthy acting that he will stay until the last minute. Everybody around him believed him.
Fatima Gailani calls ousted Afghan president Ashraf Ghani a “national traitor”
You obviously believed him, too.
Yes, I was here in Doha, and step by step we were informed about the list of the delegation coming to Doha for an orderly transition of power with [former High Council for National Reconciliation leader] Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and ex-President Hamid Karzai and all the other leaders. The plan was that security would be guaranteed for this transfer of power and that the international community would witness it.
The most important thing for all of us in the negotiation team at this stage was only one point: The Taliban have taken Afghanistan. This is a fact. So how can we secure a peaceful transfer of power that would also guarantee a lasting peace for the future? We wanted things to move forward smoothly. But then he (Ghani) had run away.
The Doha talks never really achieved anything of substance. Wasn’t it all just one gigantic fig leaf in the first place?
That I will never know. But if I’d had only a little doubt that this was not a genuine thing, I would not have lent my name to this Doha process, I wouldn’t have. Whatever I tried to do politically for Afghanistan in the past 43 years, I put my honor first. If you honor your own name, you honor your country and you honor your people.
I believed in the Doha talks. And by that I’m not saying the Taliban were not difficult. They were difficult. And now I know that they knew that they were making gains. But on our side, we were very sincere for peace. I have no doubt whatsoever.
Where do you go from here? Will you return to Kabul?
Yes, I will return to Kabul. You know that I am recovering from cancer. I haven’t seen my oncologist since January 13. That was the last time. So, now I will just go to London to see my oncologist and maybe rest for a few weeks, because I am terribly exhausted. Just so exhausted. But then I will return back home where my husband is and where my two brothers are.
The Taliban are now in control of Afghanistan but haven’t yet established a government
What kind of Afghanistan will you return to?
It is absolutely up to the Taliban first and then it’s up to the international community. The Taliban will have to put the people of Afghanistan first to secure peace. And how to secure peace? It is by a genuine, inclusive government.
In order to have an inclusive government, witnessed by the international community, its formation should happen somewhere outside Afghanistan so that everyone could come and witness it and believe it and seal it. Otherwise, if the embassies don’t open again, people will starve. If the assurance of the international community is not there, people will starve. And starved people could do anything out of desperation.
I really, really don’t want to see the Taliban patrolling in armored cars and Daesh [Arabic word for IS used in Afghanistan] putting bombs in the streets. Because who will be dying? Ordinary, innocent civilians in the streets of Kabul! I don’t want to see that. We really need to forget about who is the winner and who is the loser. All we should care about today is the people of Afghanistan.
Thousands had flocked to Kabul airport to try and flee Afghanistan. On August 26, two explosions killed more than a 100 people.
You have had close contact with the elite of the Taliban in Doha for close to 11 months. Can they be trusted? They do speak a lot about inclusiveness and amnesty, but at the same time, we get credible reports about atrocities like targeted killings and executions. Words don’t seem to match deeds.
Well, in order to have law and order for Afghanistan we need to have a government that the people of Afghanistan can trust. It is the trust of the Afghan people which will put cold water on the fire which is burning today in Afghanistan.
When the people of Afghanistan genuinely trust something, then changes will come. Then people will calm down and people will give support to the system. We have to accept that the Taliban won militarily. But all of us together will have to bring peace now. One side alone cannot win the peace.
Look, we toppled a regime. The ex-Soviet Union. But did it bring peace for Afghanistan? No, because it was one sided. And then came [the Afghanistan Conference in] Bonn in Germany in December 2001. We all got together. But the Taliban were not included. Did we win peace? Not at all. Why are we going to repeat this once again? We have seen it. So now let’s do the right thing.
Will there be space for a vocal woman like you in a future Afghanistan?
Look, women in Afghanistan cannot be ignored. We, the women of Afghanistan, we know that we are Afghan, and that we are Muslims. We know our limits. But we also know our liberties. Afghanistan cannot go forward without its women.
I want to be there for my people, but I have no political ambitions. I’ve given up on that a long time ago. But I will never give up my fight for the rights of women and minorities. And this is a promise.
Fatima Gailani thinks US President Joe Biden acted recklessly in Afghanistan
What would you say to Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar right now?
I will say exactly what I told him face to face in Doha: the future of Afghanistan has to include all of us. Men and women. All languages, all ethnic groups. All the sects in Islam. Our Hindus and our Sikhs. If we want to claim a real Islamic country, then it has to be the country our prophet told us to build, and not one that we are interpreting in our own language.
And what would you say to Joe Biden?
I would say: Mr. President, what you did to Afghanistan was very, very reckless. As much as we blame Ashraf Ghani, and I openly call him a national traitor, I would also tell Biden that this is not the way that a superpower should behave like.
And I want you to please publish this: I didn’t want any foreign soldiers to stay in Afghanistan. What I wanted was: peace first. So first secure peace, and then go wherever you want go. When we talked about foreign forces leaving orderly, we didn’t mean that we wanted NATO’s soldiers to stay for the rest of their lives. No!
You made a contract with the Taliban in Doha, and a political settlement was part of it. But where is this political settlement? Where is it?
Editorial note: The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.