Zubaida Akbar, is a feminist Activist and political analyst and a member of FEMENA’s WHRD advisory board. Below her interview by Sepideh Ashrafi about the situation in Afghanistan.
Zubaida Akbar: ‘Please Don’t Betray Us, Don’t Distort the Narrative’
By Sepideh Ashrafi
August 17, 2021
Translated from Farsi
Women’s rights activist Zubaida Akbar is extremely worried and angry these days. She is worried about her family, Afghanistan, and all its people. She is angry with those trying to present a new image of the Taliban as a modified Taliban that respects human rights. Akbar explains, “How is the national army expected to fight when Americans started negotiating with the Taliban some months ago without the people’s consent and submitted Afghanistan to Taliban.”
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had a meeting today. What do you think of the meeting and what was said by the American representative in the UNSC? Do you think they heard the voice of Afghan people and women specifically?
There was nothing new in what was said by the American representative. It was like he was reciting an old poem again. American presidents always say, ‘We stand by the people of Afghanistan, and we continue to support them.’ This was said again in the meeting, and there was nothing new in the talks. The United States, other countries, and the United Nations always try to justify their actions. They have the media at their disposal and pretend they are supporting us. But we know that they don’t care for the rights of women, men, and civil society organizations. They are lying and it bothers me. Now that you left Afghans alone, don’t lie to international organizations and the UN—don’t say that you stand by the people of Afghanistan. Your betrayal hurts us. You are not standing by the people of Afghanistan. I have very little faith in Americans today, and my only request to them is not to lie. You are not with the people and you don’t commit to your promises.
How did all this happen? The national army of 360,000 forces, with all that training and equipment submitted to the Taliban within one or two weeks without resisting. Some people believe this was all a planned scenario.
How is the national army expected to have the spirit to fight when Americans submitted the country to the Taliban and started negotiating with them without people’s consent? Americans had negotiated with the Taliban behind the people’s back and behind the back of the Afghan government. They recognized the Taliban. They officially recognized the Taliban as a politically influential group. The media gave the Taliban the leverage to present itself. Powerful countries and important media outlets created the space for the Taliban to claim that they have changed and present a new image from themselves. At the same time, civil society and women in Afghanistan raised their concerns again and again. But the media did not care, the Taliban was more important to them.
It seems as though the renewed image of the Taliban is not done only by the governments. Some individuals and groups were doing the same in the virtual space. Did you encounter any of those who were doing so?
I have noticed, several times, that the Taliban is presented with a renewed image in different media outlets. The Taliban has been granted space in the media, and the justification is that they changed and respect human rights. This change of the Taliban’s image is what the West demands too. It helps them justify their negotiation with the Taliban—the West needed to justify why they entered this negotiation. This renewed Taliban image may be something that the West or those outside Afghanistan might believe, but we don’t. We have been dealing with the Taliban day-by-day in the past twenty years, we know that this is not true, this is not acceptable. They have murdered many people because of being a woman or an activist. They murdered schoolgirls for being of the Hazara ethnicity. How could they claim that they changed? If we cannot have the media on our side, how can we voice that the Taliban has not changed? But the Taliban’s voice is loud and clear.
Some people ask why Afghans did not do anything? Why didn’t they fight, why did they only observe? It is even believed that some Afghans were happy that the Taliban is back. What do you think?
People in Afghanistan have been living through war and are tired, they also don’t have weapons. The Taliban is violent and this frightened them further. They pulled artists out of their homes and killed them. They murdered a history teacher and they hit a girl in the street. All these incidents make people more worried and frightened. Nevertheless, we did raise our voices, but nobody listened.
But, Ms. Akbar, the most presented narrative is that cities submitted to the Taliban and people did not resist.
People are afraid. In the past twenty years, some regions were ruled by the government, but some were under Taliban rule. You cannot find a single case where people went to a Taliban ruled region out of friendship and care for the Taliban. In contrast, people have fled regions that were ruled by the Taliban and went to areas that were government ruled. This is evidence that people were not and are not happy with the Taliban. They didn’t have any other choice but to submit. This doesn’t mean that they are satisfied with the Taliban though. If people want the Taliban, why are thousands of them at the airport and trying to flee the country?
It is also believed that the government’s large-scale corruption is the reason why people lost their faith in the system and do not care, and that’s why they did not resist the Taliban. Do you agree to this?
Corruption has been there in the government system, and this cannot be denied. But we cannot also deny the irreversible mistakes of Western countries and international organizations. However, people had access to a minimum of services despite everything.
Security was not a specific concern and life started to show signs of improvement. Then Americans started negotiating with a group that they had come to free people from twenty years ago. This shocked people. We are in a very bad situation; they betrayed us. We could resolve the corruption in the government and many other issues gradually and eventually. What is not possible to repair is submitting the country to the Taliban.
What do people expect from international organizations and Western countries?
At this stage, the only expectation is to let those who don’t want to live under the Taliban leave the country. Please don’t take hostage the people in Kabul. Open the airport. Open the borders to women, journalists, and civil society activists. Please give us another chance to live. This is the only demand right now. And in the future, please stop turning the narrative around. You invaded Afghanistan twenty years ago to save us from the Taliban, and now you are tired and left us to the Taliban again. This is the real narrative and should not be distorted, but they do. So stop saying that you are standing by the people of Afghanistan when you are not acting like that. No emergency meeting or negotiation is useful for us. Please don’t betray us by distorting the narrative.
Where do you live now?
I live in the US, but all my family is in Afghanistan.
Do you hear from them?
They fled to a friend’s house because they were afraid. The Taliban is going house to house to find activists. They are searching for journalists and activists, and there is no way to flee Afghanistan. I say with utmost despair that I lost my faith in the global community. Our lived experiences tell us that the West came to free us, claimed to help us, but in the end they betrayed us. And yes, they left us to the Taliban before they left. Our destiny should be a learning lesson for others: this is what happened to Afghanistan, which trusted a country like the US, that invaded it and stayed there in the name of liberation. Once they get what they are after, they don’t care about the lives of people. They don’t care about anything. They don’t care what happens to people. I hope this is a lesson for others.