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Sonali Kolhatkar, the co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence, discusses the latest round of talks between Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Taliban and Afghan governments met in Doha, Qatar this week. The meeting was hosted by Pugwash Conferences, a science group who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for their work. In a statement released by Taliban, they said that the eight members of their delegation that was attending the meeting is attending on their personal capacities, and that the meeting should not be misconstrued as peace or negotiation talks. However it is an important move, and among the topics discussed were the value of education for men and women. With me to discuss the talks is Sonali Kolhatkar. She is founding director of the U.S.-based Afghan Women’s Mission, which raises funds for social and political women-led projects in Afghanistan. She is co-author of the book Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence. And she is the host and executive producer of Uprising, heard on KPFK and Pacifica Radio. Thanks so much for joining me, Sonali. SONALI KOLHATKAR, CO-DIRECTOR, AFGHAN WOMEN’S MISSION: It’s my pleasure. Thanks. PERIES: So Sonali, what do we know about what took place at the meeting, and is it significant? KOLHATKAR: Well, there have been these sorts of informal so-called peace talks in the past between members of the Taliban, members of the Pakistani political elite, that have even been officially–unofficially, that is, attended by U.S. authorities. I’m not quite sure how groundbreaking it is. Now, certainly for the Taliban to come out and say as they have done that they would be interested in not rolling back the minimal progress that women have made in Afghanistan is a big deal. For them to even pay lip service to any kind of progress for women, for any kind of equal participation in society for women, whether educational or otherwise, is a big deal. However, we should I think be very cautious that it is essentially lip service. PERIES: And as you said, there has been these kinds of meetings in the past. Has that led to anything significant? KOLHATKAR: No. And that’s I think quite telling. You know, as these years have dragged by, and the Taliban has made some overtures and then pulled back, what they’ve been looking for as far as I can tell is some kind of similar overture from the United States. Now of course, the U.S. first said it would withdraw from Afghanistan, and then has turned its back on that, particularly when the new president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, requested for the U.S. to stay. So the Taliban’s real agenda is U.S. presence in Afghanistan. And they get a lot of cachet from doing that, from speaking out against that. So meanwhile of course, the Taliban have been bombing relentlessly. Every other day there’s a suicide bomb attack where women and children and ordinary–and innocent Afghan civilians are killed. And so when we look at who the so-called peacemakers are in Afghanistan, they’re members of the Afghan government, they’re members of the Taliban, and they’re the U.S. The three factions that have been directly responsible for the most bloodshed in Afghanistan. The group that for whom it is the best–you know, the most good news for the Taliban to come and make some kind of overtures towards women’s rights, is the United States. The U.S. would like nothing better than to step away from Afghanistan now, and show–have something to show for its more than decade-long occupation of Afghanistan. If the U.S. can hand over the reins of Afghanistan to Afghan authorities on some kind of power-sharing deal between the Taliban and government officials and can say look, they’ve said that they respect women’s rights, it will be able to walk away conscience clear. But of course, as the women that I work with on the ground in Afghanistan, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, they’ve always said you cannot expect a leopard to change its spots. And I very seriously doubt that the Taliban has had some kind of serious awakening, spiritual awakening and are seeing the light. They just know what’s politically, now, sort of PC to be able to say. PERIES: Now, these meetings are taking place in Doha, Qatar. And it is being facilitated by this group called Pugwash. However, this is sort of a, as you said, Afghan government, Taliban, and U.S.–you know, these are the parties involved. Now, is this a way that the U.S. is going to have conversation with the Taliban without sort of officially stating that they’re in conversation with the Taliban? KOLHATKAR: Yeah. And that’s what they’ve been doing for many, many years now. They’ve sort of had plausible deniability at any kind of involvement because there’s an active war being fought on the ground. That war has been pulled back a little bit now than it was in the past, but still there are troops actively going on–troops actively on the ground. The raids continue. The U.S.’s drone strikes in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan where the Taliban is quite active continue, and at the same time they’re meeting with the group that they’re supposedly considering an enemy. And so of course, the U.S. is not admitting this. And it’s interesting going back to the issue of being able to say that they’re handing over the reins of the government to women-friendly men is, it’s very important for us to see that. Because the narrative historically in Afghanistan has been, we need to have women at the table. And then we can talk about democratic governance. The feminist majority had this as their line even as they supported the war in Afghanistan. A lot of liberal feminists such as Laura Bush even–well, she’s a conservative feminist. But even liberal feminists like Hillary Clinton have drummed–have had this drumbeat of women need to be at the table. Well, what does it mean for women to be at the table? How are they going to be heard if they’re sitting at a table with armed men whose history has only shown blood and–the blood of women, the rape of women, and misogyny? And on this I put, I consider equally guilty the Afghan government and the Taliban. They both have extremely anti-women policies. And so it’s not enough to just say women need to be at the table, need to have token of women’s faces, one or two or three women at these meetings and say, great. Women’s voices have been heard. That’s an absolute lie. That’s a slap in the face of the millions of ordinary Afghan women who are every day suffering, for whom life on the ground has not changed one bit, and in some cases has really gotten worse even under the U.S. occupation and the new U.S.-backed Afghan government. PERIES: And Sonali, finally, do you think this is a setting of the stage for further the possibility of a Taliban leading Afghanistan again? KOLHATKAR: Absolutely. I really think it is. I mean, when Hamid Karzai was president, he was eager to reconcile with the Taliban. He even called them his brothers. Him and–he and the Taliban hail from the same ethnic group, the Pashto group. But he’s been very eager for it, the Pakistani government and the Afghan governments both want to make some kind of peace with the Taliban. And of course, I can sort of, from a purely military perspective we can see why they would want that. But if the consideration of human rights enters into the equation, as it should, then it is extremely troubling. At the same time, we should also see, who is it that’s handing over the reins to whom? You know, again, we’ve got one faction in an–actually in this case, two factions. The U.S. government which is always behind the scenes, and the Afghan government, both of whom have been responsible for vast human rights abuses, handing over the reins to another faction that has similarly–a similarly bloody past. None of them have the legitimacy at this point to make any decisions about Afghans. What ordinary Afghans want and have been wanting for years is a complete demilitarization of the country. It is war crimes tribunals for people involved. And that would involve members of the current government and the Taliban and some ability for real Afghan democracy to have space to grow and flourish. If the U.S. wanted it could actually sponsor such a process. Maybe we might have to actually consider war crimes for Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration, and even in the Obama administration, if we wanted to be truly fair. However, even if they decided to simply sponsor some kind of regional demilitarization and war crimes [tribunal], to [inaud.] Afghanistan of its allies and proxy soldiers, then and only then could Afghan democracy truly flourish. But no one’s even talking about that. But that’s the only way real democracy and human rights and women’s rights can have any hope of emerging in Afghanistan. PERIES: Sonali Kolhatkar, the co-author of the book Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence. Thank you so much for joining us today. KOLHATKAR: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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