“The Taliban must consider their decision. Women’s education is important. “

Interview with Manon Quérouil-Bruneel

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The former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, under house arrest in Kabul, gave us an exclusive interview.

Hamid Karzai has not changed. Same sleek elegant, same subtle look. Only a few kilos flew confirming the tension of the past few months. While most members of the old regime fled, the former president, a longtime ally of the Americans, chose to stay. At the cost of his freedom: since August 15, 2021, the Taliban has banned him from leaving the territory. But Islamist leaders have also made this savvy politician, dear to the West and from a powerful tribe in the south of the country, a privileged interlocutor. Who, whatever he says, can play a role in recognizing the emirate in the international community. An important step for the country’s new masters, who have been largely isolated a year after taking power.

Also read: Zarifa Ghafari: “We Afghans, our specialty is to keep hope”

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If he defends himself from any political ambition, the former head of state knows he is one of the few who can build a bridge between the two worlds, a tightrope walker launched in a narrow ridge line. If she goes out of her reserve, it will be to demand the immediate reopening of schools for girls, the holding of free elections and the repeal of forced burqa wearing. Since his house arrest, Hamid Karzai has not avoided any questions but weighed every word. It is known that, in this new Afghanistan, one wrong move can be costly.

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Match in Paris. The Taliban have been in power for almost a year. What conclusions can you draw from this?
Hamid Karzai. The priority now is to avoid a new civil war. I hope Afghanistan achieves lasting peace and political stability. This responsibility rests with the Taliban, which must start a dialogue to consider the opinions of all Afghans. Including those who disagree with them. We need an inclusive government, which everyone can recognize.

Is the Taliban ready to share power?
In any case, that’s what I worked on, with the help of Drs. Abdullah |

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The real surprise for me was the escape of President Ghani and members of his government.

The West was amazed at the pace of the country’s fall on August 15. Did this surprise you?
No. Long before the fall of Kabul, the Taliban already controlled large parts of the territory, entire villages and towns. The real surprise for me was the escape of President Ghani and members of his government. Had he not left, everything would have been different: our army would not have collapsed, our assets would not have been frozen, our fleet of helicopters would not have been scattered to neighboring countries. The state would have remained in place. Today we are suffering the dire consequences of his escape.

Unlike him, you choose to stay. Why?
You can’t pretend to rebuild your country by leaving it. The day after the arrest in Kabul, the Taliban visited me. We had a respectful conversation, in which they assured me that they would do everything possible to establish peace. We need to remember the confusion that reigned then. The first days were very difficult. Changing circumstances worried me, but I was not afraid for my own safety. That’s not what matters to me. What is important to me is that the lives of the children and the whole family are preserved, that their homes are not torn down.

Does your family live with you in Kabul?
I am accompanied by my wife and four children. You may have seen them playing in the garden. My oldest daughter is 10 years old. Without a change, he will not be able to go to school for two years. This situation is unbearable and is causing great damage to our country. Women’s education is essential to the future of all of us. At each of my meetings with Taliban leaders, I urged them to reconsider their decision.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the reopening of schools for girls?
The Taliban already have to explain themselves about it. But I think most agree with the principle. However, clearly no decision has yet been made. What I can tell you is that destroying the education system in Afghanistan will benefit those who do not want our country to develop. I think especially of Pakistan.

Like me, my wife is upset with women’s restrictions.

Your wife is a gynecologist. Does he have the right to practice?
My wife stopped working when we returned to Afghanistan. He practiced when we were refugees in Pakistan. Like me, he was saddened by the restrictions on women.

The Minister of Vice and Virtue accuses you of defending women’s rights to please the West, but you are depriving them of the same freedoms …
My wife is always free to choose. He was the one who decided not to work anymore. As the president’s wife, she had to go to the hospital with a heavy escort, which she didn’t want. Then we had children, and he chose to dedicate himself to their education.

Are you free to move? Can you travel
I would like to attend a conference in Sochi, organized by President Putin, as well as the funeral of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, the former president of the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, the Taliban did not allow me. In Kabul, I can move freely. Just let me know when I’m coming so they can give me an escort.

Why are you not allowed to leave the country? Is the Taliban afraid that you will federate opposition from abroad?
They had reasons and I didn’t ask them.

Women in Afghanistan should be free to choose the type of veil they want to wear.

What is your relationship with the Taliban?
We have cordial relations, I always welcome their managers to amoa. We have points of disagreement, but I do not consider myself an opposition force. And I didn’t intend to be one day. As a citizen and former president, I just want to work for peace and for every Afghan to live with dignity. But the sine qua non condition is that the girls go back to school!

How to achieve this, concretely?
We must continue to talk to the Taliban, systematically bring this topic back to the table. The rest of the world should also support our efforts.

You said in a CNN interview that the burqa has damaged the country …
I want to be clear on what I am saying. I said the burqa came to us from India centuries ago. The traditional Afghan veil is lighter. Other women, including my mother, prefer to wear a burqa. My wife never wore it. Women in Afghanistan should be free to choose the type of veil they want to wear.

My advice to the Taliban is this: focus your efforts on promoting political dialogue.

You call on female television reporters to refuse to wear the burqa. Do they have a choice?
We must avoid the flames of debates and resolve the problem in a calm manner, especially through the mediation of religious scholars who are clearly speaking. The problem is almost solved. See, you are free to come and visit me, I always receive women in my house, nothing can stop them.

The Taliban face many problems: the economy collapses, assets are frozen, no country recognizes their government. However, instead of focusing on these issues, they continue to impose more restrictions on women. Why are they confused by the question?
I don’t know, but I agree with you: the country has major challenges that need to be overcome. Millions of Afghans live in poverty. Thousands more chose exile, most of them young, educated and qualified. My advice to the Taliban is this: focus your efforts on promoting political dialogue.

For years, you have been praying for the Taliban’s integration into political life. Do you think they are reliable partners?
Yes, they are our brothers, in the sense that they belong to this country. Likewise, I consider all Afghans who oppose them now to be my brothers.

My oldest is 10 years old. Without a change, he will not be able to go to school for two years

Do you think Americans are responsible for what is happening today?
Yes, in many ways. Remember how they behaved when they intervened. They bombed houses, they looted houses, they killed innocent civilians. Then they confiscated the peace negotiations by giving too much power to Pakistan – a country that never wanted peace for Afghanistan. They waste precious time on these talks that lack transparency. I have told them many times that we are going to be in danger. They didn’t listen.

For their part, the Americans ridiculed you for not solving the corruption of your mandate. Do you regret it?
I accept my share of responsibility as president of not curbing petty corruptions like the bribes received by some members of my government. But institutional corruption was imported by Americans, primarily through private security companies established in the country and through contracts offered by Afghan officials. They accused us of an evil of which they were the main perpetrators. It was a strategy on their part, I finally understood it.

Numerous security reports have focused on strengthening Daesh in Afghanistan. Is your country on the verge of becoming a sanctuary of terrorist organizations?
I don’t know if Daesh is gaining momentum, but I can tell you that this organization is completely foreign to Afghanistan. This is a creation of Pakistan’s intelligence service and resisting it is a responsibility of the entire region. If Afghanistan becomes a terrorist sanctuary again, we are not the only ones to pay the price.

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