Hasht-e Subh: Ms. Rina Amiri, as my first question, I would like to ask you what steps you have taken to promote women’s rights since you were appointed as US Special Representative for Women, Girls, and Human Rights in Afghanistan. Your role as the US Special Envoy for Women became even more significant after the women demonstrations and the arrest of protestors took place in Afghanistan. Explain this in detail.
Rina Amiri: In the past two months since I assumed my position, I have met with the Taliban delegation in Oslo as well as Taliban representatives in Doha, to press them to respect the human rights of all Afghans. I urged the Taliban to end the unjust detentions of women protesters and journalists, end retaliations, and allow all Afghans to be educated, to work in all sectors, and to participate in a transparent process that promotes political inclusivity and stability. I have also traveled to Muslim majority countries to ask for their support in engaging the Taliban on human rights, including women’s rights, within an Islamic framework. In addition, my office has engaged in over 50 consultations with Afghan women and civil society, inside and outside the country, international civil society organizations, and representatives of UN Member States to discuss the range of challenges facing women and at-risk populations in Afghanistan.
Hasht-e Subh: Do you think it is possible to ensure women’s rights with the current government in Kabul? Does the United States actually recognize the Taliban as a government?
Rina Amiri: The Taliban must understand that they cannot achieve their goal of a stable, economically viable Afghanistan that is legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and the international community without restoring respect for the rights of Afghan women and girls, supporting the establishment of a process for inclusive and transparent governance, and respecting the rights of all Afghans.
As U.S. Special Representative Tom West said in an event organized by USIP, the United States has a general policy to avoid formal statements on recognition in cases of changes of government. Our focus is on whether any future Afghan government is one the United States and the international community can work with. To earn credibility and legitimacy to that end, the Taliban need to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, including women, children, journalists, human rights defenders, and members of vulnerable populations. They need to enforce their policy against retaliation and commit to a credible and transparent rules-based process by which those who commit abuses are held accountable. It is important to remember that the legitimacy of any government in Afghanistan will come first and foremost from Afghans themselves.
Hasht-e Subh: Do you think those who signed the peace agreement with the United States two years ago will adhere to women’s rights, human dignity and human rights? Please explain how you assess the current behavior of the Taliban, especially in regards to arresting women protesters and searching people’s homes?
Rina Amiri: As I said, the Taliban should respect the rights of women and the dignity and freedoms of all Afghans if they want to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people and the international community. Doing so will demonstrate that the Taliban is serious about ending the conflict and putting Afghanistan on the path towards self-sufficiency and stability.
The Taliban’s so-called “interim government” has made some positive statements and taken certain steps to allow things like humanitarian aid to reach more Afghans. But much more needs to be done, and some of the trends we’re witnessing are worrying. For instance, we are deeply concerned about the current trend of house searches, the arrest and reported detentions of women activists, and other serious human rights abuses. I, along with other U.S. government officials, and partners in the international community have raised this with the Taliban at senior levels and have pressed them to change their tactics and to respect the right of Afghans to peacefully protest. The Taliban need to uphold their commitments on human rights.
Hasht-e Subh: Zalmay Khalilzad has repeatedly spoken of the Taliban’s change of mindset and attitude towards women, but the reality is different. Have you ever asked him what has changed in Khalilzad’s attitude towards the Taliban?
Rina Amiri: I would refer you to Ambassador Khalilzad to ask about his views.
Hasht-e Subh: What is the main priority of your mission in Afghanistan?
Rina Amiri: The main priorities of my office include supporting the women and vulnerable populations of Afghanistan in their demands to have their human rights restored, respected, and protected. We all acknowledge the severity of the humanitarian crisis in the country – it cannot be overstated. Immediate needs and livelihoods are our priorities, and we must all first and foremost work to address the current crisis and ensure that the basic economic rights of all Afghans are met. In addition, we must ensure that women and girls can return to school at all levels, including primary, secondary, and tertiary levels throughout the country; that female teachers can do their jobs without hindrances; that education leads to employment opportunities and women being able to work in all sectors, including as government employees; that women can work as service providers of humanitarian aid without the need for a male escort, as well as to benefit as recipients of that aid; that fair and transparent rule of law is upheld in line with Afghanistan’s international law obligations; that unjust detentions and killings, seizure of property and other forms of abuses cease; and that the establishment of an inclusive process that allows Afghans to have a say in their governance is prioritized.
Hasht-e Subh: Has the Ukraine crisis sidelined the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the issue of Afghan women? Despite the Ukraine crisis, is Afghanistan still important to the United States?
Rina Amiri: The United States remains highly concerned about the humanitarian situation and the human rights situation, including for women and girls, in Afghanistan. Those of us leading the work on Afghanistan, including Special Representative Tom West’s office, my office, colleagues at USAID, and others throughout the State Department and the U.S. government are working around the clock to address the challenges confronting Afghanistan.
Hasht-e Subh: Your hijab and headscarf were widely criticized at the Norwegian summit. I was one of those critics. Maybe if this meeting was held in Kabul, your hijab would be more justified. Why did you wear hijab in negotiations with the Taliban? What is your response to the critics?
Rina Amiri: I am a mediator and negotiator by training. When engaging the other side, I am constantly thinking about how I can be effective in communicating my message. In Oslo, my job was to effectively engage the Taliban on a range of issues, including ensuring that girls get back to school after the Afghan New Year, pressing them on increasing women’s access to work in the humanitarian and other sectors, and raising the issue of women’s detentions and other human rights abuses. I decided that I would be more effective in having those messages heard by the Taliban if I wore a headscarf. While I respect those that have a different view, I stand by my decision and will continue doing what I think is right to be effective in this very important mission.
Hasht-e Subh: Which faction are you most in contact with within the Taliban? Their behavior shows that their ideology has not changed and they are anti-woman. To what extent do you think you have been able to convince the Taliban of women’s rights?
Rina Amiri: I have engaged with a broad spectrum of views within the Taliban. I have had serious, frank conversations with them, and ultimately, I believe they must recognize that participation and inclusion of women are fundamental to achieving many of their stated goals regarding preserving Afghan talent and preventing a further brain drain, restoring the civil service, working towards a self-sustaining and less donor dependent Afghanistan, and ending conflict and the suffering of the Afghan people. None of this progress can happen if half the Afghan population is forced to stay at home.
Hasht-e Subh: Is the issue of recognizing the Taliban related to their treatment of women in Afghanistan? how much? Please explain more.
Rina Amiri: As I said above, the Taliban must understand that they cannot achieve their goals towards a stable, economically viable Afghanistan that is legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and the international community without restoring and protecting the rights of Afghan women and girls, supporting the establishment of a process for inclusive and transparent governance, and respecting the rights of all Afghans.
Hasht-e Subh: You have recently said that you work with Islamic societies and women’s associations in these countries, are you looking for a recipe for Afghan women in these societies? Or do you want to convince the Taliban?
Rina Amiri: It is not the role of the U.S. or any other country to develop a recipe or formula for Afghanistan. The path forward should be determined by Afghans. But I want the Taliban to see that despite significant differences across Islamic countries, none prevent women from exercising the right to education and to work, and from contributing to the economies of their countries. In fact, many economically successful countries, like the U.A.E., Qatar, Indonesia, among others, are enacting policies to further open up pathways for women to participate in political life, education, workforce and economies of their countries. Women in Afghanistan are demanding the same human rights as those that are afforded to women throughout the Muslim world. And when it comes to governance, it is clear that countries across the Muslim world have developed systems that reconcile some form of representative government with Shari’a – the two are not inconsistent. There is no one-size fits all answer, and we are not here to prescribe how Afghans govern their country. That said, we believe that giving the Afghan people a say in how political leaders are selected and how their country is governed will do much to bring about political inclusivity and political stability, which is in all of our interests.
I want the women of Afghanistan to know that they have the support and respect of the world. They are not seen as victims but a force of courage and admiration. There have been other periods in Afghan history where women have had setbacks, but they have always shown the resilience and fortitude needed to fight and regain respect for their rights. But we are aware that they need some support from the international community to get there. The path to a successful, peaceful, and viable Afghanistan cannot be paved without the inclusion of women. Many in the United States, Europe, and within the Muslim world understand that. I want to stress to the women of Afghanistan that they are not alone – the world stands with them.
Source: Hasht-e Subh Daily