Coming face to face with the enemy is still a rare occasion. In Doha, only a few leaders from the warring parties are still doggedly discussing the rules and procedures that will later apply to all delegates to the Afghan peace negotiations. But for female delegate Fatima Gailani, direct contact with the Taliban has already occurred.
When referring to the Taliban, Gailani does not use the term “enemy” despite an acrimonious history. “Really, I haven’t seen any reaction that I didn’t like. But when it comes to serious talks in the future, of course, we will have our differences. But my hope is that we will resolve these differences because we have a very ugly option in front of this peace, and that’s war.”
Gailani is part of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s negotiating team, which was established through international efforts following the overthrow of the Taliban regime. “For me it was like a dream come true,” Gailani said from a hotel that is hosting the historic peace talks in Qatar’s capital. “The last 42 years of my life was dedicated to seeing peace one day in my country.” Twenty-one people are representing each side at the negotiating table in Doha, for a total of 42 delegates — one for each year of the war.
Frontwoman in Doha
Fatima Gailani was only 24 years old when Afghanistan sank into chaos in the late 1970s. At that time, a conflict over communist and Islamist ideals broke out in Kabul, culminating with an invasion by the Soviet Union in 1979. That was followed by an explosion of violence that has unfolded across the country’s modern history and continues to this day. Gailani is now 66 and is suffering from cancer. She has returned from retirement, after three major operations, to be present in Doha.
To the question of whether she is a feminist, the humanitarian replies: “Well, if someone is working for women and the future of women is important to them and the name for that is feminist, then maybe I am. But I have equal passion for other things which are not right in my country. So maybe I am an activist for whatever goes wrong in my country.”
Gailani hails from an influential family with connections to the former Afghan monarchy. She studied Persian literature, Islamic Studies and Islamic law. She grew up in peace under the reform-minded King Zahir Shah, Afghanistan’s last monarch, who in the 1960s initiated reforms that created opportunities for women to participate in public life. “But we did lose it, didn’t we?” asks Gailani. “Most of the young generation, they have never seen peace — and that especially makes me want to put my steps forward very carefully.” Every wrong word can have consequences — even on the battlefield.
Gailani follows one guiding principle, and it applies to the whole of Afghanistan, she says: the killing must stop. “Whoever is responsible for it — it has to stop. That’s why for me, a cease-fire is the number one priority. The people of Afghanistan have put a tremendous hope in this peace talks.” But fighting, bombings and killings continue relentlessly in Afghanistan — even as US and NATO troops prepare to leave. Washington wants to end its war as soon as possible and has single-handedly negotiated the terms of the Western withdrawal with the Taliban, without involving the Afghan government. It is an approach Gailani criticises. “This will be wrong because it is always wrong. In Bonn, only a few people were put in the driving seats. And to again be put in driving seats by someone else, this would be wrong,” she says.
— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle