Zarifa Ghafari arrives hurriedly and out of breath on the Kabul resort the place she has requested for the interview to happen. The director of a Netflix documentary about her, In Her Arms, follows behind. To her left is the author who will assist her to show her experiences into an autobiography, Zarifa: A Girl’s Battle in a Man’s World. Now, each tasks have already been introduced, as a result of the interview occurred final March, a bit over six months after the Taliban regained management of Afghanistan.
It’s the first time that Ghafari, 30, one of many first feminine mayors in Afghanistan, has returned to her nation following the traumatic occasions of the summer season of 2021, when the Taliban launched their offensive, inflicting tens of 1000’s to flee. Ghafari and her household managed to flee through Turkey to Germany. Her return, removed from being considered simply as an achievement, has sparked controversy on social media. Some crucial commentators accuse her of downplaying the seriousness of the state of affairs in Afghanistan by deciding to return, and even of whitewashing the Taliban.
She denies these claims. Over the previous few years, Ghafari’s work has not been smiled upon by the fundamentalists. She served as mayor in Maidan Shahr, a small metropolis round 30 miles to the southwest of Kabul and capital of the Maidan Wardak province. It was 2018 and she or he was 26 years outdated. Regardless of the numerous obstacles positioned in her manner, together with protests and loss of life threats, she remained within the publish till she was promoted, a couple of months earlier than the Taliban took Kabul, to a place within the Afghan Protection Ministry.
Her father, a veteran particular forces commander beneath the earlier authorities, was assassinated in 2020. The Taliban had been broadly suspected of involvement. Regardless of threats and harassment, Ghafari says she stays dedicated to her nation and accepts the dangers. As such, she needs to separate her time between Europe, the place her household nonetheless stay, and Afghanistan, the place the day earlier than the interview she inaugurated a donor-funded middle the place ladies obtain free training and workshops in handicrafts and tailoring, amongst different actions. Her long-term aim is for these facilities to be arrange in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Query. How did you begin out in politics and handle to change into a mayor in a rustic like Afghanistan?
Reply. I all the time needed to work with, amongst and for folks. Beginning out in governmental work and taking up duties was not an try and enter into politics. However ever since I used to be a baby, I needed to do one thing vital. That’s why I joined the Afghan Youth Parliament after gaining a Grasp’s diploma in Economics in India. I arrange a radio station with the one that is now my life accomplice and later began a company, and from there I utilized to hitch a program to change into a mayor.
Q. How do you keep in mind your time in workplace?
A. It was actually unbelievable. In three years, I grew at a tempo that helped me not solely to develop my profession, but additionally to study my very own society, my nation and what my folks needed. I’ve all the time needed to take action many issues for different locations, though I wasn’t in a position to as a result of I used to be caught throughout the context of town. Once I left my publish, 4 months earlier than the autumn of Kabul, I hoped that one other lady would succeed me.
Q. Being a feminine mayor of a conservative metropolis should have been very difficult.
A. Once I was mayor, any little downside throughout the metropolis grew to become an enormous catastrophe for everyone, and I used to be subjected to a whole lot of assaults, on social media and at occasions… “The mayor doesn’t work; she isn’t as much as the job.” Now every part is a large catastrophe and no person is saying something. That leads me to imagine that I used to be criticized just because I used to be a girl.
Q. You additionally confronted threats from the Taliban.
A. Sure, I’ve been attacked 3 times and my father was assassinated – by the Taliban, in line with data we acquired from the federal government on the time. I needed to face a whole lot of issues because the mayor of a really conservative Afghan metropolis. Firstly, to foster belief between the folks and myself. Secondly, coping with the extremist ideologies of those that, when speaking to ladies, had been solely eager about cooking and infants. Chatting with them and giving them orders was extraordinarily problematic. The insecurity attributable to the Taliban, having a mafia inside town, with a bunch of very corrupt native governors throughout the workplace, gave me a whole lot of complications.
Q. The most important of these got here in August, 2021. What was your expertise of the autumn of Kabul?
A. On 15 August at 11.30am I used to be nonetheless in my workplace, right here in Kabul, on the Protection Ministry. I couldn’t imagine what was occurring. I lastly got here to phrases with it in the course of the night time, when Al Jazeera broadcast stay footage from contained in the presidential palace. It wasn’t due to the change of presidency, as a result of it doesn’t matter to me who’s the king or what authorities is in place. It was a matter of my rights, my work, my struggles. I noticed an enormous change coming, that may have an effect on my life and the lifetime of my father. My sisters wouldn’t have the ability to take pleasure in a free life, I wouldn’t have the ability to stroll the streets like a traditional citizen. That was the second after I broke down and cried. I didn’t sleep in any respect that night time.
Q. You determined to pack up and run.
A. I left the nation to offer my household with a protected haven. We managed to get to the airport with assist from the Turkish Embassy. It was tough, I wore a black hijab to cover my face. From there we went to Islamabad and from there to Turkey. I arrived in Germany on August 22 with my complete household. After the loss of life of my father, I used to be liable for them as I’m the eldest. My mom was three years outdated when she misplaced her father, and she or he had simply misplaced her husband. I didn’t need them to pay for my choices.
Q. You might be again in Afghanistan now for the primary time because the Taliban regained energy. What are your emotions?
A. I admit there are a whole lot of issues. However different issues lend you the energy of self-resilience. I’ve seen women strolling via the door of Kabul College and that has given me an enormous shot of vitality, it has been the very best medication for all this ache. On the similar time, I’ve seen ladies begging for meals on the road. If they may go to an workplace, any sort of workplace, and work, possibly they might have sufficient to eat, at the very least as soon as a day.
I’ve seen ladies begging for meals on the road. If they may work possibly they might have sufficient to eat
Q. Highschool college students haven’t been in a position to resume courses. May that additionally occur on the universities?
A. We’ll see what occurs. For now, this imaginative and prescient of ladies going to school has given me power to withstand. Individuals – particularly exterior of Afghanistan – speak of armed resistance, of warfare… however I feel resistance via training works higher. Generally you don’t should die carrying a gun: you merely prepare and go away the home. Like me, who has risked every part. It’s not simple. I got here again, I’m right here and to date, nothing has occurred to me. However in fact, I see a lot of issues and difficulties, and I’m going to speak about them. Like yesterday: in an interview on a nationwide tv channel, I used to be requested about ladies’s rights. I urged the Taliban leaders to launch all feminine prisoners. Nobody dares to do this. It doesn’t hassle me; I’m ready to danger every part as a result of I imagine I’m doing the fitting factor. That’s how we should resist.
Q. Did you need to come to some settlement to ensure your security so as to return to Afghanistan?
A. I don’t want to come back to agreements with anyone to return to my own residence. I’ve already instructed everyone, in the entire interviews I’ve finished since I’ve been right here, that if anybody is ready to show that I’ve made some sort of association with the Taliban, I’m able to pay no matter they need. However I don’t want to do this: that is my nation. After all, the Taliban know that I’m right here; I went via immigration management at Kabul Airport after I arrived.
Q. There was some criticism on social media about your return to Afghanistan.
A. There are a whole lot of rumors surrounding me, particularly from those that usually are not in Afghanistan. Individuals assume I earn some huge cash from donations and that’s why I’ve come again, possibly to present it to the Taliban. However a whole lot of ladies imagine in what I’m doing. What I’ve been saying over the previous few days in Afghanistan is similar factor I’ve been saying since I left the nation, earlier than the earlier authorities fell.
Q. Entry to EL PAÍS is blocked in Afghanistan due to worldwide sanctions in opposition to the Taliban. Is there a message you’d prefer to ship to the worldwide neighborhood, overseas governments or NGOs?
A. I’d just like the worldwide neighborhood to concentrate. I share the ache of the Ukrainian folks; I really feel damage for Ukraine and its folks. However on the similar time, the identical disaster is going down in my nation. We’d like assist to be delivered to folks on the bottom, particularly to these ladies who don’t have anybody to look out for them.