Taliban spokesperson addresses hunger, women's issues in exclusive interview
A spokesperson for the Taliban is adamant that reports circulating about widespread hunger and human rights violations against women in Afghanistan are not true and that the Taliban government is working to correct its perceived shortcomings on the international stage.
The Taliban took over the Afghanistan government in August 2021, after the U.S. pulled troops out of the country. Since then, reports have emerged about Afghans dying of hunger and schools closing to women and girls.
Zabihulla Mujahid recently sat down with CTV National News London Bureau Chief Paul Workman for a wide-ranging interview that touches on the Taliban’s previous conflicts with NATO, women’s issues in Afghanistan and widespread hunger in the country.
Below is a transcript of Workman’s interview with Mujahid, which has been translated from Pashto and edited for clarity:
PW: You have been in power since August. How much harder is it running a government than fighting a war?
ZM: In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful, naturally running the government is difficult. It’s not an easy task. We are trying, and putting all our strength in action to keep running every sector of the government. Until now, it’s going well. We are trying to make it better.
PW: Your fighters killed a large number of Canadian soldiers in Kandahar. How do you feel about that now?
ZM: All those countries who came to Afghanistan under the flag or leadership of NATO, we fought them and our fight was legitimate. It was to protect our own country. I am sorry that Canadians came to our country to fight. They shouldn't have came.
PW: But just to be clear, you’re sorry that Canadian soldiers were killed?
ZM: I am not sorry because they were occupying forces who came here. The Canadians should have been sad and regretted their actions. Anyone who tries to invade Afghanistan will face similar consequences, so I am not apologizing.
PW: Journalists are being attacked, women are being arrested. Explain that.
ZM: First of all, the rumours circulating around about women being arrested are not correct. We have investigated. No women have been arrested. Secondly, whether it's male or female, when they break the law or disregard the country’s laws, they should be detained and answer questions.
PW: What happened to the two women who were arrested this week? Where are they? Do you know?
ZM: I have investigated this issue. I asked the security forces to give us the information. It has not been confirmed that they were detained. I saw the video on social media.
A woman claims people have come to my house during the night. It is not true. That video was not legitimate. That woman was trying to make a case for herself by showing she is under threat and she wants to get out of here. She wants to claim asylum in some other country. The video is not verified. Of course, if someone breaks the country’s law, they will be arrested.
PW: Have they been arrested? Do you know?
ZM: This has not been verified yet. This morning I asked security forces and no one has confirmed this. I am still trying to verify this.
PW: I’d like to ask you if you want to commit now in front of my camera that girls will be allowed to go to school. Girls of all ages. Would you care to do that? Can you confirm that?
ZM: We are trying in this regard. Two of the Islamic Emirates ministries are working on this issue. The ministry of education and the ministry of higher education. They are both working on a framework to create an atmosphere for girls going to school.
I am hopeful by next year this will be resolved.
PW: Why is it so difficult to do that?
ZM: Naturally everything is new here by the forming of the new government. In particular, the school and higher education sectors and the girls attending needs to be revisited.
The security measures to create a better atmosphere for them, and economic issues like transportation and dorms all require financial support. We are currently dealing with economic issues. Also, a procedure guideline needs to be in place. Once it’s all complete, then we will let them attend.
PW: You’re saying in principle girls of all ages will be able to go to school?
ZM: Yes, the work is going on to create opportunity for all. Until Grade 6, they are going to school. For older girls in some provinces, they have created the environment to attend school. Sixty to 70 per cent of girls up to Grade 12 are going to school in the provinces.
For higher education, the girls are going to private universities. The government universities have some issues with its hostels and transportation. Also, it requires procedures to be put in place as there is a huge number of people. The work is in progress and hopefully it will be completed by next year.
PW: Thank you, because in order to get international recognition, that’s a very important question, girls and education.
ZM: We are aware of this. It’s not because of recognition, that's a different subject. This is the requirement of the Afghans too. We need it for our own children's future. It's important.
PW: I want to ask you about the stories of so many Afghans going hungry. We hear about starvation. We hear about one million babies perhaps dying over the winter. Are you helpless to do anything about that?
ZM: First of all, no one will die of hunger Insha Allah. We have our own preparation. There is poverty due to fighting in war-torn countries. It’s normal. This poverty has been around for many years, it is not new.
For the past many years, Afghans are facing these problems. We have ways to tackle this. The international help will reach us. Also, we have government reserves we can activate during hunger and crises. Of course, poverty is a big issue, but no one will die of hunger. I assure you it won't happen.
PW: You're saying nobody will die over the winter of malnutrition or starvation?
ZM: No. This is all rumours and it’s not correct. Whoever created or circulated these rumours, it’s false. In Afghanistan, people have mercy on each other. They won’t leave others to die. The other thing is you will see more poverty in Kabul and other cities where people were depending on the government for paid salaries.
The salaries have now resumed and they will be paid in the next two months. So I reject that the people will die of hunger. The aid will reach people, government resources are there. We won't let such things happen. We will be able to control it.
PW: The (United Nations) says it's feeding more than 20 million people every month in Afghanistan.
ZM: Yes, they are helping, but it's not for 20 million. It's less than that. We want United Nations to extend their help, but circulating news that people will die of hunger will have a bad impact on them.
Such reports are not true. No one will die of hunger. We will address this issue. It’s the responsibility of the government. Other countries are also helping, so all of that together will stop this crisis.
PW: The Americans were your enemy. What relationship would you like to have with them now? Friends, supporters, or are you just interested in getting American money?
ZM: We want to have a good, normal relationship with all countries. We want to restore a normal relationship with Americans too. Because they were fighting with us, we had to fight with other countries too. We want to turn the page on fighting.
We want to maintain good and strong relationships -- good diplomatic relationships -- based on mutual trust. The concerns that Americans or any other countries have, we have to address that. We are trying and we are committed to addressing their concerns.
At the same time, they need to take steps forward to maintain their relationship with us
PW: Alright, thank you very much.
This story previously stated that the interview was translated from Dari.
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