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Karzai: Taliban must allow girls to go to school

August 14, 2022

In an exclusive interview, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai tells DW why he didn't leave his country after the Taliban seized power one year ago. "This will go away, and we'll be back on our feet," Karzai says.

Hamid Karzai with Sandra Petersmann in Kabul
Hamid Karzai was interviewed by DW's Sandra PetersmannImage: Ahmad Sear Yousfzai

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. The full video interview will soon be available on dw.com.

DW: Mr. Karzai, you are seemingly not allowed to travel abroad. Are you a prisoner of the Taliban?

Hamid Karzai: No. Well, with regard to the travels abroad, that has not been possible. And they told me that. But inside the city of Kabul, when the security is fine, we ask them, we let them know that I am going to a place and they provide us an escort and the escort takes me to that place.

Is that confined to Kabul or are you also allowed to cross city boundaries?

I haven't yet done that. So I don't know. I haven't yet told them that I'm going to visit the provinces. I think I should rather soon, around autumn. And then we will know.

Why didn't you leave the country like so many other important representatives of the Islamic Republic when the Taliban came to power last year?

Well, this is our country. This is our home. You don't leave your home when things become difficult. You stay at your home and then you fix it. And you try to make it right. Simple as that.

So if there were a chance now, you wouldn't leave?

Never. No, never. 

You have three small daughters. What kind of future do you see for them in Afghanistan?

I want them to have a future as good as any other child has around the world. And this is a very important question for our future. For our children. My daughters are studying here in Kabul. The older one, who is 10 now, Malala, she'll be graduating from class six into seven. As things stand now, that means she will not be able to continue her education.

Afghan pedestrians crossing a street in Kabul
Afghan girls are barred from attending school beyond 6th grade under Taliban ruleImage: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

What will you do then? Will you send her abroad if she can't do that because the Taliban are enforcing a school ban?

That is exactly the question before me and before hundreds of thousands of other Afghan families and parents. What do we do when our daughters reach the age to go to middle school or secondary school? Leaving the country means abandoning the country. So, we have to do all we can to fight for the right of our children or of our daughters to educate. We wouldn't give up on that.

But if there is so much thirst for education, why are the Taliban not just saying, let's do it? 

Karzai: 'We'll be back on our feet'

That is a question that they need to answer and that they need to answer very soon. They must allow girls to go to school. There is no compromise there. And I've told them this very clearly. There is no compromise here, no way that we will allow Afghan girls being denied education. No way.

Therefore, we have to get together as Afghans, all of us, the Taliban and the rest of the country, to change this. Whether this is a decision within the Taliban, or if this is a decision imposed from outside, by whatever means, we have to change this.

What do you mean by "imposed from outside?"

Look, you heard the former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, speaking to the foreign ministers of the Islamic world in Islamabad, trying to justify that Afghan girls don't go to school, trying to blame it on traditions. which is wrong, which is entirely wrong. 

But why would Pakistan have an interest in a ban on girls' schools in Afghanistan?

A weak Afghanistan, an Afghanistan that is in need, an Afghanistan that cannot stand on its own feet, an Afghanistan that is in poverty. Lack of education means poverty. Lack of education for girls means lack of abilities. Lack of education for girls means half of the society, at least half of the society, are not educated. Therefore, at least half of society is not being able to produce and participate. That is a considerably weakened and deprived Afghanistan. So there cannot be any other reason for Pakistan to do this.

Former president Hamid Karzai speaking at a news conference in July 2021 in Kabul
Hamid Karzai served as the fourth president of Afghanistan from July 2002 to September 2014Image: Rahmat Gul/AP Photo/picture alliance

According to President Joe Biden, the US killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike targeting a balcony in the heart of Kabul. The targeted house is in an area where a lot of Taliban representatives live. Is Afghanistan once again becoming a sponsor of global terror?

Afghanistan never was a sponsor of global terror. Afghanistan was a victim of global terror. The Afghan people are the greatest victims of terrorism. The Afghan people commiserate very strongly with all the victims of terrorism around the world because we have suffered more. The Afghan people commiserate deeply with the victims of September 11 tragedy because we were the victims first. The Afghans are victims of terrorism and also, unfortunately, victims of the fight against terrorism. So we want none of that. As for the incident of Zawahiri, the Americans announced that they had killed him. The Taliban said they were not aware of his presence or his stay in Kabul and that they would investigate. So let that investigation take place.

If you close your eyes and take yourself back to last year, to that decisive final phase, the international troops packing up at lightning speed, the Taliban's lightning offensive, leading them to enter Kabul. The then-president, Ashraf Ghani, fleeing, Afghan troops not fighting, young Afghans clinging to airplanes and then falling out of the sky. Who is to blame for all of that?

Very, very sad. The manner in which the United States withdrew from Afghanistan was disgraceful. Insulting to us and also hurtful to the American people. 

When you see the Taliban's flag at the presidential palace, which is not too far away from your residency, does it make your heart bleed? 

No, no. It's the Taliban flag. They are now the government in Afghanistan. Our national flag is the black, red and green flag, which is the historic flag of Afghanistan, which has been there since the 1920s, at least.

Presidential palace in Kabul with Taliban flags
The Taliban flag flies over the presidential palace in KabulImage: Balkis Press/ABACA/picture alliance

If we look at the situation now, the economy has all but collapsed. Nearly half the population, that is 20 million people, are experiencing high levels of food insecurity. I saw children struggling for survival, even in hospitals here in Kabul that aid is still reaching. Where is the way out?

The way out is for strengthening unity among Afghans, involving all the Afghan people in the running of the country. I call on the Taliban as brothers to consider all other Afghans brothers and sisters, even those who are against them, who may be thinking of resisting them, that they must be contacted and brought back to a political process, to a national dialogue so we Afghans can, in unity and through the expression of the word of the Afghan people, chart a way towards a better future. This is a call to the Taliban that I have repeatedly made. 

Is Afghanistan a lost country?

No. It's not a lost country. We are among the oldest countries and civilizations in this part of the world. We will be fine. This is a blip in the millenniums of our history. This will go away and we'll be back on our feet and strong.

Is Afghanistan a country lost for women?

No, this too is temporary. If Afghanistan is a country lost for women, that will also mean Afghanistan lost itself. We shall never allow that. Afghan women will educate. They will go to school. They will be engineers and doctors and journalists and in parliament and do well. The time will come and you will see it.

Aid for Afghan children

Edited by: Peter Hille