‘Afghanistan is a patriarchal society’

- Former Ambassador Asif Durrani

By Mahreen Nazar | June 2023

Asif Durrani is Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He is currently a SOAS alumnus, and is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). In this interview with SouthAsia, Ambassador Asif Durrani sheds some light on the issues facing the Afghan women.

Since you have served time there, how extreme are the conditions in Afghanistan at the moment?

Ever since the American troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the most glaring problem which cropped up was the economic conditions. It was further compounded with the US decision to freeze the Afghanistan Central Bank’s international reserves worth $9.6 billion.

Resultantly, when the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, 2021, the economic conditions worsened as coffers in Kabul were empty. It is said that the available money was taken away by the Afghan ministers who fled the country immediately or even before the fall of Kabul. Consequently, the poverty graph rose to close to 90 per cent. Now it is estimated that the poverty in the country is around 95 per cent, as per the UN statistics.

I think it is the economic condition which has had an impact on other issues, including the woman’s employment and education.

Please shed some light on Taliban’s regressive policies against women in particular?

The Taliban have been identified with their brand of rule which they think is Islamic, but it’s questionable. In fact, it has more to do with the conservative Afghan traditions, especially the Pashtun traditions. And that a woman, in fact, have a second place in the society. Or we can say that women are preferred to be confined to the four boundaries. And, they are not supposed to work, but this was not the case in Afghanistan, as women have been educating and been working as teachers, and doctors and in many other fields. This is an argument which international community has been pushing and trying to impress upon the Taliban to be fair and to be even handed as far as women’s rights are concerned.

Since Afghanistan’s society overwhelmingly is a patriarchal society, Taliban’s view prevails and they have a particular bias towards the moment, which they quote it according to the Islamic directives and Afghan traditions.

Why are the conditions of war and militarization considered less harmful to women than the lack of education, employment and West-inspired outfits?

This question is itself debatable because we are talking about Afghanistan where overwhelmingly the country whether its Pakhtoons, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras or Turkmanis, they are, by and large, conservatives. We cannot say that Hamid Karzai or Ashraf Ghani were progressive. You would not see there women in the public or in other Afghan ministers who were ruling the country during the American presence in Afghanistan. They perhaps allowed schools and colleges but that’s it, as their own families were not in the public light because the conservative nature of the Afghan society. It will take a while whether it Is Taliban or no Taliban. The question is Afghan society that is conservative, 80 per cent of the people live in the undeveloped areas and 20 per cent live in urban centers, for instance, Kabul. Here I think this debate has merits and demerits. Merits are that yes the education is to be provided, employment to the women is essential, they should have equal rights but ground realities are different and for that woman are to be given equal opportunities that would need a persistent dialogue with the Taliban. Because as long as they are in power no other force can ever change their mind. It has to be a constant effort.
What is the role of religious organizations and how are they contributing?

The religious organizations along with Pakistan are raising their voices for giving equal opportunities to Afghan women with right to education and employment. Our demands should be in line with the international communities. However, at the same time, we just cannot make it conditional to having relations with Taliban because we share borders and we have divided tribes on both sides of the borders. That makes it a symbolic relationship as Afghans are more aligned with Pakistan than any other country. This relationship has special meanings that is why almost 60,000 Afghan straddle the border to come and go every day for seeking medical treatment, education and other facilities in Pakistan.

We are to our extend catering for their needs, and same is the case for religious organizations. If you recall that Maulana Usmani of Karachi madrassa, he went to meet Taliban and pleaded for granting education and employment right to the woman, but somehow it didn’t work out. There has to be a persistent engagement with the Taliban in order to convince them to provide the rights to woman as it would contribute in making the society vibrant and moderate.