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I left Afghanistan, my beloved country, just a few days after the Taliban took control of Kabul.
I did not want to leave, but I had no choice. Soon after the Taliban assumed control of the capital city, its fighters started to look for me. They showed up at my house (which I had already left in fear of my safety) and harassed my family members and people working for me. They beat up my security guards and violently interrogated people who know me in an effort to find me.
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It was obvious that my life was in grave danger, but this was not the reason why I chose to leave the country. I left because I knew that if I stayed, they would come for my family, too.
In 2018, I became the mayor of Maidan Shar, a conservative town in the Wardak province of Afghanistan where the Taliban has widespread support. Since then, I survived several attempts on my life. The Taliban and its supporters did not want to see a young woman in a position of authority, so they tried to intimidate me into leaving my post in every way they could. In late 2020, they killed my father because of the work I do.
When the Taliban took control of the country, I knew the group would not hesitate to hurt other members of my family to get their hands on me. My family is not political, they just want to live their lives in peace. They already sacrificed so much for the choices I made. I had to leave the country to ensure their safety.
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Despite all this, the Taliban is now claiming that it has changed. Its leaders insist that under the Taliban’s rule, every Afghan, including working women, journalists, civil rights activists and political opponents, will be safe. They are asking people not to leave Afghanistan and inviting those who had already left to return home. They insist those who were working in government jobs before the Taliban takeover will be allowed to return to their offices.
I do not believe any of this.
Even if I put all of my own bad experiences with them aside, the way they continue to treat Afghans who do not think like them, or behave according to their rules, shows that their promises are empty.
Just a few days ago, Taliban members raided the house of doctor and civil rights activist Fahima Rahmati. They beat her up and harassed her family. They took her brothers and brothers-in-law with them. These men, who are not charged with any crime, are still missing.
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Fahima’s story is just one among many. My female colleagues and friends in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan are telling me they are still not allowed to return to their offices. My colleagues from the Defence Ministry told me that they tried to enter the ministry two days ago, but the Taliban did not let them into the building, and told them not to return.
If the Taliban was really committed to keeping us safe, and respecting our hard-earned rights and liberties, we would not be hearing stories like these every day.
There may be some within the Taliban leadership who really want to keep their promises about respecting human rights, but the Taliban is not united. There are different factions within the group who have very different visions for the future of the country.
Just days after the Taliban announced its new government, for example, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban co-founder, and Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani, the minister for refugees and a prominent figure within the Haqqani network, exchanged strong words inside the presidential palace, as their supporters brawled nearby. It was later revealed that the two factions were fighting over who should take credit for the Taliban’s victory over the United States and how power should be divided in the new cabinet.
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How can we believe that the Taliban would keep its promises about human rights and inclusivity, while its leaders are fighting each other to obtain more power and influence?
Recently, the Taliban has also been claiming that the international community can only help the people of Afghanistan by engaging with the new Taliban government. This is not true.
My people undoubtedly need humanitarian aid and international support. But global leaders do not need to engage with, and thus legitimise, the Taliban to help Afghans in need. Many international organisations and respected NGOs are still active in Afghanistan. They have been working in the country for at least 20 years, and they have extensive experience in helping communities living under the Taliban’s rule. The international community should engage with them, not the Taliban, to find ways to help the Afghan people.
Nevertheless, the engagement between the international community and the Taliban government is growing every day. Global leaders already made a big mistake – they abandoned my people after 20 years, sent us back to square one and allowed the Taliban to take control of the country.
They are now doubling down on their mistake by engaging with the Taliban and legitimising the group’s baseless claim of representing the Afghan people. Their actions are only emboldening the Taliban and making its leaders believe that they can continue to abuse Afghans and still find a place for themselves in the international arena.
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If the leaders of the international community really want to help the Afghan people, and make up for their past mistakes, they need to end all engagement with the Taliban until the group offers some believable guarantees that it will respect the basic human rights and liberties of all Afghans.
I know that in democratic countries political leaders act according to the wishes of their citizens. This is why I’m calling on every man and woman across the world who cares for the people of Afghanistan to pressure their leaders to not engage with or recognise the Taliban government until guarantees are put in place to protect our human rights. I am calling on them to support not the Taliban but the Afghan civil society actors like me who are working to ensure all Afghans, and especially Afghan women, have the rights and freedoms that would allow them to feel secure in their home country and live full lives.
If the Taliban wants recognition, if it wants legitimisation, it first needs to talk to us – the Afghan civil society – and not foreign leaders and institutions. From the very beginning, I have been telling them that I am ready to sit down and talk. I want to talk to them about women’s rights, civil liberties and democracy. I am ready.
I am a Muslim. I read a lot about my religion and I know the rights women have under Islam. Therefore, I want the leaders of the Taliban to explain to me what they mean when they say they will give women all the rights they should have under Sharia law. Which Sharia law are they talking about when they say this? Before seeking recognition from the international community, they need to clarify these points with us, Afghans.
Today, the Taliban does not represent me. It does not represent my mother, my sisters, my colleagues and millions of other Afghan men and women who are terrified of what their lives will be like under the Taliban’s rule.
But this does not mean the Taliban can never become the legitimate government of Afghanistan – it can. If the Taliban’s leaders offer solid guarantees that human rights, and especially women’s rights, will be protected under their rule – not with empty statements but with meaningful actions – then we can accept them.
Then, and only then, I can see them as my country’s legitimate government – I can forget what they did to my father, to my family, to my people, and accept them.
The international community already made enough mistakes in Afghanistan. They should not add to these mistakes by engaging with the Taliban government, before we, the Afghan people, accept it as our true representative.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
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