Taliban’s war is the war for “Power”: Reporterly’s Interview with Fawzia Koofi

Fawzia Koofi is a parliamentarian in Afghanistan. She recently filed a lawsuit with the Attorney General’s Office against the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission for the allegations which caused her removal from the final list of candidates for parliamentary elections. Koofi, who is the head of the Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Civil Society Commission of the Lower House of the Parliament, has recently presented a report to the House of Representatives on the violations in parliamentary elections.

The commission’s report shows that 30 cases of violation of law have been committed by the electoral commissions, of which 9 are attributed to the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission. According to Ms. Koofi, current members of the electoral commissions do not have the ability to hold the presidential election.

As a politician, she believes that the Taliban war in Afghanistan is a war for power. She says that peace is not brought about by a deal between a few foreign countries outside of Afghanistan.

Reporterly conducted an interview with Ms. Koofi in Kabul on ….

Reporterly: I want to start questions regarding your recent complaint to the Attorney General’s Office. What can you say about the reasons behind your complaint against the IECC?

Koofi: This commission has made a false allegation against me with no proof.

As you are concerned, about four months ago, the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) decided to eliminate a number of parliamentary candidates from the final list of candidates, contrary to election law. I do not know the reason for removing other candidates precisely, but the IECC in a letter sent to me has claimed that the reason behind the removal of my name is my support for irresponsible groups; an allegation that the IECC never proved. I referred to the justice and judicial institutions and asked them that if the IECC could not prove the allegation, they should be punished. But these institutions did not address my case. I had to go through a variety of ways, including getting a lawyer and filing a complaint with the Attorney general’s office.

Reporterly: Who did you exactly file a complaint against and what is included in it?

Koofi: [The complaint] Against the head of the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission and two Badakhshan district governors.

I filed a lawsuit against the head of the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission and two individuals who were appointed in two districts of Badakhshan as governors two months ahead of the parliamentary election.

As a representative of the Badakhshan people and after hearing the people’s complaints, I disagreed in the appointment of these two men as district governors in Badakhshan province. But despite my opposition, they were appointed as district governors. Then they lodged a complaint with the Commission against me, without any document, as if I had irresponsible gunmen. My complaint against these two people was that they should prove the allegations they have made and sent to the Commission without any evidence. The Afghan Penal Code states that if someone makes an allegation against another person and cannot prove it, the person himself should be prosecuted. My request from the court is to prevent this culture and that no one’s allegation against another person which is made because of some political opposition and without any reasonable evidence, should be recognized. Such a claim must be proved on the basis of the adequate evidence. The complaint against the head of IECC is due to the fact that he should not have removed a candidate from the final list with no proof.

Reporterly: What would be your next step if the justice and judicial authorities do not handle your case?

Koofi: I will refer to international institutions.

You have clearly seen that the justice and judicial institutions of Afghanistan have political affiliation over the past years and all of their decisions are political rather than being based on the realities. Our effort is to use national laws and domestic institutions first and I respect those laws and institutions as someone who wants to be present in the political arena of this country in the long run. But seemingly, these institutions are not as responsive at the moment. So far, I have filed a lawsuit against two district governors of Badakhshan, and although the arrest warrant has been delivered to them, they have not yet appeared in the Attorney’s Office. The situation shows that there will be some stagnation in this process.

However, we have to take action through international bodies working in the area of ​​restoring the rights of citizens of the countries.

Reporterly: Do you think that your removal from parliament somehow reduces your political activities?

Koofi: Ironically, I think it maybe the opposite.

Because, when I am in parliament, my scope of work is limited within the framework of parliamentary work. And I am the type of MP who tends to be present in the parliament every day, and dedicated to work. In parliament, I am always engaged in parliamentary commissions, as I am the head one of the commissions, as well as in general meetings, and have less time to engage in other political tasks that are needed to be addressed. So I think that if I’m not in parliament, I have more freedom to act.

Reporterly: What are your political plans in the future?

Koofi: In the short run, my political activities are focused on presidency.

We are trying to introduce new faces to the people, and those who are currently at the top of the system, should be changed. They have failed to solve the challenges of the people and create an accountable government. In my opinion, these leaders are separated from the realities of people’s lives in Afghanistan.

Along with that, we are currently registering a political party called the Majw-e-Tahawol (wave of transformation) in Afghanistan, which will be a long-term task. Most of its members will be women, including former and current representatives of the parliament and some other political and civilian figures.

Reporterly: What role would you wish to hold in presidential elections?

Koofi: I do not currently have a decision to run for president in the upcoming elections.

Nevertheless, in the forthcoming elections, we are part of a team that has most of the civil and cultural figures, as well as the respected faces in Afghanistan. We hope that with this unity that we have begun, we can save Afghanistan from the current factional and disrupted situation, and restore the damage that the current government has triggered in this community which has dismantled everyone; our plan is to turn this divisiveness into harmony. We are building a grand national team that will rebuild our social breakdown and will soon be identified.

Reporterly: The issue of peaceful settlement with Taliban has become more serious recently, and the Afghan government says this time it is close to peace more than ever. As a woman politician, do you believe so?

Koofi: I have my own concerns in the Afghan peace process.

Firstly, everyone is involved in this process, except the people of Afghanistan. We feel sorry that the Afghan government’s negotiating team goes to Abu Dhabi and Taliban refuses to sit and talk. With all the disagreement we have with the government and its leadership and despite the fact that we believe this government does not represent the people of Afghanistan, at the end of the day when a delegation goes from the address of the Afghan government in Abu Dhabi, we want them to be honored. I think that the recurring mistakes, the negligence, and the isolation of the president Ghani, have caused Afghanistan to not be a part of this process and has led to the decisions that people of Afghanistan are not present in.

Reporterly: As a woman, what are the challenges and opportunities of the peace settlement?

Koofi: Unfortunately, the issue of women and human rights has been marginalized in peace talks.

I think that at the moment, the issue of women and human rights in peace talks has become one of the most marginal discussions, unlike in the past 18 years when the international community came to Afghanistan and their slogan was the defense of women’s rights and respect for civil values. What is happening right now is that countries like Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are deciding our fate. In my view, this scenario needs to be changed, and the people of Afghanistan should themselves decide on their own destiny.

It is surprising to me that the Taliban group does not talk with the Afghan government because of what they call the puppet government, but they are asking the United States to put someone at the top of the “Interim Government of Afghanistan” who is from within their ranks. It proved that that the Taliban war has been a war for power. I hope that women in Afghanistan will not be affected in this war of power. I believe that one of the substantial improvements over recent years is the large presence of Afghan women in the community. If this presence shifts backward, I think that we will be going backwards.

Reporterly: Does the delegation assigned for peace talks, in your opinion, represent the people of Afghanistan?

Koofi: Unfortunately, the Taliban have not yet been ready to talks with this delegation.

It means that they do not recognize them. There are also considerations inside Afghanistan. Of course any delegation, to be determined will somehow face some considerations, but at least the team should obtain the majority’s endorsement. At present, the majority of people oppose the delegation set by the Afghan government, and they do not inclusively represent all of Afghanistan, and is more dependent on the government than on the nation. The other group designated as the high advisory council has not been consulted either.

What we are working on at the moment is to push for designation of new faces as members of the high advisory council including women, the younger generation and civil society, through which we can fill in the gaps that exist.

Reporterly: Suppose peace settlement has taken place and the Taliban have been included in the Afghan government. If the Taliban are at the head of key institutions such as justice and judiciary, then how do you see Afghanistan’s future as a woman?

Koofi: Handing over the key institutions to Taliban would be a big mistake.

In my opinion, it would be a great mistake to give the two key institutions of a country, including the security and the judicial sector, to a group that has been actively engaged in war. These two sections are related to the people of Afghanistan and the security and justice sector should be kept away from any political deal.

Reporterly: Given the bitter experience Afghan women went through during the Taliban rule, do you think this will happen again with the arrival of the Taliban in the Afghan government?

Koofi: It is said that the constitution might be adjusted because of the presence of the Taliban.

It is also said that in the interim government, part of the government will be handed over to the Taliban. I think that the process of integration and reconciliation does not mean that something should be given. But on the basis of these assumptions, it is actually surrendering the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It is true that perhaps we are losing something in negotiations because peace is our ‘priority’, but we have to get things in return as well.

But it must be clear what we can lose. We should not lose those values that constitute the main foundations of citizenship. For example, the freedom of women, the freedom of the media, non-politicized security and justice sectors, elections and democracy -even though I am one of the victims of democracy in Afghanistan- but I still think that another alternative to democracy in Afghanistan does not exist. We cannot bring a person from the Taliban to the top of the “Interim Government.” It’s not really a peace talk, it’s actually surrendering the government to the Taliban.

Reporterly: As a politician who is closely pursuing the peace talks, how much do you hope to achieve a peace that is good for everyone?

Koofi: Unfortunately, the Afghan people are not involved in the peace process.

Everyone is involved in the peace process, except the Afghan people. But I think that in our first priority- given the recent civilian casualties and with cultural-educational centers & our sports centers being attacked- we need peace.

I think that we will finally come to a conclusion, of course, and we must discuss the outcome and the mechanism. A number of people want everything to happen all at once, but they should know that peace will not happen with hurriedness. We must persuade the sides including those who have problems with the Taliban inside Afghanistan, and by engaging them, we really need to make these peace talks meaningful. Those who fought in Afghanistan and opposed the Taliban ideologically, should be included in this process.

Reporterly: If the Taliban are ready to talk with the Afghan delegation, then can we reach a peace that is a wish of the Afghan people?

Koofi: That’s what we wish too.

A delegation that is supposed to be formed is more inclusive, comprehensive, and broader, as well as include those who are having disagreement with the Taliban – peace actually means that you are talking to a hostile group – yet we hope that Taliban will talk to this delegation. If there are no talks, there will be no peace. In my opinion, peace talks between several foreign countries outside of Afghanistan, will not yield any results and history has proved it.

History shows that when the Mujahideen group wanted to come to Afghanistan, they talked in Geneva and eventually came to Afghanistan, and we observed nothing but civil wars and bloodshed in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan. So we should not let the history repeat itself.

Reporterly: If you agree to discuss another issues. As is stated the Afghan Independent Election Commission delayed the Afghan presidential election by three months. Will the Commission use this opportunity to get more prepared?

Koofi: I think that the presence of the current members of these two electoral commissions in the presidential election is dragging Afghanistan to another crisis.

No matter what calendar, with the two commissions, it’s a big mistake to hold the presidential election. There should come serious reforms in these commissions. You must be informed that the votes are currently being traded.

Reporterly: Do you think what has happened to the Ghazni elections has legal justification?

Koofi: It is clearly against the constitution and electoral law.

I believe that shrinking electoral constituencies in Ghazni is a double-standard treatment of the law. If in extraordinary cases such things happen to a province, a political agreement must be made beforehand so that a province is not deprived of its political and civil right.

At the Women’s, Human Rights, and Civil Society Commission of the Afghan House of Representatives, we recently presented a report on the electoral violations in the general meeting. In this report, 30 violations of law are documented in parliamentary elections, part of which goes back to the parliamentary elections in Ghazni province. This documentation has been based on the findings and evaluation of electoral observers’ bodies such as FEFA and TEFA.

Reporterly: The president appointed a delegation to resolve electoral disputes in Ghazni, but so far we do not see what progress is being made. What do you think is the solution to the Ghazni election crisis?

Koofi: The problem is that the IEC’s commissioners focus more on trade than on how to hold elections.

That’s why I emphasize that according to the documents and evidence against them and the violations of the laws they have committed they should be dismissed in accordance with Article 17 of the Afghan Electoral Law, and should be referred to the judicial authorities. Regarding Ghazni, I emphasize that based on the law that elections of other provinces are held, parliamentary elections in Ghazni province should be held under the same law at the same time as the presidential elections.

Reporterly: Who do you think is the most involved in the Ghazni election crisis?

Koofi: The president and his team.

The president has a lot of influence on electoral commissions. When the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission invalidated Kabul constituency’s ballot, government officials summoned both to their office and pressed them to give up on their decision. That proves that they are interfering in every election affair.

Reporterly: What does the ARG want from Ghazni?

Koofi: Divisiveness.

Mr. President for the most part, has more divisive thoughts than uniting thoughts. When the president holds such intentions, he does not believe in democracy and the majority of votes, so it is clear that the situation with the president will not get any better. The government says that part of Ghazni was not included in the previous election, while democracy is exactly the same- those who participate in the process and contributed, will be the winners- so the Ghazni issue is nothing but a political issue.

Reporterly: Could you tell us more about the report of the Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Civil Society commission that you presented to the Parliament on electoral violation?

Koofi: This report indicates more than 30 cases of violation of the law in parliamentary elections.

We (the Women’s, Human Rights, and Civil Society commission of the Afghan House of Representatives) had two meetings with electoral observers, including FEFA and TEFA, and asked them to share their assessment of parliamentary elections. They provided us with an assessment report from the start of the electoral registration process. Their reports indicate that since the beginning of the registration process, this process has not been transparent and no one has been held accountable for the violations.

For example, the electoral commission had announced that the number of registered voters were around 9 million, but the assessments of the observer bodies do not endorse it. When the Election Observer Institutions referred to IEC due to inconsistencies in figures, the Commission kept them off the observation.

TEFA has monitored around 3,100 registration centers while FEFA has monitored about 1,000 polling stations. A total of 4,700 polling centers opened throughout Afghanistan and only 700 of them were not monitored. The report that we received from the observers’ institutions represents 4,000 polling centers.

However, the findings of the 4,000 polling centers indicate that 4 to 5 million people had been registered and only about 2 million voters had gone to polls.

Reporterly: The results of the parliamentary elections, especially in Kabul, has not yet been announced. What do you think the problem is?

Koofi: The main problem is the “trading” of votes.

These problems existed in all provinces, but the problems in Kabul worsened after the elections. The reports from observer institutions indicate that IEC has asked Kabul’s wealthy candidates to send their people to be recruited as ballot counting officers in the commission. They can fix as many votes as they wish in favor of their candidates.

The report of the observer bodies, including FEFA and TEFA, shows that when the offender, who was involved in violating and committing fraud in ballot counting process, was identified by the observer authorities, instead of being brought to justice and judicial authorities, he or she was just shifted from one chamber to another.

I think the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission should have persisted on its decision to “invalidate the Kabul’s ballots”. Their decision was legal, but they withdrew from it. However, in the case of removing the 35 electoral candidates that were clearly against the law, they stood on their position until the end due to government pressures. The IECC should have stood by its decision, so that the Election Commission no longer could trade the votes.

Out of the 30 cases of violations committed during parliamentary elections, nine of them have been made by the IECC. One of the violations is the IECC’s recent decision. When they invalidate the ballots of particular constituency, they should stand by their decision. The electoral commissions have indeed mocked the electoral process with their decisions.

Reporterly: Is there any solution to the results of the Kabul parliamentary election which could satisfy everyone?

Koofi: So many fake votes have been improvised that the commission itself cannot tell the actual votes.

I think one of the solutions to the Kabul constituency’s ballots is that the IECC persist on its decision and parliamentary elections in Kabul be held at the same time as the presidential election like the parliamentary elections in Ghazni. But if the government puts pressure on the IECC and these fake votes are counted, the Commission itself cannot tell the actual votes. But it is so engineered and falsified, that the commission itself cannot currently separate the clean votes from the impure. It’s a great insult to those who went to the polls amidst security threats in Afghanistan.

However, I think the government wants to wrap up the issue of parliamentary elections, by covering up all the problems and frauds that exist. But this will put a very destructive foundation in Afghanistan.

Hamed Ahmadi and Sarah Mishra contributed reporting.

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AliSher Shahir is a reporter for Reporterly and is based in Kabul.

Alisher Shahir

AliSher Shahir is a reporter for Reporterly and is based in Kabul.

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