What Afghans Want To Happen To Their Country After Peace Talks Stalled

Oct 3, 2019
Originally published on October 3, 2019 5:58 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

U.S. negotiators are trying to restart talks with the Taliban to see if they can take a step towards ending the war in Afghanistan. Now, these are the same negotiators who were making progress until President Trump called things off last month. But the government of Afghanistan has never been a party to these talks. And to understand what ordinary Afghans might want to happen to their country, we will go there now. We're going to talk to NPR's Diaa Hadid. She is in Kabul.

Hey there, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So give me a sense of to what extent people in Afghanistan are following these stalled talks. What do they think about them?

HADID: Well, they do follow them pretty closely as far as I can tell. I spoke to about a dozen people over the past three days, and I spent a lot of time in Babur Gardens. It's this beautiful orchard-style garden in the middle of Kabul, and it dates back hundreds of years. And there's always people around just enjoying the trees and the flowers, taking a break from the chaos outside. And just about everyone I met said they're tired. They're desperate for the war to end, and they were following this closely because they want to see what's going to happen to their country.

KELLY: Yeah.

HADID: And so for instance, there's one guy I spoke to. His name is Hojatallah Osmani. He's 27. Have a listen to what he says.

HOJATALLAH OSMANI: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: So it's really interesting because Osmani says, yeah. He wants peace just like everyone else, but he doesn't trust the Taliban to lay down their weapons. This conflict has gone on for too long for him to trust them. And he says he doesn't know if Afghan forces will be able to keep the country secure alone. And so he says they need U.S. forces here. They need them to keep citizens safe.

KELLY: So he wants U.S. forces to stay. Is that a widely held view in Afghanistan?

HADID: There's plenty of Afghans who do feel that way. But there's plenty more Afghans who are just desperate for the war to end. And when they hear that the Taliban want U.S. forces to go so they'll lay down their weapons, that's something they're willing to consider. Like Abdul Hanan - he's a guy here that runs a kiosk. And he says his own brother was killed in a Taliban suicide bombing last year, so this means a lot to him. But he says he's willing to support this peace deal because he hopes that if the Americans leave, Afghans can talk to each other, and maybe they can find a way to a peaceful resolution.

KELLY: I'm just wondering how people wrestle with the prospect of the Taliban in these talks. The Taliban, of course, did rule Afghanistan before. It was a brutal regime. Women in particular - women weren't allowed to leave their homes or get educations. When you speak to women in Afghanistan, Diaa, what do they say about the prospect of a deal with the Taliban?

HADID: So this is interesting, Mary Louise, because not a single man I met brought up what it would be like for women if the Taliban did lay down their weapons and if they did come into power. But just about every single woman I spoke to, this was at the forefront of what they were telling me.

Now, bear in mind, Kabul is more liberal than other parts of Afghanistan, so we went to a private university nearby and we spoke to a bunch of girls who were sitting in a classroom, including Hamida Madhavi. And she wears a red headscarf, and like a lot of the women here, she's in tight jeans and sneakers and a long, loose shirt and wears a bit of makeup. This isn't the Kabul of 2001 or of the '90s. You don't really see a lot of women here in burqas anymore. And she says she was pleased, actually, when the talks fell apart the last time because she was worried that the Taliban would come to power and that they would take away women's rights. And she says, I've come so far.

HAMIDA MADHAVI: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: She says, women's rights shouldn't be trampled on. They shouldn't be crushed under the feet of Afghans. But here's the thing. So I ask her, like, well, just say you can't have both. If you have to choose between freedom or peace, what are you going to choose? And Hamida thinks about this, and she falls quiet. And then she says, well, she wants peace. And she says too many women are being widowed. And there are too many children who are growing up without fathers, so the war has to end, even if she loses her freedom.

KELLY: Gosh, that's heartbreaking to hear and to contemplate somebody in a position of having to weigh choices like that. I do want to, before we let you go, ask about something concrete that just happened that impacts all of this, which is the presidential election. Afghanistan just had one. We don't yet know the results. How might this affect the peace process and these talks?

HADID: Well, so far, it looks, at this stage, that maybe 20% of all eligible voters turned out to vote, which is the lowest number ever for an Afghan presidential elections. And that means that if these talks do go ahead, that president, whoever he is, may not have the legitimacy to forcefully become a part of these talks. And that means that ordinary Afghans may well have a weaker voice in a process where, already, they feel excluded.

KELLY: NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting there from Kabul.

Diaa, thanks very much for your reporting.

HADID: You're welcome, Mary Louise. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAECHULGI'S "CALM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.