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13 Sep 2021

‘Afghanistan has lost 51 per cent of its human capital’ – former government minister

Hosna Jalil is the former deputy interior minister of Afghanistan.

She was still in her 20s when she joined the government that has now been replaced by the Taliban.

She spoke to Fatima Manji from Washington DC, where she is now based, and she talked about her fears for the girls and women who must live under the Taliban regime. 

HJ: I would say the women that we had been dreaming of being 51% of the human capital of Afghanistan, and we dreamt of developing that capacity or capability so that we could later use it for the development of the country, that’s gone. So Afghanistan today has lost 51% of its human capital. Not only that, but on the humanitarian side of it, we have got 51% of the population, millions of individuals and human beings, their rights are gone. They are imprisoned in their own homes. And I would say we are unfortunately unable to provide the very basic human services, humanitarian services to them.

FM: You were one of the few women operating at the highest levels of government. I know you spoke out about the harassment you yourself faced. Do you think one of the problems is that Afghanistan’s attitude towards women didn’t change overall, even when women like yourself were in government?

HJ: The reason that we have been resistant, we have been resilient, was because we have been dreaming of a better environment for our future generations, for the ones who were supposed to come after us and we could see a brighter future for them. It’s unfair to compare. I can’t compare a democratic republic with a lot of challenges in terms of the environment for women compared to a ruling regime and a dictatorship. It’s unfair to compare these two.

FM: Obviously, our team in Afghanistan is hearing from the women who are left behind, some of whom are having to hide behind closed doors in their homes because they are so fearful. What can resistance look like for women in Afghanistan now realistically?

HJ: We have left a huge portion of the population and they’re a post 9/11 generation, which includes the majority of women and girls in Afghanistan. The resistance in Afghanistan, it’s mainly on the women’s side because they are the most resilient and the most resisting force of the population. But the resistance in Afghanistan, it is very civilised and peaceful. But now they are not dealing with a democratic republic. They are dealing with an armed force, which would go the extra mile and would cross any red lines in order to oppress them.

FM: And you are one of the fortunate ones in that you have managed to get out. What do you want to say to those women in Afghanistan who are taking on the battle?

HJ: Yes, I am one of the fortunate ones who have been able to get out of the country, but I do have many of my colleagues, ex-colleagues, and they have been the finest women we have ever had in the country. Better than me, better than many others. The last thing I can do is to give up on my country and the women. We have been serving them, including my own family members. We need to keep in mind that we don’t have the option to go back or the option to give up.

FM: What about those Afghans who are gathering at the border in the hope that they might be able to get out? What would you say to those people?

HJ: I can say I can understand them, but at the same time it’s so difficult to put my feet into their shoes as well. For them, it’s a matter of choosing how to die, should they be slaughtered or should they at least make efforts to get out of the country. So what I would say for them is they need to do a calculation, and so at the same time, it’s so difficult to have your rational head when you’re emotional, when your life is at risk.

FM: Who do you think can pressure the Taliban now to ensure that they protect women’s rights?

HJ: I would say the countries who can have the influence in order to either to facilitate the pressure of the international community or they themselves directly can pressurise the Taliban; China can be one, Pakistan can be a facilitating country, they can facilitate the pressure for other friendly countries to Pakistan, but at the same time, we do have the USA, we do have the UK, we do have Germany, we do have most of the European countries.

FM: And on a personal note, you have gone from being a woman who held a very high position in Afghanistan, in government, to now not being able to to live in your country and seeing what is unfolding before us. How are you feeling about everything?

HJ: I would like to describe my feeling in just a few words, homeless, a woman whose identity has somehow faded away, or maybe if I put it rightly, who is struggling to re-establish her identity and who is afraid of having the day when her identity is associated with a terrorist state. It’s shaping up right now. It’s on the way. So that is the, I can’t say the fear, but that is the feeling we have so far.