18 Aug 2021

‘The Taliban have a good PR, but they haven’t changed’ – Afghan NGO executive

Pashtana Durrani runs the charity Learn in Kandahar which focuses on getting girls into education.

She has moved location a number of times to keep safe as the Taliban have taken one region after another in Afghanistan. 

She spoke with Jon Snow about the heightened sense of fear felt by people in her community. 

‘People are fearful’

PD: I think everybody right now is trying to understand what the future awaits for us. So there is a lot of uncertainty. People are, of course, afraid of war and everything. And with the continued bloodshed, nobody can continue to work or function as a human being. So people are pretty much trying to plan out things right now.

JS: Do you think it is even possible that the Taliban have in some way changed?

PD: They have a better PR now. They have a very good PR, they can speak English, they can talk to the international media, but I don’t think they have changed in other ways. What they say in their press conferences and what they are doing on the ground [are] two different narratives. [There are] two different things going on. If they have changed so much, they would let the girls in Herat go to the university. If they have changed so much, they would let the girls in private schools in Kandahar go back to their schools. If they are so OK with everything, why don’t they appoint a women leader so that people can talk to them – ladies can talk to them. All these different narratives on the ground and it’s a grave reality that they haven’t changed. They are the same people.

JS: And what is the situation actually on the ground? I mean, are you very conscious that they are around, do you see them?

PD: On the ground right now they’re just patrolling. And I guess that’s the only thing they’re good at. People are fearful. My staff member, he tells me that his niece is so scared to go to school that even if the schools open up, she won’t go. So people need assurity. What they do and what they’re trying to say [are] two different narratives.

“Use that influence, use the aid as leverage to make the Taliban accept educational rights, working women’s rights.”

JS: What is actually happening on the streets?

PD: They are just roaming around patrolling. And that’s not even the issue. The issue is all that lies in the public administrative offices. When do schools start? If schools start, what are the timings? How do the girls go to school? What are the assurances that we need? All these things need to be answered now, right now. And at the same time about women, working women. There are teachers, there are principals, there are women in public administrative offices. What about them? Can they resume their jobs? If so, what are the assurances that they need and what can they do to make sure that they happen?

JS: What about your job? Have you been in touch with your students? Are they able to get in touch with you?

PD: No, not at all, because the schools are closed and our schools open in two weeks. So we are still waiting on that. But at the same time, I’m not very hopeful because right now they’re tearing down posters from the public and from the private schools in Kandahar. So I don’t think so.

JS: If you could speak to a leader, let’s say our leader, who happens to be Boris Johnson, the prime minister, what would you say to him? What would you say? What do you want him to do?

PD: Him and people like him stood by when the Doha deal was legitimised, when the Taliban were legitimised. Maybe it’s time now to use your influence because you do send Afghanistan aid. Use that influence, use the aid as leverage to make the Taliban accept educational rights, working women’s rights and that Afghan women are as much as Afghan as any other person or leader in Afghanistan.