KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A Taliban spokesman is adamant that the reports circulating about widespread hunger and human rights abuses against women in Afghanistan are not true and that the Taliban government is working to correct its perceived shortcomings on the international scene.
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 after the United States withdrew its troops from the country. Since then there have been reports of Afghans starving and schools closed to women and girls.
Zabihulla Mujahid recently sat down with CTV National News London bureau chief Paul Workman for an extensive interview that touches on the Taliban’s previous conflicts with NATO, women’s issues in Afghanistan and widespread hunger in the country.
Below is a transcript of Workman’s interview with Mujahid, which has been translated from Pashto and edited for clarity:
PW: You have been in power since August. How much harder is it to run a government than to fight a war?
ZM: In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful, naturally leading the government is difficult. It is not an easy task. We try and put all our strength into action to continue to lead all sectors of government. So far it’s going well. We are trying to improve it.
PW: Your fighters killed a large number of Canadian soldiers in Kandahar. How do you feel about it now?
ZM: All these countries that came to Afghanistan under the flag or the leadership of NATO, we fought them and our fight was legitimate. It was to protect our own country. I am sorry that Canadians came to our country to fight. They shouldn’t have come.
PW: But just to be clear, are you sorry that Canadian soldiers were killed?
ZM: I’m not sorry because it was the occupying forces that came here. Canadians should have been sad and sorry for their actions. Anyone who tries to invade Afghanistan will face similar consequences, so I make no apologies.
PW: Journalists are attacked, women are arrested. Explain that.
ZM: First of all, the rumors circulating about the arrest of women are not accurate. We investigated. No women have been arrested. Second, whether it’s a man or a woman, when they break the law or disobey the laws of the land, they should be detained and answer questions.
PW: What happened to the two women who were arrested this week? Where are they? Do you know?
ZM: I investigated this issue. I asked the security forces to give us the information. It has not been confirmed that they were detained. I saw the video on social media.
A woman claims that people came to my house during the night. It’s not true. This video was not legit. This woman was trying to defend herself by showing that she was threatened and that she wanted to get out of here. She wants to seek asylum in another country. The video is not verified. Of course, if anyone breaks the law of the land, they will be arrested.
PW: Were they arrested? Do you know?
ZM: This has not yet been verified. This morning, I put the question to the security forces and no one confirmed it to me. I’m still trying to verify this.
PW: I would like to ask you if you want to commit now in front of my camera so that girls are allowed to go to school. Girls of all ages. Would you do that? Can you confirm it?
ZM: We are trying in this regard. Two of the ministries of the Islamic Emirates are working on this issue. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. They are both working on a setting to create an atmosphere for girls going to school.
Hopefully next year it will be fixed.
PW: Why is it so hard to do that?
ZM: Of course everything is new here with the formation of the new government. In particular, the school and higher education sectors and girls’ attendance need to be revisited.
Security measures to create a better atmosphere for them and economic issues like transportation and dormitories all require financial support. We are currently dealing with economic issues. In addition, a procedural guideline should be in place. Once it’s all over, we’ll let them attend.
PW: You say that in principle girls of all ages will be able to go to school?
ZM: Yes, the work continues to create opportunities for all. Until the 6th grade, they go to school. For older girls in some provinces, they have created an environment conducive to schooling. 60-70% of girls up to grade 12 go to school in the provinces.
For higher education, girls go to private universities. Government universities have problems with its hostels and transportation. In addition, it requires the establishment of procedures because there are a large number of people. The works are in progress and we hope that they will be finished next year.
PW: Thank you, because to have international recognition, it’s a very important issue, girls and education.
ZM: We are aware of this. It’s not because of recognition, that’s another matter. This is also the requirement of the Afghans. We need it for the future of our own children. It is important.
PW: I want to ask you about the stories of so many hungry Afghans. We hear about famine. We hear of a million babies who may die during the winter. Are you powerless to do anything about it?
ZM: First of all, no one will starve Insha Allah. We have our own preparation. There is poverty due to fighting in war-torn countries. It’s normal. This poverty has existed for many years, it is not new.
For many years, Afghans have faced these problems. We have ways to fix it. International aid will reach us. Additionally, we have government reserves that we can activate during famine and crises. Of course, poverty is a big problem, but no one will starve. I assure you that won’t happen.
PW: Are you saying no one will die during the winter from malnutrition or starvation?
ZM: No. These are just rumors and that is not correct. Whoever created or spread these rumors is wrong. In Afghanistan, people pity each other. They won’t let others die. The other thing is that you will see more poverty in Kabul and other cities where people depended on the government for wages paid.
Salaries have now resumed and will be paid within the next two months. So I don’t want people to starve. The help will reach the people, the government resources are there. We will not let such things happen. We can control it.
PW: The (United Nations) say they feed more than 20 million people every month in Afghanistan.
ZM: Yes, they help, but it’s not for 20 million. It’s less than that. We want the United Nations to extend its aid, but circulating news that people are going to starve will have a negative impact on them.
Such reports are not true. No one will starve. We will address this issue. It is the government’s responsibility. Other countries are also helping, so all of this together will end this crisis.
PW: The Americans were your enemy. What relationship would you like to have with them now? Friends, supporters or are you just interested in getting some American money?
ZM: We want to have a good normal relationship with all countries. We also want to restore a normal relationship with the Americans. Because they were fighting with us, we also had to fight with other countries. We want to turn the page on the fights.
We want to maintain good and strong relations — good diplomatic relations — based on mutual trust. The concerns of Americans or any other country, we have to address them. We try and are committed to addressing their concerns.
At the same time, they must take steps to maintain their relationship with us
PW: Okay, thank you very much.
This story previously stated that the interview was translated from Dari.