Aug 21, 2021

Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to the US: ‘It was avoidable’,

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst Updated 11:14 AM ET, Mon August 16, 2021 Bergen has reported from Afghanistan since 1993. His new book is, "The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden." The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN. (CNN)Roya Rahmani is the first woman to serve as Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, a position she held from 2018 until last month. Bergen spoke to her over the weekend about the fall of much of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Rahmani who is in the United States, says she worries that with the Taliban taking over, the civil wars that have wracked Afghanistan will continue. She is also concerned that the rights of Afghan women will disappear under their rule. Rahmani was born in Kabul in 1978, a year before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, thrusting the country into a cycle of wars that has continued for more than four decades. Her family fled to neighboring Pakistan where she grew up as a refugee. Rahmani obtained a bachelor's degree in software engineering at McGill University in Canada, and later a master's in public administration from Columbia University. Before taking up her post as Afghan ambassador in Washington, DC, Rahmani was Afghanistan's ambassador to Indonesia. Bergen's discussion with Rahmani was edited for clarity and length. BERGEN: How do you feel right now? RAHMANI: Distressed, worried. I am extremely concerned about what is to come, and I'm extremely worried for my family and my people back at home. BERGEN: Do you think this was all avoidable, the situation we're in today? RAHMANI: Oh, yes. I mean, absolutely! Absolutely, it was avoidable. I don't think at this point it matters who we should point our fingers to and who we should blame. It's unfortunate that we are here, but we are here. This is pointing to an immense failure of Afghan democracy. It points to the failure of diplomacy. It points to the failure of the international aid and assistance. I think it puts into question all the sacrifices being made by Americans, by our allies, and multiplied by all the Afghans with so much blood, tears, and sweat that we all put into the past 20 years. BERGEN: Were you surprised by how quickly the Taliban took over much of the country? RAHMANI: No. I think many people in international community were taken by surprise, but I was aware of the deterioration of morale among our security forces, of the divisiveness of the politics back in Afghanistan. In many places, the Afghan security forces were not supported by Kabul. BERGEN: Does this remind you of the summer of Iraq in 2014 when ISIS took over and the Iraqi Army didn't fight? RAHMANI: Yes, there are certain similarities. Number one, it was the same thing about how the Iraqi leadership ignored the reality of Iraq. They were not an inclusive government. And there was a lack of maturity about the way they conduced politics and military strategy. BERGEN: There's a message coming from the White House that President Joe Biden was right, that recent events demonstrate that the Afghan government and the Afghan Army are weak, and the fact that it's all collapsed so quickly proves that he was correct. RAHMANI: I do understand President Biden's position because when he says that if he did this in six months or one year instead of now, there wouldn't be much of a difference, unfortunately, I agree with that. It wouldn't be much different. Why? Because, unfortunately, the international community did not broker and enforce a settlement leading to the establishment of a new inclusive government in time, which could have been held together with the help of a peace-keeping mission. BERGEN: But was it necessary to go to zero US troops in Afghanistan? Because, also, there's 7,000 other NATO troops that have also left and 16,000 contractors. Was that necessary? RAHMANI: Of course, that expedited the process of the Taliban takeover at the speed of light. There is no question about that. BERGEN: You're the first Ambassador from Afghanistan to the United States who is a woman. Do you think a Taliban-controlled government will be sending women ambassadors in the future? RAHMANI: No. Based on what I know of them and their actions on the ground, I am afraid that the very basic rights of women are in line to be sacrificed. BERGEN: Which rights are in danger? RAHMANI: Access to education, employment, even physical presence of women in the public sphere is not tolerated. I heard that one of the Taliban representatives in Herat was questioned about women working in the administration and in the judiciary, and he said "Oh, that would be a very difficult thing. Women could work only in education and the health care sector." So, this is the mentality. What the Taliban are going to offer to women is way below equal citizenship. There's little reason to think anyone would have citizenship rights under the Taliban, based on previous experience. But even so, women will be treated as a "lower class," deemed fit only for specific roles and nothing else.