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Fact-checking exchange between Zan Times and Zarifa Ghafari

Zan Times reached out to Zarifa Ghafari for an interview for our fact-checking article, “Who is the real Zarifa Ghafari?” Ms. Ghafari agreed to provide written responses to our questions. We sent a list of questions to Ms. Ghafari. In response, Kelly Falconer, founder of the Asia Literary Agency, which represents Ms. Ghafari, emailed a detailed response from Zarifa Ghafari to Zan Times, stating, “Note that she has agreed to respond on the basis that you also publish your questions in full, alongside. Nothing in her responses should be changed or elided for publication.” 

In her response, Ms. Ghafari wrote, “I have provided answers to your questions below which I wish none of the questions as well as the answers will be changed, and I urge you that not only the questions that have been shared with me to answer, but also the answers provide by me will not change even by a single word at the time of publication.”  

Zan Times responded to Ms. Ghafari and Ms. Falconer that while it would use edited parts of Ms. Ghafari’s lengthy responses in its article, it would also respect Ms. Ghafari’s request by publishing the complete list of our questions and her answers in a linked article. This is that article.  

NOTE: Below is the email sent on June 19, 2023, by Zahra Nader of Zan Times to Zarifa Ghafari. Later, Zan Times agreed to a one-day extension to its deadline. Ms. Ghafari responded on June 22, 2023, with answers to each question highlighted in green.  

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Dear Ms. Ghafari, 

My name is Zahra Nader. I am editor-in-chief of the Zan Times, an Afghan women-led media organization in exile.  

For the past two months, my team and I have investigated your life story. By examining your publicly available interviews with Afghan and international media, your memoir, In Her Hands on the Netflix, the ARTE documentary, as well as fact-checking on the ground in Afghanistan and India, we have found many discrepancies and inconsistencies in your life story, yours claim about your work experience, and achievement as a mayor. Not only are there conflicts within those sources, but our investigation found other discrepancies.   

As well, I believe you have also reached out to one of my colleagues during our investigation, requesting that we should not speak with your former colleagues due to their security situation.  

We would like to have your comments and respond before the given deadline of the end of day on June 21

  1. Can you confirm where you were born? We have found at least three places of birth associated with you from your memoir and interviews. 
  1. a) There are two dates of birth reported for you: 1992 and 1994. Which date of birth is correct? 

b) During the Geneva summit in April 2022, you said  “I was born on September 25, 1994, but due to Afghanistan’s education law and procedure, you have to be 17 to go to the university exam. I was 15 when I graduated [from high school] and I had to have my national identity [card]…in countries like Afghanistan, you don’t need a birth certificate to have an ID, you can have a date and have your national id card, so I did like that and I was 24 when I was appointed [as mayor].” A former official who was in charge of university entrance examinations for the Higher Education Ministry tells Zan Times that there was no age restriction for those participating in the exam; the only requirement is to have graduated from high school. Can you comment on this? 

  1. Did you complete your school in Kabul or Paktia province? We have your accounts stating both. Can you clarify which one is accurate? 
  1. After passing the university entrance exam, were you accepted in a university in Khost or in Kabul? We have found your accounts that state both. Can you clarify which one is accurate? 
  1. Can you confirm the timeline of your education in India? And confirm which colleague [sic] and university you have studied in and when did you graduate? Can you share a copy of your BA and MA in economics? (We have not been able to confirm that you graduated from Panjab University with either degree.)  
  1. We have found an interview from 2013 where you stated that you were currently a political science student in India. Did you study political science or economics? 
  1. Is your organization, Assistance and Promotion for Afghan Women (APAW), still active in Afghanistan? When we reached out to your colleague and uncle, Mr. Osmani, he said it is not active and despite promising to share more information so we can verify the past activities of your NGO, he did not return our calls.  
  1.  In your memoir, you describe how you fled a “mob of angry men” in 2018, some of whom “were carrying banners printed with a photo of me and Bashir that was taken at our engagement, surrounded by a red circle and with a red line crossing out our faces.” Yet, 13 pages earlier, you wrote that you had celebrated your engagement in March 2020, which was two years after those “angry” men had banners showing your engagement photos. Can you clarify this discrepancy? 
  1. On Peghla FM: When was it launched? We have your accounts stating that it began in both 2014 and 2016. Can you confirm which one is accurate? And was it active only in Wardak province or other provinces as well? 
  1.  You have stated in your memoir that “I became the first female voice on the Wardak airwaves” by launching Peghla in 2016. We have confirmed with journalists in Maidan Shahr that women journalists were working with the radio station in the city at least since 2011 and their voices have been aired. Can you please comment on this? 
  1. We noticed that, in June 2023, you posted in your LinkedIn page: “We, along with Virgin Unite and Richard Branson, are actively raising funds for Peghla FM, a radio station based in Wardag, and broadcasting for Wardak, Logar, Kabul and Ghanzi provinces in Afghanistan.” However, several sources from Wardak province tell Zan Times that the radio station is no longer active. Can you please comment on this? How are those funds being used? 
  1. In your memoir, you claim to have survived two bombings on your way to school. But in your interview with Women In Tech in September 2021, you said that you got injured on her way to school “more than three times badly.” In June 2022, you told your TEDx audiences that you had survived four injuries from the attacks on your way to school. Can you confirm which one is accurate? 
  1.  In your memoir, you wrote that you were the only woman who ran for Maidan Shahr mayorship. However, we have confirmed with sources that there was at least one other woman who competed with you. Can you please comment on this? 
  1.  a) Some Afghan media that interviewed you after your mayorship was announced, said that you were one the two women running for the mayorship among 130 applicants. They told us that the information came from you. You told Women In Tech in September 2021: “I went for an exam with 138 people and I got [the] highest marks and they were all men.” Would you please comment on the discrepancy between the two statements, regarding whether you were the only woman or one of two women running for office?   
    b) In your memoir you also wrote “won top marks in the test and interview” for the mayorship. Two other candidates tell a different story, saying that you only passed the test “by receiving the five extra points for her gender.” Can you please comment on this? 
  1.  In your memoir you allege your cleaning lady, a widow woman, had been paid to leave the gas leaking in your kitchen. That resulted in a fire that burned your hands and feet, and also injured your fiancé. You mentioned that the incident was investigated, can you please verify when and by whom it was investigated? Were there any official records of this assassination attempt? We spoke with a journalist who said they had met you after your fire incident. The journalist told us: “I asked her what happened. She calmly responded that there was nothing to worry about and explained it was an accident where her pressure cooker exploded and burned her hands.” Can you comment on this? 
  1.  Your memoir ends with images of you, including one with the caption: “Visiting the only park for women in Wardak to make it a greener, safer place for women.” However, a local journalist from Maidan Shahr told Zan Times: “This place has never been a park dedicated to women,” he explains and said that the image you posted “is a football ground at the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Sportsclub.” Can you comment on this? 
  1.  We spoke to locals in Maidan Shahr who said that they can’t recall any significant achievements. In particular, though you claim to have fought the “land mafia,” a source told us, “I can tell you with absolute assurance that she didn’t take back any land that was illegally obtained nor did she do anything that the previous mayors couldn’t do.” Can you please comment on this? Can you provide proof of any achievements in Maidan Shahr that you oversaw during your time as mayor?  
  1.  Even though you have been promoted by international media and platforms as a women’s rights activist, our investigation found no indication that any women worked in your radio station or that you hired more women in high levels of local government during your time as mayor. Can you comment on this? Can you provide any proof of how you specifically helped women in Maidan Shahr during your time as mayor?  
  1.  Since September 2021, you have said that you are ready to talk to the Taliban on behalf of Afghan women, including an interview with Women In Tech when you stated: “whatever you want, whenever you want, just give me a sign, I will accept it whatever and however, I will come to Afghanistan as well. I need a sign… give me a sign, I will come and sit and talk to you. I promise you, I will have my burqa as well on my head while talking to you, I won’t show my face to you while talking to you but let’s talk, at least, let’s talk.”  

However, you wrote in your memoir, released in October 2022: “I did not want to negotiate with them [Taliban], nor meet with them in Kabul and be used by them as a photo opportunity to convince the world that they were treating women well.” Can you clarify your position regarding the Taliban, their politics, and negotiating with them?  

  1. Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of Zan Times about your life, your goals, and your ambitions?  

Re: 

Dear Zahar Jan, 

I want to express my gratitude for the valuable work your media organization is doing for Afghans, particularly women. In light of the current challenges that women in Afghanistan are facing, it seems interesting the efforts made by you and your team and using your valuable resources to investigate me, a Female Afghan activist. 

As a woman not born or raised in an ideal environment, I have had my fair share of challenges and obstacles in life. Consequently, there may be some of what you call ((discrepancies)) in my life story. Nevertheless, I have provided answers to your questions below which I wish none of the questions as well as the answers will be changed, and I urge you that not only the questions that have been shared 

with me to answer, but also the answers provided by me will not change even by a single word at the time of publication and the interview have to be published complete, otherwise, I know the legal treatment of my rights on this according to the laws. 

Note: your team have been contacting someone who have never been my colleague, nor had any official relation with me as well, rarely people know about him having connections with me, therefore the person himself was afraid and needed me to contact your team as it seemed so suspicious. 

Thank you. 

ZT: 1. Can you confirm where you were born? We have found at least three places of birth associated with you from your memoir and interviews. 

Ghafari: I was born in Kabul. But like many other families who came to Kabul from the provinces and lived between Kabul and their province, my birthplace is shown as Dawrankhil village of Chak district, Wardak province in my national ID card. 

ZT: 2. a)  There are two dates of birth reported for you 1992 and 1994. Which date of birth is correct? 

Ghafari: I understand that the situation with birth certificates in Afghanistan can be difficult for those in the foreign media industry. But as a media outlet working for Afghanistan, you should be aware that It’s not uncommon to hear about Afghan citizens who don’t have birth certificates from the 1990s, and there are even memes circulating on social media about many Afghans being born on January 1st due to uncertainty surrounding their exact birthdates. While I appreciate your curiosity about my birth year, I’ve already shared my age in my interviews. However, I can explain again. As you claimed that you had read my book, you may know that my parents were not married in 1371, so I couldn’t have been born that year. My actual date of birth is 04.07.1373 Hijri, equivalent to 25.09.1994. I graduated from school in 1388, but unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take the university entrance exam at that age. As a result, I had to obtain a national ID that listed me as two years older than my actual age. 

ZT: b) During the Geneva summit in April 2022, you said  “I was born on September 25, 1994, but due to Afghanistan’s education law and procedure, you have to be 17 to go to the university exam. I was 15 when I graduated [from high school] and I had to have my national identity [card]…in countries like Afghanistan, you don’t need a birth certificate to have an ID, you can have a date and have your national id card, so I did like that and I was 24 when I was appointed [as mayor].” A former official who was in charge of university entrance examinations for the Higher Education Ministry tells Zan Times that there was no age restriction for those participating in the exam; the only requirement is to have graduated from high school. Can you comment on this? 

Ghafari: Regarding your inquiry, I previously clarified any misconceptions regarding my age and date of birth. When I attempted to take the university entrance exam, I was informed that I was deemed ineligible due to my age. Determined to increase my chances of eligibility, I made the decision to adjust my age on my ID card. As for the recent changes to the entrance exam regulations in Afghanistan, I am not privy to any information regarding this matter. Additionally, I have no comment on the statement you mentioned by an anonymous Higher Education official. 

ZT: 3. Did you complete your school in Kabul or Paktia province? We have your accounts stating both. Can you clarify which one is accurate? 

Ghafari: As I said previously in my reply to your email, like many other girls in Afghanistan, I did not have the opportunity to study in an ideal environment or school due to my family’s circumstances. Instead, I adapted to my situation and completed 12 years of schooling in just eight academic years. I began attending school in Kabul in 2001 at Naswan-e Shahre school in grade 4 up to first month of grade 7, but as my dad got his job in Paktia so 7, 8, 9, just 10th again passed by exam, 11, 12 grades were completed In Gardiz, Paktia. 

ZT: 4. After passing the university entrance exam, were you accepted in a university in Khost or in Kabul? We have found your accounts that state both. Can you clarify which one is accurate? 

Ghafari: I want to clarify that many false stories and misunderstandings are circulating about me. However, it’s crucial to note that none of these stories have my, my family’s, or my closest friends’ approval. While I was accepted to Khost University, that’s why I couldn’t attend to continue my studies there. 

ZT: 5. Can you confirm the timeline of your education in India? And confirm which colleague [sic] and university you have studied in and when did you graduate? Can you share a copy of your BA and MA in economics? (We have not been able to confirm that you graduated from Panjab University with either degree.)  

Ghafari: In accordance with Articles (7) and (8) of the Law of Civil Service Employees of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it is required for any mayoral candidate to possess a bachelor’s or MA degree in a relevant field from a recognized university. I have fulfilled this requirement by obtaining a higher education degree from University in India. However, it appears that your questions are aimed at discrediting the achievements of a woman in Afghanistan who has bravely fought for women’s rights in a male-dominated society. If this is your intention, I do not believe sharing my degree will help. 

ZT: 6. We have found an interview from 2013 where you stated that you were currently a political science student in India. Did you study political science or economics? 

Ghafari: In the Indian educational system, we were required to choose our subjects. During my bachelor’s studies, I chose Political Science too in my curriculum as I had a passion for it. However, I eventually switched to Economics, which was also part of my academic curriculum. 

ZT: 7. Is your organization, Assistance and Promotion for Afghan Women (APAW), still active in Afghanistan? When we reached out to your colleague and uncle, Mr. Osmani, he said it is not active and despite promising to share more information so we can verify the past activities of your NGO, he did not return our calls.  

Ghafari: Due to the dangerous working conditions in Afghanistan and the safety concerns for my colleagues, I must limit the information I share about APAW’s work there, and I am also requesting you to please do not put my colleagues at risk by stating their names and identities. However, I can confirm that Mr. Osmani was only responsible for local community relations at the one Educational and Vocational training center in PD 12, Arzan Qeemat, Kabul. He has no further responsibilities toward the NGO. 

We were forced to close the Women’s Educational and Vocational Center due to the Taliban’s ban on women’s work and repeated notices. However, we took precautions to transfer the work of this center to private homes in distant areas to ensure the safety of our colleagues and beneficiaries. The closure of one center does not mean the NGO is closed. APAW Organization has been legally registered in Afghanistan since 2014, and all tax clearances have been completed. However, when the Taliban announced restrictions on women’s work in NGOs, we were informed that the head of the NGO should be a man to proceed with tax clearance. I refused to appoint an acting male head, which led to some work being postponed. Nevertheless, I continue to provide financial support for the organization myself, and we offer assistance to a certain number of women and needy people, particularly widows, on a monthly basis. It’s worth noting that we do not have any funds or donors like you or many more may have. 

ZT: 8. In your memoir, you describe how you fled a “mob of angry men” in 2018, some of whom “were carrying banners printed with a photo of me and Bashir that was taken at our engagement, surrounded by a red circle and with a red line crossing out our faces.” Yet, 13 pages earlier, you wrote that you had celebrated your engagement in March 2020, which was two years after those “angry” men had banners showing your engagement photos. Can you clarify this discrepancy? 

Ghafari: At the beginning of our interview, you mentioned that you had read my book and that your team had investigated me for two months. However, I am now taken aback by your question that combines two unrelated incidents. As a supposed professional journalist who advocates for Afghan women’s rights, I expected better from you and your team. By reading this question, it seems like your investigation of me was aided by the same people who mobbed me and spread so much hate about me that it reached the surface of my personal life and discussions on the dates of my engagement or marriage with someone. For me your investigators and those who mobbed me are the same characters who destroyed the country, banned schools for girls, destroyed our (mine and yours) joint efforts for a beautiful Afghanistan. 

By the way, these are two separate events, one happening at 15. Dec.2018 and second in September 2020, when I announced the municipality’s 17 official positions, and where I was already engaged to my Life Partner. Here is a Facebook post about the mob at 2018: 

https://fb.watch/lhzzLfB47d

A link and the photo from 2020: https://gdm.gov.af/dr رZ دا ن- ش/ _ -مd تس- ۵-و- ۶- شا رو ا g الاعن- ۱۷ –  

ZT: 9. On Peghla FM: When was it launched? We have your accounts stating that it began in both 2014 and 2016. Can you confirm which one is accurate? And was it active only in Wardak province or other provinces as well? 

Ghafari: The PEGHLA FM Radio station began broadcasting in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Wardak, in July 2016. It operates with two antennas, one located in Maidan Shahr and the other in the mountains of Dasht-e Toop. The station can reach areas in Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, and Paghman in Kabul. 

ZT: 10. You have stated in your memoir that “I became the first female voice on the Wardak airwaves” by launching Peghla in 2016. We have confirmed with journalists in Maidan Shahr that women journalists were working with the radio station in the city at least since 2011 and their voices have been aired. Can you please comment on this? 

Ghafari: If you feel that an answer is necessary to this question, I can provide one: 

When we launched the PEGHLA Fm Radio station, it was unique in the province as it featured women’s voices exclusively. A woman-owned the station, and our team consisted of 4 female presenters, including myself as the Founder, who recorded programs and conducted essential interviews. I recall that before PEGHLA Fm Radio station, only one woman was part of the management team at RTA Maidan Shahr, and no female voices were heard on air from Midan Shahar. Nonetheless, our station provided a platform for women’s voices to be heard which I, including all my team, am so proud of. 

ZT: 11. We noticed that, in June 2023, you posted in your LinkedIn page: “We, along with Virgin Unite and Richard Branson, are actively raising funds for Peghla FM, a radio station based in Wardag, and broadcasting for Wardak, Logar, Kabul and Ghanzi provinces in Afghanistan.” However, several sources from Wardak province tell Zan Times that the radio station is no longer active. Can you please comment on this? How are those funds being used? 

Ghafari: Since the fall of the Wardak into the hands of the Taliban in 2021, we tried for a few months to still operate. Still, due to financial situations and critical regulations of the Taliban, we couldn’t keep operating, so we sadly closed the station. Now the fundraiser has just started to get the station back on its feet, and the funds donated still need to be used. I hope we get this platform back on mission sooner, as it can be a great way to support women’s voices in these dark days and echo them. Suppose I can re-open the Peghla radio station in these critical times. In that case, it will be the most significant achievement for me and the entire women’s community in the areas where radio operates. 

ZT: 12. In your memoir, you claim to have survived two bombings on your way to school. But in your interview with Women In Tech in September 2021, you said that you got injured on her way to school “more than three times badly.” In June 2022, you told your TEDx audiences that you had survived four injuries from the attacks on your way to school. Can you confirm which one is accurate? 

Ghafari: In a country like Afghanistan, where dozens of students and civilians get killed in attacks regularly since the time of Mujahideen until now, and everyone bears the scars of war, it’s interesting that just an injury due to attacks on my way to school gets this considerable attention from you. Exactly, when it comes to the bombings, I got badly injured with on my way to school were just two. One was the same attack where the governor of Paktia, Hakim Taniwal, was killed in 2006, and the second one was also on my way to school and severely injured. As going to school, I had to cross all these government buildings and offices, such as the Police Guest House, Governor’s office, and so many more. But as a local citizen of a city, there I have been two or three times more also stuck in such accidents where there were security challenges, but by the mercy of Allah, I was not hardly injured or harmed so didn’t record it too. 

ZT: 13. In your memoir, you wrote that you were the only woman who ran for Maidan Shahr mayorship. However, we have confirmed with sources that there was at least one other woman who competed with you. Can you please comment on this? 

Ghafari: I cannot recall if there were any other female candidates besides myself who were being considered for the position. If there were, and I was not aware of them, I cannot provide any information on them. Perhaps you could provide a name if you have one. 

ZT: 14. a) Some Afghan media that interviewed you after your mayorship was announced, said that you were one the two women running for the mayorship among 130 applicants. They told us that the information came from you. You told Women In Tech in September 2021: “I went for an exam with 138 people and I got [the] highest marks and they were all men.” Would you please comment on the discrepancy between the two statements, regarding whether you were the only woman or one of two women running for office?   

Ghafari: I think I answered this question. 

ZT: b) In your memoir you also wrote “won top marks in the test and interview” for the mayorship. Two other candidates tell a different story, saying that you only passed the test “by receiving the five extra points for her gender.” Can you please comment on this? 

Ghafari: I am not familiar with the specifics of the marking system or its description. However, according to the law, the person with the highest marks receives the president’s decree to hold the position. As luck would have it, I was the recipient of this decree. 

ZT: 15. In your memoir you allege your cleaning lady, a widow woman, had been paid to leave the gas leaking in your kitchen. That resulted in a fire that burned your hands and feet, and also injured your fiance. You mentioned that the incident was investigated, can you please verify when and by whom it was investigated? Were there any official records of this assassination attempt? We spoke with a journalist who said they had met you after your fire incident. The journalist told us: “I asked her what happened. She calmly responded that there was nothing to worry about and explained it was an accident where her pressure cooker exploded and burned her hands.” Can you comment on this? 

Ghafari: I have consistently shared with the authorities, sharing comprehensive details of various incidents involving myself, my family, and my loved ones. From the unfortunate gas explosion accident to security threats targeting me, my family, and my fiancé, as well as issues with employees associated with the Taliban, I have officially reported these matters to the relevant security agencies. Regrettably, despite my efforts, none of these incidents, including the tragic murder of my father in a crowded area, have been thoroughly investigated. It is important to note that gossip cannot be conclusive evidence for any accident, particularly when considering severe third-degree burns on someone’s hands and feet. Detailed records of the incident, along with my treatment at Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan Hospital, PD 15, can provide more information to you. 

ZT: 16. Your memoir ends with images of you, including one with the caption: “Visiting the only park for women in Wardak to make it a greener, safer place for women.” However, a local journalist from Maidan Shahr told Zan Times: “This place has never been a park dedicated to women,” he explains and said that the image you posted “is a football ground at the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Sportsclub.” Can you comment on this? 

Ghafari: I’m not sure where your source, whom you refer to as a “local journalist” got their information from, but it is false. The property shown in the picture was a municipal property located in the city’s center and was named Women’s Garden. Later as the only women’s park which was women Affairs department’s property, in the city center used by the National Army In 2019 was destroyed in an attack, at my working time, the Department of Women’s Affairs in Wardak made an official request to the municipality to hand over this park to them to be used as a women’s park. That is why the book mentions this park as (only women’s park). Ghazi Amanullah Khan Sports club is located far away from where it appears in this picture. 

ZT: 17. We spoke to locals in Maidan Shahr who said that they can’t recall any significant achievements. In particular, though you claim to have fought the “land mafia,” a source told us, “I can tell you with absolute assurance that she didn’t take back any land that was illegally obtained nor did she do anything that the previous mayors couldn’t do.” Can you please comment on this? Can you provide proof of any achievements in Maidan Shahr that you oversaw during your time as mayor?  

Ghafari: As the editor of a media outlet that works for Afghan women, I think you know that despite all the opposition in a male-dominated society, the appointment of a young woman as the mayor of Maidan Shahr is itself a historic achievement. It was especially considering that I fought for nine months to start working as the mayor of Maidan Shahr. 

Later, during my years as the mayor of Maidan Shahr, I spent not only fighting with the corrupt internal system but also with the mafia, warlords, Taliban, and many other problems, which I consider to be my achievements. I lost my father this way, but it did not stop my struggle. Regarding land control, alongside the directorates of land control, the municipality office, during my mayorship, has been able to record and register all state-owned lands of the Maidan Shahr residence area into the governmental database as state-owned properties, which was not done for years before. 

In the fight on corruption, I was able after two years of hard struggle with mafia to reform the municipality office and bring educated new generation of work force into the office. Financial management’s databases were installed, licenses were distributed and all the planned projects were openly shared. 

In the fight with the Land mafia, I have shared the list of all those people grabbing lands illegally in Maidan Shahr with the central government, Police HQ of Wardak, governor’s office, judiciary, and all other responsible offices to bring them into justice and the records can be found at the Deputy Ministry of Municipalities. 

In the case of revenues, during my time as a mayor, the municipality had an unprecedented increase in revenues which allowed us to start dozens of development projects in the city. Besides this, the details of further achievements of my time as a mayor, from controlling corruption to the land mafia and revenues, are all so clearly shared on my social media page, 

and you can also find them in the official government records. 

Here I will share some links as an example: 

https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3733743130030626&set=pcb.3733743676697238
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3805218486216423&set=pcb.3805218889549716
https://m.facebook.com/SHAHARAFG/posts/2557717531163598/

ZT: 18. Even though you have been promoted by international media and platforms as a women’s rights activist, our investigation found no indication that any women worked in your radio station or that you hired more women in high levels of  local government during your time as mayor. Can you comment on this? Can you provide any proof of how you specifically helped women in Maidan Shahr during your time as mayor?  

Ghafari: I am surprised by your interpretation that simply appointing a few women to positions of power qualifies someone as a champion of women’s rights. However, taking action on behalf of women, such as running a radio station aimed at female listeners/women’s rights focused station or being a female mayor in a patriarchal society, significantly contributes to women who have been overlooked and oppressed for decades and those women have been neglected by even those who claim to be advocates for women’s rights.  

Still, it’s essential to understand that women’s rights aren’t simply about appointing three or ten women to positions of power. Instead, it’s about promoting women’s basic awareness, and encouraging their social participation, something I’ve been instrumental in since 2014. 

Still, worth mentioning that I have appointed young and talented Afghan girls not only to positions in the municipality but also to the radio station, which is a significant step in breaking societal taboos. 

Photo from the celebration of second anniversary of Peghla Radio station: 

Picture of 5 girls working with me in municipality office in the celebration of 100th year of independence, Ghazi Karim Khan Hall and a Facebook link: 

https://www.facebook.com/Zarifa.Ghafari/posts/2887952587943022/

ZT: 19. Since September 2021, you have said that you are ready to talk to the Taliban on behalf of Afghan women, including an interview with Women In Tech when you stated: “whatever you want, whenever you want, just give me a sign, I will accept it whatever and however, I will come to Afghanistan as well. I need a sign… give me a sign, I will come and sit and talk to you. I promise you, I will have my burqa as well on my head while talking to you, I won’t show my face to you while talking to you but let’s talk, at least, let’s talk.”  

However, you wrote in your memoir, released in October 2022: “I did not want to negotiate with them [Taliban], nor meet with them in Kabul and be used by them as a photo opportunity to convince the world that they were treating women well.” Can you clarify your position regarding the Taliban, their politics, and negotiating with them?  

Ghafari: While to me, a Mujahid and a Talib are two sides of the same coin, subject to changes as per the whims of those who orchestrate their projects. Therefore, I have advocated for direct dialogue between the Taliban and Afghan women. Unlike men, Afghan women would certainly speak for the country and its people, not for terror and bloodshed. 

It’s vital to understand that dialogue is the only peaceful way to resolve Afghanistan’s political conflicts. 

Especially considering the former Mujahideen – the warlords who devastated Kabul, prohibited girls’ education in the ’80s, destroyed infrastructure, caused the deaths of millions in internal conflicts, carried out sexual violence against women, and triggered mass migration – were able to reform themselves post-2001. They left their mountain hideouts, no matter who provided the platform, and some even became so-called human rights activists, heroes, or leaders. So, it is not impossible for the Taliban to reform too. There may come a day when they will respect human and women’s rights, just like the Mujahideen and their supporters have done. 

ZT: 20. Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of Zan Times about your life, your goals, and your ambitions?  

Ghafari: I find myself bewildered while answering these inquiries. Addressing such non-priority issues is not only a misuse of time and resources but also a grave injustice to the rights of Afghan women. They need women-centered media platforms to highlight their experiences under the Taliban regime not investigation on burned injuries or engagement date of people. 

In a situation where a group of extremist men have deprived all Afghan women of their socialrights, barred them from education and work, and even denied them the right to shop in the market without a male companion, I question why women-focused media outlets instead focus on incomplete investigations into the life and efforts of an educated Afghan woman do not prioritize investigating the atrocities perpetrated by these extremists who are trying to erase women from the face of the country? In doing so, aren’t we indirectly aiding the Taliban by diverting the spotlight away from their actions? 

Isn’t it baffling that a group of educated Afghans who managed to escape from the clutches of figures such as Haqqani, Mullah Brother, Mullah Haibatullah, Mullah Muttaqi, Mullah Nadeem, and others chose not to investigate the killings, atrocities, and destruction of the country by jihadist and extremist groups? 

In a time when the Taliban controls everything, including media outlets in Afghanistan, how can we be certain that these working types and followed narratives by some people are not influenced by the Taliban, former warlords, mafias, smugglers, or those international politicians who wish to maintain the status quo of conflict for women in the country? 

Can such investigative reports, as this one I am answering now, genuinely assist Afghan women who are enduring hunger, terror, and the curtailing of their basic human rights? Or will it simply give the Taliban another reason to marginalize women even further? 

Doesn’t this approach hint at discrimination and division? These are the questions that come to mind for any critical thinker encountering such inquiries as this one I am answering. 

In conclusion, on my goals, as they are all Afghanistan focused major topics, and the big one, I am now busy in writing a novel which shares the atrocities of Mujahideen, Taliban and extremists on the spotlight of some real-life stories and hope I could complete it faster. 

And on wishes, I hope that today’s educated women, unlike Afghan men, will stand united 

across all tribes and spheres rather than weakening each other as the Taliban and their supporters would wish. Only then will Afghan women be able to regain their all-humanitarian rights including education, work, and societal participation sooner. 

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