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Afghan Ambassador To The U.S. Is Optimistic U.S. Won't Abandon Afghans


After 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States wants out. And there now appears to be a framework for making that happen. But the Afghan central government hasn't been directly involved in these discussions. So far, the negotiations have been between the U.S. and the Taliban, which has left many Afghans worried about their future. Roya Rahmani is not one of them, though. She was recently appointed Afghanistan's first female ambassador to the U.S. And she is optimistic the U.S. will do right by her country. What is less clear to her is whether the Taliban is negotiating in good faith.

Do you trust the Taliban negotiators?

ROYA RAHMANI: I haven't been at the table to be able to directly respond to this. However, what I could say is that our people has demonstrated the generosity to let go of the past and to let go of the grievances as a price for peace. And they are willing to come in terms. There is one other thing also - that Afghanistan is a changed place. The resolve to democracy is one of our highest values. I will quickly share with you something that really moved me when I visited Afghanistan after parliamentary election, and that was that a taxi driver sacrificed seven hours of his income earning hours while he is responsible for feeding four of his children at home in order to cast his vote. That shows there is resolve to democracy - our resolve to the values that we have earned. And Afghanistan's nation, a changed nation now, has different standing and aspiration today. So whatever the outcome, it has to cater to that.

MARTIN: What happens to Afghanistan's young democracy if the Taliban is either incorporated into a power-sharing agreement or, at the very least, legitimized through this peace plan?

RAHMANI: The Taliban, if part of the Afghan society, they can certainly participate in the democratic processes. We have laid out a very clear roadmap towards peace on how we could go about this. And we are hoping to be able to unroll that. That will specify the rules, and they are most welcome to join and be part of the power sharing, stand for election, have people vote for them. This is their right like every other Afghan citizens' right.

MARTIN: You are the first woman to serve as ambassador from Afghanistan to the United States. Are you concerned that if the Taliban is incorporated into government, if the Taliban is legitimized, that all those advances for minorities in Afghanistan - for women in particular - are you concerned that they will be reversed?

RAHMANI: Rachel, I don't believe that Afghanistan could fall back. We are a changed nation. There is a shift in the mindset. Let me give you an example. I have met a soldier who has joined our forces simply because he has two daughters. And he will not agree that his daughters will not go to school. That's the reason he told me he joined our forces. Afghanistan is a changed place, and this is why that there is more to a peaceful Afghanistan to offer to all its partners as a partner - not as a dependent - in the foreseeable future.

MARTIN: At some point if the peace talks continue, you as an ambassador, I would imagine, would have occasion to be in a meeting with a Taliban leader. Would they even tolerate your presence there considering their subjugation of women? I mean, it's one thing for you to say you believe that Afghanistan is moving forward, but the Taliban have not conceded that at all. They still maintain the same views about women's place in society.

RAHMANI: Well, that question is for them to answer. But at the same time, let's not forget if I am at the table like many other women, I will be representing half of my population. If - no deal would be acceptable if it ignores half of our population.

MARTIN: Ambassador Roya Rahmani, thank you so much for talking with us.

RAHMANI: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: She is Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., the first woman to serve in that role. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman was listening in to that conversation and joins me now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is the special envoy leading the U.S. in these peace talks. He insists - Khalilzad does - that nothing is for sure until the Afghan central government signs off on it. But how likely is that?

BOWMAN: Well, right, that's what he said. It's important to note, Rachel, we're in the very early stages of this process. The Taliban have yet to agree even to sit down with the Afghan government. That's what really has to happen. And that's what the Afghan government is demanding, and so is the U.S. government. Now, the Taliban say before they sit down with the Afghan government, they want a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says the rights of the Afghan people will not be compromised in the name of peace. So that clearly means making sure the rights of women are assured, that women can work outside the home, girls can go to school and so forth. But again, we're sort of at a stalemate a little bit here, you know, because the Taliban want that timetable withdrawal of U.S. troops before they sit down with the Afghan government.

MARTIN: Right, and...

BOWMAN: Again, there's a lot that has to be done here.

MARTIN: I mean, we heard a lot of optimism in the ambassador's voice there. But what is to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government once the U.S. is gone?

BOWMAN: Well, that's of great concern of people within the Afghan government who just don't trust the Taliban and are wary of any deal and, of course, are concerned that the U.S. will leave abruptly. President Trump has said he'll pull about 7,000 troops out. That's half the number there now.

MARTIN: Right.

BOWMAN: So again, there's a great concern within the Afghan government about whether you can even trust the Taliban.

MARTIN: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 28, 2019 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous headline and summary of this story incorrectly said that Roya Rahmani is Afghanistan's new ambassador to the U.N. She is Afghanistan's new ambassador to the U.S.