Afghanistan. Atiq Rahimi: “The Taliban are afraid of women and of culture”

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Atiq Rahimi Writer and filmmaker

Novelist and director, Atiq Rahimi received the Goncourt Prize in 2008 for his novel Syngué Sabour, stone of patience. He left Afghanistan in 1984 and has lived in exile ever since.

The Taliban returned to power two months ago. Did this rapid fall of Kabul surprise you?

Atiq Rahimi Surprised, no. I think the Taliban were the most astonished and the most surprised. They did not expect to be victorious this way without encountering resistance. Fortunately or unfortunately? I do not know. Since 2018 and the Doha conference, we understood that the world had negotiated. First, the powers wanted to integrate the Taliban into the government of Ashraf Ghani, who was then president. But the Taliban did not want it. A refusal which, moreover, showed their strength. On the other hand, we were dismayed by the reactions of the Americans, by their way of leaving, of leaving Afghanistan.

How did we get here ?

Atiq Rahimi At the head of the country, was a corrupt government, formed on aberrant compromises with the warlords, the drug traffickers… Moreover, the American policy in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, is not for nothing in what happened. They spent $ 3 trillion, and a lot of that money went back to the United States without being spent in Afghanistan. There is also the way they militarily handled this war against the Taliban. Everything is happening in a new political order dominated by the Chinese. Pakistan and India are in confrontation, as are Iran and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Russia with the West. Afghanistan is the field of what I call “displaced” wars.

The Taliban are looking at all costs for international recognition of their regime, any help given could be seen as going in this direction. What should be done ?

Atiq Rahimi This is a very, very delicate and difficult situation to resolve. This time around, the Taliban have taken the entire Afghan population hostage. The point is not to recognize or not to recognize the Taliban. They do not have political, economic and geopolitical autonomy in the region. Their government depends on aid from abroad. We must intervene with the countries that support them – China, Pakistan and the Gulf monarchies – so that they put pressure on them.

Are you worried about the situation thus created for two months?

Atiq Rahimi Of course. First, as happened with the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Muslim world suddenly thought that it could make an Islamic revolution, that radical Islam could take power. We saw the result. Suddenly, the Muslim world woke up, in Central Asia as well as in the Middle East or Africa. With the return to power of the Taliban, we realize that it is still possible. Daesh (the “Islamic State”) can return. Likewise, all these movements which were crushed everywhere are regaining confidence.

I am not saying that Afghanistan was a country where human rights were respected before the Taliban returned. Far from there. Women, artists, intellectuals (who had a certain freedom in the media) were constantly threatened by the jihadists. For forty years, Afghan culture has been sick. Afghan society is a sick society, with sick men, politically, sexually. From all points of view. On the other hand, the danger today lies in an attempt by the Taliban to institutionalize the error of their horrors and the inequality of their policy against women.

Do you mean that today’s Taliban are the same as before?

Atiq Rahimi Of course! Once again, they have taken the Afghan people hostage. And they are trying to negotiate with the world. But when they form their government, made up exclusively of the Taliban and without a single woman, they show their true face.

Before the Taliban took power, there were many Afghan refugees in Europe and also in France who were not really welcomed with open arms. Isn’t there now a kind of hypocrisy on the part of Western governments, who say they are ready to welcome these refugees?

Atiq Rahimi Unfortunately, the problem with the Afghan situation, this hypocrisy, does not arise only in France, but all over the world. Despite everything, France gave political asylum to artists and intellectuals who had not even worked with the French. Whereas, until now, the other countries only saved those who had worked with their army, their associations… France had this courage. But, between the will and the capacity, there is a gap. For example, the Kabul airport was completely controlled by the Americans and the British. The French did not have the possibility to decide for themselves and to be able to take on board the people threatened by the Taliban who were on the lists that we had drawn up and submitted to the French authorities.

Should we encourage the Afghans, especially artists and intellectuals, to leave or, on the contrary, should they be helped to resist?

Atiq Rahimi In Afghanistan itself, there are many intellectuals, artists, activists who do not want to leave their country. They want to resist. But I do not allow myself to tell them that I must stay while I am in France. I cannot be in the comfort of exile and ask others to fight. But, on the other hand, through actions of solidarity, I try to save and protect those who want to stay, those who are inside Afghanistan. We must help them morally, technically and financially. We try to create webradios so that relations are not interrupted between those there who are fighting and the rest of the world.

Have the attempts to form a National Resistance Front by Commander Massoud’s son fail?

Atiq Rahimi It was again a big mistake to cry out for resistance, to carry out military actions. It couldn’t work. First, during the last two decades, the Americans have totally disarmed the Afghans, especially in the Panchir valley. Moreover, they were absolutely not organized. Massoud had a precise military strategy, which is not the case with his son. He is young and does not have his experience, let alone his charisma. And then, at the time, Commander Massoud was surrounded and supported by many countries, including Pakistan. Today, this resistance is not supported by anyone. France tried to maintain it. But it was a mistake. They would be slaughtered in two days. This time around, the Taliban are officially supported by all the neighbors: by Iran, by Pakistan, by China and by Russia.

Would Afghanistan be a country doomed to fall into the hands of Islamists, whether Taliban today or mujahedin like Massoud yesterday, with other Islamists in ambush like Daesh or al-Qaida? Where are the progressive voices?

Atiq Rahimi We don’t have a progressive movement in the country. A large part of the Afghan intellectuals were massacred by the government of Khalq in 1978 (Democratic Party of the People of Afghanistan, with the brutal methods which led to the Soviet intervention in 1979 to put an end to it – Editor’s note). Most have taken refuge in the United States and Europe, and are now elderly. They have not done anything so far and were not supported by the way. In 1984, Pakistan did not give asylum to progressive Afghan intellectuals. On the other hand, he welcomed the jihadists with open arms. The great poet and philosopher Bahodine Majrouh, who had studied in France, was assassinated in February 1988 in Peshawar. Many other leftist and progressive intellectuals have been threatened and executed by jihadists in Pakistan during the war against the Soviets. Today, unfortunately, there is no emblematic figure who can control a resistance capable of giving some hope to the Afghan people. Now it’s the Afghan women who can do something. I have confidence in them and in the youth. Maybe in ten years there will be another movement. The Taliban are afraid of two things: women and culture.

If Afghanistan has not been able to succeed in moving towards a peaceful, modern, civil society, it is because women, who represent more than half of the population, have been excluded from it. But when they entered parliament, they alone denounced the corruption of the successive governments of Karzai and Ghani.

You are a writer and director. Over the years, how do you handle the notion of exile, which you have known for a long time?

Atiq Rahimi I have indeed lived longer abroad than in my country. There is still a very deep tear in us exiled men. But what should be done? Either we fall into depression, melancholy, nostalgia. Either we make this exile a force, another way to live, survive and create. Exile allows us to become someone else. A magnificent poem by Djalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî says: “Listen to the reed flute which laments its separation from the reed bed. “ He shows that if the reed is not cut from its roots, it will not become that musical instrument, the ney, or writing, the kalam. To become, you have to cut yourself off from your roots at some point. Otherwise, we remain kind of stems where we were born, without seeing or experiencing anything else. You have to know what to do with this exile.

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