Women’s rights activist recounts pain of leaving Afghanistan

National/World

Zarifa Ghafari, former mayor of Maidan Shahr and Afghan women’s rights activist, who arrived with her family in Cologne last Monday, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at a hotel in Duesseldorf, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Ghafari became the mayor of the Afghan town of Maidan Shahr in 2018, at the age of 26. She was a recipient of the the U.S. State Department’s 2020 International Women of Courage award. According to the State Department, she has survived at least six assassination attempts. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Zarifa Ghafari was a shining example of the new Afghanistan that many of the nation’s people hoped would emerge after years of Taliban rule: a young female mayor appointed in a country where women’s rights were suppressed under the hardline Islamist group.

Now the 29-year-old is sitting in a German hotel after having fled her homeland along with thousands of other Afghans who fear the Taliban’s renewed takeover puts their lives at risk.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Ghafari spoke about the pain she felt as she and her family prepared to fly out of Kabul following a harrowing effort to reach the airport.

“I am not sure my tears will be able to explain it,” she said. “The fear, the feeling, the pain that I have and I had at the moment.”

Ghafari became the mayor of the central Afghanistan city of Maidan Shahr in 2018, at the age of 26, She said she loved the job because it posed new challenges every day. Later, she moved to a position within Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry helping veterans and their families.

Her father was killed last year, she says by the Taliban. Ghafari herself survived repeated assassination attempts. Last year, she received the U.S. State Department’s 2020 International Women of Courage award.

Two days after arriving in Germany, she criticized the U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan after 20 years and the likely end of evacuations by the United States and others by Aug. 31.

“It is the worst decision anyone can make,” Ghafari said, adding that many Afghans who worked for the country’s defeated government and foreign militaries will be at the mercy of the Taliban She Now she fears many Afghans who stood in the Taliban’s way will be targeted,.

“They’re just searching for people and they are going to their houses,” she said. “They have a long list of blacklisted people and they are killing everyone.”

Ghafari dismissed the Taliban’s public reassurances that they won’t seek retribution but said she was willing to speak to its leaders, insisting they would never get Afghanistan to recover from two decades of war without bringing the country’s women on board.

“They need to have women,” she said. “If they are not, I’m sure they won’t be successful.”

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