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I have an unfinished mission in Afghanistan, says exiled Afghan politician


A member of Afghanistan's parliament is now living in exile. Naheed Farid has put her kids in school here in the United States, but her mind still turns to her home country. And though the parliament was scattered, she speaks of her elected position in the present tense.

NAHEED FARID: I am an elected representative of a democratic government that people chose. And Taliban overthrow that government through violence, through force, through bloodshed, and they don't represent Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Naheed Farid was Afghanistan's youngest-ever parliamentarian, serving for more than a decade. Her story says a lot about the restrictions, then the freedoms and then the new restrictions for women as the Taliban rose and fell and rose again. Our talk began with her final moments in her home country last summer.

FARID: So the time that the Taliban approach to the city of Herat - that is my hometown that I represent in Afghanistan parliament - I was there because I went to give morale to the security forces and ask them to defend the city because Taliban approach to the city gates. And there was not much resistance from the security forces, and Herat fell under Taliban. And the night before that, that everyone was saying that the fall of Herat under Taliban was obvious, I decided to leave.

INSKEEP: What did you do?

FARID: I left with my three kids to Iran, which is nearby.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking by then, the Taliban had even taken the border crossing to Iran. Did they let you out?

FARID: Actually, yes, because we were covering our face and the Taliban did not search. And there was a lot of passports that we gave them. They could not locate me. They could not find me.

INSKEEP: Did you feel that you were fleeing for your life, that you might be dead if you stayed?

FARID: You know, I can't explain - the most tragic moment of my life, that I had to choose between staying or leaving. And when I left the city for safety, imagine how I was feeling. You are leaving everything behind - your home. You're burying all your memories, passing the schools that I studied. Also, I was so attached to it because - there is a story about that, the school. I want to talk to you about it. All those girls that beg me to stay, not knowing if I ever return back to my city or not. I don't know how - how can I explain?

INSKEEP: Tell me the story of that school that you want to tell me.

FARID: You know, in 1995, on the day the Taliban arrived in my hometown in Afghanistan the first time...


FARID: ...I was a teenager. And I became a prisoner in my hometown. And on that very day, I asked my mother to take me to the school, and she said, no, the school is closed. Taliban are in the city. You cannot go to school anymore. But I insisted, so she took me to the school. She put a burqa on me - my face covered for the first time in my life. And I went to the school, and there was a man with gun sitting out front, and the smoke was rising behind him. They burned all the books in the school. They burned all the chairs. And that day, they burned all my hopes. I thought I'm finished.

So 9/11 happened - U.S. overthrow Taliban from the country and thousands of girls and women, they resumed their studies and jobs. I learned about how democracy is a real democracy where women do not only have the right to elect, but also to be elected. So I decided to run for office. And I went to the same school that I studied because I - you know, that - the school, I was so attached to it. So I went to the same school and asked from the teachers and the girls in the age that they could vote to vote me. So many of them voted me and campaigned for me, and that school was the reason that I got elected. And that school was the school that, when I was passing by, I was crying when I was leaving the city.

INSKEEP: What have you thought about in recent months as the Taliban took power, did promise vaguely to respect the rights of women within their notions of Islam, but have come up with essentially the same answers, one after the other - most recently saying that women cannot travel long distances by themselves?

FARID: I'm so glad you brought this question, Steve. You know, at the beginning of their takeover on 15 of August, they ensured that they have no problem with girls' education. They said all the right things about education and women, right? They said women should resume their jobs. They also said that they will establish an inclusive government based on national consensus. They will start the consultation right away. They also promised that they will give general amnesty to all who fought against them or somehow opposed them in the past. But just - it took few days that they denied all the promises, and ethnic cleansing, mass killings goes on right now as we are talking - execution in my city, in Herat city that I'm talking to you about, happened. The public execution happen.

INSKEEP: I want to try to confront one reality of this situation. There seems to have been a collapse of the government, a collapse of any willingness to fight for the government, a broad collapse of support for the old government that you were part of. Do you feel you understand why that happened?

FARID: We have and we had many brave soldiers, police officers of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces who fought and died on the front line for the past 15 years. On the other hand, the Afghan government was also to blame. There was a major failure of leadership by President Ghani and his national security adviser. They either fired or sidelined all of the qualified generals and advisers, replaced them with the loyalists and allowed corruption that happen. There was a major disconnect between the capital and the decision-makers in the palace and the people in the villages.

INSKEEP: Do you expect that you will remain in the United States then?

FARID: Oh, I'm not sure. I think I have an unfinished mission in Afghanistan, and I have to make sure that I finish that mission. You know, the moment the Taliban takeover Afghanistan on 15 of August, I completely lost my hope. Maybe if on that day you asked me the question, that will you return to Afghanistan? - I was about to say no. But the moment I saw women and youth holding Afghanistan Republic flag, marching over the city of Kabul and Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad, and showing the flag to the face of Taliban - that this is our flag, this is our democracy and we want to defend it - I regained my hope that we will retake our freedom. This government that - the de facto Taliban structure on the ground does not represent the reality of Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Naheed Farid, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

FARID: Thank you so much. Please keep me, my family and my country in your thoughts and your prayers. Thank you so much for having me.