New film captures Afghan women’s courage in failed peace talks with Taliban

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Fatima Gailani looks on during the filming of the documentary "The Sharp Edge of Peace," that focuses on the women who took part in the intra-Afghan talks, in Doha, Qatar, in this undated handout picture. Roya Film House/Handout via REUTERS

By Jenna Zucker Reuters

The new documentary “The Sharp Edge of Peace” begins with a harrowing scene: Fawzia Koofi, a former member of Afghanistan’s parliament and a women’s rights activist, recovering in a hospital bed after surviving an assassination attempt in August 2020.

While traveling to Kabul with her daughter, Koofi was ambushed by unidentified gunmen who opened fire on her vehicle.

“They thought I was shot in the head and died,” Koofi says in the documentary, which has its world premiere on Saturday at the Canadian documentary festival Hot Docs that runs through May 5.

Directed by Roya Sadat, the 95-minute film is a testament to the courage of Afghan women leaders who continue advocating for change since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, and have drastically curtailed women’s freedoms and rights.

“This is a tragedy, but at the same time, you can see the power of women and see the beauty of this country when women participate,” Sadat told Reuters.

Koofi’s resolve remained unshaken even after the attack, which was not the first she’s faced.

She was a key figure among women negotiators, including Fatima Gailani, Habiba Sarabi, and Sharifa Zurmati, involved in the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar aimed at striking a peace deal with the Taliban.

The documentary covers the failed negotiations from the perspective of the women on Afghanistan’s negotiating team.

Once at the negotiating table, Koofi realized the Taliban already saw themselves as victorious.

“When President Biden came to power, he announced that he would withdraw his troops from Afghanistan regardless, with no conditions, and that was a boost to the Taliban’s morale,” she said in an interview.

The Biden administration has previously blamed the chaotic U.S. withdrawal on the Trump administration, which struck the agreement with the Taliban.

‘WE ARE BEING ERASED’

Koofi, now in exile, continues to work from the UK by engaging with international bodies like the United Nations and the European Union, pushing policymakers to recognize the plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule.

“It’s painful that most of these countries think that we should influence and change the perspectives of the Taliban,” Koofi said, adding that since regaining power, they have not changed at all.

“We are being erased,” Koofi said of the steady decline in women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Undeterred, Koofi founded the Afghan Women Coalition for Change with a goal of establishing gender apartheid as an internationally recognized crime against humanity.

Gailani, chair of Afghanistan Future Thought Forum, told Reuters the negotiating team never wanted U.S. soldiers or NATO to stay in the country forever, but expected a smoother withdrawal and a political settlement.

“Some Westerners believe that they alone gave freedom to the Afghan woman, that she couldn’t do anything herself, which is not the case,” says fellow negotiator Sarabi at the close of the film. “Afghan women didn’t get here easily, they endured a lot of struggles.”

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