Zan Times, July 10, 2023
Who is the real Zarifa Ghafari?
Zan Times discovered that even basic information, such as her place of birth, is inconsistent across the media.
By Zahra Nader, Archit Mehta, and Kreshma Fakhri
Zarifa Ghafari made history in 2018 when she became the first woman mayor for Maidan Shahr, the capital of Maidan Wardak province. She would be only the second woman mayor in Afghanistan’s history.
Ever since becoming mayor, Zarifa Ghafari has been flooded with acknowledgements and awards by international media and platforms, including the BBC’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women () in 2019, Badass 50 list by ( )InStyle ( ) in 2020, the International Women of Courage ( ) award from the U.S. Department of State in 2020, Changemaker Award at Forbes’ 30/50 Summit ( ) in 2022 and more recently the Luther Prize ( ) in Germany. (This is not a complete list of her acknowledgements and awards).
In addition, her memoir, Zarifa: A Woman’s Battle in a Man’s World, co-authored with journalist Hannah Lucinda Smith, was released by PublicAffairs () in October 2022. (Since its release, it has been translated to other languages.) And in November 2022, In Her Hands, a Netflix program on Ghafari was released by HiddenLight Productions ( ), which is backed by the former U.S. first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Moreover, she is listed as a speaker on various talent management agency websites for ticketed events — U.K.-based Celebrity Speakers (), London-based Kruger Cowne ( ), U.K.-based Speakers Corner ( ), Dubai-based Premium Speakers ( ) and the U.S.-based All American Entertainment ( ). Not all websites mention the cost of booking Ghafari to appear as a speaker, though few state it takes northward of US$10,000.
Our interest in Ghafari’s story started with an attempt to review Netflix’s program, In Her Hands, but our curiosity deepened when we could not find the Zarifa Ghafari portrayed in the West.
After paying attention to what Ghafari says and advocates for, it was hard to draw a line between the Ghafari who is an advocate for women’s rights and the Ghafari who advocates for “negotiating” with the Taliban, the architects of gender apartheid in Afghanistan. After her short visit to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2022, at a time when women protesters were being arrested for demonstrating against the Taliban’s repressive policies, Ghafari wrote in her memoir: “Now that I was in Afghanistan myself, I was beginning to understand how, for the people still living there, this repressive peace was preferable to the violent freedom they had enjoyed, or endured, for twenty years.”
That doesn’t seem to be the experience of millions of girls and women who lost their rights to education and work during that “repressive peace.” It was how Ghafari seemed to blur the line between advocacy for women’s rights and advocacy for the Taliban that compelled us to look deeper into her life and who she really is.
Zan Times spent more than two months reviewing hours of her interviews, and read more than a dozen feature stories about her in three languages: Farsi, Pashto, and English. We read her memoir, watched two programs that focus on her — one by Netflix and another by ARTE, a European culture channel. We interviewed people who knew her and did on-the-ground fact-checking in Afghanistan as well as India.
Zarifa Ghafari had arguably one of the toughest jobs in the world: being a female mayor in Afghanistan. But, aside from that political role, Zan Times discovered that some of Ghafari’s claims about her life, education, and experiences contained contradictions and inconsistencies.
When asked whether the memoir had been fact-checked and asked to comment on Zan Times’ finding, Kelly Falconer, founder of the Asia Literary Agency, which represents Ghafari, wrote in an email: “Zarifa Ghafari’s memoir was the product of a close collaboration with an experienced journalist, Hannah Lucinda Smith. Both Ms. Ghafari and Ms. Smith stand by the story, which includes moments when Ms Ghafari had to blur certain details about her age in order to continue her struggle in what was a repressive society with very limiting views about what an Afghan woman could and couldn’t do, and when she might do it. Ms. Ghafari’s life has been dedicated to empowering women to be free of such challenges, especially when they are used to interrupt girls’ schooling or limit their public and professional lives.”
Clive Priddle, publisher () of Ghafari’s memoir, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, a producer of Netflix’s In Her Hands, did not respond to our request for comment by the time of publication. Zan Times also made several attempts to reach Netflix, including reaching out to the directors of communications at Netflix Canada and the U.S., but had not heard back by the time of publication.
This article is about the discrepancies we discovered during our fact-check – which other organizations do not appear to have either discovered or reported during their interactions with Zarifa Ghafari.
1994 — 2009: Ghafari’s formative years
Zan Times discovered that even basic information, such as her place of birth, is inconsistent across the media. According to her memoir, she was born in Kabul. A piece published by Vanity Fair () in March 2023 reports that she was born in Paktia province. However, back in 2018, she told Afghanistan’s EtilaatRoz ( ) that she was “born in Maidan Wardak.”
When we asked Ghafari about this discrepancy, she said in an email response: “I was born in Kabul. But like many other families who came to Kabul from the provinces and lived between Kabul and their province, my birthplace is shown as Dawrankhil village of Chak district, Wardak province in my national ID card.” She puts her birth date as September 25, 1994.
In her memoir, she states that she had already completed high school and participated in the university entrance exam in Paktia province in 2009. However, she told Tolo TV () that she completed her schooling in Kabul.
When we asked Ghafari about this inconsistency, she responded: “I did not have the opportunity to study in an ideal environment or school due to my family’s circumstances. Instead, I adapted to my situation and completed 12 years of schooling in just eight academic years. I began attending school in Kabul in 2001 at Naswan-e Shahre school in grade 4 up to first month of grade 7, but as my dad got his job in Paktia so 7, 8, 9, just 10th again passed by exam, 11, 12 grades were completed In Gardiz, Paktia.”
Ghafari wrote in her memoir that she was accepted at a university in Khost province. But, in 2018, EtilaatRoz () newspaper reported that she had been accepted into the law school at Kabul University. The Etilaatroz journalist who did the feature story confirmed to Zan Times that all the biographical information in the piece came from Ghafari herself.
When we asked Ghafari about this, she responded: “I want to clarify that many false stories and misunderstandings are circulating about me. However, it’s crucial to note that none of these stories have my, my family’s, or my closest friends’ approval. While I was accepted to Khost University, that’s why I couldn’t attend to continue my studies there.”
She wrote in her memoir that she got a scholarship to a university in India, with the help of a higher education ministry bureaucrat and a member of parliament in Kabul.
2010 — 2016: Higher education in India and founding an organization
When she discusses her education in India, her own timelines, including her memoir and LinkedIn profile, seem to collide with themselves. On her Linkedin page, she states that she started her BA in 2009. But in her memoir, she started her higher education at the Panjab University in Chandigarh in the autumn of 2010, and obtained a BA and MA in economics from the university.
In the same memoir, she writes that she was in her second year of university when she was hit by a car and she told her TEDx audiences () that the accident occurred in December 2014, which is four or five years from when she started her studies, depending on the source.
In India, a BA degree typically takes three years to complete while MA usually takes two years. Indeed, she wrote in her memoir that 2015 was the last year of her MA, though it’s 2016 on LinkedIn. However, as per a 2019 New York Times report (), Ghafari was a MA student in 2018. We have confirmed with one of the New York Times journalists that information about her education was given to them by Ghafari.
Zan Times found an image of Ghafari on Facebook () posted on August 7, 2013, from Chandighar-based Shri Guru Gobind Singh (SGGS) College, one of the many colleges that are affiliated with Panjab University.
Fact-checking journalist Bhagwant Singh, who works in Chandigarh, visited the SGGS College on behalf of Zan Times and found that Ghafari has been mentioned as a notable alumni.
Zan Times submitted a formal request to the Principal’s Office at SGGS College to verify Ghafari’s educational credentials. While confirming that Ghafari was an undergraduate student at the college from 2012 to 2014, the college did not confirm if or when Ghafari graduated.
When we asked Ghafari about the timeline and whereabouts of her studies in India as well as if she could provide proof of her degrees, she responded: “In accordance with Articles (7) and (8) of the Law of Civil Service Employees of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it is required for any mayoral candidate to possess a bachelor’s or MA degree in a relevant field from a recognized university. I have fulfilled this requirement by obtaining a higher education degree from University in India. However, it appears that your questions are aimed at discrediting the achievements of a woman in Afghanistan who has bravely fought for women’s rights in a male-dominated society. If this is your intention, I do not believe sharing my degree will help.”
During the period when Ghafari was in India, she founded Assistance and Promotion for Afghan Women (APAW). According to her LinkedIn profile, she has been its CEO since April 2014, though the official database of NGOs in Afghanistan () shows that APAW was registered on April 1, 2015. APAW was inactive during the time Ghafari worked for the government, according to what she said during the Geneva summit ( ) in April 2022, where she revealed that she had reactivated the NGO and was collecting donations ( )for it (that page is now closed).
When Zan Times tried to verify the activities of APAW in Kabul, a colleague of Ms. Ghafari said the NGO is no longer active and he promised to provide information about its previous activities. Since then, he hasn’t returned Zan Times’ calls.
When we asked Ghafari about APAW, she responded: “We were forced to close the Women’s Educational and Vocational Center due to the Taliban’s ban on women’s work and repeated notices. However, we took precautions to transfer the work of this center to private homes in distant areas to ensure the safety of our colleagues and beneficiaries. The closure of one center does not mean the NGO is closed. APAW Organization has been legally registered in Afghanistan since 2014, and all tax clearances have been completed. However, when the Taliban announced restrictions on women’s work in NGOs, we were informed that the head of the NGO should be a man to proceed with tax clearance. I refused to appoint an acting male head, which led to some work being postponed. Nevertheless, I continue to provide financial support for the organization myself, and we offer assistance to a certain number of women and needy people.”
2016 — 2018: Work experience prior to becoming the mayor
According to her memoir, by 2016, when she was back in Afghanistan, she met her future husband, Bashir Mohammadi, whom she introduced as her business partner at her radio station and states that he had “a good job outside the radio station at the directorate of culture.”
Left unsaid is that Mohammad Bashir Mohammadi was a government official, the director of Information and Cultural Directorate in Ghazni and Paktika provinces since 2015, as well as in Wardak province as of 2019. In Paktika, he was in charge of a public radio station, according to three sources in Maidan Shahr.
In her memoir, Ghafari describes how they decided to open a radio station in Wardak province after discovering that “not a single [existing] one had a female presenter.” It would be called Peghla FM.
“In late 2016, after we had scrubbed out the old prison [a state-run jail where Taliban were held], removed the chains and painted the walls, and set up a studio and offices in the old cell blocks, I became the first female voice on the Wardak airwaves,” she wrote in her memoir. However, in a 2020 interview on Local 5 abc network, Ghafari offered another start date, saying it began in 2014 and it covered three provinces (7:45 mark) ().
When we asked Ghafari about when the radio was established and in which provinces it was aired, she responded: “The Peghla FM Radio station began broadcasting in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Wardak, in July 2016. It operates with two antennas, one located in Maidan Shahr and the other in the mountains of Dasht-e Toop. The station can reach areas in Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, and Paghman in Kabul.”
Zan Times spoke with multiple radio journalists, including women journalists, in Maidan Wardak province who categorically refute her claim to be the “first female voice on the Wardak airwaves.” At least three veteran journalists in Maidan Shahr state there were several radio stations in the provincial capital, which had female employees before 2016. In particular, a private radio station named Tajala had broadcast women’s voices since 2011, says a veteran journalist.
When we asked about her claim of being the first female voice on the air in Maidan Wardak, Ghafari responded: “When we launched the Peghla FM Radio station, it was unique in the province as it featured women’s voices exclusively. A woman-owned the station, and our team consisted of 4 female presenters, including myself as the founder, who recorded programs and conducted essential interviews. I recall that before Peghla FM Radio station, only one woman was part of the management team at RTA Maidan Shahr, and no female voices were heard on air from Midan Shahar.”
However, in her memoir, she wrote: “I was disappointed that I couldn’t take on a female team at the station.”
In her emailed response, Ghafari also shared an image with Zan Times, showing two women with Ghafari at a cake cutting. The caption read: “Photo from the celebration of second anniversary of Peghla Radio station.” We shared the image with a source who says he was at the celebration, who asked not to be named, says, “One of [the two women is] her sister and the other one is her friend.” He is firm: “No women worked in her radio station [except Ghafari herself].”
When Zan Times again reached out to Ghafari’s agent, Kelly Falconer, to ask about these additional issues raised by her initial set of answers, Falconer responded, “Ms. Ghafari has no further comments.”
As of June 2023, several sources from Wardak province tell Zan Times that Ghafari’s radio station is no longer active. On June 7, Ghafari posted on LinkedIn (): “We, along with Virgin Unite and Richard Branson, are actively raising funds for Peghla FM, a radio station based in Wardag, and broadcasting for Wardak, Logar, Kabul and Ghanzi provinces in Afghanistan.”
In response to questions about the status of the radio station, Ghafari said: “Since the fall of the Wardak into the hands of the Taliban in 2021, we tried for a few months to still operate. Still, due to financial situations and critical regulations of the Taliban, we couldn’t keep operating, so we sadly closed the station. Now the fundraiser has just started to get the station back on its feet, and the funds donated still need to be used.”
2018-2021: Becoming a mayor and her time in office
In 2018, Ghafari applied for the mayorship of Maidan Shahr, located in the province of Maidan Wardak, to the west of Kabul, a Taliban stronghold. The provincial capital city had a population of around 15,000.
In Afghanistan, the minimum qualifications to apply for a mayorship are “at least a bachelor’s degree and five years of work experience in higher management leadership,” according to a former employee of the Directorate of Local Governance, the institution in charge of hiring local officials. Ghafari wrote in her memoir explaining how she made the decision to apply: “Bashir insisted that I apply… I was from Wardak, I had a master’s degree in economics and, by now, thanks to my work at the radio station, I knew the region and its problems well. I had ambitions to work in public service, and I have always loved a challenge. But a challenge like Wardak? … Bashir was furious when I said I would not apply. We did not speak for two days … No matter how many times I tried to explain my point of view to him, he wouldn’t accept it. In the end, I relented.”
In an interview with Women in Tech (), Ghafari claims to be the “only” female applicant: “I went for an exam with 138 people and I got [the] highest marks and they were all men.” Zan Times interviewed two people who also applied for that mayorship and who said that at least one other woman vied for the post. As well, in 2018, Etilaatroz ( )newspaper and Tolo TV ( ) reported that at least one other woman competed against Ghafari among 130 applicants for the position.
When we asked Ghafari about this, she responded: “I cannot recall if there were any other female candidates besides myself who were being considered for the position.”
Ghafari repeated in her memoir that she “won top marks in the test and interview” for the mayorship. Two male candidates tell a different story, saying she only passed the test “by receiving the five extra points for her gender.” When we asked Ghafari, she said: “I am not familiar with the specifics of the marking system or its description. However, according to the law, the person with the highest marks receives the president’s decree to hold the position. As luck would have it, I was the recipient of this decree.”
After she was selected as mayor in Maidan Shahr in July 2018, she wrote in her memoir that she didn’t take up the office for another nine months because of opposition to her appointment. “Some of my opponents said I had paid a bribe to get my high marks – a ridiculous accusation since I barely had any money. Others said I was a friend of Bibi Gul, the first lady – I wasn’t – or that I had used sex to get this far. A classic! All over the world, women who rise up through the ranks are accused of the same,” she wrote in her memoir.
Ghafari explains in her memoir how she eventually got her office: “I told Mohib [Hamdullah Mohib, the National Security Adviser of Afghanistan] that I was planning to set fire to myself in front of the presidential palace … I also had to use my connections, like anyone who wants to get things done in Afghanistan … I found a number for Wali Khan Basharmal, a member of President Ghani’s office. I called him and repeated my threat to set fire to myself. He told me to write and send a letter to him, and that he would print it off and hand it to the president himself.” Her mayoral appointment was officially announced in April 2019, according to her memoir.
After three months of working as mayor, Ghafari wrote in her memoir: “At home – in Wardak and even within my own family – few people were impressed by what I was doing. But outside of Afghanistan, my profile was soaring.The BBC named me among its 100 most influential women for 2019, and I was invited to speak at film festivals, human rights forums and round tables with the decision makers in powerful countries.”
She acknowledges in her memoir that it was after that 2019 New York Times profile that she received a lot of international attention. “I was receiving requests almost daily to do more interviews with other international media outlets, and soon other invitations started flooding in, too, from important people around the world. I realised that my fight to become mayor had given me a platform far bigger than anything I had had before. In Turkey, I met President Erdoğan and his wife Emine in their huge palace in Ankara. I met government officials in Sweden and India, and was invited to speak at conferences, in front of audiences made up of the world’s most influential people.” she wrote.
Even though Ghafari is promoted by international media and platforms as a women’s rights activist, the Zan Times investigation found no indication that any women worked for her radio station or that she hired more women in high levels of local government during her time as mayor. Even the photos in that New York Times () profile were dominated by men working around her (only one other woman could be seen in an image taken during a trash cleanup.) Similarly, not a single woman was spotted in her office in the Netflix program, In Her Hands.
When asked by Zan Times about this, she responded: “I am surprised by your interpretation that simply appointing a few women to positions of power qualifies someone as a champion of women’s rights. However, taking action on behalf of women, such as running a radio station aimed at female listeners/women’s rights focused station or being a female mayor in a patriarchal society, significantly contributes to women who have been overlooked and oppressed for decades and those women have been neglected by even those who claim to be advocates for women’s rights.
Still, it’s essential to understand that women’s rights aren’t simply about appointing three or ten women to positions of power. Instead, it’s about promoting women’s basic awareness, and encouraging their social participation, something I’ve been instrumental in since 2014. Still, worth mentioning that I have appointed young and talented Afghan girls not only to positions in the municipality but also to the radio station, which is a significant step in breaking societal taboos.”
She also provided a Facebook link and an image, with this description: “Picture of 5 girls working with me in municipality office in the celebration of 100th year of independence, Ghazi Karim Khan Hall [in August 2019].” The photo shows six women with Ghafari. The provided link took us to a post on Ghafari’s Facebook page dated July 8, 2019, which states: “Maidan Shahr Municipality, in cooperation with the city’s DAI program, recruited six female interns in accounting, finance, revenue and real estate departments for a six-month period.”
At the end of her memoir is an undated image that is captioned, “Visiting the only park for women in Wardak to make it a greener, safer place for women. I wanted to help them get out of the house for a picnic with their families, something that’s very hard to do.” The photo appears to come from the period when she was mayor but it is notable for two features: the complete lack of any other females or any children in “the only park for women” and the football goal post behind her left shoulder.
“It is a football ground at the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Sportsclub (),” explains a local journalist, who also shared a few pictures of the sports club with Zan Times that seem to match the background of Ghafari’s photo in her memoir.
When we asked Ghafari about the park and shared the statement of the journalist she responded: “I’m not sure where your source, whom you refer to as a “local journalist” got their information from, but it is false. The property shown in the picture was a municipal property located in the city’s center and was named Women’s Garden. Later as the only women’s park which was women Affairs department’s property, in the city center… Ghazi Amanullah Khan Sports club is located far away from where it appears in this picture.”
Zarifa Ghafari: An extraordinary survivor
In her memoir, she claims to have survived two bombings on her way to school, one in 2005 and another in 2006. In her interview with Women in Tech in September 2021, Ghafari said that she got injured in attacks and bombings on her way to school “more than three times () badly.” In June 2022, she told her TEDx audience ( ) that she had survived four attacks on her way to school. ( )
When we asked Ghafari about this, she responded: “when it comes to the bombings, I got badly injured with on my way to school were just two [sic].”
She was also severely injured in a car accident in December 2014 in India. The accident left her right side “fully paralyzed ()” and doctors told her family that “99 percent ( ), the girl is dying. She is dying. If she stays alive, she will lose her memory. She will lose her mind or maybe she will stay all her lifetime half paralyzed,” she recounted during her TEDx talk.
Her time as mayor was clearly dangerous. Zarifa Ghafari says she survived at least three assassination attempts while mayor of Maidan Shahr. The first attempt happened in November 2019, according to her memoir. She alleges that her cleaning lady, a widow woman, had been paid to leave the gas leaking in her kitchen. A fire started when she turned on the stove. “I began patting at the fire by my ankle, thinking that I could easily put it out. But seconds later the flames had also caught the other leg of my pyjamas and the sleeves of my top. Now panic set in. I realised that I was really on fire,” she wrote. Her fiance extinguished the flames by throwing a bucket of water over her. The doctors told him that “they might have to amputate [her] right foot. The burns penetrated to the bone,” she recounted in her memoir.
The second attempt occurred in Kabul in March 2020, she wrote in her memoir, when gunmen attacked the vehicle she and Bashir Mohammadi were in: “A thin whistling past my right ear, three times: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Bashir glanced in the side mirror. ‘We’re under attack!’ Just before I ducked I caught a glimpse of the barrel of a gun pointing at us from the window of a white Ford Corolla that had come up from behind.”
She also recounted a 2021 roadside attack by gunmen with heavy weapons: “I saw it: fifty metres up ahead of us, a man positioning a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at the side of the road… ‘We’re under attack,’ I shouted. ‘Go!’ The driver slammed his foot on the accelerator and we jolted into high speed. The attacker with the RPG didn’t have time to position it properly by the time we sped past him, but two more men appeared at the side of the road, one aiming a Kalashnikov at us and the other an M4 – an American- made machine gun. Both of them opened fire, letting loose a stream of bullets. In our old car, we would have been dead.”
As well, in her memoir, she also describes how she fled a “mob” of angry men, some of whom “were carrying banners printed with a photo of me and Bashir that was taken at our engagement, surrounded by a red circle and with a red line crossing out our faces.” It took place inside a government compound in Maidan Shahr. Although there is no date mentioned for the incident, it is in the section of the memoir in which she describes her efforts to officially become mayor, which was between July 2018 and April 2019. Yet, thirteen pages earlier, she wrote that she’d celebrated their engagement in March 2020, which was after those “angry” men had banners showing her engagement photos.
When we asked Ghafari to comment on this, she responded: “By reading this question, it seems like your investigation of me was aided by the same people who mobbed me and spread so much hate about me… For me your investigators and those who mobbed me are the same characters who destroyed the country, banned schools for girls, destroyed our (mine and yours) joint efforts for a beautiful Afghanistan. By the way, these are two separate events, one happening at 15. Dec.2018 and second in September 2020, when I announced the municipality’s 17 official positions, and where I was already engaged to my Life Partner.” Along with this response, Ghafari provided two links: one for a Facebook page that says: “This video isn’t available anymore.” The other one takes us to the main page of the municipality office (), now run by the Taliban.
She also shared a picture that shows a crowd of protesters, holding banners with Ghafari and Bashir Mohammadi’s picture with a red line crossing their faces, with a slogan in Pashto that reads: “We don’t want two mayors in the municipality.” At least three sources in Maidan Shahr told Zan Times that even though Ghafari was officially mayor, it was her fiance, Mohammadi, who was running the office.
When Zan Times reached out to Zarifa Ghafari to ask about these additional issues raised by her initial set of answers, her agent, Kelly Falconer, responded, “Ms. Ghafari has no further comments.”
Ghafari’s time as mayor of Maidan Shahr ended in June 2021 when she became the Director of the Department of Support to the Families of Martyrs, Wounded & Prisoners of War at the Defense Ministry.
August 2021 and the start of her activism career
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul. As a female mayor of the previous government, Ghafari feared for her life. “I know I won’t survive it if I stay,” she cries in the Netflix program. Still, in her memoir, she wrote “I would find my family a place on an evacuation flight and then I would leave them, go back out the airport gate and home to my apartment, and carry on with my work. I could survive if it was just me.” After being evacuated from Kabul, Ghafari and her family ended up in Germany.
Despite the seeming dangers she’d face, she writes, “I started thinking about returning to Afghanistan from the moment I landed in Germany.” She arrived back in Kabul in late February 2022. In her memoir, Ghafari explains that, beside asking for German government’s protection for the visit, she sought her own assurances from the Taliban: “The last step was to get my own assurance from the Taliban that I would not be arrested as soon as I arrived.” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to Zan Times that he spoke with Ghafari before her visit and he said that members of the Taliban’s intelligence agency escorted Ghafari from the airport to her destination in Kabul city. During that same time, intelligence agency members were arresting ()women protesters who had taken to the streets of the country to challenge Taliban restrictions on their rights. Many were arrested and beaten.
While in Kabul, during an interview with 1TV () that was conducted in Farsi-Dari, she called on the Taliban to “let’s have a new experience. I, meaning, we the women are ready to have a dialogue. Come, let’s talk and resolve everything.”
Indeed, “having a dialogue” with the Taliban appears to be an important goal to Ghafari even before her return to Afghanistan. In September 2021, during her interview with Women in Tech (), Ghafari said, “I call on Taliban’s leaders especially this Mullah Haibatullah … whatever you want, whenever you want, just give me a sign, I will accept it whatever and however, I will come to Afghanistan as well. I need a sign…I will have my burqa [breaking into laughter] as well on my head while talking to you, I won’t show my face to you while talking to you but let’s talk, at least, let’s talk.”
In her memoir, released in October 2022, she wrote: “I did not want to negotiate with them [Taliban], nor meet with them in Kabul and be used by them as a photo opportunity to convince the world that they were treating women well.”
Two months later, in December 2022, she told the Nobel Peace Prize Forum () that her goals included “paving the way to start a dialogue of Afghan women on their rights with anyone in charge of the government in Afghanistan, including Taliban,” and to “help the formation of a political umbrella to solve the conflict of Afghanistan.”
When we asked Ghafari about her stand on the Taliban and their politics, she said: “I have advocated for direct dialogue between the Taliban and Afghan women. Unlike men, Afghan women would certainly speak for the country and its people, not for terror and bloodshed. It’s vital to understand that dialogue is the only peaceful way to resolve Afghanistan’s political conflicts. Especially considering the former Mujahideen – the warlords who devastated Kabul, prohibited girls’ education in the 80s, destroyed infrastructure, caused the deaths of millions in internal conflicts, carried out sexual violence against women, and triggered mass migration – were able to reform themselves post-2001. They left their mountain hideouts, no matter who provided the platform, and some even became so-called human rights activists, heroes, or leaders. So, it is not impossible for the Taliban to reform too. There may come a day when they will respect human and women’s rights, just like the Mujahideen and their supporters have done.”
Journalists at Zan Times aren’t the first to raise questions about Ghafari. In April 2022, Marina Zaffari, an Afghan journalist posted on her YouTube channel a video titled, “Women activists who betray us ()| ( ) Zarifa Ghafari whitewashing the Taliban ( ).” In the video, Zaffari asks, “All these contradictions, in one person, in such a short period of time?” before showing a series of interview clips of Ghafari, including with Western and Afghan media, that highlight inconsistencies in Ghafari’s statements, particularly in regard to the Taliban. In one clip, Ghafari says, “They are abusing women’s rights. They are beating women publicly. They are beating men publicly. They are destroying all things.” One of the next clips shows Ghafari striking a different note about the Taliban: “They are there, they are the reality on the ground and I think we can talk to them.”
In particular, Zaffari wonders why Ghafari returned to Afghanistan, where she did several interviews, including one with Tolo News. “What caught my attention more than anything else in this interview was her cheerful tone, her happy face and regular laughters during her conversation,” Zaffari explains. “In interviews which she has done outside of Afghanistan, mainly in Germany, she mostly has sad face, she cries every now and then but in Afghanistan, a country occupied with terrorists, where civilian, intellectuals, women’s rights activists are abducted, tortured, humiliated and killed on a daily basis, she seems perfectly happy and her words are empty and meaningless.”
Though it was relatively easy for Afghan journalists, including those at Zan Times, to find inconsistencies and discrepancies about Zarifa Ghafari’s narrative of her life in publicly available sources, including her interviews and memoir, Western organizations and media continue to shower her with praise, seemingly oblivious of such discrepancies in her life story.
In December 2022, an editor at the Financial Times () wrote, “The Afghan politician-turned-activist, who at 24 became a sensation by being appointed top official of the conservative Wardak province is a product of America’s longest war: an educated woman who overcame family and tradition to achieve a position of power — and a survivor.”
NOTE: Accompanying this article is a full Q&A of the questions that Zan Times asked Zarifa Ghafari and her complete, unedited responses. To read it, click here ()
Freshta Ghani contributed to this report.
Originally published on the website of Zan Times on June 28, 2023.
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