Interview; Aman Mirzaei
Interview with Zainab Hosseini, the first female marathon runner in Afghanistan who went to the United States after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban terrorist group.
Nimrokh: Tell us about Zainab Hosseini’s life as a successful athlete and her concerns?
Answer: I am Zainab Hosseini, a graduate of Political Science and International Relations from Avicenna University in Afghanistan. I have another bachelor’s degree in network engineering and a two-year pilot’s license, all of which are useless to us in the United States. Our credentials are not valid here. It has been about five months since I was forced to immigrate to New York City and previously lived in Mazar-e-Sharif. I was in Kabul for a short time and worked in a foreign organization in the field of education, sports, and youth.
Nimrokh: Tell us the details of what happened to you as a successful woman in Afghanistan (sports, work, dreams, and problems)?
Answer:My parents immigrated to Iran as teenagers during the Soviet war due to poverty and hardship. We returned to Afghanistan after 9/11. My siblings and I were under 18. Lack of facilities, water and electricity, hunger, poverty, and the Taliban’s attitude still existed in society. We had to adapt to these conditions. My sister and I realized that our eighth and ninth-grade literacy was higher than that of Afghan children, and we could teach girls who had dropped out of school during the Taliban era. We accelerated their education with the help of another institution, teaching and including them in governmental schools. At the same time, we went to school for half a day and studied. Even though we were children ourselves and it was the best thing we could have done at that time, it is the greatest honor I have in life and I will never forget it. I was 13 or 14 years old, and because of the circumstances of the time when the Taliban still had the customs and traditions of the people, I was forced to wear a burqa, while I hated it. My life started from there and I got acquainted with the customs of Afghanistan. Anyone like us who came to Afghanistan after the Taliban were not familiar with the lifestyle in Afghanistan and did not have a good economy. After getting to know the culture of the people and their customs, I started sports. Immigrants in Iran did not have the right to do professional sports. I went to a taekwondo club and registered, but once the soldiers came and said: You have no right to be in the club and you use the equipment that men use during night shifts. These events took place after the Taliban and during the Republican period. I left taekwondo. I joined the school basketball team and with all the difficulties of hardware and software, our team was always first in Balkh province. I had been working for an international women’s organization since I left school and went to university. We taught women living in remote areas how to start a small business for themselves with little money and become financially independent.
Nimrokh: Tell us about Afghanistan’s first female marathon runner?
Answer: I started playing sports professionally in 2015. I saw the first marathon advertisement in the institute where I worked, I emailed and two Afghan women were supposed to participate in this competition. The first Afghan marathon was held in Bamyan and I was able to complete 42 km. Since then, many girls have had the courage and interest to compete in running. Two women, one from Canada and the other from the free-to-run Institute, helped me with the competition.
Nimrokh: Tell us about your departure from Afghanistan and the moment of the fall?
Answer:In the morning, I went to my office, about 10 o’clock, one of my colleagues came in a hurry and said: the Taliban took over Kabul. At 12 o’clock, one of my colleagues and I left the office and headed home. On the way, we saw people who looked like the Taliban holding guns and walking down the street. They looked at people and laughed.I saw the resurrection in the streets of Kabul, there was no taxi, everyone was running. I ran from Olympic Road to Darulaman. After the fall, I was in Kabul for about two weeks, then we went to Pakistan and reached the Torkham border, thousands of people were waiting to cross the border, we crossed the border once, but we were caught and deported. Shiites and Hazaras were deported, but other tribes were not deported, and we returned to Kabul. If I am not mistaken, we left Kabul airport on August 25, but we waited for two nights and two days in the water canal next to the airport. When we boarded a military plane to Qatar, I realized that I would never see Kabul again. Here in the United States, I thought to myself that I should return to Afghanistan because this is not my country, one day I will walk the streets of Kabul and visit cafes with my friends and return to work. I would like my daughter to study in Afghanistan and grow up with Afghan culture. I do not want to get used to living here. I try to calm myself down and comfort my family. I am very concerned about the girls and women of Afghanistan, every day a new decree is issued for their personal life, one day the Taliban say that girls should study till the sixth grade or they can study in the university, but we will separate boys and girls with curtain. One day they detain Tamana and Parwana or Alia, and no one knows where they are. What the Taliban have started is horrible and I understand the fear of the protesting girls. I think a very deep tragedy is happening in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, a catastrophe is happening for women and human society, these meetings are small things that are done for the situation of women. I read in the local news agencies that several girls in Mazar-e-Sharif disappeared and when they found the shot bodies, the Taliban did not even allow their families to interview or talk about it. On the other hand, torturing the girls in Kabul made me very upset.
Nimrokh: Do you think the fall of Afghanistan was pre-planned?
Answer: Well, it is clear that the fall of Afghanistan was premeditated, and this was the first time that rumors in Afghanistan became a reality. There have always been many rumors in Afghanistan, but none of them were true. All the heads of state and international leaders said in their speeches that either an interim government would be formed or the Taliban would take over a large part of the government. The Republic will have a share. These meetings had prepared public opinion and directed the minds of the people to the acceptance of the Taliban.
Nimrokh: What is your definition of the Taliban and what do you think?
Answer: Taliban, by my definition, is a group that kills a woman who is giving birth and kill a child who is in her mother’s womb, and kill a child who is one hour after his birth, kill children who are in school, kill people while praying, kill people while exercising in private clubs, Taliban rape girls, Taliban bring poverty and hunger, and Taliban behead in the most friendly way possible, that is, what the group can do is behead. The Taliban are more afraid of literate women and children in Afghanistan.
Nimrokh: A video was played of you saying that you were running five kilometers to protest against the Taliban. Why protest?
Answer:The reason for my protest is that a group that is not elected by the people is never acceptable, whether for women, children, or even men in Afghanistan. A government that has no legitimacy can be challenged. If there was an election in Afghanistan to ask the people, are you satisfied with the Taliban or not? I am sure that a large percentage of the people are dissatisfied, but those who are satisfied with the Taliban are their family members or those who are afraid of the Taliban and do not dare to tell the truth.
Another reason for my protest against the Taliban is that they want to eradicate women and ignore women in any sector. The Taliban think that the aid coming to Afghanistan from foreign governments is not universal and is only for men. During the twenty years of the republican system, as much as the West helped Afghanistan, it also paid attention to Afghan women and girls.
Nimrokh: As a successful and elite Afghan woman, what do you expect from the international community and the United Nations?
Answer: My request is very simple and clear, they should not support the Taliban. Those who committed crimes and killed for years. They did not kill with a single bullet, they killed people in different ways for twenty years. Nowhere in the world have we witnessed armed men enter hospitals and kill women and children. Nowhere did we witness armed men enter schools and kill students for studying, nowhere did we see travelers on the road be beheaded and their daughters are raped because they were Hazaras. We will never forget what the Taliban did in these twenty-seven years. I want to say to everyone who hears my voice, the United Nations, the international community, and so on: Even negotiating with the Taliban is a crime, a crime against humanity. The Taliban should not even be called to a table, they do not comprehend and are not literate.
Nimrokh: With the arrival of the Taliban, many women migrated. Tell us about the situation of the migrants and how you migrated?
Answer:We have two groups of immigrants, those who lobbied in Afghanistan only to get projects and earned money under the name of women. They always traveled abroad. Afghanistan was an option for them to get rich and famous, and now that they are sitting in their western homes, they will not experience the hardships and sorrows we see, although they may express their feelings in meetings and say that they are very sad. And the second group are those who never thought about emigrating and we were forced to leave. We may be safe, but we are not happy, we have lost the homes that we built for ourselves. It is very difficult to get used to a new culture, it may seem very acceptable from the outside, but it is not. The first step you take in the new country is your honeymoon, you are happy, you see everywhere, but then it is your stage of depression that you see the reality.
Nimrokh: Would you analyze Afghanistan’s women’s sports conditions, before and after the Taliban? What are your plans for the future?
Answer:Afghanistan’s sport had become politicized, it had become an opportunity for Afghanistan’s sports leaders to become richer. An example was the head of the Girls’ Football Federation, that Khaleda Popal, whom I am proud of, for her courage in disclosing and defending the sexual harassment of Afghan girls, the funds allocated to the federations were not spent correctly. Afghan female athletes have never felt safe alongside Afghan male athletes. In particular, I was not a member of any Afghan national team, I did not want to involve my sport in the politics of Afghanistan, even when I became the Afghan Athlete of the Year in 2016, on behalf of the German and French embassies, the president of the federation said: Which team are you a member of? This is the first time we hear your name. When did you compete on behalf of Afghanistan? I answered: As an Afghan woman, I am not a member of any national team and I am happy about that. I already know that the Olympic Committee does not allow any girls to exercise. No female athlete has been in the Olympics since the Taliban took over Kabul. I will continue to do my best to support the right of Afghan women. From running to any other kind of protest. There is also a personal dimension that running is a kind of relaxation for me, it is a kind of psychotherapy for the situation to keep myself upright.
Nimrokh: How do you see the future of Afghan women and do you have any message for women protesters and fighters?
Answer: I am sure that with the removal of the Taliban, the new leaders of Afghanistan will be women. Are all Afghan men happy with the arrival of the Taliban? sale of organs that we see, hunger, and poverty, so why are no men in the field? Do only women sell their organs, or do men also sell them? With the rise of the Taliban, all the people have been harmed, so why are only Afghan women taken to the streets, get arrested, beaten, and humiliated, where are the Afghan men? Are they really afraid of the Taliban? They do not have the courage of a woman to stand side by side with women and say that they are against the Taliban, we will not forget your crimes. So women showed that Afghanistan’s next leaders must be women, and the Taliban should never dream that they can oppress women. I wish someone would write the history of these sacrifices, I hope the efforts of women will not fail.
Translated by: Jahan Raha