Tanya Goudsouzian and Fatima Rabbani; 21/9/09
Fatima Gailani was 27 years old when she was thrust into the limelight as a spokesperson for the Afghan mujahideen during their ‘jihad’ against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. Beautiful and articulate, the Afghan aristocrat played a vital role in drawing the world’s attention to the events taking place in her country. Following the defeat of the Soviets, civil war broke out among the mujahideen, paving the way for a takeover by the Taliban movement.During 20 years of exile in London, Gailani watched from afar as decades of homespun social progress unraveled in her home country. “During the reign of Zahir Shah [the former king], it didn’t occur to me that I should be aware of my gender at all,” recalls Gailani, sitting in the garden of her home in a well-guarded residential area of Kabul. “I knew that in the villages and other provinces it wasn’t the same, but in Kabul, whether you were a man or a woman, if you achieved well in your education, there was a place for you in government. It was during the war that I became aware of gender disparities.”This was, of course, long before the Taliban usurped the rights of women and relegated them to life in obscurity. … Gailani’s father, Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani, was the founder of the Mahaz-i-Milli Islami (National Islamic Front) party, and one of the leaders of the ‘holy war’ against the Soviets.She says that it was her father who urged her to get involved: “He told me that the door for women would soon close and it would need a strong foot to keep it ajar.” …As the only Afghan woman at the time to assume a very visible political role, Gailani was vilified by some conservative elements in society, but nothing would dissuade her from supporting Afghan liberation and serving as an example to fellow Afghan women.