Days before a peace talk between the U.S. and the Taliban — which politicians have said could end the U.S.’s longest-running war — a representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations spoke to around 50 NYU community members at Meyer Hall on Tuesday.
Adela Raz is a Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the U.N. and discussed Afghanistan’s evolving government on Tuesday evening. The event was organized by NYU’s United Nations Initiative, a branch of NYU’s Model UN organization that hosts global ambassadors and heads of state.
The U.S. and the Taliban will meet on Feb. 29 with the hope of signing an agreement to end the war in Afghanistan, which has been ongoing since the U.S. invasion of the country in 2001. The talks are set to follow a week-long period of violence reduction — in which most offensive interactions will be ended — between the U.S., the Taliban and the Afghan governments. If this period is successful, it could indicate a cue for U.S. troop withdrawal.
The Taliban — an Islamist political group formed in 1994 — is located geographically in Afghanistan, but much of its support comes from outside forces, such as the narcotics industry and private citizens from surrounding Gulf countries.
In terms of negotiations, this meeting could also pave the way for an agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban would remain a part of Afghanistan’s government, which would then be a representative democracy, Raz said.
Director of NYU’s UNI Raghuveer Vyas introduced Raz as the first female Deputy Spokesperson and Director of Communications for the President of Afghanistan in 2013. Since then, she has represented Afghanistan in various agreements as Deputy Foreign Minister, including at the Geneva Conferences on Afghanistan, Inclusion of Women’s Economic Empowerment and the Lapis Lazuli Route agreement.
“Our world’s terrorism is a threat — my government today wants to fight that terrorism — much different from the government when I was a kid,” Raz said. “We have arrived politically and economically to make peace with the Taliban.”
The government located in Kabul — the capital of Afghanistan — has witnessed a lot of uncertainties and risks throughout the Afghan Civil War and the post-9/11 era. Afghanistan’s government has transformed dramatically in the past 19 years, from a conservative government to a new representative democracy, upholding the constitution and progressing women’s rights.
“I was raised and born in war,” Raz said. “I was in the country during the Taliban regime and during the post-9/11 evolvement of the country. In the last 19 years, we have been given constitutional rights and equal rights.”
Around 64% of the Afghan population is under the age of 25, making it one of the most youthful countries in the world. Raz said the generation growing up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks leans toward the left, with an interest in cultivating democracy, women’s rights and constitutional structure.
Attempts to reform education to reflect these changing values in Afghanistan is the next obstacle, according to Raz.
“A huge challenge is our educational system,” Raz said. “It was manipulated by the pro-communist Soviets and later the civil war, changing many Afghans thoughts to extremism — a generation that is confused and lost. When I was little, two plus two equals four was two guns plus two guns equals four guns.”
Raz believes the current Afghan government is prioritizing these reforms.
“In the past years, we have been working in education reform, especially in higher education,” Raz said. “Within the last 19 years and through technological advances, our youth have been well informed. However, we have limited facilities for that type of education.”
She added that statistically, more youths are looking for jobs as opposed to furthering their education.
Steinhardt first-year Vighnesh Mehrotra felt Raz addressing the topic of higher education and its economic realities was particularly significant.
“[Education] teaches us how to analyze, critique, and complement our government,” Mehrotra said. “In the future, the people who we are educating are the ones in power. Raz’s point about higher education rings incredibly true— [it’s] an instrumental role in many developing countries.”
Having come to the United States professionally many times, Raz has noticed societal stigmas against the Middle East that she feels need to be addressed urgently.
“When the US hears about the Middle East, they think of tradition and extremism,” Raz said. “There’s a lack of understanding of how our media is the freest press we have in the region, our advancements in equality for all, and free democracy. It makes everybody responsible for society. When the media is independent, democracy is free.”
CAS first-year Ryan Lee believes having more platforms where people from Afghanistan who can spread Afghan culture would be quite beneficial to Americans’ understanding of the country.
“I think this is a start. A lot of how we formulate opinions is via our media,” Lee said. “It’s so important to get insight from people who are natives of that country, and listen to them.”
Lee, like Raz, is optimistic about the results of the peace talks.
“I am one for high hopes, but I’m reserving my judgment,” Lee said. “I am Korean, and talks between North and South Korea did not go as well as planned. The Taliban knows if they want to get change done, they have to cooperate with the existing Afghanistan government, well-established in the last 20 years.”
In regards to the U.S. 2020 presidential election, Raz remained positive about U.S.-Afghanistan relations.
“We do not have a preference with any presidential candidate because we have had a good relationship with both President Obama and Trump,” Raz said. “Historically, Republicans have aided Afghanistan. However, in the last 19 years, we have been working with the Democratic Party to a greater extent. I think it’s all about the policy implementation.”
For Lee and other aspiring students in the political field, interacting with professionals in the field is crucial.
“It’s so important for us to get a sense of real-world diplomacy,” Lee said. “It allows me to apply the theories from class to real politics. It’s essential to ask questions and hear their insights, on their country’s policies and their thoughts on other countries.”
Email Roshni Raj at [email protected]