Afghanistan: UK and US must protect Afghan activists - Malala

By Sima Kotecha
BBC Newsnight

Media caption, 'This is an urgent humanitarian crisis'

US President Joe Biden "has a lot to do" and must "take a bold step" to protect the Afghan people, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has said.

The Pakistani women's rights activist found refuge in the UK after being shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012.

She told BBC Two's Newsnight it was time for world leaders - especially the UK and US - to act to protect civilians and refugees in the country.

"Countries need to open their borders to Afghan refugees", she said.

Yousafzai, now 24, was 15 when she was targeted by the Taliban for speaking up for the right of girls to be educated.

She survived the assault, in which a militant boarded her school bus in the north-western Swat valley and opened fire, wounding two of her school friends as well.

After recovering from her near-fatal injuries, she and her family relocated to Birmingham. Aged 17, she later became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She studied at Oxford University, and has become a leading human rights campaigner.

'Not a US victory'

In an exclusive interview with Newsnight on the plight of Afghanistan, Yousafzai said: "My request to all countries, especially the US, UK, and western countries, is that they must protect all those human and women's rights activists right now.

"And you know what has happened, you know, we can definitely debate about that. But we also need to talk about the immediate next steps that we need to take. We need to talk more about the solutions right now."

She accused America of making irresponsible statements in the light of the Taliban takeover.

"I think the way the US described this war and how it was declared as a victory, I think this sends a very wrong impression," she said. "The Taliban waited for twenty years and they [US] are claiming their so-called victory after that."

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, recently said that the US-led mission in Afghanistan had been a successful one.

Yousafzai said she has talked to other world leaders and members of the US and UK governments.

"I have been trying to reach out to many global leaders. I think every country has a role and responsibility right now. Countries need to open their borders to Afghan refugees, to the displaced people," she said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Yousafzai, pictured at a conference in 2019, set up the Malala Fund to support girls' education in Pakistan

Yousafzai has been an avid campaigner of women's rights, often emphasising the need for girls in developing countries to have a proper education.

She said she was "raising her voice for the women" in Afghanistan who are fearful about their future under a Taliban regime.

When the Taliban previously controlled the country, women were stoned for adultery while their limbs were cut off for theft. Girls were prevented from going to school.

Yousafzai said: "The women are brave, they're strong, and they keep raising their voices. And we must give more opportunities and time to them to tell us what it is that needs to be done for them, for the peace in Afghanistan."

When asked about the rapid pull-out of the coalition forces from Afghanistan, she said the focus during their time there had sometimes been wrong.

"There had been very little interest in focusing on the humanitarian aid and the humanitarian work.

"There had been very little focus on strengthening the democracy there, there has been very little focus on eradicating extremist ideologies. I think every country, every group, is finding their own interest in it, and they're finding their own benefits."

Media caption, Malala Yousafzai: "I want to inspire women and girls"

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