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9520News from Afghanistan: Afghanistan's most prominent female candidate

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  • Zafar Khan
    Mar 15, 2014
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      Afghanistan's most prominent female candidate
      Habiba Sarabi, running to be a second vice president, described her ticket as supporting 'moderation and rebuilding'.
      Ali M Latifi Last updated: 02 Mar 2014 10:04


      Maidan Shahr, Afghanistan - Travelling in a line of white Lexuses, Habiba Sarabi's convoy could belong to any politician in Kabul.

      But this isn't just any motorcade. As presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul's choice for second vice president, Sarabi is the only female candidate on a major ticket in Afghanistan's third-ever presidential polls, to be held this April.

      This is a fact she embraces. "People are proud that we are making history," Sarabi told Al Jazeera on the road to Maidan Wardak province, an hour's drive south of Kabul.

      Aware that politics is largely a man's game anywhere in the world, Sarabi said there is power in her presence on one of the leading tickets. "It is making a difference," the former governor of Bamiyan province said of the way people responded to her on the campaign trail.

      Addressing a crowded hall in the campaign's election office in Maidan Wardak, Sarabi turned to a few dozen women sitting in the corner to convey that message directly. Looking towards the women - many of whom were wearing blue chadaris, or burqas - Sarabi tried to convince them that if they "want women in this country to have power and take a lead in decision-making", they should cast their ballots for the team of "moderation and rebuilding".

      But some of the young men gathered in the provincial capital that Thursday morning said it is exactly that prospect that would keep them from voting for a team with a woman on the ticket. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Abdul Malek, 24, was blunt with his objection: "This woman can't solve our problems."

      Abdul Malek referred to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad stating that "those who entrust their affairs to a woman shall never know prosperity". Societies led by women, claimed Abdul Malek, are more susceptible to bribery and corruption. "Islamically, how can I support a woman [in politics]?"

      Gains and setbacks

      Despite such objections, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has embraced the participation of women in politics. At 28 percent, the Afghan legislature is one of the most heavily female lawmaking bodies in Asia, with a higher rate than that in the US and many European countries. This surpasses even the 2004 quota that called for 25 percent female presence in parliament. Last year, Saira Shakeeb Sadat made history as the nation's first female district governor.

      But there have been setbacks. Most notably, last December the United Nations cited a 28 percent increase in reported cases of violence against women. Further, the report found that of the 650 reported incidents of violence against women and girls across 18 provinces between October 2012 and September 2013, a law targeting violence against women was only applied in 109 cases.

      Earlier this month, the government faced fresh criticism over a bill that rights activists had described as a threat to the prosecution of violence against women. Last week, the cabinet called for a rewrite of a provision in the law that prohibits "relatives of the accused" from testifying in a court of law - which activists said would make the prosecution of domestic abuse cases near impossible.

      Meanwhile, many at the campaign event in Maidan Wardak were not there to see Sarabi, but to support Rassoul, the presidential candidate and former foreign minister. Asked why he planned on casting his first-ever ballot for the Rassoul ticket, 18-year-old Faizullah's answer ignored the woman speaking behind the podium. "[Rassoul] wasn't involved in the fighting" of the civil war, Faizullah said. What the people of Maidan Wardak want, he added, is "for the fighting to stop. Wardak has seen too much fighting."

      Maidan Wardak, once an important transit hub, has come to be known for violence in recent years. This is among the reasons why women like Sarabi cannot serve as a leader in Afghanistan, said one man outside the event who declined to give his name to Al Jazeera. "Women are oppressed. They aren't aggressive enough to serve as leaders. Men should lead," he said.

      Afghanistan's safest - and poorest - province

      Driving to Maidan Wardak, Sarabi said she was happy to return to the province after 10 years. Given her eight-year tenure as governor of Bamiyan - the so-called "safest province" in Afghanistan - some in the audience wondered whether she lacked the experience to address people in a province with a heavy Taliban presence.

      "You think the election will actually reach unsafe areas like this? This is all just talk, a show. No one in the districts will be able to vote and have their voices heard," Malek, 26, told Al Jazeera.

      Some in the province Sarabi once governed also question her abilities. Speaking to Al Jazeera shortly after Sarabi was announced as Rassoul's choice for second vice president, residents of Bamiyan said they saw little progress in the nation's poorest province under her leadership.

      "She has not done anything for the people of Bamiyan," Qadria Jaffari, a student in Bamiyan, told Al Jazeera. "We have plenty of water but no electricity. Bamiyan has a large population but we have no faculties, no dorms in the university. Someone who doesn't make a good governor will never make a good vice president."

      But for Barat, a resident of Sayed Abad village, the security in Bamiyan province was proof of Sarabi's success. Though he admitted that "there is still work to be done" in Bamiyan, Barat said that Sarabi did what she could within the government structure at the time.

      "We are happy with her," he said. "She has worked for us."

      Follow Ali Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye

      Karzai Says Afghanistan Doesn't Need US Troops
      KABUL, Afghanistan March 15, 2014 (AP)
      By KATHY GANNON and RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press


      In his final address to Afghanistan's parliament Saturday, President Hamid Karzai told the United States its soldiers can leave at the end of the year because his military, which already protects 93 percent of the country, was ready to take over entirely.

      He reiterated his stance that he would not sign a pact with the United States that would provide for a residual force of U.S. troops to remain behind after the final withdrawal, unless peace could first be established.

      The Afghan president has come under heavy pressure to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, with a council of notables that he himself convened recommend that he sign the pact. The force would train and mentor Afghan troops, and some U.S. Special Forces would also be left behind to hunt down al-Qaida.

      All 10 candidates seeking the presidency in April 5 elections have said they would sign the security agreement. But Karzai himself does not appear to want his legacy to include a commitment to a longer foreign troop presence in his country.

      Karzai was brought to power in the wake of the 2001 U.S.-led invasion and subsequently won two presidential elections —— in 2004 and again in 2009. But he has in recent years espoused a combatative nationalism, with his hour-long speech Saturday no exception.

      "I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere," he said.

      Karzai said the war in Afghanistan was "imposed" on his nation, presumably by the 2001 invasion, and told the United States it could bring peace to Afghanistan if it went after terrorist sanctuaries and countries that supported terrorism, a reference to Pakistan.

      Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the Taliban. It backed the group before their 2001 overthrow, and although now it is at war with its own militants, Afghan insurgents sometimes find refuge on its territory.

      Karzai told parliament, which was holding its opening session for this term, that security forces were strong enough to defend Afghanistan without the help of international troops.

      Karzai steps down after next month's presidential elections. Under Afghanistan's constitution, he is banned from seeking a third term.

      He came to power in December 2001 following an international agreement signed in Bonn, Germany, and was confirmed by a Loya Jirga or grand council that selected a transitional government to rule while preparing for nationwide elections. He subsequently won two presidential elections.

      Relations between Karzai and the United States have been on a downward spiral since his re-election in 2009, in which the United States and several other countries charged widespread fraud. Karzai in turn accused them of interference.

      In his speech Karzai again urged Taliban insurgents to join the peace process, while accusing Pakistan of protecting the Taliban leadership. He suggested that Pakistan was behind the killing earlier this year of a Taliban leader who supported the peace process. No one has taken responsibility for the attack.

      Throughout his speech Karzai spoke of his accomplishments over the last 12 years, saying schools were functioning, rights were being given to women, energy projects were coming online and the Afghan currency had been stabilized. Karzai said that when he first took power his country was isolated and nothing was functioning.

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      New Afghanistan law to silence victims of violence against women
      Small change to criminal code has huge consequences in country where 'honour' killings and forced marriage are rife
      Emma Graham-Harrison
      The Guardian, Tuesday 4 February 2014 18.33 GMT


      A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honour" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.

      The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.

      "It is a travesty this is happening," said Manizha Naderi, director of the charity and campaign group Women for Afghan Women. "It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women … The most vulnerable people won't get justice now."

      Under the new law, prosecutors could never come to court with cases like that of Sahar Gul, a child bride whose in-laws chained her in a basement and starved, burned and whipped her when she refused to work as a prostitute for them. Women like 31-year-old Sitara, whose nose and lips were sliced off by her husband at the end of last year, could never take the stand against their attackers.

      "Honour" killings by fathers and brothers who disapprove of a woman's behaviour would be almost impossible to punish. Forced marriage and the sale or trading of daughters to end feuds or settle debt would also be largely beyond the control of the law in a country where the prosecution of abuse is already rare.

      It is common in western legal systems to excuse people from testimony that might incriminate their spouse. But it is a very narrow exception, with little resemblance to the blanket ban planned in Afghanistan.

      Human Rights Watch said it would "let batterers of women and girls off the hook".

      The change is in a section of the criminal code titled "Prohibition of Questioning an Individual as a Witness". Others covered by the ban are children, doctors and defence lawyers for the accused.

      Senators originally wanted a milder version of the law that would prevent relatives from being legally obliged to take the stand in a case in which they did not want to testify.

      But both houses of parliament eventually passed a draft banning all testimony.

      As most Afghans live in walled compounds, shared only with their extended families, this covers most witnesses to violence in the home.


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      A Tale of Three Cities
      We explore how three key Afghan cities are being affected by the gradual withdrawal of the US troops.
      People and Power Last updated: 05 Dec 2013 12:27
      By John D McHugh



      In 2011, US President Obama announced, some would argue unwisely, that all conventional US forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

      Since then, 2014 has taken on an almost mythical status among Afghan observers, with ever more doom and gloom being heaped on it as the years pass. Now, as the Americans and their coalition partners near their drawdown date, it has become fashionable to say they have lost interest in the war, but it seems that many journalists and commentators have also lost interest. As hyperbole replaces fact, and intellectual laziness takes the place of in-depth analysis, many are saying that the war has been a massive waste of blood and treasure, and that Afghanistan is as bad as it was 12 years ago, a disaster.

      But this is far too simplistic a view.

      Of course there have been mistakes, huge mistakes. Innocent civilians have died in far greater numbers than armed combatants on either side. Too much money has been spent on smart bombs and not enough on smart people. Opportunities to talk to the opposition have been squandered in favour of large-scale, career-advancing military operations. And worst of all, the goodwill of the Afghan people has been slowly but steadily eroded by the day-to-day misunderstandings and disappointments that are the hallmark of every occupation.

      Mistakes, and wasted chances, yes. But is Afghanistan really a disaster? No. Not yet.

      It is easy to drown in the problems of the country, but there are successes that must be acknowledged too. While the war still rages in the south and the east, Afghanistan has seen huge improvement in the north and west since 2001. International aid money has built schools and hospitals, improved roads and airports, introduced stable electricity and telecommunications networks, and facilitated the growth of the state through a centralised government.

      Afghanistan: A Tale of Three Cities is the latest in an occasional series that I have been making for People & Power , looking at Afghanistan through the prism of 2014. Having spent much of the last eight years immersed in the war, I wanted to talk to ordinary Afghans about their lives, and what 2014 means to them. Last year I made a film called Kabul: A City of Hope and Fear , in much the same vein, but this time I decided to go to examine some of the regional cities; Herat in the west, Mazar-e Sharif in the north, and Jalalabad in the east.

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      Aresh Barez is a political activist and musician. Living in Herat, a prosperous and relatively peaceful province in the west of Afghanistan, he uses his music and songwriting talents to call for change in the country. He is representative of a growing youth movement that has come of age since the fall of the Taliban. These young people have experienced a freedom their parents could never dream of. They have had access to education, music, satellite TV, and now the Internet and social media.

      But Barez is realistic about the challenges Afghanistan faces.

      "There are a number of mullahs who don't believe in music, they don't believe in the young generations. They want to restrict the young generation," he says. "Some time ago, a mullah in Herat issued a fatwa against some young musicians, calling them kaffirs (non-believers), saying that according to Islam music is haram (forbidden)."

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      Will a woman follow Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's president?
      ROB O’BRIEN Wednesday 02 October 2013


      As a baby, Fawzia Koofi was placed in a field and left to die under the baking sun.

      That was the choice the 38-year-old’s mother made, believing she had failed by not producing a son and heir for her husband, whom she shared with six other wives. Koofi was the 19th child in her family; to her mother, a girl was just “another mouth to feed and a dowry to finance”, Koofi says. The sunburnt baby was brought in by a stranger and handed back to her mother who, pitying her, decided to keep her.

      Now, Fawzia Koofi has set her sights on becoming Afghanistan’s first woman president at next year’s national elections – a controversial move in a country where women in any position of authority are targets of death threats and assassination attempts.

      Ms Koofi is no stranger to these threats – having served as an MP and the country’s first female Deputy Speaker of Parliament since 2005, she is a leading activist for women’s and children’s rights.

      Her family bears all the scars of the country’s troubled history. Her father, an MP for 25 years, was killed by the Mujahideen before the Soviet invasion of 1979. Both of her brothers were killed in politically motivated assassinations, and her husband died in 2003 after contracting tuberculosis in a Taliban jail, leaving her to raise her two daughters alone.

      “As a woman, I have suffered a lot – faced injustice and discrimination,” says Ms Koofi, speaking to The Independent in Singapore after launching her new political party, Movement for Change in Afghanistan, in front of thousands of supporters last week.

      “I would like to create an environment for my own daughters and other women in my country so that they don’t suffer as much as I suffered, and as the generation before me suffered,” she says.

      Ms Koofi has promised that her party will focus on women’s rights and the progressive parts of society that she says aren’t being represented by the male-dominated, conservative politicians who have ruled Afghanistan for years.

      “All of the political parties in Afghanistan are being led by a man and there is a lack of women and youth participation. All of these people have been ruling Afghanistan for the last 55 years… if you look at the parties, the power transfers from the father to the son and from the son to the grandson.

      “I represent a transformed Afghanistan. It is not only youth that are pro change: I have had an elderly person ask me about schooling for their girls; these same people 15 years ago wouldn’t have let their boys go to school,” she says. “That’s a transformation that’s happening right now in Afghanistan and it hardly gets reported because it’s not a suicide bombing and it’s not a measurable change.

      “There is a lack of change and vision in these parties especially when it comes to women’s rights and Afghanistan now requires parties and politicians who adjust themselves with the changes [that are going on].”

      Whoever takes over from Hamid Karzai as President will face a long list of challenges – and at the top will be the handling of the country’s security situation after the withdrawal of US and Nato forces, expected to take place late next year.