CHANGE. CRISIS. AND A TIME TO THiNK
‘We give the Taliban so much privilege and identity that we look weaker’
The 19th girl child born to her father’s sixth wife, Fawzia Koofi was left out in the punishing winter of Afghanistan’s Badakshan province to die. She survived and was taken back in. When she was three, her father was killed by the Mujahideen. Imprisoned by the Taliban, her husband died of tuberculosis. The Taliban has also tried, several times, to assassinate her. Fawzia has endured all this to become the first woman Speaker of the Afghan Parliament.
Fawzia Koofi, 37, Afghan MP, Presidential Candidate
Photo: Sarang Sena
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
How did you decide to stand for Parliament?
Many young girls in Afghanistan could not fulfill their dreams because their education was interrupted by seven years of Taliban rule. I too could not finish my medical education. I came into politics because it was in my blood. I come from a political family and my father was an MP. Also, there were opportunities for women to work in politics and for social upliftment. I ran for office in 2005 not based on quotas but on an open seat. The life I experienced as a woman was full of discrimination, full of injustice and cruelty. I wanted to change that for other women.
Do your daughters ask you to give up your public life? Are they scared?
Sometimes, for security reasons, yes. They were with me when we were attacked by the Taliban, so they know the threats. But they also know the importance of my work and they brag about it to their classmates in school. My elder daughter, in fact, disassociates herself from her family name, so she doesn’t get promoted for being my daughter, but for being herself.
If you become president in 2014, what would you do?
The main problem right now in Afghanistan is not just the Taliban. It’s also poverty, corruption and the lack of rule of law. The big mistake in the composition of this government is that Afghanistan was divided ethnically and it was decided one ministry should go to the ethnic Tajiks, another to the Hazaras and so on. I will keep ethnic differences in mind, but bring in capable people, where at least 60 percent are those who believe in your way of doing things. I will strengthen the rule of law. Right now, many people are joining the Taliban because there is no justice. I can exploit mines where there is the potential for a lot of investment and use that to increase our national income. When there is wealth and job creation for the people, why would they go to the Taliban? One small ideological faction called the Taliban may remain — let them be. You have problems even in India with small insurgent groups. But once you marginalise them, you will talk to them from a position of power. Then they will be obliged to listen to you. Right now, we give them so much privilege and identity that we look weaker.
What would you say to the current government, to other involved parties, to US President Barack Obama?
Negotiation is the key. But everyone thinks this is only an Afghan war. Is the peace council that this government has established to talk with Taliban commanders needed? No! We have to talk with those who actually created the Taliban. We need to put pressure on the Pakistanis, for instance. My message to Obama is: continue to support democracy in Afghanistan and focus on the source of terrorism, wherever it is. I think politically and morally, it’s a bit early for the Americans to leave Afghanistan. After the political transition happens in 2014, the military transition could happen as well.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.