Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Interview with the woman in the mirror

 Q&A with Shukria Barakzai
by Zia Ur Rehman
Ms. Shukria Barakzai is an Afghan politician and a member of parliament. She is a prominent women rights activist and also the founder of "Aina-e Zan" (Women's Mirror), a weekly publication that focuses on women's issues. During the rule of the hard-line Taliban, Barakzai helped run underground schools for girls and women in Afghanistan. In 2003, she was appointed a member of Loya Jirga, a body of representatives from across the Afghanistan that was nominated to discuss and pass the country’s new constitution after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2004, she was elected a member of parliament or Wolesi Jirga. She also headed the parliamentary defence committee for two years. At her office in parliament building in Kabul, the scribe got an opportunity to talk to her on issues relating to security situation, parliamentary development and women’s rights in Afghanistan and Pak-Afghan relations. 

Q: What brought you in Politics?

Shukria Barakzai: From last three decades, Afghans were suffered from civil war, terrorism, and bloodshed. From intervention of Soviet Union to civil war between the warring Mujahideen groups and atrocities of Taliban, every single Afghan has been affected badly. I am also one among them. I grew up in a totally different society: a society of peace, respect, human dignity and love. But unfortunately three-decade war culture has divided Afghan community in ethnic, sectarian and fractions. 65 thousands of civilians were killed only in Kabul in civil war between Mujahideen groups while the Taliban were the worst forces. Violence against women day by day was very high in these days. Taliban forbade women from working outside the home, forced women to wear burqas, punished women with a public whipping for the appearance of "immodesty" and forbade girls from attending school at all. I still remember the incident of Kabul during Taliban rule when ‘Punjabi Taliban’ were beating a young Afghan severely just because of listening music. We were astonished at that time that how the clerics and students of religious seminaries were driving tanks and using sophisticated guns. The atrocities of warring Mujahideen groups and Taliban politically and socially motivated me much. When Taliban imposed ban of girls’ education, I secretly headed a network of underground schools for girls and women and this network also helped me to form a group of social activists. Because of support of activists of my group, I was elected first as representative of Loya Jirga in 2003 and then a member of parliament in 2004. Street campaigning was key reason of my success in the election whereas my husband, despite spending millions of dollars, lost the elections.

Q: what do you think what is the solution of stable peace in Afghanistan and what role Pakistan, as a neighboring country, should play in this regard?

SB : This issue is very complicated. In the past, we, the Afghans, have defeated powerful forces like Britain and USSR for their occupations and interventions but presently, we are very confused to curb terrorism in our country. We have solid proofs of involvement of Pakistan in supporting the groups who are involved in unrest in Afghanistan but we can’t do anything. Today Pakistan is also suffering from the same terrorism and unrest. People in mosques and public places are not safe from the suicide attackers who have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians. We, the Afghans, want to see our neighbours very prosperous and democratic countries. But Pakistan also should need to stop the anti-peace elements to use their land against Afghanistan.

 Q: what challenges the women MPs are facing in the Afghanistan’s parliament?

BS: Afghanistan’s parliament features a percentage of female representation at 27.3 percent which is constitutionally secured. MPs have played a great role in legislations and raising the national issues especially women issues. Some women think that the parliament is not their house but I think totally differently. A woman MP in parliament can easily and courageously ask, shout, demand and complain about rights of people, especially women and children. All women MPs have their own views and different viewpoints but they become united in pursuit of common cause. We did it very recently on issue of gender budget. I think parliament is an appropriate forum to fight against violence against women and child marriages. They are many issues, not just two or three. We, the women MPs, are not doing for ourselves but for the upcoming generation who will hold the responsibilities of ruling the country in the future. 

Q: Some circles believe that current parliament is full of former Mujahideen and warlords who were involved in killing thousands of Afghans during civil war in Afghanistan. What is your opinion on this?

BS : It is a different judgment. The parliament is a democratic institution of the community where people from different background and with different political ideologies present their opinion. But it doesn’t mean that the parliament is full of former warlords and Mujahideen. I am also against these people involved in war crimes but also think it is also a great success that today women MPs are sitting in a parliament with former Mujahideen. 

Q: How do you see the ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban? 

BS: Our doors are always open for ‘good Afghans’ for peace negotiations, but not for the foreigners. We have closed doors for those who don’t belong to us, who don’t approve democracy and constitution of the country and don’t pay respect to Afghan people. No matters, any people, with name of Taliban or democratic, don’t approve the prosperity of the country, we disapprove them. We will kill them (Taliban) and thrown them out. Peace negotiation is a process and shouldn't be a deal and this process will come from the grassroots. 

Q: Are Afghan security forces capable to oversee the law and order situation in the country after the withdrawal of NATO forces from the country? What is your view?

BS : The Afghan National Army was one among the world’s top armies without any help of foreign countries before it broke up into regional militias during the fierce civil war in the 1990s and now, it is again set to secure and stabilise its country by itself.  For two years, I headed the parliamentary defence committee and I believe that today Afghan security forces are well-equipped, well-trained and capable of launching special operations against anti-peace elements in the country. 

Q : What do you think the international forces should leave the Afghanistan?

BS : We don’t want our neighbours should dictate us in this regard. If there is a joint benefit on both sides (the international community and Afghanistan), we will welcome it. We are part of international community and we are struggling together against terrorism and extremism for last three decades. We don’t want a country should stay forever in Afghanistan. International community should rebuild the country and stay until they finish: This is payback time for the international community. We have learned much from our neighbours how they used from international community. 

(This interview has been published previously in The News. The writer contributed this interview from Kabul where he was part of Pak-Afghan Media Exchange Program. His work is archived on www.ziawrites.com )
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