I cannot believe I am halfway through my time here at USIP for the summer! Here's a recap of last week's highlights.
Gharghashta and I are still awaiting approval for our second blog based on her reactions to the Afghan elections. So this week during our consultation, we discussed the Afghanistan country page on inprol.org. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a link for you to see because you have to be a registered and authorized user to access the site. Basically, in addition to blog posts, news features, digital library resources, and discussion forums, there is also a country page that USIP wrote several years ago on Afghanistan, which I have been editing. Gharghashta read through the first portion and we discussed it over the phone. She provided very valuable insight into what sections were still good and accurate and which ones needed revising or expansion. I am extremely grateful for her wisdom and generosity in walking me through getting to know her country. I have copied below our first blog together that is online at inprol.org. I will post the second blog once it is approved.
Gharghashta Katawazai is a former elected member of the Afghan National Assembly (Wlasi Jirga) for the 2005-2010 term, served as a member of the Emergency Loya Jirga and the Constitutional Loya Jirga, and was the first female MP from the Paktika Province. She is fluent in Pashto, Urdu, Dari, and English. During her time in office she worked tirelessly for Afghan women and children. As the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential elections approaches, Gharghashta reflected on her experience as a young woman in Parliament in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Youth and the Post-Taliban Elections
Afghans lacked significant experience with modern, democratic elections when the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections took place in the post-Taliban era, in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Most political parties were and remain based on ethnic and language affiliations, not true policy distinctions. Traditionally, only the older adult men make decisions and the young are expected to only listen and obey. In the past, election campaigning meant throwing large dinner parties and asking or bribing guests for their vote.
My father allowed me to receive an education while a refugee in Pakistan. Upon my return to Afghanistan in 2002, I went to Kabul and helped establish a non-political, youth civil society organization with the help of other Afghan youths, as well as the international community. Our group hosted the first ever international, Afghan youth conference in Kabul. Every province in attendance sent two representative youths, one boy and one girl. Our group hosted leadership workshops and provided training on constitutional rights.
The members of the Afghan youth group decided to support fifteen of our members, both men and women, in running for Parliament. It was hard for young people to run for office because we didn’t have the money to campaign. To allow the chosen fifteen to run, group members pooled funds. We also took jobs to earn money for our candidates and asked friends and family to donate.
Campaigning as a Young Woman
I was among those selected to run for Parliament. I was not able to campaign in the traditional manner because of the great cost of throwing large dinner parties. More importantly, the Taliban resisted my candidacy because of my progressive platform in support of women and youth rights in line with our Constitution and Islamic Republic. The Taliban significantly thwarted my campaigning efforts. The law allowed three months for campaigning, but I couldn’t campaign as publicly as others during the first month. Instead, I began holding small meetings with political and religious leaders including mullahs and prominent citizens. I had studied the Qu’ran, so rather than discuss politics directly I sat with the influential men of my province and talked about Islam. While my opinions were generally not well received, because of my respectful approach I was gradually able to campaign more openly in the second and third months.
One evening during my campaign, the call for prayer sounded in the middle of a small meeting. I asked the mullah present to kindly translate the Arabic call to my native language of Pashto. He quickly became angry and offended, assuming that I did not know the purpose of the call to prayer. I clarified that I knew its purpose but would like to know what it was literally saying. He chastised me, insisting the meaning was irrelevant; only belief, faith, and obedience were required. In response, I asked how or why should I be expected to believe in something that is not explained to me? I put forward a challenge: if anyone in the room could translate the call from Arabic to Pashto, I would no longer run for Parliament. However, if only I could perform the translation then everyone present should vote for me. After only I was able to successfully translate the prayer, one of the group called me the “real Muslim.”
My Time in Parliament
When I was elected to Parliament, I was the youngest MP. I was also the first woman to represent Paktika Province and became the first female Deputy Minister of Human Rights, Women’s Affairs, and Civil Society. During my tenure, I helped establish thirteen home schools for girls, even using my family’s private property and finances. Back in my home province of Paktika, I had people in my home every day, expecting me to provide for every need ranging from medical care to education. Afghans had very little experience with elected government and often did not understand the limitations of my power as an MP. On my meager salary, I helped in whatever ways possible, while trying to educate people about their Constitutional rights and how the governmental system was really designed to operate.
The 2004 Constitution required that each of Afghanistan’s thirty-two provinces have two female MPs. During my tenure, most female MPs were unfortunately but understandably puppets of influential men who got them elected. These women felt a sense of obligation, duty, and threat to act however these men dictated. My path to nomination and election differed, so I was able to have more freedom in maintaining my voice for my province. I was widely known as one of the most outspoken female MPs. It was in part because of this that I eventually I had to leave my country when the threats of violence against myself and my family became too serious.
By the 2010 parliamentary elections, I decided not to run for reelection. I felt that the hope had faded and elections had become a business, with many votes bought or traded. Afghans had expected dramatic change after the first rounds of democratic elections and became disillusioned after seeing how little had improved. They had also seen most government officials using their titles and salaries for selfish purposes. Many thought the election commission was corrupt and had already picked winners, regardless of the people’s votes.
Hope for the Future
I do have hope for the next round of elections though, mostly because of the youth activity I have witnessed. I have seen youths interviewed who say they are not much concerned with the traditional ethnic lines anymore, but are more interested in candidates’ policies and ideas. I also think that candidates are campaigning more earnestly now, and making more of an effort to address women and youth concerns. A former warlord who had previously said youths and women should only obey and never speak is now asking for their support. Even if he isn’t sincere, to me this tactical change shows that at least he and others are more aware that youths and women are a part of Afghanistan’s future.
Gharghashta and her family recently immigrated to the United States as refugees after their safety came under threat from the Taliban. She continues to work towards a peaceful, democratic Afghanistan from her new home.
I went to such an informative event here at the Institute this past week, where Rachel Kleinfeld and Harry Bader presented their report called "Extreme Violence and the Rule of Law: Lessons from Eastern Afghanistan." Link to the report below:
I highly encourage you to read this report. The authors illustrate an innovative and nuanced alternative framework to the international community’s current, typical approach towards designing and implementing rule of law projects in conflict states afflicted by extreme violence. The authors highlight a program that was implemented in eastern Afghanistan by the Natural Resources Counterinsurgency Cell (NRCC) from January 2010 to May 2011 as an example of an unconventional program design and methodology that may be better tailored to specific situations in improving governance and rule of law development. Not only do the authors provide compelling insight into a possibly more productive and successful program style, but also a faster and more cost efficient one as well. With too many conflict zones erupting in extreme violence, we would be wise to heed this perspective and to consider critically the future direction of US-backed rule of law initiatives. I've written a blog that discusses the report in more depth but it is in the review/approval process. Once I get the greenlight, I will share it with you all! I really found this report and presentation so thought provoking, and in a field where it is hard to remain optimistic and maintain your endurance, I think these experts provide a glimmer of hope about how we can better contribute to peacebuilding around the world.
I also joined a small round-table discussion with a member of the Afghan Interior Ministry, who was discussing the government agenda and process of adding more women to the Afghan National Police force. There are still many concerns about combatting the social disapproval of this nature of work for women and providing adequate training, resources, and overall support to female staff. A majority of the women who have joined the ANP are young, and the government is specifically recruiting among the youth as they are more likely to have more progressive notions of women in public society. Hopefully, the roles for women within the security sector will continue to grow and improve. The government official spoke mostly in Dari, and I was so excited to be able to understand about half of what he said, since Dari is so similar to Farsi. This interaction reminded me how badly I want to become totally fluent in Farsi, and I'm wondering if it would be possible after taking the bar to go live in Tehran with my extended family for a while to hone my language skills.
This week, a lot of staff members got together to watch the USA-Germany game together in one of our auditoriums at work, so that was really fun. I think we'll be doing it again for other big games moving forward. Although I don't really follow soccer, it's a fun time time to be patriotic and competitive! Speaking of patriotic, I'm really looking forward to the 4th of July! I'll be spending the holiday weekend with W&M Law friends here in DC, instead of my usual Georgetown college friends, who are all going camping this year. I hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday!
Also, we all heard over the weekend which journals we have been accepted to join, so I am now a member of the William & Mary Journal of Women in the Law! Bidding for law firm jobs for next summer begins this week, so it's already time to begin thinking what my next career steps will be. Nervewracking but exciting!
Ok, good bye for now! #peace