After Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai’s visit to India this week, there is renewed debate about the future of Afghanistan. Fawzia Koofi, a women’s rights activist and candidate for the 2014 Afghan Presidential elections, speaks to Gateway House’s Anushka Shah about her prospects for the election, the role of women and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the country’s relationship with India and Pakistan.
Q: How do you perceive your chances of winning the 2014 vote? What kind of coalition are you hoping to build and who will be your principal opponents?
Like everyone else, I too run for elections to win. But one has to be realistic and not a pure idealist. I have certain strengths and weaknesses that will determine my chance at the elections. My weaknesses are that I have a lack of financial resources, less prior political experience than the other candidates, and security problems – as I am a woman as well as anti-Taliban. My strengths on the other hand are that I don’t yet have a damaged reputation i.e. no allegations of corruption etc. I’m savvy with media and social networks unlike many of my opponents who come from an older generation, and my family background works in my favour (much of my family has been involved in politics). I also have a strong group of supporters, with whom I connect and convey my messages effectively.
The main opponent parties are the National Council, National Front, and Rights & Justice Party. We will have to wait and see about coalitions and collaboration. This will depend on whether the parties are willing to put out a single candidate – if they are then I will support them, if not then I will not. I can get along with the second and third generation of political leaders and my chances of forming a coalition with them would be higher than with the first generation. There are many gaps between the traditional and modern mindsets.
It is very difficult to talk about coalitions and results as 2014 is still far away. President Hamid Karzai will have his own strongly backed candidate as he has the whole government in his hand. His brother is already being fielded as a potential candidate.
Q: Balancing the choice between traditionalism and modernity in a country like Afghanistan is not easy. How do you plan to achieve this?
I don’t want to stand against the deeply rooted values of Afghan culture and its practices. The key is to try and find the common ground between the two. Take education, for example. It is a strong symbol of modernity as well as tradition. Islam says education is an obligation for both men and women. Of course it is not interpreted as so anymore and this distortion is unfortunate. Some people have a truly deep understanding of pure Islam, and we mustn’t politicize this but rather discuss it. So the key is to promote a debate of the common ground.
Q: “We are even prepared to pave the ground for the armed opposition, be it the Taliban or Hezb-i-Islami, to participate in the election, either as voters or candidates,” the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission Fazil Ahmad Manawi said recently. Do you agree that the Taliban should be allowed to contest?
The Taliban’s immediate reaction to Manawi’s statement was that the Afghan elections weren’t elections but rather a selection. They vowed to keep fighting. If the Taliban remain violent and hold up arms then this will not be a democracy. But if they decide to forego these and fight elections fairly, then I see no reason why they should be allowed to do so.
The Taliban, however, is very rooted in old ideologies and is oppressive. People have now had an experience of their rule, and believe they were just like the previous ages of occupation. Now the Taliban will not be accepted as easily into society as before.
Q: Are you worried that things will get worse for women in Afghanistan after the ISAF troops leave? Do you think the Taliban are strong enough to make a comeback into power, by gun or votes, after 2014?
NATO will leave some troops behind. However, there is some confusion about how their role will play out. The best case scenario in Afghanistan is that there are fair elections and a smooth transition of power to a capable government which can then begin to solve its own problems. Once this is achieved, we will no longer need NATO to maintain stability. The worst-case scenario is that the Taliban comes to power. If this happens we will be back to square one and will need NATO. While it is true that their role has been contentious, one cannot deny the advantages their presence brings. Today my daughters can go to school thanks to them.
Q: How do you see Afghanistan’s relationship with India and Pakistan evolving over the next few years? Has the India-Pakistan rivalry contributed to Afghanistan’s woes?
Afghanistan is a poor victim of India and Pakistan’s rivalry, as well as Iran and America’s rivalry. India has been carefully shaping its politics in Afghanistan. It is active with its aid, but neutral in its stand. Pakistan on the other hand is much more difficult and doesn’t have a peace plan with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan can learn from India’s democracy because India is divided in religion, language, and ethnicity, but yet united. We can learn from this because our differences are our weaknesses while yours are your strengths.
Fawzia Koofi is a Member of Parliament from Badakhshan, Afghanistan and Afghan Presidential candidate for 2014.
Anushka Shah is a Research intern at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.
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