Afghan women lead protest against government corruption
Scroll down to also read Afghan women are desperate for justiceand Karzai unveils new cabinet in Dec 2009 though little changes
Several hundred women, many carrying pictures of relatives they said were killed by Taliban militants or drug lords, took to the streets of Kabul to demand that President Hamid Karzai purge from his government anyone connected to the killing of Afghans. (Tony Perry / Los Angeles Times / December 10, 2009) By Tony Perry
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - Several hundred women, many holding aloft pictures of relatives killed by drug lords or Taliban militants, held a loud but nonviolent street protest today, demanding that President Hamid Karzai purge from his government anyone connected to corruption, war crimes or the Taliban.
"These women are being very brave," said the protest leader, her face hidden by a burka. "To be a woman in Afghanistan and an activist can mean death. We want justice for our loved ones!"
Afghan police, in riot gear, monitored the rally as it worked its way slowly through muddy streets to the United Nations building here, but they did nothing to disrupt the event.
The unusual display of political activism by women comes as Karzai is under increasing pressure to remove from his Cabinet anyone connected to rampant corruption, including links to the flourishing drug trade. His own finance minister says corruption is the biggest threat to the future of Afghanistan.
Karzai, elected to a second term in a vote marred by ballot-stuffing, had been expected to announce his selections for Cabinet positions this week, but he delayed his announcement until next week.
In a surprise visit to Kabul this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he hopes that Karzai appoints reformers.
Karzai declined to say who he will appoint but promised that his selections will satisfy the Afghan public and the international community.
The protest group, under the banner Social Assn. of Afghan Justice Seekers, said that "our people have gone into a nightmare of unbelieving" because of the disputed election and the fact that "the culture of impunity" still exists despite Karzai's vow to eliminate it.
While the women took the lead in the protest, about 500 men followed them in support, an unusual display in Afghan culture of men allowing women to take a leadership role.
The group spokeswoman, who gave her name as Lakifa, said many women are still afraid to demand an accounting of the death or disappearance of family members during the three decades of war that have ripped Afghanistan.
"We need to know about all of our martyrs, and the government needs to find the mass graves and the killers, not give them jobs and protect them," she said.
Although it was not a major focus of the protest, the group was also critical of President Obama's decision to send additional troops.
"The innocent and oppressed people will be the victims of American air and ground attacks," said the group's statement handed to Afghan and U.S. reporters.
Earlier this week, the Afghan Rights Monitor released a poll suggesting that half of Afghans think of the Karzai government as illegitimate because of the election fraud. The Cabinet selections, said the group's director, Ajmal Samadi, represent a "win or lose time" for Karzai.
"Mr. Karzai must urgently implement transformational reforms in all aspects of his government or accept grave consequences," Samadi said.
By Shiko Zaher, a member of the Tulo Association in Wollongong, which runs assistance and service to Afghan people in the community. She delivered the speech below at the October 30 Reclaim the Night rally in Wollongong.
I am coming from a distant place; a place, whose plight is hardly felt beyond its geographical borders; a place where women’s wails bears no meaning; a place where a group of religious fanatics can disregard all the values and norms of a human society.
I am talking to you on behalf of the women who have no say in their lives, whose very personal behaviour must be approved by the male members of the family and who have to breathe the way their husbands want.
These are not jokes, but some of the bitter realities in post-Taliban Afghanistan, where women are “incomplete human beings” or the “second gender”.
Women of Afghanistan have always been the victims of idealist arrogance. For centuries now women have been denied their right to inheritance, to choose their own partner in marriage, and to work either by government decree or by their own husbands, fathers and brothers.
Schools for girls have been burned down. Girls have been victims of acid attacks. Many of the women who cannot bear these issues commit suicide and many more have undergone physical and psychological torment for daring to venture into new horizons.
Many more, including prominent activists and professionals, have been shot and killed.
The fall of the Taliban brought with it a temporary moment of hope for a better future for all people, especially women.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, despite the passage of eight years, endless promises and little action, not much has changed.
Women are forbidden to work or leave the house without a male escort. In most parts of the country, women are still not allowed to seek medical help from a male doctor. They undergo marital rape and they are forced to cover themselves from head to toe and so on.
Ninety percent of these women are still unable to put across their problems. Many women are still routinely raped, abused and treated like second-class citizens.
Then it was the Taliban, but now [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai has passed a law backed by fundamentalist parliamentarians and clerics that legalises abuse towards women.
In a country where 85% of women have no formal education, where women are so desperate for justice and where women cannot step outside the house without their husband’s permission, how can we believe that things are getting better for the Afghan people, especially women?
The really painful aspect of these developments is the implementation of these barbaric laws right under the eyes of the civilised world, developed nations and in the name of democracy.
It is sad that while Australian soldiers give their lives trying to protect a fragile state against Taliban extremists, another bunch of extremists sit in powerful and protected positions in the Afghan government and seek to implement “Talibanisation” in a different name.
A fundamentalist government, extremist legislators, Islamist warlords and Stone Age laws are not worth the commitment of the international community. An official policy of persecution of women and minorities, and religious fundamentalism, are not worth the lives and efforts being put in danger by the Australian government.
Using today’s forum, I, for and on behalf of all the unheard cries from the far corners of the country of my origin, on behalf of victims of abuse and persecution, on behalf of the women of Afghanistan I oppose arrogance, oppose ignorance and oppose fanaticism. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ London ~ Saturday 19 December 2009
Karzai unveils new cabinet though little changes
By Sayed Salahuddin , Reuters
Afghan President Hamid Harzai plans to keep most of his top ministers, mainly technocrats favoured by the West, in a new cabinet presented to parliament today, one of his ministers said.
Western diplomats have generally welcomed the list of 23 cabinet nominees, which keeps the heads of the key interior and finance ministries unchanged along with other technocrats, but others were concerned Karzai's lineup simply recycled old names.
Karzai is under intense pressure from Western leaders who have troops fighting a growing Afghan insurgency to show he is serious about clamping down on corruption. They see the cabinet as the first vital test of his commitment to fighting graft.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anwar Jigdalak presented the list to a sitting of about 200 lawmakers in the Afghan capital, exactly one month after Karzai's re-election was confirmed following an August 20 poll marred by widespread fraud.
"You esteemed delegates of the people are asked to take another positive step by giving a vote of confidence to the above mentioned nominees," Jigdalak told the parliament, which Karzai did not attend.
Surprisingly, no nominations for the foreign affairs and urban development portfolios were named.
Officials earlier told Reuters Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, a technocrat seen by Western leaders as competent, would stay until a London conference on Afghanistan in January.
They did not give a reason why he would leave after that.
"The president had decided not to introduce the minister of foreign affairs to parliament for the time being ... (Spanta) will stay foreign minister, as far as the president is concerned he is the foreign minister," Spanta's senior adviser, Davood Moradian, told Reuters.
Only one woman, the minister of women's affairs, was nominated. The list still must be debated and endorsed by parliament before it becomes official.
With Washington sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban while public support for the war wanes, U.S. President Barack Obama is keen to show Karzai as a credible and trustworthy partner.
The US Embassy in Kabul said it wanted to see the nominations put forward reflect Karzai's commitment "to good governance and integrity and professionalism within his cabinet".
Almost half the ministers will be replaced or reshuffled, but for the most part they will not be the cabinet's top figures. The cabinet does not include any figures from the opposition.
All three security offices, including the head of the intelligence agency, are unchanged. Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, who US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has praised, keeps his post.
Those three portfolios are crucial at a time when tens of thousands of new police and army recruits are being trained and deployed, with Afghan leaders hopeful domestic forces can take over full security responsibility within five years.
The interior and finance ministers will also stay, as had been expected. Both are technocrats liked by Washington.
Some Western diplomats said the retention of top ministers reflected the difficulty Karzai faces in recruiting people who are qualified to take on big portfolios.
"It's recycling ministers from the last five years, there's hardly a sign of a renewed commitment to tackle some of the major challenges this country faces ... but the reality is the pool from which the president has to choose from is extremely limited," said a Western diplomat who declined to be identified.
Western leaders, who are also pumping billions of dollars of aid into Afghanistan, want Karzai to make widespread reforms to improve the way funds are spent and contracts are tendered.
Ministries such as education, health and agriculture, which absorb the most foreign money, are not changing.
Washington and its allies may be disappointed to see Ismael Khan, a once powerful guerrilla leader viewed by critics as a warlord and a throwback to Afghanistan's violent mujahideen war, keeping his energy post.
But a strong plus is the appointment of Commerce Minister Wahidullah Shahrani to the mines portfolio, a sector with the potential to earn Afghanistan significant revenue in the future.
In his current post Shahrani adopted a vigorous privatisation campaign and doggedly rooted out corruption.
Karzai did not nominate any of the most powerful former warlords, with the exception of Khan, who threw their weight behind his election campaign. But they could yet make gains when deputy ministerial appointments or governorships are decided.