The 386 women running in Afghanistan’s election Saturday have been touted as a clear sign of success. But others say that many of them are merely puppets for rich powerbrokers.
In a cynical reminder that Afghan politics is rarely what it seems, activists in Kabul question whether many female candidates running in Saturday’s parliamentary elections are actually champions of women’s rights.
The record 386 women running for parliament is seen by many as one of the few clear-cut successes of an election campaign that has been marred by violence and fraud. Yet some women’s rights campaigners say that many of the female candidates are merely puppets for shadowy figures trying to garner influence in the new Afghan parliament.
“It’s quite clear that there are many, many women who are running not because they have interests themselves, but to represent the interests of warlords and power brokers,” says Nargis Nehan, director of Equality for Peace and Democracy, an Afghan nongovernmental organization.
“Those being supported by a bank, a warlord, a tribal leader, these are the people able to spend money,” adds Wajma Frogh, a member of the Afghan Women’s Network, an NGO in Kabul. “I know villagers who have sold their votes [to a female candidate] for $20. People will vote for her. Another very honest women’s rights activist is not able to pay $20 a vote. She’s not going to make it into parliament.”
An age-old rhythm of patronage?
If Ms. Frogh, Ms. Nehan and others like them are right, it’s an uncomfortable truth for those trying to portray women’s participation in Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy as a beacon in an otherwise dark and stormy country. And the proliferation of proxy candidates represents a wider problem in Afghanistan – the country’s politics still beat to an age-old rhythm of patronage.
But not everyone says that competition between female candidates has been compromised.Samira Hamidi, an activist with the Afghan Women’s Network, strikes an optimistic note.
“I know some of the [female candidates] and I know there is no one behind them, no warlords, mafia, drug dealers. We’ve been working closely with the election commission and people at the grassroots level and I haven’t heard anything,” says Ms. Hamidi.
Instead, Hamidi says, the participation of a record number of women is due to growing political awareness among Afghans and the march of women’s rights across the country.
Still, says Frough, the corruption that runs through Afghanistan’s political structure has also affected the new role of women in politics.
“It’s a patronage system,” she says. “Here democracy does not mean that people’s voices are important. Whoever is in power is in power because of coercion, because of someone else’s power…. This parliament is only a check-the-box formality so the international community can say, ‘Yeah, Afghanistan has a democracy.’ ”
Women’s seats used to garner broader influence
Saturday’s election will simply reflect how power is disbursed across Afghanistan as a whole, she says. Although parliamentarians in Afghanistan don’t wield the influence they do in some countries, they do retain important powers, such as a veto on cabinet appointments and oversight of the government’s budget.
“Although we have a very centralized government, there is still power in the parliament,” say Nehan, the director of Equality for Peace and Democracy. “Now everyone’s realized that they don’t want just one seat, they want as many as possible. The easiest and least challenging way of doing this is to fill the women’s seats because the competition between men is quite tough.”
With 25 percent of the 249 available seats reserved for women and just 386 candidates contesting them, the women’s field is far less packed than the men’s, where competition is about twice as fierce. Trying to exploit the women’s vote provides good value for money for patrons.
Proxy candidates entrench corruption
The problem with proxy candidates is that it entrenches the political corruption that has become a byword for Afghanistan.
“The country is already damaged and there is no room for more damage,” says Shinkai Karokhail, a female member of parliament (MP) from Kabul. Most MPs, she claims, are “in the service of others,” while others are only “thinking about their own pocket, how to empower their own group.”
“The country is sinking because of corruption,” she says, and every powerbroker wants “to take advantage” of the politicians they bankroll.
On the eve of a new film about the sport that inspired a shattered nation, Julius Cavendish reports from Kabul
Gunships growl above the city, Humvees roll by blasted buildings and a radio programme passes a dismal verdict on Afghanistan’s deepening troubles. In a car stuck in Kabul’s traffic, an impish-looking man gives his prognosis: “Everywhere there is fighting, you know,” Taj Malik says. “The solution of all the problems is – cricket!” And then he doesn’t so much laugh as gurgle with joy.
Mr Malik is the coach of the Afghan national team, and he has spent much of the last few years dragging his squad on a quixotic mission to qualify for the ICC World Cup. On the way, the group have given a country doing a brisk trade in bad news a real-life fairytale.
Tomorrow, a documentary about their rise, Out of the Ashes, will be premiered at the Edinburgh film festival. But while the film opens with Mr Malik’s paean to his beloved sport in a Kabul snarl-up, his team first grew in far less hospitable circumstances. Go back to the side’s early days and you’d have to travel to the refugee camps outside Peshawar, near Pakistan’s north-west frontier. It was on these stony, rubble-strewn plains that many of the players first picked up bat and ball. Even at an early age Malik was living and breathing the sport, playing truant to play cricket. Read the rest of this entry »
It was billed as the national conference that brought together the country’s senior figures in a concerted push for peace. It was never going to be that easy.
When Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president, was appointed chairman of the peace jirga yesterday, it sparked outrage among the 1,600 delegates and led to an hour-long halt to proceedings. The plan had been to elect a chairman. But shortage of time meant that organisers appointed him to the post.
It was not just that Mr Rabbani is so closely linked with some of the most notorious warlords in the country that he has been referred to as their “godfather”. Read the rest of this entry »
Afghanistan’s cricket team, the ultimate underdog, is competing with the world’s best at the ICC World Twenty20 opening today in Guyana. Afghanistan faces heavyweight India on Saturday.
No matter that the best cricket facilities in war-torn Afghanistan were barely on a par with the baked earth strips where most of the players had learned the sport in Pakistani refugee camps.
They still haven’t made it to the World Cup, but the underdog team is lining up with the world’s best at another major international championship: the ICC World Twenty20 in Guyana. The 12-nation tournament opens today, with Afghanistan facing off against heavyweight India on Saturday. The story represents a stark contrast from much of the grim news out of Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »
The Taliban appear to be making good on a promise to escalate violence in Kandahar, where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.
Three explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday morning as the city slid deeper into violence. The southern Afghan city is where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.
The blasts, two of which apparently targeted Kandahar’s deputy police chief, killed two civilians and prompted the United Nations to say it was scaling back operations there. The aid community already has a far lighter footprint there than in other parts of Afghanistan.
Residents sound increasingly fatalistic about their prospects this summer, with the Taliban apparently making good on a promise to escalate violence in the city in response to NATO’s plans to restore central government authority to a city that, in as much as it is controlled by anyone, is in the hands of a murky nexus of local powerbrokers and gangsters. Read the rest of this entry »
The faded prettiness of its old town used to belie the fact that Kandahar was a city gripped by fear. Unlike Kabul, the rising tide of violence was less frequently used as an excuse to smother the colonnades and tree-lined boulevards in reinforced concrete. That has changed now. Suicide bombers targeted the jail and police headquarters in February, leaving 35 dead and over 50 wounded. A Canadian photographer in the city on the night of that attack said that people were “genuinely scared. These men hear explosions every third or fourth day and they were shaken. The fear was really palpable that all hell was breaking loose and nothing was going to stop it.”
As a result, roads are now shut and the drab march of blast barriers has begun. It is just one sign that things are getting worse. Foreigners cannot walk down the street or stop in the bazaar to gauge the local climate. Meetings invariably take place in private rooms deep inside fortified compounds. Yet for some reason, Kandaharis continue to risk talking to journalists in the knowledge that what they say might get them killed.
“Yes, I’m scared,” Haji Mohammad Zahir, a villager who moved to Kandahar to work in construction, told The Independent. “When I was coming in I was scared because the insurgents are watching. Maybe some of them looked at me, and will call tonight asking why I am meeting with foreigners.” Read the rest of this entry »
The remote Korengal Valley has been the scene of some the most intense fighting in the Afghanistan war. US troops have pulled out as part General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.
It became known as “Enemy Central,” a small, isolated slice of eastern Afghanistan synonymous with violence, a dogged adversary and, increasingly, futility. More than 40 US soldiers have died there after being drawn into battles of attrition for questionable return. In the worst such incident, 16 American troops on a special forces mission were killed when their helicopter crashed under enemy fire.
Now the last US troops have pulled out of the Korengal valley on the grounds that they can be better used somewhere else. “This repositioning, in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, responds to the requirements of the new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy,” Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, joint commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement on NATO’s website. “The move does not prevent forces from rapidly responding, as necessary, to crises there in Korengal and in other parts of the region, as well.”
Part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy is to pull troops back from remote mountain outposts and concentrate them in the towns and villages where more of the Afghan population lives. By putting the emphasis on protecting civilians instead of killing Taliban fighters, he hopes to drive a wedge between the two, isolating and alienating the insurgents. Read the rest of this entry »