This Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the intervention of British and American forces in Afghanistan. The Afghan people, against all odds and with the help of our international supporters, have delivered a baby called democracy. The role of western governments has been crucial, but without continuing support this 10-year-old won’t survive.
Afghans have been here before. We had our first democratic election in 1965; millions, including women, voted in a poll that – while deeply flawed – was widely viewed as free and fair. But our “democracy decade” ended in 1973 when civil war erupted, and six years later the Soviets invaded. My family paid a high price for my father’s involvement in politics: like thousands of Afghans, my father and my brothers were killed; our houses were looted.
It angers me to hear commentators claim we are a tribal society and not ready for democracy. Despite intimidation from the Taliban, millions of Afghans turned out to vote in our last presidential election. Many Afghans gave their lives to be where we are now.
Politics remains a dangerous vocation here. I have watched bullets flying past my vehicle more times than I care to remember. Despite the attempts on my life I always remind myself that I will die one day, maybe today or tomorrow. All I hope is that I leave behind a better society than the one I was born into. If I am assassinated I need to believe that my work has paved the way for others.
I was a medical student when the Taliban took control of the country, and female education was deemed immoral. The chance to study, to better ourselves and to improve the lives of our families ended. On the day Taliban rule came to an end the dreams of millions of Afghan women were reborn. Now we have women in government and prominent positions in civil society, with 69 female MPs in parliament, 27% of the total – some achievement when you consider that only 22% of UK MPs are women. Of the 7 million children who go to school, 40% are girls.
But Afghanistan remains the worst place to live as a mother and as a woman, according to UN studies. Any Afghan will tell you that security is their primary concern. Without security you cannot implement an economic strategy, expand education and health or tackle deep-rooted problems such as corruption, drug trafficking and violence against women.
While many of us would acknowledge there can be no security without a peace settlement with the Taliban, a recent survey by ActionAid found that 86% of Afghan women are worried about the return of Taliban-style government. The Taliban’s definition of women’s rights meant no rights for women. But the right to go to school or work, the right to access health facilities without a husband’s or father’s permission, increased social freedom and political participation, are cherished by us.
The not-so-secret negotiations between the Taliban and government will continue despite the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani. There is a real danger that women’s rights will be traded away: only nine of the 70-member peace council are women.
But make no mistake: if the Taliban’s leadership states clearly that it will accept our red lines around women’s rights, the constitution, equal opportunities, civil rights for all Afghan people and freedom of speech, we will welcome them warmly and, as is traditional, throw flowers on them. However, if they continue to place conditions on the government, and if the latter negotiates from a position of weakness, this will, rightly, alarm millions of women.
We wouldn’t be where we are today without Britain’s support. We urge its government not to abandon us now.
By Fawzia Koofi, a female Afghan MP who intends to run for the presidency in 2014.