Audacious, committed and somewhat controversial are only a few of the characteristics embodied by Fawzia Koofi, a two-time representative from Badakhshan province and Afghanistan’s first female deputy speaker in Parliament. Ms. Koofi’s life is a story of unlikely success and extreme complexity, which is perhaps why she dares to continue the struggle for her ravaged country.
Western media has been buzzing about Koofi for months now, especially since the publishing of the book she wrote with Nadene Ghouri and where her life is detailed from the moment she came into the world. In a recent editorial for The Daily Beast Fawzia Koofi writes:
One day the Taliban will probably succeed in killing me. I am resigned to this fate. But for as long as I am alive, I will not rest in my desire to lead my people out an abyss of corruption and poverty. For this reason, I am running for the Afghan presidency in 2014. I was born a girl who should have died. But if God wills it, I may die having become the first female president of a country I love and a country that will finally see all of its children—both boys and girls—born into peace and security, not violence and war.
Clearly this is not a woman who succumbs to fear or is paralyzed by the dire situation in her home country. Perhaps appearing brave in the face of extreme danger, as threats on her life are not rare, and willing to sacrifice her life for the greater good puts her into that extraordinary class where great leaders hail from. Earlier this month Koofi participated in a question and answer session at the Frontline Club in London where she admitted to believing in true Sharia law, refusing the Taliban’s interpretation, not being entirely sure if she qualifies as a feminist, democracy and strong government that would ensure the enforcement of laws that serve all Afghanis. When challenged with the notion that laws alone do not change people and that people’s minds need winning over first, she disagrees standing by her belief in the rule of law as a reference point with which society can be changed.
As the United States and NATO draw down military forces on the ground in Afghanistan and the Taliban jockeys for a seat at the peace negotiation table, this deputy speaker of Parliament is not convinced this is the right path for a safe, prosperous country. NPR writes that she does not believe the Taliban to be a legitimate political group, quoting Koofi: “I hope we will not repeat the same mistakes of 1989 when the Soviets met with the Mujahedeen group. They gave them a lot of privileges, and at the end, the Mujahedeen got to power.” She continues asserting that the Taliban are not a force that is going to share power easily and give up its views on women’s role in society. Koofi is probably right in thinking that giving the Taliban the green light to participate in a peace brokering process will spell disaster for the female population, and if peace at whatever cost is the goal, after negotiations with foreign forces it will be too late to speak up for women’s progress. The world is likely to turn away when women and girls begin to be systematically mistreated, assuming that in the end this is simply an unsolvable “Afghan problem.” In her opinion, peace is too high of a price to pay for a relativist view of human rights and says: “We cannot have double standards around the world,” Koofi says. “We cannot say women in the United States deserve to go to school, but women in Afghanistan — it’s their problem if Taliban doesn’t allow them.”
The controversy surrounding her stems from origins in a political family touched by murder, endorsement of the foreign troop occupation after the fall of the Taliban and support of a government removed in 1995. The Ms. Blog writes:
Koofi repeatedly calls the mujaheddin government of Ustad Rabbani, which was stained by tremendous abuses and warlordism, legitimate, yet this was a government formed by the same people that killed her father. It seems that her brothers’ subsequent involvement with the mujahideen forces her to downplay the irony that her brothers become involved with people who had ties to her father’s killers. This also jars against Koofi’s image as a liberal activist.
Regardless of what her fellow Afghanis or the rest of the world may think of her, at the moment she is undeterred from pursuing the highest political office in her troubled country. The last 11 years, since the Taliban were brought down, allowed Afghanistan to make strides toward progress but the journey to a more promising future has barely begun. If Fawzia Koofi with her unwavering drive can legitimately lead her nation away from chaos, push for much needed reforms in this staunchly traditionalist region and empower women across all provinces then she deserves a chance. Given the volatile situation inside this central Asian nation, where election rigging is familiar, anyone who actually stands a chance in winning the presidential election will likely be somewhat controversial. Politics can be a dirty game no matter one’s good intentions, whether one campaigns in a well-established democracy or a developing one.