Letter from Kabul
Nasrine Gross, USA/Afghanistan
July 5, 2004
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Greetings from Kabul where apprehension regarding establishment of democracy is rising. As you know my country is planning to hold its first democratic elections for president and for a parliament in September. However, Afghanistan still has enemies that include international terrorist networks and some countries that still do not believe in an independent and peaceful Afghanistan.
I have been living here since August of 2001. I assure you that my people, men and women alike, are deeply committed to peace and democracy. Every Afghan wants to cast his or her vote, if for nothing else but for the experience of it, for feeling what it is like to have a real voice. It is true that in many respects the situation of women still remains much to be desired. For a general even-level progress on this front we need time (more on this later, soon). But, within the country, participation of women in the political life, at least at the national level, is very much accepted by the population at large—and of course by the new constitution. Many districts and provinces are scrambling to have female candidates for the parliament. Many are also thinking of finding suitable women senators. I know because many people have talked with me about these issues.
It is essential that elections take place. This is the best kind of victory vis-à-vis our common enemies. At this point, I am not sure we can hold the parliamentary elections—for a variety of reasons. But we must do all we can to hold the presidential elections.
The problem does not lie in the poor situation of women, not this time around. The problem is that enough attention is not given to the security situation around the country by those that have promised to do so. From the very beginning, Operation Enduring Freedom, a Coalition of many countries led by the United States, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a United Nations multi-country force, now led by NATO, had promised to keep the terrorists in check and assist in the general security around the country. So far, these two forces have had many successes. For example, I have personally experienced how effectively ISAF has prevented a heated street confrontation turn into a more drastic conflict.
In my view what has not happened to date is a good, realistic appraisal of security requirements just prior to elections time. What has not happened also is the on-time arrival of promised elections funds at the UN. We should have known from the outset that the enemies of Afghanistan and the enemies of democracy would be most active around this time. And we see now that truly they are, the latest being female election workers!
In the last few days I have had conversations with people from various provinces where terrorist attacks are happening. All of them tell me that these terrorists 'come from the mountains at night; they have motorcycles, a lot of cash and own guns. They attack orchards or crops. They haul away the loot in trucks and beat the owner-villagers black and blue. They threaten those that have registered to vote and tear their registration cards. Village elders do not want to be a candidate when people will not come forward to vote.’ There is a vicious cycle quality to all of this because in such areas reconstruction efforts cannot take place and so people get to be more weakened rather than more empowered. Often villagers don’t even have a telephone to call for help.
The enemy here for sure is not the Afghan people even though we have our differences. The enemy is still composed of those whose interests are threatened by a successful Afghanistan. Whether it is international terrorist networks or countries. Afghanistan continues to be the chessboard for terrorism and conflict and a pivotal place from which to destabilize the region.
The solution still remains a high commitment on the part of the Coalition and on the part of ISAF, in this case, NATO. We in Kabul worry that because of disagreements elsewhere in the world between these two groups, the Coalition and NATO, our country Afghanistan is suffering. We need to see more ISAF in more places very soon. As well, I call on Pakistan, as a member of the Coalition and a neighbour, to do all it can to discourage terrorists assembling in its soil; that soil is for Pakistanis to have a good life in, not for foreigners to prepare to kill my people. I call on those Arabs financing Jihadi madrassas, to stop sending money; we no longer have a Jihad in Afghanistan. I call on the entire international community to reaffirm its commitment to build on our common success, to uproot this scourge in my country—for me as well as for yourself.
On the eve of NATO’s meeting in Istanbul, I appeal to all of you to urge NATO and Coalition members to do the right thing by Afghanistan.
Democracy is my people's right; it is also our common legacy—and peace of mind!
Nasrine Gross, an Afghan-American, works with Negar, an Afghan women's organization based in France, which initiated the "Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women" in the summer of 2000. (archive) "Support for the Declaration" is an international movement for the inclusion of the items in the
Declaration in the new Afghan constitution. Gross had been in Afghanistan, with only short visits to the US, prior to her trip there in September 2001.