Reconstruction, education high on agenda for female Afghan minister
by Jean-Louis Pany
MONTREAL, Dec 10 (AFP) - Rebuilding Afghanistan's shattered political system and ensuring immediate education for all are two top priorities for Sima Samar, one of two women tapped to serve in the country's interim administration.
"The government should try to build the system first of all and then to bring some kind of law and order, guarantee security to the people, and then the disarming of the population is a big task," said the 44-year-old Samar.
Samar is one of 30 appointees to a UN-endorsed interim cabinet to be headed by moderate Muslim Hamid Karzai, in a deal reached in Germany Wednesday after nine days of tough talks among rival factions.
The new government for the central Asian nation is due to be up and running in the capital Kabul by December 22.
Samar will serve as vice president and minister of women's affairs. Although women served in the Afghan government before 1992, no woman has ever held such a high-level post.
The doctor, who runs health centers for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and was travelling in Canada for a series of conferences, told AFP by telephone from Calgary her task would obviously not be an easy one.
"I'll try my best. There is no doubt it is a very difficult job and a very difficult moment for the country because the country has known years of destruction," she said.
"There is no judiciary system, nothing is functioning in the country -- so we have to build the system first."
Samar said she supported the presence of a multinational security force in the country as soon as the interim administration took office, noting it "could help us to disarm the different factions."
She also highlighted the importance of financial aid from the international community to stimulate reconstruction efforts.
But it is the plight of women, denied education and barred from working except in the health sector under the repressive Taliban regime, that is Samar's greatest concern.
"We have to give security to the women and then of course rapidly start education because we lost a lot of time. We don't even have to wait to build the schools," she told AFP.
Samar said the new administration should set up special programs for adult women who were never educated, but also for young boys who "know only how to fight and have no profession."
The doctor-turned-minister -- the widow of an Afghan commander, now remarried and the mother of two -- said it was unclear whether women would fare better under the new government, but said she would fight to secure women's rights.
"I am not afraid. We have to impose ourselves to them. They should accept us. We are part of the society," said Samar.
"Most of the men are ready for that. There might be a small minority who are opposed to it but they are a minority. They'll get used to us."
When asked if the administration could hold for the six months it has been asked to serve after years of inter-ethnic fighting, Samar, an ethnic Hazara, replied: "I hope they learn from the past and they will not do it again."
"They should not fight during this time. It is not much," she added.
The minister-designate said she hoped after six months, "the system should be there, some kind of system that the people can trust."
Samar used her time in Canada to lobby for additional financial aid for the new Kabul government, noting she would be in Washington on December 16 for talks with representatives of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.
Then, off to Kabul -- "as soon as the government is ready to go there."
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