Presidential rivals threaten boycott of Afghan election
Thursday August 19, 10:18 AM AFP
A group of candidates in Afghanistan's landmark presidential elections have threatened to boycott the vote unless President Hamid Karzai steps down before the poll.
"Karzai misuses government facilities for his electoral campaign -- all presidential candidates have unanimously agreed to ask for his resignation," Abdul Satar Sirat, one of the candidates, told journalists in Kabul.
The group of candidates wanted Karzai to resign "within one week," or they would call for a boycott of the October 9 elections, Sirat said.
Sirat claimed to be speaking for all 17 presidential candidates but four candidates later told AFP they would not support the call.
"I don't support the decision because this is an international norm that you can see in other countries -- that a president can be a candidate," candidate Homayoon Shah Asifi said.
"If the president resigns there will be a vacuum of power," Asifi said.
Female doctor Masooda Jalal and candidates Abdul Hadi Khalilzai, Ghulam Farooq Nijrabi also said they had not agreed to back calls for Karzai's resignation.
However, Sirat's challenge represented the first public attempt by opposition candidates to present a united front to presidential favourite and incumbent Karzai.
Candidates Abdul Hafiz Mansoor and Abdul Hasib Aryan said that if Karzai did not step down and agree to reform Afghanistan's UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) they would discuss boycotting the vote.
Sirat accused Karzai of misusing his power to influence the United Nations-backed electoral commission and said a group of candidates had called for its members to resign.
"In the electoral commission there are his (Karzai) selected people, but our party, the National Congress, has no representative in the commission," said another presidential candidate, Abdul Latif Pedram.
Wednesday's meeting follows days of closed-door negotiations among candidates to establish how alliances might be made and whether some would step down in favour of others.
But analysts said that it would be very difficult for Karzai's rivals, who were using the presidential campaign to advance their own agendas to form a coalition which would hold together.
"This call for Karzai to resign during this campaign period has been voiced by some candidates individually, but at the moment it is hard to see that actually being acted upon, and therefore it looks more like a negotiating point," said Vikram Parekh, Afghan analyst for the International Crisis Group.
The meeting of candidates including Karzai's chief rival Yunus Qanooni, part of the powerful bloc of Tajik anti-Taliban commanders from the Panjshir valley, met to discuss pre-election strategies while the US-backed transitional leader Karzai addressed an independence day gathering at the National Stadium.
The grouping also included the vice-presidential running mate of northern Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam, Safiqa Habibi.
Under Afghanistan's electoral law all government officials are required to step down from their positions 75 days before polls, with the exception of the president.
Discussions over whether Karzai's rivals could pick a single candidate were ongoing, Sirat said.
"We have not approached that point. However, it is one of the topics that we are still discussing, if we identify it as good to our national interest we will go with that," he said.
Analysts said it was unlikely that the group could unite behind a single contender.
"They have all individually been involved in negotiations with Karzai. A collective agenda is almost impossible because most of the candidates have individual objectives which are mutually exclusive," said Parekh.
Afghan Source Disputes Voter-Registration Figures
DAILY AFGHAN REPORT AUGUST 17, 2004
Source: Radio Free Afghanistan (part of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)
An anonymous "well-informed" Afghan source has denied reports that 10 million Afghans have registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections scheduled for 9 October, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 16 August. The source disputed the claim made by the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), saying that only 4 million eligible voters have been registered (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 and 12 August 2004). The Iranian radio station cited the source as saying that 6 million of the 10 million voter-registration cards collected are "fake," adding that the fraudulent registrations were intended to be used in "favor of a special person," without naming who that individual might be. AT
Karzai Promises Afghans Security for Election
Wed Aug 18, 5:24 AM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai promised Afghans greater security when they go to vote in the country's first ever democratic election during an independence day speech on Wednesday.
Karzai's U.S.-backed transitional government is battling Taliban militia fighting to disrupt the presidential election on October 9 and parliamentary polls six months later. Close to 1,000 people have been killed in the past year.
"In order to provide security for the constituencies and voters, the government, the international community's forces and the United Nations will strongly endeavor to prevent the small groups which come to our country from across the border," Karzai said at an Independence Day parade as military helicopters hovered overhead.
Afghanistan gained independence from Britain in 1919, but the last 23 years have been a catalog of war and foreign occupation culminating in the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001 to oust the Taliban militia protecting Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.
Public executions, amputations and floggings during the Taliban's harsh Islamic rule were carried out in the same stadium where the parade took place.
About 18,000 U.S.-led troops are in Afghanistan, mostly hunting militants in the south and east of the country, particularly near the border with Pakistan.
In addition there are some 8,000 peacekeepers from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stationed largely in Kabul and the less troublesome North.
Afghanistan is also plagued by turf wars between rival militias. On Tuesday, a renegade commander, under U.S. pressure, agreed to a cease-fire after driving back the forces of the local government in the western province of Herat.
Karzai, the favorite among 18 candidates, stood alongside Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who threw his support behind a rival after Karzai snubbed him as a running mate.
Fahim, who has dragged his feet implementing disarmament policies among the mujahideen he once led, delivered a veiled reference to U.S. influence in Afghanistan.
"Our people won the freedom with their blood. But securing real independence in the complex politics and imbalanced power existing in today's international affairs, is harder than winning independence and military victories," Fahim said.
Afghans observe Independence Day
By Bureau Report Dawn
PESHAWAR, Aug 18: The Consul-General of Afghanistan in Peshawar, Haji Abdul Khaliq, has advised his Afghan compatriots living in the NWFP refugee camps to get themselves registered as voters and take part in the elections scheduled for October this year.
Speaking at a function held to celebrate the 85th anniversary of independence of Afghanistan here at local hotel on Wednesday, he said Afghanistan had chosen a safe passage for its socio-economic development after the fall of Taliban some three years ago. He said Afghans had rendered immense sacrifices to defend their independence in the last 85 years.
He said Afghanistan was heading towards a bright future under its present leadership, which had waged a long war for the rights of the people and their freedom. The Afghans were peace-loving people who wanted to live a peaceful life in this part of the world, the Afghan envoy said.
Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan said his party had been struggling for the unity of Afghans for the last several decades. The British colonial government had divided Afghans into many parts to weaken their political strength, he added.
He said it had been the political stand of his party that the Afghans across the border were one and the same people and their division was unnatural. He said the ANP had also opposed all sorts of interference into Afghanistan by foreign powers.
"We want to see Afghans as makers of their fate. The foreign interference had destroyed Afghanistan and its people. A free and independent Afghanistan is inevitable for the regional stability," he added.
Leaders o ANP, Pukhtoon Qaumi Party, provincial ministers and local politicians attended the gathering. Afghan schoolchildren presented Afghan national songs. The hall was decorated with tri- coloured Afghan flags and portraits of Amanullah Khan, modern and intellectual king of Afghanistan.
Karzai vows 'no deals' if he is elected
By Victoria Burnett in Kabul August 17 2004 05:00 The Financial Times
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said yesterday he would not cut deals with political rivals in order to narrow the field in the October presidential race, insisting his next government would be free of the interest groups that many Afghans and foreign allies feel have hampered his current administration.
"There cannot be individual agendas in my government," he told the Financial Times at his heavily protected office in Kabul's elegant presidential palace. "No deals."
In his first interview since officially declaring his candidacy three weeks ago, Mr Karzai said Marshal Mohammad Fahim, his defence minister and senior vice-president, had been left off the Karzai ticket because he was an impediment to reform.
"I felt it was needed for Afghanistan to have an agenda that would take us forward into a reformist system . . . based on strict government discipline," he said. "[We need] a government of achievement."
The "emotionally difficult" decision to run without Mr Fahim, who has resisted efforts to disarm unruly militia and is associated with corrupt commanders, has been hailed as one of the boldest moves of Mr Karzai's presidency. Mr Karzai instead picked Ahmed Zia Masood, ambassador to Russia and brother of the assassinated resistance leader Ahmed Shah Masood, as his senior vice-presidential candidate.
The move spurred one of Mr Fahim's wartime allies and a fellow ethnic Tajik, the respected Yunis Qanooni, to run against the incumbent, denting his prospects of a first-round victory. A flurry of meetings among the various political groups has sparked talk in Kabul of deals that some of Mr Karzai's allies worry would hamstring his next administration.
Some reformist officials say they will decide whether to stay in the administration - assuming Mr Karzai wins - only once they see if figures such as Mr Fahim end up back in powerful positions.
"What if the same mixture of people comes back after the elections?" asked one senior government official and Karzai supporter.
Mr Karzai stopped short of guaranteeing victory in the first round on October 9. He admitted he was detached from his campaign as he was too busy running the country to focus on the race.
"I hope God will be kind to me and make me win and I will work for it," he said. "I am the worst of the campaigners so far. I have not done anything."
His objective over the next five years would be to build the institutions necessary to enforce the rule of law and build a modern, democratic state that could answer to people's needs, he said.
Despite assurances that there would be no political deals, he left the door open for opponents to rejoin his campaign.
"Towards the objective of a lawful, well-to-do state, whoever comes to join me around that idea is welcome.
President hails enthusiasm for elections as sign of Afghanistan's growing self-reliance
August 18, 2004 Associated Press
President Hamid Karzai hailed Afghans' enthusiasm for upcoming elections as a sign of his nation's growing self-reliance, while urging neighboring countries to stop militants from disrupting the vote.
In an Independence Day speech in the war-scarred Afghan capital, Karzai said Afghan and foreign security forces would be on the lookout for rebels seeking to mount attacks during the Oct. 9 vote.
"The government, international forces and the United Nations will try their best to prevent any disruption," Karzai told crowds in Kabul's main sports stadium.
Neighboring countries should "not let any enemy of Afghanistan cross the border," he said, before watching a parade of soldiers from the country's new U.S.-trained national army.
Afghan and American officials have complained repeatedly that Taliban and al-Qaida rebels are able to slip back and forth across the mountainous Pakistani frontier.
Their attacks have killed scores of Afghan soldiers and police, as well as aid workers and American troops, despite the presence of up to 20,000 U.S. troops.
Twelve election workers have also died in a string of bombings and shootings. But the United Nations has pressed ahead with a registration drive, and says about 10 million Afghans _ many more than expected _ have signed up to vote.
Karzai said the hope Afghans were investing in the election and a new constitution passed in January showed their determination to rebuild the country.
"In the last two and half years, Afghanistan has found its place in the international community," he said. "The people are counting the days until the election."
Karzai compared the Taliban's take-over of Afghanistan to Soviet occupation in the 1980s _ periods which eclipsed the independence won from Britain in 1919 after the Third Anglo-Afghan War.
"During the last 85 years, there were two attacks on Afghanistan but our great people defended it by holy war and resistance," he said.
US-brokered truce pauses Afghan factional fighting
Wednesday August 18, 4:04 PM AFP
A US-brokered ceasefire between warring factions in west Afghanistan was holding, a spokesman for a warlord said, after four days of fierce battles around the city of Herat, just weeks ahead of historic presidential elections.
The United States stepped in Tuesday to quell the fighting after warlord Amanullah Khan captured a district south of Herat, sparking fears of an advance on the region's richest city controlled by military strongman Ismael Khan.
"The ceasefire has been holding since 4:00pm (1130 GMT) yesterday," Karim Afghan, a spokesman for Amanullah Khan told AFP.
Troops from the new US-trained Afghan National Army as well as forces of the US-led military coalition had taken position between the forces of Amanullah and Ismael Khan, Afghan said.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad announced the ceasefire at a press conference in Kabul late Tuesday.
"The agreement has been made has been honoured but I have indicated to Amanullah that any advance towards Herat to threaten the city is unacceptable," Khalilzad told reporters.
He said Washington had worked with Kabul, "to bring about an immediate end to the fighting, to disengage the combatant forces some 20 or 30 kilometers away from each other.
"We saw what we could do to diffuse (the fighting), to end it as quickly as possible because there is the fear that the conflict could acquire ethnic dimensions," the US envoy added.
Officials in Herat said American forces had launched airstrikes to deter Amanullah's troops but the US-led coalition in Kabul denied waging any airstrikes.
Fighting broke out early Saturday in Shindand district 125 kilometers (75 miles) south of Herat in neighbouring Farah province.
By early Tuesday ethic Pashtun commander Amanullah's forces had broken through Ismael Khan's frontlines at Adraskan, 85 kilometers (50 miles) south of Herat and began advancing towards the city before US forces stepped in to mediate the truce.
"Our troops conquered all areas from Shindand to within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of Herat city," Amanullah Khan told AFP by satellite phone.
"Before we got control of the city, a central government delegation along with ANA and coalition representatives arrived in the afternoon and asked our forces and Ismael Khan's to stay at least 40 kilometers (25 miles) apart."
Khan's forces remained in Shindand district early Wednesday but had surrendered Adraskan district to Afghan army and US-led troops.
Warlord Ismael Khan, an ethic Tajik, had been handing out guns to civilians at intelligence and police headquarters as Amanullah's forces advanced Tuesday, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
Herat city was quiet Wednesday with most shops open, but significant numbers of armed militiamen were still posted at major intersections.
The latest offensive caps a string of factional clashes between rival warlords battling for control of the western provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis and Ghor in recent months.
The fresh clashes highlight Afghanistan's fragile security situation as it prepares for its historic presidential elections on October 9.
Iran voices concerns over unrest in Afghanistan
TEHRAN, Aug 18, 2004 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Iran on Wednesday voiced its concerns over the unrest in the western Afghan province of Herat, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"Such incidents violate the security and peace of people in Herat and will leave negative impacts on the trend of province's reconstruction," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi was quoted as saying.
Afghanistan's Herat province borders upon Iran and its security situation exerts great influence on Iran.
Tensions between Herat's governor Ismael Khan and his opponents turned into armed conflicts recently.
The opponent military groups launched attack upon the provincial city of Herat on Aug. 14.
"We call on the sides involved to stop clashes and refer to dialogue," Asefi said.
"The Islamic Republic hopes the interim Islamic government of Afghanistan will restore peace and security to Herat province as well as other regions through adoption of appropriate measures and prompt control of the situation," he added.
Karzai urges neighbours to stop militants crossing borders
Wed Aug 18, 6:37 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - President Hamid Karzai has called on neighbouring countries to prevent militants crossing into Afghanistan through poorly monitored borders and cooperate in the "fight against terror."
"Today I kindly request Afghanistan's neighbouring countries' cooperation in the fight against terror," Karzai said in an address to the nation marking Afghan Independence Day.
"I ask them not to allow terrorists to enter our country from their territory because their countries' security depends upon the security of Afghanistan."
South and southeast Afghanistan, which border Pakistan, are in the grip of an insurgency by Taliban militants who are waging a guerrilla war, attacking government officials, aid and election workers in the run-up to landmark presidential elections on October 9.
Many Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters are thought to cross easily between villages straddling the border with Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal districts.
Speaking to thousands of people gathered in Kabul's National Stadium, Karzai hailed progress towards Afghanistan's first presidential elections, saying more than 10 million people had registered to vote.
"The election is a major step towards security and stability of our country," he said.
Celebrations to mark the 85th anniversary of Afghanistan independence featured a parade by soldiers from the nascent national army.
Afghanistan gained full independence after a third brief war against British forces in 1919.
"After getting independence our country got into trouble two other times with strangers invading and then terrorists invading our country, but despite its long suffering our brave nation continued its struggle until it rescued its dignity," Karzai said.
Afghanistan was occupied by Soviet forces from 1979 to 1989 and ruled by the hardline Islamic Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, following a bitter civil war between anti-Soviet mujahedin commanders in the intervening years.
Under the Taliban Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation were given sanctuary and allowed to run training camps.
Paying the price for Afghan adoption
Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK By Graham Satchell BBC News
Two years ago, Zamzama had a terminal heart problem
Zamzama was just another orphan - one of half a million in Afghanistan.
When I first met her two years ago, the girl's life looked fairly bleak.
She was eight, her father had been killed in a rocket attack and she had a terminal heart condition.
Her mother, who could no longer cope with her own eight children, had put Zamzama in Kabul's huge government-run orphanage.
But in the summer of 2002, Zamzama's life was about to change.
Two people from different cultures, different countries and different continents had both started to take an interest in her.
In the US state of New Jersey, playwright Bill Mastrosimone had seen Zamzama's photo in a newspaper.
"My children asked me to read the story about the orphanage in Kabul," Mr Mastrosimone said.
"My youngest daughter said we should adopt her. And my other daughter said we should get in our car and drive there and bring her home."
At the same time, Seema Ghani had also discovered Zamzama. Ms Ghani had lived in London through the Taleban years and had regularly given money to the orphanage.
She returned to Kabul and set up her own small orphanage with 15 children - and tried to help Zamzama.
Zamzama would need a heart operation within two years to survive, she said.
So she organised the heart surgery in India some months later. Then, with her mother's blessing, Zamzama went to live with Ms Ghani.
In Sharia law, adoption is not allowed. In the US system, the adoption of Afghan children are not allowed. How did this whole thing happen?
Everything looked as fine as life can in Kabul - until February this year.
Ms Ghani came home from work one day to find Zamzama had gone. Days later, she discovered the girl had been adopted. Ms Ghani was furious.
"In our legal system, adoption is not allowed," she said.
"In Sharia law, adoption is not allowed. In the US system, the adoption of Afghan children is not allowed. How did this whole thing happen?" she asked.
Mr Mastrosimone said he had managed to adopt Zamzama because of goodwill - and luck.
"Maybe this happened because of a vacuum of law," he said. "I don't know. But it happened with good intention."
How did it happen?
Afghanistan may be emerging from civil war and the Taleban, but the legal system still functions fairly well.
The laws on adoption are clear - it is not allowed. There is a system of guardianship, but the US State Department says that is not sufficient to adopt an Afghan orphan.
A senior official in the Justice Ministry in Kabul, Yususf Halim, said adoption is "explicitly a violation of the law".
Mr Mastrosimone is on the board of advisers of a US-based charity, International Orphan Care - and he asked for their help.
The charity director in Kabul, Sayed Qadeer, first located Zamzama in the government orphanage. He also found Zamzama's mother, Arifa, who was happy for her daughter to go to the US. Arifa said Mr Mastrosimone had paid her $300.
Zamzama was living in Kabul when the charity director found her
The charity also put Mr Mastrosimone in touch with a man calling himself Dr Babrak, who acted as Mr Mastrosimone's middleman.
Tracked down in Kabul, he said Mr Mastrosimone had paid him $5,000 to gather some legal documents. He said adoption is possible - with enough money and the right contacts.
"It is possible to create legal documents to satisfy the authorities in the US, like Zamzama's case," he said.
"In Afghanistan, if you want to get a legal paper they want some money."
The BBC learned that Mr Babrak got permission for Zamzama to go to the US from a high-ranking official in Kabul, in spite of the law.
The BBC also found out that the director of International Orphan Care in Kabul has been sacked. The charity has admitted he broke the law. They also say he had tried to arrange other adoptions.
Acting in good faith
In the US, Mr Mastrosimone now says he was misled by Mr Babrak. He says he did not know Zamzama was living with Ms Ghani and denies breaking the law.
Mr Mastrosimone is an extraordinary man. He is currently working on a project with film director Steven Spielberg. He went to Afghanistan in the 1980s and spent time with the mujahedeen, who were then fighting the Russians.
Adopt them, take care of them - or bury them. That's what the choices are.
He truly believes he was acting in good faith when he adopted Zamzama. He has given a lot of money to International Orphan Care over the years. He would not say how much. But he did say that in monetary terms, he had a choice between Zamzama and a yacht - and he chose Zamzama.
Mr Mastrosimone claims that Afghanistan needs to change if adoption in the country is illegal.
"Look at those children and decide," he said. "Adopt them, take care of them - or bury them. That's what the choices are."
Back in Kabul, Ms Ghani is still seething.
She says that at first she was inactive because she thought it might be better for Zamzama to live in the US. But she changed her mind after a conversation with Mr Mastrosimone, she says.
Zamzama says being in the US is "very good for me"
"It seems she will not have contact with her family. She will become a little American girl - a little American doll," she said.
"She'll forget about her original language and culture - and everything else.
"Do I actually think it's good? Is it best for Zamzama? No."
Ms Ghani has a high-powered job in Afghanistan's Finance Ministry as director-general of the country's budget.
She has started to make waves. She has complained to the US embassy about the adoption and it seems as if she may not let the issue go.
And what about Zamzama?
Every time I have met her she has been bubbly, noisy and happy - in both Afghanistan and the US. There is little doubt she will have better opportunities in the US, but will she remember where she has come from or who she is?
Inter-country adoption is always complicated. In this case the question "What's best for Zamzama?" has no easy answers.
Cleric Who Died in Pakistan Custody 'Tortured'
Wed Aug 18, 3:37 PM ET
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - An Afghan Islamic cleric who died in custody in Pakistan on Wednesday had signs of torture on his body, an intelligence official said.
Pakistani security forces arrested Qari Mohammad Noor along with three associates last week in a raid on an Islamic school, or madrassah, in the central city of Faisalabad.
Intelligence officials said Noor, who was suspected of helping al Qaeda members find accommodation in Faisalabad, died in police detention and an autopsy found he had wounds on his body.
"He has signs of torture and wounds on his body," one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A statement from Faisalabad police chief Abid Saeed said Noor was brought to a hospital on Wednesday where "apparently he died of heart failure."
"A joint team (of police and other security agencies) is conducting investigation into the mysterious death" said the statement carried by official APP news agency.
Saeed earlier told Reuters that Noor was suspected of involvement in "anti-state activities." He gave no other details.
The statement said a three-member medical board conducted an autopsy and its final report was being awaited.
It said Noor was an Afghan national.
Noor was arrested as part of a crackdown launched since the arrest in Pakistan last month of an al Qaeda computer expert, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan.
Khan has proved a key source of information on the identity of operatives from Osama bin Laden's organization and its plans to launch attacks on British and U.S. targets. His arrest has led to the detention of more than 60 suspected militants in Pakistan.
News of Noor's death came as Pakistan published pictures of six "most wanted terrorists" on Wednesday, and offered $340,000 each for information leading to the arrest of two militants wanted for assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf.
A large number of al Qaeda men are thought to be hiding in Pakistan's rugged tribal region, near the Afghan border, or in major cities after fleeing the U.S.-led war on terror waged in Afghanistan in the wake of Sept 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Judo: first woman afghan at Olympic games
ATHENS, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- Razayee Friba is one of two female athletes representing Afghanistan at the 2004 Olympic Games, the fist time women have competed for the country at this level.
She was defeated by Blanco Cecilia of Spain at the first round at 45 second (ippon).
"She was very disappointed and she was crying", said her coach Stig Ingemar Traavik after her defeat.
"She was training very hard for one and half a year and she hadtaken this game as her honor. She had more hope for today's competition and She was trying to win," said the coach.
"You know that we are rebuilding everything in our country. There are no qualified sports education in our country, we need todo lots of things", said the coach.
During the Taliban's rule, Friba and her family fled to neighboring Pakistan where she was exposed to outside influences like martial arts. When they come home after the Taliban were toppled in 2001, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
"I think sport is for everyone, not only men but also for women.As long as you have the skills, you can do it", she said.
She has had the full support of her family since deciding on a sport traditionally dominated by men.
A long and winding road: One woman's journey from Kabul to Geneva
By Vahan Galoumian UNHCR Geneva
GENEVA, Aug 18 (UNHCR) - Fawzia Daqiqi remembers her native country with nostalgia: "Every second of every day, I see Afghanistan in front of my eyes." Fawzia has been living in Geneva for six years, and works for an NGO as well as giving Farsi lessons. Despite the number of years that have elapsed since her departure from Afghanistan, she still has vivid memories of her country and the events that eventually brought her to Switzerland as a refugee.
Fawzia was born in Kandahar, the biggest city in Southern Afghanistan. Later she moved to Kabul, where she studied at the Faculty of Pedagogy and later worked as a teacher of English and supervisor of the English Department in one of the city's best schools.
During the communist governments that ruled Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992, Fawzia and her husband, Beryalai, were continually harassed because of their political convictions - or, rather, their lack of them. Beryalai was frequently intimidated for refusing to become a member of the communist party.
In 1987, the family had to leave the country in a hurry. Fawzia, who was 32 years old at the time, recalled their sudden and dramatic departure: "A friend of ours, who was also a [communist] party member, came to our house at 3 p.m.," she said. "He told us that if we did not leave the country before midnight, he could not guarantee that we would be alive the next day."
With no time even to collect their most valuable belongings from the bank, they locked their front door and left for Pakistan. Since then, Fawzia and her family have spent more than a quarter of a century in exile, as Afghanistan passed through a succession of communist, mujahedeen and finally Taliban regimes, each of which was brutal and repressive in its own distinct way.
The family arrived in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta, where they had neither friends nor relatives. The next day, Fawzia began applying to the humanitarian organizations operating the refugee camps in and around the city and soon started working as a translator for a local NGO.
Throughout her career, Fawzia was mostly interested in providing women with basic education. "There were almost no programmes for women's education," she recalls. "My aim was to educate as many girls as I could, because I knew that they needed me." But it was a massive challenge because of conservative tribal and religious leaders' adamant refusal to allow girls to receive education. Even as late as the mid 1990s, despite a huge effort by UNHCR and other agencies, under 5 percent of Afghan refugee girls in Pakistan were attending schools.
Fawzia thought of a covert way of launching her new education campaign: she began giving sewing lessons to a group of girls. "After a few lessons," she said, "I told them that the symbols that they had been sewing were the letters of the Pashto alphabet, and I asked them if they would like to learn to read and write."
Her pupils answered enthusiastically, and Fawzia started to give informal lessons in private houses with the consent of the girls' parents. After a few months, the first group of girls began to give lessons to other girls.
Fawzia subsequently worked for several different NGOs and UN agencies in Pakistan, usually in the field of women's education. But she maintained a strong desire to go back to her native country, despite the dangers.
While it had always been a challenge for women to work or study in Afghanistan, except in a few major cities, life became even more difficult after the Taliban captured Kandahar in 1994, and began their long campaign to conquer and subdue the rest of the country.
Afghan women were generally forbidden to work, or even to leave their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. Foreign aid workers were also operating under severe restrictions. Despite the clear risks, in 1995 Fawzia chose to go back and work in Kandahar - the headquarters of the Taliban.
Her first job in Kandahar was working as a translator for the British medical NGO, Merlin. Reluctantly, she wore a burka - mandatory for women under the Taliban - but refused to wear it over her face, because of her glasses. She was frequently threatened by the Taliban. Finally after five months she was given 24 hours to leave and did so.
In April 1996, Fawzia returned to Kandahar once again, this time with the World Food Programme to work on a project aimed at helping widows. A few months later she was forced to flee again, after narrowly escaping a group of armed Taliban secret police who had come to arrest her on trumped-up charges. While her brother-in-law bravely succeeded in stalling the Taliban at the front door, she climbed over a wall at the back of the famly compound, and hid in her neighbours' house. Next day she fled to Pakistan once again, wearing five different coloured burkas during the course of her journey to confuse her Taliban pursuers.
In 1998, because of her involvement and personal knowledge of Afghanistan, Fawzia Daqiqi was invited to a human rights conference in Geneva, hosted by UNICEF.
During the conference, she spoke of her experiences in Afghanistan. She described the abuses of human rights she had encountered and was very critical of the Taliban. "I told them everything that I saw in Afghanistan," she said. "In one panel, I talked for four hours about the suffering of Afghans, and of women in particular."
Given that she had expressed her hostility to the Taliban so openly, several people advised her to seek refuge in Switzerland rather than to return to her home region. She found the decision a very difficult one to make. "Until the last day I had my plane ticket in my hand, and was undecided," she said.
In the end, she applied for asylum in Switzerland, and was sent to St. Gallen, in the far north-east of the country, while her application was processed. She stayed there for two years, and remembers the Swiss people she met there as welcoming and friendly. However, her application was twice refused on the grounds that she had no documents to prove she had done the work she said she had done in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She sank into deep depression, but subsequently raised her morale by starting to write her memoirs, which she intends to finish soon.
She was finally granted refugee status in 2001, after two appeals, when she managed to procure the required papers.
"If this obviously deserving case had such difficulty getting recognized," said Olivier Delarue, Head of UNHCR's office for Switzerland, "it does make you wonder about some of those who are rejected. Many asylum seekers do not have the advantage of having worked for NGOs and UN agencies which could easily provide documentation to back up Mrs Daqiqi's claim. This underlines the importance of allowing people to stay during the full appeals process, and not laying too much stress on supporting documentation which may be impossible to procure."
Fawzia's family has since joined her from Pakistan and is now settled in Geneva. Her children go to a Swiss school and speak perfect French. "My family lived in Islamabad, which is a very western city," she said. "There was not a cultural shock when they came to Geneva." Most of their friends are Swiss.
Although Fawzia and her family have in many ways integrated extremely well, like many refugees she nurtures the dream of one day returning home. "I have taught my children Islam, I have taught them what it means to be Afghan," she said. "I would like to go back to Afghanistan and work at rebuilding the country, but for now, I can't."
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