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Nader Nadery: "These Freedoms Are the Most Precious Gifts to the People of Afghanistan"

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Nader Nadery is the Chair of the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan and the Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit. He was studying law and political science at Kabul University during the civil wars and the subsequent seizure of power by the Taliban. Despite significant obstacles, he continued with his studies, completing them over the course of eight years. He subsequently gained a Masters Degree in International Relations from George Washington University in the United States of America. Nadery served on the Emergency Loya Jirga's constitutional commission, established the Human Rights International Legal Group and served as a Commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

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Photo by Naderi / Matthieu Hackière

Can you share with us some memories of instances when your rights have been violated and how they have influenced your life?

The burning of the primary school where I was studying was the first and one of my most shocking experiences of violence. Later, when I was studying at university, we organised demonstrations calling for improvements in university education. This was during the time when Dr Najibullah was in power and civil and political freedoms did not exist. A couple of people from our group were imprisoned and we all experienced harsh violence from the officials. Then came the civil wars. Under the Taliban, I personally experienced torture and beatings because of my lifestyle and ideas.

What are the most important achievements since the time of the Taliban in Afghanistan?

The civil and political freedoms we currently enjoy are without precedent in Afghanistan. These freedoms are the most precious gifts to the people of Afghanistan in the past 12 years and so far, we have managed to hold onto them. As a citizen, I do believe that some of these freedoms have been sufficiently institutionalised so that any system that wishes to curb them in the future will not have an easy task.

The other achievement are the changes in the overall political system. When we wrenched the system from the rule of the Taliban, the system was disintegrated and in pieces. From those conditions, where there was no real system or institutions in existence, we have created an actual system of government.

What gives you hope for the future?

In my opinion, freedom of the press and expression are a solid part of our society, matters which can be sustained, even though the government may not always be in favour of these freedoms.

What is your worst fear today?

My greatest fear is that we may fail to properly transition power from one person to another, from one administration to another; that we may fail to comply with the mechanisms determined in the Constitution as the mode of operation of our political system. The polity have remained as individuals; they have failed to become political institutions. Individuals can easily and quickly go astray. However, if they become institutionalised, if they operate as part of regular structures and under concrete criteria, even if the individual performance leads them in a different direction, they will not be so likely to be distracted and taken off path by personal temptations.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

Our deepest challenges lie in the aspects embedded in our culture that block social development and change. A part of this culture has consistently turned the society back towards the past. Unfortunately, the mixing of this part of our cultural structures and values with religious beliefs has given it particular power, even though often the reprehensible aspects of culture contradict religious principles.

A second challenge is the economy. The structures built in the past 50 years have prevented us from transitioning from trade facilitators to serious investors. In particular, in the past 10-12 years, our economy has become a static, dependent and even illegal economy. Unfortunately, there is a collective idea that people can become capitalists and rich by two means: being a part of the governing system, or having relationships with groups that facilitate the distribution of money through government channels.

Is it possible that girls could once again be banned from schools and women excluded from social participation, as was the case under the Taliban rule?

I believe that would be very difficult. What gave me great hope in relation to women's rights in 2004 was that women in all provinces of Afghanistan made similar demands in relation to the Constitution. Their wordings may have been different, but the primary goal and demand was the same throughout the country.

What changes are necessary to advance women's rights in Afghanistan?

The most important thing is to retain the social position of women and to expand the space for their balanced participation in social, economic and political growth and development. One of the concerns of women nowadays is that there should not be any political talks and even movement towards compromise with the Taliban that would result in the partial loss of women's rights. Women are also increasingly and persistently demanding economic empowerment to enable them to independently and equally participate in economic domains.

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Over 50 days, 50 influential social, political and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women's and human rights in Afghanistan.

You can read original interviews in Dari on Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA