Mohieddin Mahdi is a well-known politician, and a Member of Parliament. He was a member of the Northern Alliance in the 1980s and later the Deputy Ambassador of Afghanistan to Tajikistan. He was also a leader of the opposition in the 2003 Constitutional Loya Jirga. Alongside his political activities, Mahdi is a writer.
Photo : Jawad Darwaziyan / Matthieu Hackière
Can you share with us some memories of times when your rights have been violated and how they have influenced your life?
I was in my final year of medical school in 1978 when the communist coup d'état overthrew the Daoud regime in Afghanistan. I heard Hafizullah Amin on the radio, making a statement to his party cohorts, saying "If you are not a follower of the Khalq party [faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan], you do not have the right to breathe the air of this country". I felt like he was speaking directly to me: I was not a Khalq follower. And so I was compelled to leave my town and my country, even though I loved them both dearly.
Another memory dates to the civil wars of the 1990s in Kabul. I did everything within my power to put an end to these brutal wars. I was away from Kabul at the time when the Afshar massacre took place. When I returned, I was filled with grief. For some time after, there was nobody living in Afshar [a district in the West of Kabul]; the people living in the district were forced to seek refuge in other parts of Kabul, or even overseas.
What are some important achievements in Afghanistan since the time of the Taliban?
The most important achievement is the establishment of democratic institutions and organizations. The people of Afghanistan, and particularly of my generation, have no prior experience of democracy.
Secondly, at least 37 foreign embassies have been opened in Kabul. The world is with the people of Afghanistan, and the country is a major focus of international attention.
The third achievement is all the groundwork that has been done to create favourable conditions for the new generation to study.
What is your worst fear today?
My greatest fear is that the international community might place responsibility for Afghanistan's destiny in the hands of Pakistan once again. There are indications that this could happen. Just a few days ago, I heard that President Karzai had talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London. After the talks, Prime Minister Sharif announced that Pakistan would provide support to the Afghan security forces in policing the coming elections. One could interpret this promise to mean that Pakistan intends to 'support' what comes out of the ballot box.
My concern is that President Karzai controls all the boxes. Unfortunately, neither the Independent Elections Commission nor the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission have proved their transparency and impartiality. I am worried that the world might once again view Afghanistan through the eyes of Pakistan. The situation is fragile and our positive developments could be reversed. Afghanistan has never signed an agreement that makes it absolutely impossible to return to pre-2001 conditions.
What is the biggest challenge facing Afghanistan?
Sufficient attention has not been paid to what happened before 2001 in Afghanistan: the wars during the Mujahideen era and the Taliban era. The present system was imposed on the people of Afghanistan by Karzai and his team. It is a system of ethnocracy: one ethnic group rules all the people. If you look at the list of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election, you will see that 10 of them come from one single ethnic group.
Is it possible that girls could once again be banned from schools and women excluded from social participation?
There would be a lot of resistance to this situation from society. The people of Afghanistan, regardless of their ethnic group and clan, do not want to see the schools closed again. The attitude of the international community, however, is also very important on this question.
Which factors hinder women's participation in social, economic, political, and cultural spheres?
Prominent figures in government and the religious clergy misuse and improperly interpret decrees in the Koran concerning women. Similarly, the Council of Ulema [religious scholars] issue improper fatwa [rulings on Islamic law], which are supported by the government. These are some of the important factors.
Furthermore, governments have used women instrumentally, for instance, by symbolically appointing women to certain political posts. These strategic appointments do not represent real progress in the interests of women and equality.
What is necessary in order to see changes for women's rights?
First, women should be appointed to important government posts, for the right reasons. There is not a single woman in the judiciary. Women must have a fair representation in the government and the judiciary.
Second, we need institutions that effectively defend women's rights.
Third, it is time for the government to enact laws prohibiting violence against women.
What are the sources and centers of power which women can rely on to promote their rights and demands?
The political parties which do not play on ethnic divides, and the international community.
What have you done in your personal and professional life to fight against obstacles to women's participation in Afghanistan?
I have written 40 books and hundreds of articles. In my role as a Member of Parliament, I have always voted against discrimination. I was one of the proponents of the Constitutional article requiring two female Members of Parliament to be elected from each province. I am a member of the Religion, Culture, and Higher Education Committee of the Parliament and I specifically supported the candidacy of a woman to head this Committee.
Do you have a specific message to share?
My message to the presidential candidates is that they should challenge the status quo. They should look to make positive changes on three axes: justice, security and transparency.
"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