Zahir Athari was born in Daikundi province. After his village was devastated by the civil war he left his birthplace. He studied journalism and works with Afghan refugees in Norway. He spoke to us about the biggest challenge facing politics in Afghanistan.
Please tell our readers more about yourself.
I am an ordinary person. I was born in an isolated village in Daikundi province. The peace in our village was devastated by the civil war and 20 years ago I had to leave my birthplace. My childhood memories are mostly of war, fleeing from death and trying to find a place to live in freedom without the threat of death. Thousands of my compatriots share similar memories. However, currently I live a simple life along with my partner and three children.
What do you think of the political, social and culture situation here in Afghanistan?
I returned to my birthplace after 21 years, and meeting my parents, friends and relatives and experiencing the love of the villagers there has been an intense experience. I keep thinking I am dreaming. However, I've found that instability, uncertainty, insecurity and fear dominate the current situation. Nevertheless one cannot ignore the fact that there are many people who are hopeful about the future. Whether it is the crowded city of Kabul or a remote district of Daikundi, children and adults are enthusiastic about learning. Watching them gives one hope, and yet a fear remains: Will they find the opportunity to grow and survive? That is the main question.
What is the biggest challenge facing politics in Afghanistan?
I think it's true to say the greatest challenge in Afghanistan are those who are above the law, in other words, people who can suspend or alter a law any time they want. Their illegal activities range from violating traffic laws to committing election fraud. In any modern nation, there is an element that is above the law and this element is usually government itself. In other words the government alone can declare a state of emergency and suspend laws when required. In Afghanistan, however, it's quite different. Certain groups exist in addition to the government that are more powerful than the laws.
The recent political deadlock caused by the presidential election and the proposed formation of a unity government is a clear example of what I'm talking about. It's like a football match in which both teams are declared winners. It is not because a parliamentary system is better for Afghanistan than the presidential one. The main reason that for the current stalemate is the presence of people and groups who can play with democracy and cause instability.
What would your proposal be for breaking the current deadlock?
I think there is neither a single problem, nor a solution. The situation in Afghanistan is complex. Nonetheless, what is promising is the development of civil society and media that has created socio-political capacities that can be useful in institutionalizing democratic values in future. In order to maintain those gains and to evolve further, we need peace, stability and economic support. There's also a need for a strong middle class. In Afghanistan, there is a small wealthy elite that wields the power, while the majority of Afghans are suffering severe impoverishment.
What role can young people play in leading Afghanistan towards better politics?
From a political point of view, it's not enough to simply be young: today's older generation is, after all, the youth of yesterday. If today’s generation follows the path of their fathers, we will not have a better tomorrow. However, if the younger generation dares to choose new paths, politics will definitely improve. There are countless challenges. For instance, the Ministry of Higher Education recently expelled five female students from the girls’ hostel of Kabul University and sent them back to their provinces. The girls' only mistake was to defend a fellow student against the brutalities of the hostel authorities. The ministry used a very outdated method. But its message was clear: everyone must obey the authorities under all circumstances.
It is said that Afghanistan politics is dominated by men. How would you tackle this problem?
In Afghanistan it's not merely politics but everything that is under the control of men, for example, culture, education, literature, values, economy and way of life. Men commit horrific crimes against women. For instance, a Mullah rapes a girl in the mosque; a man attacks his wife with an axe, and a court orders a girl to marry the man who has raped her. There is no one to ask why.
The solution lies in educating women and giving them more awareness, and more influence in all social, cultural, economic and educational areas. The ‘This pavement is mine too’ campaign initiated recently by Young Women for Change was a brave and noteworthy move.
What differences do you see between Afghan politics and politics in other modern nations?
There are huge differences. One of the differences is that in other countries governments respect the people and try to avoid conflict with the public. Here the ruler has all the authority and people must obey him.
How do see Afghanistan in a decade's time?
I hope the security situation doesn't get worse and that democratic and civil society organizations develop more, helping Afghanistan's young people become better educated and more experienced. Most of the criminals in influential positions today will eventually die. It's my hope that my generation will be able to put these criminals on trial.