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'I do not mind dying if it helps to improve the situation of my people'

In a country struggling to develop democracy participating in a poll in Afghanistan literally means risking your life. But perhaps those taking the greatest risks are the 410 female candidates. DW spoke to one of them.

Shukira Serat Wali Zada

Shukira Serat Wali Zada is willing to risk her life if it helps her people

Independent female candidate Shukria Serat Wali Zada is seeking election to Parliament for the first time. She graduated in medicine from the University of Kabul and is head of the Institute for Afghan Women's Affairs.

DW: In recent weeks several attacks by the Taliban have been reported against officers linked to the electoral process, especially against women running as parliamentary candidates. What has been your personal experience so far?

Shukria Serat Wali Zada: I know very well what it means to be a woman in Afghanistan and nothing catches me by surprise. I have been threatened by telephone with death on several occasions while our colleagues in Herat and Ghazni have been beaten. The tension is constant, and not just between candidates but also among all those who work voluntarily in the campaign. We know we can be attacked at any time, anywhere.

You are running as a candidate for parliament but you're far from being positive about the transparency of the whole process. Is it actually worth taking such risks?

I have to accept the risk because I can not sit idle while I witness a new "pirate landing" in the Afghan Parliament. I do not mind dying if it helps to improve the situation of my people.

Recent reports regarding the transparency of the elections are rather pessimistic. Do you think we'll see a similar scenario to that of last year's presidential elections?

Unfortunately I think so. The previous elections were embarrassing but, again, it's all because of the lack of preparation of most of our leaders. The future of international aid for reconstruction and the presence of Coalition troops are heavily dependent on the outcome of these elections. And this is something we should all be aware of on Saturday.

How do you view the current parliament?

The main problem of today´s parliament is that the majority of the seats were occupied by people who lacked any formal training for their position. And among these people I include "warlords," tribal leaders and obscure "entrepreneurs" who only sought their own benefit. Virtually none of the parliamentarians had any vocation to defend the interests of their people. Their bad behaviour has only worsened the situation in the country. If I were elected, my number one priority would be to leave the power in the hands of people capable of ruling and not just stealing.

What is your opinion of the alleged corruption among the higher echelons of government that has been widely reported?

Shukira Serat Wali Zada

Zada's priority is to leave the power in the hands of people capable of ruling

Corruption is endemic in my country for the reasons I mentioned before. In any case, I think the government is not corrupt in itself. (President Hamid) Karzai is a very capable leader and he is working hard to unite the Afghan people. In fact, he is the only one who has ever managed to bring leaders from all national, linguistic and ideological background around a single table.

President Karzai has also shown his willingness to negotiate with some sectors among the Taliban. Do you think that this gesture may help to stabilize the country?

First of all we should remember that the Afghan Taliban are far from being a homogeneous group. Most of them haven´t studied in a madrasa and many are just simple farmers who have lost their land or their families and have taken up arms for revenge, or simply because they receive a salary to do so at the end of the month. Hamid Karzai is an intelligent man who has reached out to those who want to integrate into the new Afghan society. If he´s successful, the changes shall be enormous at all levels.

However, wouldn't negotiations with the Taliban be detrimental to the fundamental rights of Afghan women?

Under no circumstances will we allow Afghan women to remain invisible under a chador. You can be generous with those who lay down their arms as long as they accept some minimal but very basic rules .

Certain groups disenchanted with the current Afghan government say the only solution to the problems of the country faces is to split up and divide Afghanistan. What is your view?

By no means should we accept the division of our own country. We Afghans are a people with over 500 years of common history and strong identity feeling. I am Tajik and I speak Dari, my neighbor may be Pashtun, Uzbek, Hazara or Turkmen, but ask any of them and all of them will tell you that they are Afghans. If by any circumstance any foreign agent ever tried to divide the country our people would rise up in jihad against them without hesitating. The proof is that neither the British nor the Soviets managed to conquer us. Even in the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan they are defining themselves as "Afghans;" how could we possibly deny that we're all Afghan?

Is it possible to achieve stability in Pakistan without cooperation from Tehran and Islamabad?

Unfortunately, both Iran and Pakistan have their own agenda in Afghanistan which obviously does not coincide with Kabul´s one. Iran has historically extended its influence in the west, among the Shia Hazara community whereas Pakistan has been backing the Taliban, all of them Sunnis, in the east. The only way to face this continuing aggression is to remain united.

Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, Kabul
Editor: Rob Mudge

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