If I Were President
One day I want to be president of my country – a country that I love more than life itself. It is a country with a rich history of tradition, culture and faith. Its name is Afghanistan.
You might be surprised to hear me say this about a nation you know best for its bloody history, and the thousands of U.S. troops that have sacrificed their lives there in recent years.
But just as Americans love their country, I, and millions of Afghans like me, love mine.
You may also be surprised to hear a woman say that she wants to be president of an Islamic nation known for its conservative values. Well, I am a conservative Muslim who abides by the laws of pure sharia, but I am also a reformist and a believer in democracy and human rights for all.
There is nothing in true Islam which would prevent a woman from holding political office at the highest level. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have had female leaders.
The Taliban, former rulers of my country, would disagree. A Taliban leader recently told Al Jazeera TV that our current parliament – which has 92 female MPs – is against Islam, and that women have no right to hold office or even to go outside the home to work.
This is not true. The Taliban twist and pollute our theology to suit their political ends. But this is no surprise, because the very same Taliban sheltered Bin Laden and Al Qaida as they plotted the terrible attacks on the World TradeCenter.
This very same Taliban helped plunge the world into the so-called war of terror which has left many people – thousands of innocent Afghan women and children, Afghan police and soldiers, and US troops – dead.
The only difference between the Taliban then and now is that now they are better armed and better funded than ever before.
Yet right now they are also involved in so-called peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan and to allow the withdrawal of US troops by 2014. On one side of these peace talks sits an American, and on the other sits a mullah. Neither side speaks for me or for the majority of my people.
Tellingly, the Taliban have refused to hold peace talks with our own government and will only speak to the US. This is because they know President Obama is under huge political pressure to withdraw as quickly as possible and that deals will be done which go in the Taliban’s favor.
But these deals, made for short-term gain, will be a long-term mistake. A mistake not only for Afghans but for the world, because If the Taliban return to power I have no doubt Afghanistan will once again become a playground and a haven for international terrorist networks.
But there is another possibility for Afghanistan. It can be a country which holds dear to Islamic values but also lives in peace and democracy; a nation which can be a strategically positive, not negative, influence on the Asia region and the wider world. This is the Afghanistan we have been working towards for the past decade since the Taliban fell from power.
As a MP who has already served two terms in the Afghan parliament, and also held the position of first female speaker of parliament, I feel qualified now to run for president. If I am president of my country I will ensure it is a place where all Afghans – of every ethnic group and background– are united under one national umbrella. I will ensure it is a place where women are respected and accorded both their human and their Islamic rights.
Right now almost 80 per cent of Afghan women remain illiterate. This is a terrible figure, not only for these women but for their families and for the economic future of the country, because educated women means strong families, and educated sons and daughters, which in turn creates a strong nation.
Right now one in five Afghan children do not live to see their 5th birthday. Despite the billions of dollars of Aid spent in Afghanistan in recent years, many Afghans still lack basic healthcare or access to clean water. Education and health must be at the heart of any government policy.
Widespread government corruption is another key issue. Afghanistan is now ranked one of the top 5 most corrupt countries in the world. As the poorest people in our villages have starved or frozen to death, our officials have stolen money intended to ease their suffering and used it to line their own pockets. They should be ashamed of themselves, but they are not, because these officials are concerned only with their own power and wealth and not the good of the people.
I came to public office for different reasons. Like my father and grandfather before me (both of whom were also MPs) I came to office so that I could serve my people and help to build a better nation.
I am not the only MP in the Afghan parliament trying to uphold this noble tradition. There are many like me. But right now their voices struggle to be heard under the voices of the wealthy and powerful who use might and violence to achieve their aims. I want to be the one to lead these good and honest parliamentarians and officials into a new future where justice, honesty and faith prevail.
My dream for my nation is to see it stand strong, proud and peaceful. It’s a simple dream, but one which I know can become reality. It will take dedication, hard work and many years, but it is possible.
The story of Afghanistan does not have to be one of war, terrorism and death. There is another story. And this story begins with a woman who dares to believe she can become the first female president of Afghanistan.
If this story takes root, the pages of history might also begin to read differently.
Koofi’s memoir, The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future, was published in January 2012.
Fawzia Koofi is Afghanistan's first female speaker of Parliament and a noted activist for women and children’s rights. She is currently a leading candidate for the presidential elections in 2014 and has been quoted by the BBC, Time, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, The Globe and Mail, and many other prestigious news sources. Koofi was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009. Before getting elected to Parliament, Koofi was employed by UNICEF as a child protection officer from 2002 through 2004. The mother of two girls, she lives in Kabul.