Warlords and criminals rife in a city weary of corruption
With no contender achieving a clear majority, president Hamid Karzai and his main rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, were set to contest a run-off. But with just a few days to go, Abdullah pulled out of the race, saying it was impossible to expect a fair outcome. Meeting Abdullah is difficult, as he too is a man who many would like to kill. When I do meet him, he is sitting in the rose garden of his marble-clad home. Kabulis know it as the “White Palace” – it is beautiful, but defended like a fortress, with concrete barriers and armed guards protecting the entrance to the street.
Abdullah is dressed in a white traditional shalwer kameez, with a western-style jacket over the top. He says he doesn’t believe the presidential elections due in 2014 will be any different than 2009.
“My hope was – my wish post-elections last time – that we all might have learned lessons, but unfortunately there we haven’t seen any sign of positive change.” And he is clear about whom he holds responsible. “I don’t see the political will in the current leadership of Afghanistan, with president Karzai.”
In 2014 Karzai comes to the end of his second term in office and is barred by the constitution from running for a third term. However, no date has yet been set for the election and, with security deteriorating in the provinces, it is hard to see how it can take place. There is concern that Karzai may declare a state of emergency, suspend parliament and remain in power indefinitely.
One woman who is determined to stand against him is Fawzai Koofi. She is a member of parliament and an activist for women’s rights, and she has been fighting since the day she was born: she was left out in the sun to die by a mother who wanted a son. She has also survived several assassination attempts. The last one saw her car riddled with bullets from machine gun fire as she huddled over her two daughters in the back seat to protect them.
But Koofi is not intimidated. She will run for president, she says. “We need new faces of politicians to come forward,” she tells me in rapid-fire English, hands gesticulating in an attempt to communicate her ideas faster.
Koofi’s commitment to women’s rights drives her in politics, but she worries about the future, with Karzai reaching out to the Taliban and calling them his “brothers”.
“Women’s situation in Afghanistan is very much linked to other issues in Afghanistan: to democracy, to freedom of speech, to freedom of media,” she says. “I think Taliban will try to undermine this.”