Karzai picks new woman minister


AFGHANISTAN: President Hamid Karzai has named another woman to his transitional government as part of his attempts to improve the status of Afghan women, a presidential spokesman said yesterday.

Ms Habiba Sorabi was appointed Minister for Women's Affairs, replacing the high-profile feminist and human rights activist, Ms Sima Samar, spokesman Mr Tayeb Jawad said.

Ms Mahboba Hoqooqmal, a university professor who had earlier been in the running for the portfolio, was given the junior post of Minister of State for Women's Affairs, a non-cabinet position.

Another woman, Ms Suhaila Seddiqi, serves as Public Health Minister.

Ms Samar has been barred from public office by the Chief Justice, Mawalawi Fazel Hadi Shinwari, for making a statement "against the interest of the Afghan Muslim nation", according to state media.

Mr Karzai's government has tried to improve the status of women, who were banned from work and school under the strict interpretation of Islam imposed by the Taliban, whose rule was ended last December in the US-led war in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, factional rivalry in northern Afghanistan is leading to an increase in attacks on aid workers and Afghan civilians, Human Rights Watch said yesterday, citing cases of sexual violence and looting.

International humanitarian workers have been targeted in several attacks, causing a number of non-government organisations (NGOs) to re-evaluate their operations in the north of the country, the New York-based rights group said in a report.

The report cited the recent gang-rape of an international aid group staff member, robberies on two NGO offices and incidents involving shooting at NGO vehicles.

It also identified the competing ambitions of warlords General Abdul Rashid Dostam and General Atta Mohammad as the main factor behind the current power vacuum. Both warlords forcibly recruit young men to their ranks and have been linked by witnesses to cases of sexual violence in refugee camps, the report said.