Afghan Women Speak Out: Mariam Nawabi

As part of its mission to highlight and promote the stories and
perspectives of Afghan women, CODEPINK has launched an ongoing series
of print, audio and video interviews "Afghan Women Speak Out,"
conversations with leading international women activists and

For the third interview in the series (view our first and second interview here),
CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans interviews Mariam Nawabi, an
Afghan-American attorney, social entrepreneur, and activist about
Afghan women and Congress' rush to pass another $94 billion for war
this week. Nawabi is a founding member of the Afghanistan Advocacy
Group, a national network of Americans who wish to engage in dialogue
with policymakers regarding development and security in Afghanistan.
She served as senior adviser to the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce
and Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce from February 2006
until April of 2007. From January 2004 to January 2006, she worked at
the Embassy of Afghanistan, serving as Commercial & Trade Counsel.

Jodie Evans: What would you advise Obama to do?

Direct more money into economic development and the creation of
jobs. To end the violence, the money needs to reach villages -- if the
money doesn't get to the village itself, there is no change and the
young men are left without support and become fodder for the Taliban.

Whether we call it democracy or not, there is no difference in
(Afghan) way of life (under the Taliban or US troops), they still
living in the crossfire between Taliban and U.S. forces. If the U.S.
wants the Taliban out they are going about it backwards.

JE: Should we negotiate with the Taliban?

This whole notion of trying to negotiate with different members of
Taliban might be too late. In the beginning, we went against groups we
could and should have talked to; we should have talked to them then.
When we labeled Taliban as the enemy and sided with warlords, we
created categories and ended up creating enemies.

Once you create economic stability, you can have peacekeeping. That
is part of the equation and it has to be sequenced in the right order.
There may be different areas of the country that require different
strategies because of where and who they are.

JE: But the U.S. has invested some money in development?

What the U.S. does now for economic development is mostly wasted.
Capacity building is needed and good models of the public/private
working together. When we leverage money with private sector we begin
to get more efficacy. When you have advice and trainings without tools,
nothing happens.

There is a plan to send 4,000 outside-civilian advisers, but these
advisers go in for a year and are barely acclimated and then it's time
to go. Instead they should send expats back in, they won't have as many
language issues, and can be more effective at delivering real support.
Afghanistan has had a huge brain drain -- so much of countries brain
power left or killed. They need to come back.

Money now spent on military would be much better spent on
infrastructure, jobs, and international partnerships. The people don't
have the tools the need to move toward a peaceful reality.

JE: What is the effect of additional troops?

As we (the US) brings in new military, we continue to create these
little cities for our military to sit in. Afghans wonder, what is the
point? They see the cities/bases just as places for the military, just
another target for insurgents to bomb -- from there (the military) are
just engaging in protecting themselves, not bringing change into
Afghans lives. They are these little military oasis' that are not
benefiting the community at all.

The Afghan people look over the walls of the bases and see the
troops have everything they don't have. And the violence increases.
They know (the troops) are not there to help them. The women are
particularly aware of this. The military needs to get out in villages
and relate with people so people see them as an asset.

There is a National Solidarity Program that Congress is looking at
to fund this. (Through this program), a village creates its own
priorities. For example, the people need a well. They vote on it, it
goes to community for vote, and they get block grants to implement
that. That's real democracy-building. Women have to be included; in
this program, women can have their own council and they can vote and
have their own projects funded.

That is what the Obama administration should be doing instead of
this focused-on-military side,where they go in and then say, "OK, now
how can we get out of this?" If you leave Afghanistan in the position
where it can't sustain itself, it will just go back into conflict and
more fundamentalism.

I would also tell the Obama administration,"whatever money you are
spending, monitor it better." The problem is a wild west frontier --
the contractors and NGOs get the money and there is no accountability.
They realize no one is checking up; they realize they can do whatever
they want. It's creating these zones where people who are there to
"protect" Afghanistan people are actually just there to help themselves.

I don't see just Taliban as the problem. I see the corruption, drug
smuggling as bigger problems, men in suits taking money and not getting
it to the community at all. We (the US) puts our money in and then
steps back. That is a dangerous combination. People learn how to play
the game, but the game is not on battlefield -- it's in halls of
ministry. People learn how to take money, and their families are in
India, Dubai, Canada. So money goes back out. And if things go south,
they have an exit strategy.

The question is not who likes the U.S. more (under great presence).
The question is who will the Afghan people see as a government that
best represents their interests. They haven't had that. Now the game is
all we have, all the millions of dollars coming in, and who can grab
more of it. (It's) waste of resources. And people get disillusioned and
angry; for seven years we haven't paid attention to the fact they have
been oppressed.

JE: How, given the culture, do we get women at the table?

For the most part, the women leaders look out for interests of the
village. You do have some women who are partnered with warlords, but
comparatively, we risk less conflict if women are making decisions.

Economic empowerment is the best way to empower the women and give
financial support to women who are demonstrating leadership abilities.

This election coming up in Afghanistan is not just presidential
election but also province elections. I heard that in eight provinces,
not one woman is registered. There are security issues, women are being
targeted and feel fearful. But U.S. women have not helped bring them
the tools they need to run. We can't demand women at the table if we do
not provide the support they need. If a woman is campaigning, give her
resources to campaign and print posters.

In some areas we see more women (in office) and there is great
progress because they have created their own supportive communities.
Sometimes the only women who win are those bankrolled by the warlords.
They can win with the warlords' support but do so without their own

Currently the Minister of Women's Affairs (Husan Bano Ghazanfar)
(sic) that should be encouraging and supporting women is passive, she
was appointed for exactly that reason. The new funding bill gives her
money, but she does not represent the women and has failed at her job.
But we send money anyway, without a way to monitor or guide.

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