Tehelka‘s THiNK festival’s second edition began Friday morning 2 November with a session, The Personal is Political, featuring the powerful, astonishing Fawzia Koofi, running for the Afghan presidency in the elections in 2014, and the Guardian journalist Jason Burke.
Koofi’s biographical details are horrifying, left out by her mother in the sun to die because there can be few fates worse than being born a woman in Afghanistan. “I didn’t receive a very good welcome when I was born,” Koofi deadpanned, “but after that first day my mother made it up by giving me so much love.” Her husband, imprisoned by the Taliban, died of tuberculosis. Her father was shot at by the Mujahideen. Tehelka‘s managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury, who moderated the session, pointed out that Koofi, as a child, even “felt guilty because [she was] so focused on education at a time when people were dying around you.”
For Koofi though, and she is, of course, correct — her story is a story of success: “There are hundreds of thousands Afghan women whose stories are worse, whose stories end in failure.” Koofi’s success is transcending her background to become such an eloquent politician, holding onto an older idea of Afghanistan, before the horrors of the last 30 or so years, an Afghanistan in which women were in the parliament, in which they were educated and able to make their lives as they chose. Whatever Americans and their other coalition partners may like to think, Koofi says, Afghan history is about fighting for freedom, for sovereignty. In that spirit, she says, Afghans did think the coalition could have had had a positive effect, particularly for the lives of women, but that Iraq proved a distraction. “Afghanistan was second or third on the international agenda,” she adds.
Burke described, with some bemusement, the American military machine in action, the rapid construction of “shops selling Beyonce CDs and hot tamles.” What is to be said about such a collision, between the Americans and the Afghans? Where will it leave Afghanistan in the future? Burke is sure that the “inherent resilience of Afghan people will hold the place together,” that “the nightmare society won’t happen but the optimistic scenario won’t happen either.” He adds, though, that historians may look back on the American wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the hundreds of thousands dead and wonder what they were doing, about the “collective madness” of this last decade. Koofi is an example of how the future for Afghanistan may be brighter than Burke suggests. Koofi points out that the Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan was as much a foreign occupation as the American presence. Perhaps the best we can hope for Afghanistan is a break from foreign agendas, an opportunity for the people in that troubled, afflicted country to reconstruct their own future.