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Kabul watershed

Farkhunda’s murder has sparked call for larger change. President Ghani must take note.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: March 26, 2015 12:00:39 am

Tuesday’s gathering of thousands of people in Kabul to protest the mob killing of 27-year-old Farkhunda — a religious scholar suffering from a psychological disability and accused of burning a copy of the Quran — could be a watershed moment in Afghan history. Women acted as pallbearers, defying tradition. This moment may not lead to any radical or overnight change. Yet for now, Farkhunda’s death refuses to subside as just another statistic in a country where there is widespread violence against women. The brutality of the crime — captured on mobile phone and circulated on the internet — and its public nature has triggered outrage on a scale not witnessed before. The call now is to address the larger problem underlying this anger — the lack of speedy change even though President Ashraf Ghani had used his campaign platform to talk of empowering women. Twenty per cent of Ghani’s cabinet ministers are, indeed, women and his government has put some distance between today’s Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai’s tenure, marred by regressive steps curbing women’s rights.

On his recent US visit, Ghani expressed the hope that Afghanistan will, one day, see a woman president. He knows, however, that genuine change at the top is difficult and unsustainable without progress in what constitutes society’s base. Afghanistan has suffered repressive Taliban rule for more than half a decade, when women were practically prisoners at home. And the Afghanistan that is sought to be built is hostage to the outcome of the state’s battles against the resurgent militants in the coming weeks, when fighting will resume after the winter quiet.

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Ghani must use the time and space provided by US President Barack Obama’s decision to slow down troop withdrawal. US troops will be frozen at 9,800 through the year-end, to help Afghan forces improve their training and capabilities. The security of Afghan civilians is ultimately in the hands of Afghan personnel, amid concerns that it will be a long haul. Last year’s fighting season was the worst for civilians since the US-led invasion of 2001. As Ghani makes peace with Pakistan and attempts a political settlement with the Taliban, it is his responsibility not to compromise on social progress with extremist and hardline forces.

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