National Press Club

Former Afghan deputy president urges women's voices in negotiations with the United States

March 8, 2012 | By Robert Webb |

Sima Samar

Sima Samar

Photo/Image: Michael Foley

Women now occupy 27 percent of the seats in the Afghan parliament but are denied voices in the government's key negotiations with the Americans, former Afghan Deputy President Sima Samar said at a March 8 Newsmaker on the eve of International Women's Day.

"Women should be a part of those discussions,'" she said and urged a focus on "the rule of law" before the American pullout in 2014. But not everyone wants the rule of law, she added.

Samar, a medical doctor, said U.S. policy makers should leave enough troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to ensure the country's safety. "We must have frank discussions about the whole regime after American forces leave," she said, stressing the United States had 350,000 troops in the country at one time but only a fraction of that now.

Samar recalled the country's bad experience under the Taliban government before U.S. and other Western forces drove it out. If the Afghan public now supports the government, Samar said, the Taliban will not return.

Emphasizing increasing human rights as basic to the future of Afghanistan, she said 70 percent of the female population is illiterate, making education a high priority. Women were barred from school under the Taliban. Samar said that she didn't see many women in the 50 or 60 embassies in Afghanistan, including the American, and thought she should see more.

She also noted "the U.S. State Department is trying to spread human rights around the world." Calling education a basic human right, Samar said there had been much progress for women since the war began. Not only do Afghan women attend schools, they also study abroad. "We have many women in higher education in India, the United States, Canada and Australia," she said.

Asked about the burning of Korans by American soldiers, she said, "I don't know why they did it," and called attention to the families who lost members in the killing rampage afterward.

"Everyone fears the Taliban will come back,'" Samar said. While aware of the problems remaining in Afghanistan, Samar said "I am an optimist" and sees a brighter future.

But she lamented what she said is "the negativity of the press ... the media is interested only in the bad news." At the same time, she urged American policymakers to review the last 10 years to "find out what went wrong and what went right."

Samar chairs the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and was a cabinet member.