Return to Transcripts main page


Interviews with a Female Afghan Member of Parliament and an Afghan War Veteran

Aired October 15, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the ongoing debate in world capitals about raw troop numbers for Afghanistan is overshadowing the real dilemma about progress and protection for the people, especially for the women and girls.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

There are concerns about the plight of the Afghan people, as well as efforts to build up the police and to create job opportunities. Final results in Afghanistan's disputed presidential election are expected this weekend, and those, in turn, could affect the tortuous ongoing U.S.-NATO debate over how to win the war. The results could also determine another fight, the fight by Afghan women for equality.

Women made progress in so many areas after the Taliban fell eight years ago. And back then, I met some of them, including this paratrooper, Hatal Mohammadzi (ph), who personified the new era of opportunity.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Hatal (ph), as she's known, is a woman, the first and only female parachutist in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, this highly decorated veteran of more than 500 jumps was forced back home.

"When I came back after the Taliban fell," she says, "the guards here pushed me and said, 'Go home, auntie.' I was furious, and I threw off my burqa, and I said, 'I'm not anyone's auntie. I'm a military officer.'"

While General Hatal (ph) is an example of the new government's commitment to women's rights, she and international aid agencies say more funding is urgently needed for Afghanistan's health and education sectors to enable more women to prosper.


AMANPOUR: Even though Hatal (ph) is a general, she's still only receiving a colonel's pay and now efforts by her male colleagues to sideline her. To discuss what women have won and lost and what's at stake now, Afghan Member of Parliament Fawzia Koofi.

Welcome to our program from Kabul, Fawzia.

You're in the parliament. I think there's something like 68 female members. Can you tell me today, are you an equal voice with your male colleagues there?

FAWZIA KOOFI, MEMBER OF AFGHAN PARLIAMENT: I think never in Afghanistan history the voice of woman and man was like equal voices. The problem of a woman in Afghanistan has got strong link with the history of the country. During Taliban, it was like a dark period. All the tension and the frustration was imposed to woman.

But after the 2001, which the new process started in Afghanistan, I can call it like a golden opportunity for woman in the first five -- three, four, five -- five years. However, like you had women in the parliament, you have several movements of women, you have girls going back to school, you have female doctors in the hospitals, you have female teachers who are going to school, with all this, I think the past three years, situation of women is getting worse. And the struggle to get the equal voice is still a long way to go.

And I think it has got many dimensions. One of the strong dimensions is lack of political government from the ones who are making decisions for women and on behalf of women.

AMANPOUR: So you're talking about lack of political direction and governance. And, of course, you still have this disputed election. We're not sure what the result is going to say, if it comes out this weekend.

But tell me about this law that was instituted just before the elections that many, of course, called a rape law. It was then amended. What is the actual status of that law right now? And what does it say that men can do to women, their wives?

KOOFI: You know, the Shia personal state law is just an example of how there is little political commitment in Afghanistan on woman issues. And, in fact, there are people who are within the government, they are the ones who don't believe in -- most of them, they don't believe in this process of equality and democracy.

This law was like a political -- it was used as a political issue to - - for the decision-makers of the country, like for the people who were running for presidential election, to have the support of the -- the religious conservative, Shia community, and ignoring the -- the main important population of this country, which is more than 50 percent woman.

And in many cases, the initial draft imposed a lot of tension and a lot of conservative articles on women. Rape within marriage was just one of the examples, with a lot of struggle from the Afghan -- some women of parliament, civil society, the women voices in Afghanistan. There was a promise of amendment, but, unfortunately, when you look at the new one, it's still -- I think there was a political game played. It is still the same as -- the words are changed. It is still the -- still the same articles are there.

So that indicates how women and children in this country have always been the victims of political games.

AMANPOUR: So how is that going to change? How is that kind of law going to be struck? And how are you, the women of Afghanistan, going to get back to that sort of era of opportunity right after the Taliban were defeated and Al Qaida was dispatched from Afghanistan?

KOOFI: I think there is need for a strong political government and a civil government that actually is committed to equal rights and opportunities and to the rule of law. What is needed in this country is the rule of law.

Everybody, according to the Constitution, is equal before the -- the law. Now, that has to come -- that has to be interpreted into the society. This is first. Rule of law is the key for progress of women.

Secondly, it's political willing and commitment from those who make or take over the power. During the election, women of Afghanistan demonstrated in certain areas of the country a championship by going to the polling stations, despite the security challenges, despite the uncertainty on the -- you know, although the allegation of fraud, they demonstrated championship. But now there is a question of, where is my vote?

And, also, in some parts of the country, women votes was used on their behalf, while never a woman showed up to a polling station. So this is not a good sign, but we need to struggle. The line doesn't stop here. Women of Afghanistan have always been resilient to all these problems. We need to struggle.

And the government and international community, I think, has a key role to play here. You put a lot of amount of money for women issues in Afghanistan and, in fact, woman issue is one of the big achievement after 2001 on the 11th September attack, so you need to keep this achievement. We all need to keep this achievement, go forward.

AMANPOUR: Fawzia, there's very stark memories about what the Taliban used to do in Afghanistan, especially against women, the pictures of the Taliban flogging women, whether it be in Afghanistan or -- or Pakistan, such as we have some of these pictures, real stark reminders. What would happen if the Taliban were to come back to Afghanistan?

KOOFI: I was living in Afghanistan the whole life. And I was, in fact, one of the victim of Taliban putting my husband in jail.

I think the situation will go back -- will go even worse comparing to what it was in 1997 and 1998, when it comes to women issues, because after the removal of Taliban, you had such outspoken women who were asking for their rights, who were asking for democracy, who were asking for equality. And if Taliban -- and -- and they were actually opponent to extremism and fundamental Islam in this country.

I think if they come back to power, women will be the first victim, because they have demonstrated a strong voice of equality. They wanted to -- to -- to be able to meet their -- their basic needs of human rights. I think there will be more victim if Taliban come to power, but I think, you know, it's not a time for international community and Afghan government to talk about bringing back Taliban to power. Why we -- we spent so much of money, why we lost the lives?

I think we agree on the principle of talk, but Afghan constitution should be on the priority of any discussion.

AMANPOUR: What is the situation with your own safety? You're a member of parliament, very visible. What is the situation with your own life now?

KOOFI: We are also living in the society. As you become stronger, that is the experience I have in -- in countries like Afghanistan. As you become more outspoken, the security challenges become increased. It's not only security challenges, but political challenges, because some people think that women becomes stronger, they lose power, actually.

So there is -- I mean, anybody living in Afghanistan, there is -- to the great amount of insecurity and instability, especially if the election results are announced, and that election, as we all know, was claimed of so many irregularities and fraud, I think it's -- it's going to be even more complicated.

AMANPOUR: As you face complications, how do you get back -- we've talked a little bit about trying to get back to a place where things were going in the right direction, schools were being built. Now, in some areas, schools are being burnt. Women and girls were able to go to school. Now, in some instances, women are getting attacked, girls are getting attacked, acid in -- in their faces. Maternal mortality has declined only a little bit. Nonetheless, it's declined.

Beyond the government and security, what else has to happen? I mean, is there really an idea that women can make progress in this very traditional society?

KOOFI: You know, let me tell you something. There was a research done in Afghanistan, a study, and that indicates that the people, the -- the -- the real nation of Afghanistan, they seem to be more happy with the female parliamentarian. And they seem to be close with the female parliamentarian. There are many reasons, because they deliver, because they're accessible to the people.

So when you talk of the -- although there is -- it's a heavily traditional and tribal country, but when you talk to ordinary people, ordinary people of Afghanistan, which is the nation, they are the main important elements in all these games. They are supportive to the women issues.

But, unfortunately, there are certain elements within the government, outside the government, nowadays mainly within the government, who don't believe in -- in women progress, because they -- they think, if women becomes stronger, they will lose the power.

I think what's important is, first of all, not only for women of this country, for any human being in Afghanistan, we need to, first and foremost, have a stable, strong government to be able to function and deliver. And then both men and women of this country will be able to benefit.

AMANPOUR: And just a last question. We even hear about young girls, little girls being sold into marriage, not just for traditional religious reasons, but for poverty reasons. How can you -- how can you address that?

KOOFI: There are many issues related to poverty. Violence, which is increased in the past three years in Afghanistan, different forms of violence, sexual abuse, which has got to do with poverty, but also with lack of rule of law, but the culture of impunity that the perpetuators receive, you have also the issue of -- as you rightly mentioned -- the issue of early marriages, forced marriage, a lack of employment opportunity for a woman.

You know, due to the -- the conflict, 30 years of conflict, majority - - I mean, we have majority of Afghan women who lost their husbands. They're widows with no supporters. They need to be helped with employment opportunities.

There are so many issues that has got a cultural dimension, which need longer-term awareness, education to improve the situation. But there are certain things that need immediate attention, like, as I mentioned, the issue of violence, sexual abuse, the issue of, like, acid attack on girls, we need to have a strong rule -- rule of law, like a -- a -- a punishment for perpetuators who commit a crime against women. Unfortunately, there is a culture of impunity, and there is a lot of politics involved with the way the perpetrators who -- who commit a crime.

AMANPOUR: Fawzia Koofi, Afghan member of parliament, thank you so much for joining us from Kabul on that cold night there. Thank you.

KOOFI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we will have much more on women in Afghanistan online on our Web site, We have a special feature on the millions of Afghan women who are facing domestic abuse, as Fawzia just said. So please join us there.

Next, we will talk with one U.S. soldier who says that training the Afghan police and building relationships with the people there is crucial to winning the war.



AMANPOUR: Obviously, because of the -- the danger, the roadside bombs, the suicide bombers, protection is very heavy. All of this, however, when it comes to winning hearts and minds, puts a lot of distance between the soldiers and the people.


AMANPOUR: Traveling in a U.S. armored personnel carrier in Afghanistan, I was able to see firsthand how easy it is for the people to feel separated from the soldiers and vice-versa, yet many of the soldiers I spoke to say that the key to success is building up relationships there.

Joining me now, someone who has firsthand experience of doing just that, U.S. Army National Guard Major Vincent Heintz.

Welcome to our program.


AMANPOUR: You have been there. You've been working in the areas there, and you were there with an Afghan police unit. That's right?

HEINTZ: That's exactly right.

AMANPOUR: What were you doing there?

HEINTZ: Our mission was to work with a group of about 50 Afghan police officers in a particular district and essentially take them from the training base where they were developed and help them build contacts and credibility with the people of their assigned district.

AMANPOUR: And we're going to bring up the map and show where, but what was so important about you as advisers doing that and sort of embedding with them?

HEINTZ: I have to say that the way you opened your -- your piece just now completely frames the issue. If we try to assist the Afghans by building walls between us or hiding behind armor or otherwise remaining in the safety of some kind of a sprawling base or other type of protective structure, we're never going to develop the trust with them at the individual level where they'll -- where they'll want to listen to us.

AMANPOUR: So I'm just going to show...


AMANPOUR: ... and you can help me out -- here is the Jahardali (ph), which basically means four valleys, there up in the northeast of Afghanistan.

HEINTZ: That's right.

AMANPOUR: Did you have success?

HEINTZ: We had success for a time. We began our mission and embedded with the police in February of 2008. And within a few weeks, the people were starting to come to the police station and report not just incidents of possible IEDs being implanted, but even, frankly, we were happy to see more simple types of crime, the theft of cattle or domestic violence. That -- those were signs to us that the local people of this district -- and there were four different ethnicities -- were perhaps for the first time ever seeing in their police an institution that existed for them, as opposed to some power or warmonger, warlord, whatever word you want to use.

AMANPOUR: You've written an article, basically called boots on the Ground, why that's necessary. And, obviously, you come from the point of view that there should be more soldiers on the ground to fight a counterinsurgency.

HEINTZ: That's correct.

AMANPOUR: Tell me why there has to be boots on the ground. Others now are debating this idea of maybe long-distance, long-ranged attacks from the air or attacks in Pakistan.

HEINTZ: The key to success in any counterinsurgency effort and in Afghanistan in particular is certainly the long-term development and employment of indigenous security forces, the police and their army.

To do that, you require two key initiatives. One occurs in a training base of some type. But the other point and the other place where that development really becomes galvanized is in the field. You need embedded combat advisers, like my team, to be with the police and mentor them day to day, week to week, until they're not just competent and not simply until they have the trust of the people and the district, but until they've actually established security.

AMANPOUR: But how can -- you know, a lot of people are sort of scoffing and pooh-poohing. You know, people who look at this say, "Oh, the Afghan police, the Afghan security forces, you know, they're corrupt. They'll just fight for whoever pays them." Give me an idea of whether you think this is a force that can stand up to protect their own people.

HEINTZ: It's absolutely a force that can stand up for -- to protect their own people. And, frankly, they protected us many times by providing information and physical protection when we were living among them.

The question of corruption is a huge question. And it's properly at the center of the current debate. I can tell you that, in Shahar Dara district (ph), I had four different police commanders in the space of eight months. Two of them had corruption issues; two of them did not. That, to me, goes to the very point of why we need to maintain a consistent embedded presence with these forces.

Our team served as something of an honest broker. When one police chief decided to, shall we say, manipulate the existence of the force for his own personal ends, we were available to collect information, bring it to the provincial police commander, the police chain of command, and send it up our own chain of command, and thereby put a lot of pressure at the local level to contain and eliminate those types of corrupt acts.

AMANPOUR: And one of the reasons you -- you say it sort of fell back under now that there's Taliban presence up there is because you weren't there long enough?

HEINTZ: I believe that is the case. We, after eight months, had come to a point with the police where, in terms of the technical metrics that I was given to evaluate the police, we had answered the question, yes, are they competent in terms of logistics or personnel administration or the security with which they maintain their weapons when they're not out on patrol?

But the real metric is whether the -- the district was secure. And that was not part of the training program that we were there to execute, simply because there were not enough teams to maintain a consistent presence throughout all of the key districts. So we were re-missioned at the end of that, and the district, as we read in the news now, has relapsed.

AMANPOUR: So as this ongoing debate is -- is, as we've seen, a very public "what's the best way to do this," what about the whole picture of aid and development? Because what we hear -- and certainly what I've seen -- is that there are a lot of good intentions, a lot of good efforts -- schools, a little bit of roads, a little bit of clinics -- but no big, broad, coherent logic to the aid and development effort.

HEINTZ: We saw the same thing in our district. We were part of those individual good acts, as well. We assisted in building some schools and getting some roads repaired to assist the people who live there. At the end of the day, my conclusion is that, unless and until security can be established in the long term, simply throwing money at a problem like a road or a lack of water inevitably feeds into the insurgency.

It's like taking some type of food that you want to feed good fish with and throwing it into a tank where there are sharks. You know what happens. They immediately will ferret out the -- the resources that you're investing in the district and through acts of extortion, arson, kidnapping, murder, simple threats, take advantage of that. Security has to come first.

AMANPOUR: And you've said security. Fawzia Koofi, the female M.P. we just spoke to, talks about security. When -- when I was there, not only when the Taliban was defeated, but in the intervening years, that's all people talk about, "Give us security first."

HEINTZ: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And if they don't have it, what?

HEINTZ: If they don't have it, they're going to fall back on secondary sources of security to protect their own families.

AMANPOUR: Which is?

HEINTZ: For example, local village structures, or an allegiance to the commander with whom or under whom they serve during the civil war, or even the Taliban, because, frankly, the Taliban can get your stolen bicycle back faster than the local police can, and you need that bicycle to get to market, to earn your family's living, then you're going to go with the Taliban.

AMANPOUR: So can the U.S. bring security to those towns and villages?

HEINTZ: I believe we can. I believe we can, because, frankly, the Army and the Marines, the Air Force and the Navy have become experts in the doctrine of counterinsurgency over a period of years now. We understand the difference between conventional operations and counterinsurgency operations.

The Afghans, as far as I can tell -- and your first guest was a perfect example of this -- are more than willing, they're demanding this type of assistance. And the more you provide, the more they excel.

AMANPOUR: Do you have any doubt or what -- how do you assess, if the U.S. decides on a different strategy other than counterinsurgency, what will happen?

HEINTZ: Well, I think General McChrystal used the expression the other day "Chaosistan," or something like that. And, frankly, that's, in a nut shell, what we're going to see.

There may be pockets of security if we do some type of over-the- horizon hybrid strategy, where we have bases in Afghanistan for counterterrorism forces, but nobody really has explained where the intelligence would come from to support raids or strikes from the forces that would be stationed in these remote counterterrorism bases.

I -- I really don't foresee -- and I think it's been clear from our elected leaders recently -- that we're really going to walk away from the Afghan people across the board. There is a stated public commitment, reiterated in the last few days, to continue to do that. The question now, I guess, is just how.

AMANPOUR: Major Heintz, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

HEINTZ: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.

And this conversation will continue online on Twitter. Find out what else our guests and sources are telling us, and we will continue with Major Heintz online after this, so please join us there.

Next, though, the continued fallout from the disputed election in Iran.


AMANPOUR: Now our post-script. Tonight, there are fears, concerns that Iran is about to unleash its judiciary on leaders of the pro-democracy reform movement. Top judges have launched their first investigation into a top reformist, the former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, about his charges of torture and rape of demonstrators in prisons in Iran.

The opposition believes that it could signal a crackdown on all the reform movement leaders, so we'll be keeping a close eye on this story and other developments in Iran.

But that's it for right now, so thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with a disturbing look at rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Our Web cast begins right now on, with Major Vincent Heintz. Thanks again.