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A Woman President in Afghanistan?; Israeli Activist Speaks Out

Aired October 24, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Imagine if the next president of Afghanistan were a woman. It's hard to picture.

By now the world knows how terribly difficult life is for women in that country and just to give you one gruesome example -- and it is very tough to watch -- here a group of Taliban gather to see the assassination - - extrajudicial execution -- of a woman earlier this year. She was killed simply because she was suspected of consorting with a man who wasn't her husband, and it is horrifying.

Afghan women must fight for even the most basic rights, like health care and education. Consider this: only about one in 10 Afghan women can read. But that's triple what it was back in 2001 and despite the hardships, Fawzia Koofi, just 37 years old, believes that she can become the country's next president.

She has a remarkable story. When she was just a newborn baby, her parents left her outside in the boiling sun, torn about whether to keep her because she was a girl.

They had a change of heart and she has grown up to become a member of parliament.

For that, the Taliban has tried to assassinate her more than once. When she travels for work, she leaves goodbye notes for her daughters just in case.

But women have made crucial gains since international forces arrived in her country and she's really afraid that they may be lost when those forces leave in 2014.

Fawzia Koofi up next, but first a look at what's coming up a little later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): He was a decorated war veteran; now he's a voice for peace. But is anyone listening?

And in Afghanistan, where danger lurks at every turn, a roadside bomb is nothing new. But this one is.



AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, my interview with Fawzia Koofi, the woman who wants to be Afghanistan's next president, its first female president. She joined me earlier from Kabul.


AMANPOUR: Fawzia Koofi, thank you so much for joining me. I want to start by asking you, as an Afghan woman, do you believe that you have any chance to run for the presidency of your country?

FAWZIA KOOFI, AFGHAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: There are countries who have had similar situations, very close society, our neighboring countries, Pakistan, for instance. There was a woman who lead the country. I think it might not be impossible for a woman to become president in Afghanistan. And this is our mindset. We need to start thinking about changing our mindset.

But perhaps it will be very difficult for a woman to run a country which is still there are weapons, still there are guns, still there is a strong understanding of culture and tradition. But that's a fight. One has to take all the risks and go for it.

AMANPOUR: First of all, let me ask you, do you believe that President Karzai will step down? Let me play you a portion of an interview that I conducted with him several months ago.


AMANPOUR: You're saying that no matter what, no ifs, ands or buts, you will not stand for reelection, whether it's in 2013 or 2014?


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Definitely not. I -- and I'm surprised when there is this question asked.


AMANPOUR: So I see you smiling as well, Fawzia.

Do you think that he will, as he promises, not run for reelection or not select some kind of successor?

KOOFI: Constitutional wise, he has no right to run for a third time office. But there are all kinds of assumptions.

The first thing is that he might support somebody very close to him, and the same team remain in power because they have all the means of power in their control. They have the governor -- province governors, chief of police, security, all the potentials for -- to help a candidate become successful, even in the palace, control basically.

So the first assumption is that he might support somebody close to him. And the same team remain in power.

The second assumption is that the security might get worse as we get closer to the election and to the withdrawal of international troops in 2014 and that the possibilities for having election become lesser and lesser.

These are in the worst-case scenario. I hope that that doesn't happen, and I hope that the -- we have a political transition before the military transition happen. And then we have an elected strong, powerful government in place so that the legitimacy of democracy continues in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about the transition, the fact that the United States and the international forces are going to be exiting Afghanistan. It's obviously a big part of the presidential debates; it's a big part of the presidential election here in the United States.

What are your biggest fears for this transition?

KOOFI: The biggest fear for any Afghan right now in Afghanistan is that the fear for going back to the dark period of our history, where we experience several war and Taliban.

The fear is that if we go back to the dark period and then security gets worse.

And the big fear is that the neighboring countries of Afghanistan start to reshape themselves and influence Afghanistan politics after withdrawal and try to reshape the politics in a way that they have a bigger voice rather than the people of Afghanistan, and then they try to pursue their own agenda in Afghanistan and their own networks and groups in Afghanistan, namely Taliban. I hope that that doesn't -- that doesn't come.

As a woman, my big fear is that we -- the rights that we sacrificed and we invested blood and treasure for it -- might be limited, as the withdrawal happen without a political transition.

AMANPOUR: Well, you have been very brave in taking on the Taliban and not putting up with any of their considerable violence, their threats and, frankly, their nonsense.

The United States has talked about negotiating with the Taliban, has talked about the current Afghan government negotiating with the Taliban.

Do you agree with that? Should the Taliban be a political player for the future?

KOOFI: I guess in the 21st century we all believe in negotiations and we all believe that issues could only be solved through discussions and talks and not through means of violence. I don't actually support the fact that Taliban are asking for their rights through violence, through killing of people. That is not going to work in anywhere, any part of the world at 21st century.

In the meantime, I think that if Taliban would like to become political players, they need to put weapons away. They need to respect Afghan constitution. There needs to be somehow a transparency and clarity on the so-called peace process.

And I believe this -- it should be a process rather than a project because people of Afghanistan certainly -- but basically women of this country deserve peace more than anybody else. But that peace has to be inclusive, so that there is no fear of losing the gains we have had in the past 10 years.

AMANPOUR: Human rights organizations have said that the United States needs to make it very clear and have very clear benchmarks about the future.

For instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to commit the U.S. to having women's issues be a benchmark for aid and for future interaction with Afghanistan.

What do you think the United States should do as it exits Afghanistan to protect the investments that you've just talked about, to protect even the minimal rights women have been able to achieve?

KOOFI: I think the international community has a bigger role in terms of helping Afghan people to safeguard the gains they have had, particularly the women rights, because this is an achievement of the Afghan government, after Taliban fall and the achievement of international community. I believe if there is no women in the streets of Kabul, that is the day that there will be Taliban.

So when we witness that day, that there is no women going to school or there is no women in the streets of Kabul and we experience a 1996 and 1997 years during Taliban regime, that -- the consequences of that situation is not only risky and dangerous for Afghan people, but I'm sure it's much more dangerous for the world nation as well.

And we have experienced a 2001 Assad. We know that the security in Afghanistan is the security of the world. And I think that it's a time for us to revise two strategies in Afghanistan: first of all, to revise the strategy of peace process and to make it more comprehensive, inclusive, especially the inclusiveness of women and the fact that their rights should be safeguarded.

AMANPOUR: Fawzia, you talked about Afghanistan being a very traditional -- culturally and religiously very traditional. You yourself, in your book, "The Favored Daughter," speak about what happened to you the very day you were born. You were essentially left by your mother to perish. She was not happy to have had a daughter.

Why not? Tell me about that.

KOOFI: Perhaps my mother suffered as a woman a lot, and she didn't want yet another girl to suffer as much as she suffered in this world. This is perhaps one of the reasons.

But I'm not the only daughter in this -- or the only girl in this country and in this part of the world who doesn't receive a very warm welcome during born. I think most of what happens in Afghanistan and in these parts of the country goes to the tradition, to wrong understanding of -- sometimes wrong understanding of religion and, you know, wrong definition of religion, basically.

And it goes to the issue of property; when you have a girl, the girl receive only 50 percent of property, et cetera. But in the meantime, I think, women of Afghanistan, by delivering another girl, they don't receive a good also welcome in the family. So there is a kind of structured violence in the families, although it's changing now in the big cities, which is, you know, a good step.

In the big cities, the fact that women are working, they can bring income to the family. The perspective towards having a child girl is now changing. But that takes a long time. And I was one of those girls that didn't receive a warm welcome when I was born.

AMANPOUR: Fawzia Koofi, thank you so much for joining me and good luck to you.

KOOFI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Political upheaval in Afghanistan tends to be regarded as the norm. But it also exists in the state of Israel. And when we come back, we'll talk to an insider who's now on the outside and making noises that the Netanyahu government doesn't want to hear.

But before we take a break, another look at a young woman inside Afghanistan. In a country where the Taliban has used violence to keep girls from going to school, a group of young Afghan girls bravely gather to show their support for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girls who was shot by the Taliban and who remains in a British hospital improving but not out of the woods yet. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. With no movement towards any kind of peace settlement, let alone talks between Israel and the Palestinians, all sorts of hypothetical scenarios are tossed around.

In a recent poll in the Israeli newspaper, "Haaretz", a majority of people said that if Israel were to annex the occupied West Bank, they would oppose giving the vote to the 2 and a half million Palestinians living there and that they would support segregated roads for Palestinians and Israelis. In other words, under this hypothetical, Israelis would support keeping the Palestinians separate and unequal.

My next guest, Avraham Burg, is a former political insider in Israel, who walked away from his leadership role in order to challenge the system from the outside. Now as an author and as an activist, he's calling out Israel on what he says is fading democracy there. During his recent visit to New York, I asked Burg, now that he's made his diagnosis, what's his prescription.


AMANPOUR: Avraham Burg, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: You have been an observant Jew. You are a decorated paratrooper. Correct?

BURG: Well, OK. What else?

AMANPOUR: Are you?

BURG: Six children -- yes, I am.

AMANPOUR: And you once tried to run for party leadership.

BURG: That's right.

AMANPOUR: But you've turned your back on those kinds of politics. Why? Why are you not involved anymore?

BURG: I had a feeling a decade ago that Israel is a very efficient kingdom with no prophecy. And I find it's very difficult to be a political activist without a direction, without a compass, without a higher call. And I looked around and I discovered that my party at the time, the Labor Party, and other parties just operate for the sake of operation.

But where does it go? Where -- what is the strategy of the place, the moral strategy, the political strategy, the social strategy? Where is it? I didn't find it. I didn't want to stay in the politics just to be there.

I wanted to think about it. So the only way I know how to think is by writing. I walked out of politics and started writing. And in the last eight years since I retired, I've published four books, translated one into Hebrew, just finished last week my fifth one, which are all exploring the same issues of where are we going? What does that mean, after 2,000 years, having Jewish sovereignty?

AMANPOUR: Well, meantime, your writings are causing heartburn in some quarters. You've been accused as being anti-Israel in the deepest sense, that your books emanate from a loathing of Israeliness.

BURG: Well, that's one side of the coin. And the other side of the coin that many people tell me, finally somebody talks to us about what we feel deep inside.

To tell you that all my writings are easy ones, the answer is no. But should somebody come and say, listen, here is a picture. Look at the mirror. That's your face. It's our face. If we really love what we see, let's continue. But if we do not love it, we do not like it, let's change it.

So mine is a call for action. Mine is a call for changing direction. Mine is actually offering Israel a different strategy, a strategy that was never discussed in Israel and was never discussed in the Jewish world, and this is what Israel's strategy in the Middle East?

Do we want to be like the Crusades, with high walls and whomever comes to the walls, we shoot them down till eventually this kingdom expires?

Or do we want to integrate in the Middle East? And what are the prices for this integration? What do you have to do in order to shake hands with the region?

My feeling is we never explored the integration in the Middle East, and therefore the friction is so intensive.

Nowadays the opportunities are new. Nowadays, something is being opened there. And I say let's walk through this door. We're strong enough. We're powerful enough. We are experienced enough. And confident enough to give it a chance.

AMANPOUR: So you feel optimistic about -- presumably you're talking about the Arab Spring and the opportunities that are there.

BURG: Spring is a too short of a season. I mean, I see it as an Arab awakening. I see it as a long --


AMANPOUR: But that's what you're talking about?

BURG: Yes. Listen, it took Christianity hundreds of years to meet democracy. It takes Judaism hundreds of years to understand what democracy is all about. The Muslim now begin -- start the walk. They walk the walk.

We need to have patience for it, because the future of the world is a conversation between the old West and the new Western Islam. If something will happen, it will happen there positively.

AMANPOUR: And you, you mentioned democracy. You've written about Israel's fading democracy. And you've written quite a lot about the rise of fundamentalism, in other words, extreme orthodoxy in Israel.

How do you see that affecting your democracy?

BURG: It affects our democracy the way it affects every democracies.

I mean, the struggle, the clash of civilizations is the clash between the democratic civilization and the theocratic one, the one who believes that the source of authority is God and the one who believes that a source of authority is a Christian in a room and other is we, the human being. And this happens within Christianity, within Islam and within Judaism.

In the state of Israel, the power of the ultraorthodox and ultranationalist religious elements is getting stronger and stronger and, in a way, the equilibrium between the Jewish and democratic is going too much to the side of the Jewish on the account of the side of the democratic.

And we have to rebalance it. Israel is as much as it is a very vibrant democracy within the green line, once you cross the green line, mmm, it is much less of a democracy and much less to be proud about.

And therefore, these are the fields that we have to plow. These are the places that we have to work on very hard in order not to lose these achievements we have already, the pearl of democracy.

AMANPOUR: I mentioned that you're a former military; you've been decorated as a paratrooper. Many military are talking these days -- mostly former; many former intelligence, the Shin Bet; they've even made a film about them. And they're tending to sound more -- I mean, I don't think pacifist is necessarily the right word, but more pacifist.


BURG: The question is why the politicians who are not coming from a military background are so militant. OK? That's the other side of the equation.

There is no good answer. But maybe the one, the one is the people who served most of their life the country and the nation understand that the army is just a tool. The army is not a mean by itself. The army is not a name by itself. It's just a mean.

There are too many Israelis and too many Jews are, for the first time after 2,000 years, we have an army. We have an Air Force. We have Jewish paratroopers. We have 200 denied bombs. I mean, it's unbelievable. It became the essence rather than just a service to something else.

And we've forgot to ask ourselves what is the something else. The military people, they always knew that they are a tool in the hands of the -- in the hands of the democracy.

And therefore, when they are released from the army, they go to serve their true opinion, according to democratic -- to the best democratic procedure, to air their opinion and say, this is what we believe. The army cannot solve all the problems in the Middle East. It should be political rather than military ones.

AMANPOUR: And finally, if Israel decides to strike Iran over the nuclear issue, what will the effect be?

BURG: Who knows? There are 15 people all over the world who really know all the details. So I'm not one of them. I'm the 16th, OK? But it looks as if we shall miss two opportunities. The first one is to talk to the Iranian people about the pride and about the history and about the role in the world in a positive way rather than a negative one.

And the second is I don't see the Arab world leaving a Muslim -- a Muslim country behind being attacked so severely and so seriously and humiliated this way without having a grudge that will go on for years and for decades to come.

AMANPOUR: A grudge?

BURG: Yes. And that's my feeling, that we should not walk down this road. It is not that I really love nuclear Iran, as much as I don't like a nuclear Pakistan, a nuclear Russia or whatever it is --

AMANPOUR: Or Israel.

BURG: Even a nuclear Israel. I don't like it. I mean, something that was for so many year, an asset for Israel is becoming recently a kind of liability. And we have to rethink about what to do with it.

Nonetheless, striking cannot be a solution because today's them, then it will be Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Egypt. What is it for the years to come, we're going to strike them all? It's not a solution. The solution must be a different level and different depth of reconciliation.

AMANPOUR: You must be persona non grata in Israel.

BURG: On the contrary. My family likes me. I mean, most of my kids. I'm not at all sure. I mean, I think that I echo the voices of many Israelis. You don't hear them; you don't hear us on the political level.

The body politics in Israel are still split at about most of the issues; it's 50-50 right and left, the body economy right and left, about (inaudible) right and left, about military presence, about social affairs, et cetera. The political representation of the left crashed. So you don't see the presence of it in the political level.

But out there in the street, I think that I echo the voices of many Israelis -- not all of them; I'm not at all sure that majority of them, but a substantial part of the Israeli society. And I'm very proud about it. So what if people don't like it? It's my truth.

AMANPOUR: Avraham Burg, thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And next, we'll return to the struggle in Afghanistan, the struggle of young women, not merely to be heard, but to survive. A roadside bomb that turned out to be a baby named Happiness when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we've heard the incredible story of how our guest, Fawzia Koofi, was abandoned by her parents when she was just a baby, an Afghan girl child with no future in a male-dominated society. Fortunately, her parents had a change of heart.

But it's all too easy to imagine a world where the birth of a girl is still considered to be a family tragedy. Perhaps that's why this newborn was dumped on the side of the road south of Kabul recently. She, like Fawzia, though, was fortunate. Some Polish troops, part of the dwindling NATO force, came upon her when they were on a patrol. At first, they thought the bundle was a bomb. They brought her back to a local hospital and named her Pola, for Poland, but she still needed a home.

She found one when an Afghan couple Fatima and Zahir Rahimi, adopted her and gave her a new name. They call her Aria (ph), which means happiness. Said her father, "She's brought a lot of happiness to us. I want my baby to grow up, go to school and have a very good future."

Of course, most of us take it for granted, growing up, going to school, having a future. But for the girls of Afghanistan, as the Taliban reasserts itself, these are precious and increasingly perilous things.

That's it for tonight's program. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from New York.