Ahmad Fahim Hakim is a civil society and human rights activist. He was previously the Deputy Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. He is a graduate of York University in Britain.
Photo : Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA / Matthieu Hackière
Can you share with us some memories of instances when your rights have been violated and how they have influenced your life?
I was sent to prison in 1980 for my role in political demonstrations; I was a student in my final year of school at the time. I saw many of my fellow school students and compatriots tortured. During the first 10 days, I was subjected to the worst forms of torture including beatings, sleep deprivation, and electric shocks.
Later, in 1997, I was a professor at university. One day, I failed to wear my turban, as was required at the time. The Taliban officials interrogated me and expelled me from work the next day.
What are the important achievements in Afghanistan today?
Some of the major achievements include girls' access to education, the presence of women on the economic, social and political scenes, freedom of expression, the operation of a free media dedicated to dignified human values, functioning civil society institutions, and the role they play in closely observing the democratic processes, including elections.
What gives you hope for the future?
There is now a space for the rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan, something which the international community has taken great interest in. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is pursuing a national debate about war crimes, a topic that was previously a taboo. The Commission has also set up a museum for remembrance of the victims. Furthermore, the people's consciousness has developed to such an extent that they talk openly about topics such as honor killings, rape, and the ineligibility of war criminals to stand for election. The level of people's enthusiasm to see their children educated and the growing role played by young people in social, political and economic processes are also promising developments.
What do you fear most today?
The government policies have not been consolidated and the talks about peace and negotiations with the Taliban lack a transparent and well-defined framework.
At the base level, our deepest fear is that all of our achievements in the fields of human rights, freedom of expression, women's and children's rights and the democratic processes could be lost. Are we sure that in the future, whoever is in government, women will be able to have access to education and employment? According to the National Development Strategy of Afghanistan, women were supposed to have a quota of up to 30 percent in government departments by 2020. Today, only 18 percent of the roles are held by women.
The real question is: When we talk about reconciliation, are we talking about real political compromises? Or is it about negotiations and reconciliation for the survival and interests of the ruling establishment?
There are many things about the way the negotiations with the Taliban and other armed insurgent groups that make us anxious and unsettled. Peace talks with the Taliban lack red lines, clear policy, and transparency. Most importantly, there is an absence of guarantees, or even emphasis, on the part of the leadership and government authorities, about the importance and protection of human rights, justice, and ending the culture of impunity through these peace negotiations. These factors are especially worrying for the women's rights and civil society institutions.
What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?
The military-political transition process, the 2014 elections, and the withdrawal of international and NATO forces from Afghanistan.
Would today's Afghanistan allow schools to once again be closed to girls and women to be excluded from social participation?
No, never. The situation is not like that anymore. The activities of the civil society, the citizens, the youth, the media, social networks such as Facebook on the one hand, and the achievements of the government and society in the economic, educational, and political realms on the other make it difficult or even impossible for the repetition of that scenario. Democracy International conducted an opinion poll recently. According to its findings, only 11% of the people in Kandahar province supported the Taliban, while support for the Taliban in other parts of the country has fallen to a minimum.
Which factors deter women from participating in social, economic, political and cultural spheres?
People, and in particular women, lack knowledge about their basic rights. Other obstacles are the improper interpretation of Islamic teachings, discriminations, and the persistence of the patriarchal mentality in Afghanistan.
What are the major demands of women?
Rule of law and the equality of men and women before the law, the prohibition of discriminatory acts and attitudes against women, continuing education and participation in the economic, social and political fields.
Which social forces can women count on?
Firstly, the people themselves must be active. Fortunately, the Government of Afghanistan has committed to the most important international conventions and treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which guarantees a proper channel for the defense of women's rights and participation in all areas of life. At the same time, the civil society institutions, women's rights institutions and the free media are reliable and dependable sources to support the rights of women.
Do you have a specific message to share?
We are presently witnessing a massive development and a challenging political transition, namely the elections and its outcomes. Therefore, I call on all my compatriots, in particular on women and young people, to actively and consciously take part in and observe this important national process. This is the foundation for nation-building and state-building in Afghanistan.
"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Influential social, political and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women's and human rights in Afghanistan.
You can read original interviews in Dari on Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA