Dr. Roshanek Wardak is one tough cookie. Here is a woman that stares down the Taliban daily and I got a heady dose of how intense that gaze is today. Dr. Wardak is a female member of the Afghan Parliament, representing the tumultuous province of Wardak. This is a province still fighting, and with a large number of Taliban living there it is not likely to quiet down anytime soon. It neighbors Kabul and its hard to comprehend the difference in security between the two provinces. Harder still to imagine that the Taliban willingly stay put under Dr. Wardak’s intensity.
Dr. Wardak is Pashtun, the same ethnic group as the Taliban. She is also the province’s only female OB/GYN – and as such is quite important as the one that delivers the babies to the women of the area. During the Taliban’s time, most women wore the burqa, but she insisted she could not do her job wearing one and instead simply wore her black headscarf so that her face was covered except for her eyes. She worked throughout those difficult six years in Wardak and then when the Taliban were removed and elections were held, the people of Wardak encouraged, and pushed, for her to run as a candidate for Parliament. With very little effort, she ran and won.
Sitting across from her, her eyes probe mine, questioning my interest, questioning my knowledge of the situation, and questioning deep into my heart of hearts. Her eyes search and probe as we talk, and when silences come, they are not for me to fill. They are there for her to decide if she will continue and when she does, its with direct honesty. This is a woman with no time for playing games. Her mantra, “Politics is Lying”, is repeated often throughout our conversation. She hates politics and says so openly. She is a doctor, and loves her work, and loves her people. “A doctor must be honest and direct at all times,” she tells me. As a politician, she sees the falsehoods, the games, and the outright lying, and has no stomach for it.
We discuss women in politics, gender equality, Afghanistan’s political climate, and most importantly, due to her unique insight, the Taliban’s role in the future of Afghanistan. Unique I say because she is a woman who had no rights under Taliban rule. A woman that was forced to cover her face. A woman who would not have been allowed to vote, much less run as a candidate herself, were the Taliban to have held elections. Yet, she realizes that the Taliban are Afghan, and as such, must be allowed their place in society under the Afghan constitution. Like Hamas and Hezbollah, the Taliban are part of their own country and hold great numbers within Afghanistan. Wardak believes that they need to be part of the process to bring peace, and others like Karzai, and our own government are coming to the same conclusion.
“Let them run candidates if they wish, the same as anyone else. If they win seats, then we must honor that.” But the trick is that they have to abide by the ‘rules’, women as their counterparts, perhaps even their new president. Yet, if they are given the chance to run amok, isolated from the political system, and peace process, it will be to the destruction of the country and will put Afghanistan in the center of the war on terror.
When asked what is the most important priority for her work at Parliament her answer is immediate. “Security. It is the ONLY priority for progress.” Achieving it is another story. Yet, the Parliament, Ministers, and the people of Afghanistan need to work towards a peace process conducted with all of Afghanistan represented as a complete way to end the violent spiral.
Staring back into Wardak’s tough gaze, I realize that while she may hate being a politician, she is the politician this country needs.
photo by Di Zinno