Code 58835
PublishDate: Wednesday, March 27, 201309:15

Kerry hails Afghan businesswomen

The event was intended to demonstrate the progress that women have made in Afghanistan since the days of Taliban rule.

The event, held in the secured confines of the American Embassy compound, was intended to demonstrate the progress that women have made in Afghanistan since the days of Taliban rule. But it also highlighted the women’s apprehensions about the course their country will follow after 2014, when the government in Kabul is scheduled to take full responsibility for security in the country, and the American-led international presence will shrink.

Hassina Syed, who runs companies involved in trucking, construction and catering, told Mr. Kerry at the meeting that with the transition approaching, “there is a lot of negative effect on the business sector.”

The encounter illustrated the tensions between the American vision for Afghanistan, which still includes a democratic system that ensures women’s rights, and worries that Afghanistan’s military and civic institutions might not be able to manage the transition.

Mr. Kerry, who had earlier met for a second consecutive day with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, displayed the political skill he developed as a senator from Massachusetts as he asked the women about how they had built up their businesses, and headed a soccer ball with one of Afghanistan’s top female players. He then spoke to a group of civic leaders preparing for Afghanistan’s 2014 election. “You’re engaged in a remarkable effort, and the whole world is watching,” he said.

Afterward, the entrepreneurs expanded on their concerns. Even with American troops still in the country, Ms. Syed has plenty of challenges, she said, estimating that one-third of her budget is spent on security. Her major worry now, she said, is that many of the new businesses that have opened in Afghanistan, particularly those in construction, transportation and hospitality, will wither without a steady infusion of foreign spending, and may not survive.

“Most especially, construction and other businesses are shutting down slowly,” Ms. Syed said. Getting orders from the Afghan government that might make up for some of the lost international spending will be hard, she said, because those contracts will be steered to companies with friends in high places.

“Only a few people who are really connected with the government, they will just take those things,” she said. “The normal businesspeople, they are not going to get benefit out of the government.”

Many businesspeople who have been successful in recent years, but who are apprehensive about the future, are already looking to move their money to the United States, Britain or the United Arab Emirates, Ms. Syed said.

Nadima Sahar, who sells jewelry, pottery and artwork made by a network of artists and craftsmen, studied in the United States on a scholarship, earning a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts.

“As a woman and also as an Afghan, I have my concerns,” she said, citing the challenges of maintaining security and women’s rights. “I don’t think that my country mates are really ready to take over the transition process and to handle it as effectively as the U.S. troops have been doing so far.”

“With the international community’s presence, I think they in a way encouraged women to get involved further and further,” she added.

But Ms. Sahar wonders what will happen if Afghan officials negotiate a peace accord with the Taliban, whose leaders are determined to reinstitute restrictions on the role of women. “I have family members who are fleeing the country because they have concern that the situation wouldn’t remain that stable,” she said.

Roya Mallboob, who manages a software company in the western Afghan city of Herat that makes educational programs available to women, noted that she had some measure of insulation from trouble because much of her work was done online. Still, she said, “I am worried about the security and who will be the next president.”

For all their concerns, though, none of the women who met with Mr. Kerry on Tuesday said they planned to rush for the exit. Each insisted she would to try to make a go of it as Afghanistan takes control of its own security and holds national elections next year.

“I will be the last woman who will leave Afghanistan,” Ms. Syed said. (NY Times)

Your comment

Related posts

Latest news