Despite the billions of dollars of international money spent to
develop a democratic culture in Afghanistan, few understand what one
politician is trying to accomplish by her hunger strike.
For 11 days now, a female politician has been on hunger strike in
a small tent set up in a parking lot outside the Afghan Parliament
Formerly a member of parliament from Herat province, Simin
Barakzai was among nine parliamentarians removed from office in late
August to settle an electoral dispute that dragged on for more than
Rejecting allegations of fraud, Ms. Barakzai launched a campaign
to regain her seat and called on the government to review its
decision. When all efforts failed she started the strike designed to
cast light on the broader problem of corruption and insufficient
government transparency in Afghanistan.
Barakzai's hunger strike may stand as a stark example of how far
Afghanistan has to go before it's ready for civic activism. Despite
billions of dollars of international money that has been spent to
develop a democratic culture here, few understand what Barakzai is
trying to accomplish or even trust her stated motives.
Many people see this as a personal issue, not a democratic cause
says Mohammad Hassan Walasmal, an independent political analyst in
Kabul. "If she is called fraudulent and kicked out of the parliament
people think it's a personal issue."
Over the past four decades, Mr. Walasmal has conducted three
hunger strikes. Although each one of them supported an Afghan cause,
he says, he never once received any encouragement from other
Afghans, even from Afghan expatriates, when he went without food for
50 days in Norway to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"In Afghanistan people really don't know about these kinds of
things," he says. "It's impossible in this situation and with this
condition of the Afghans to have a bigger movement grow out of Mrs.
Barakzai's hunger strike."
The key issue
Government corruption is one of the most important issues to
Afghans. In the recently released Corruption Perception Index by
Transparency International, Afghanistan tied for second as the
nation where residents perceived the most corruption within their
But turning frustration into action is something very difficult
for Afghans. A predominately rural society, most politicking for
everyday people takes place at the community level and the actions
of the national government are perceived as beyond the influence of
"Without experience with a strong democratic society in
Afghanistan, people here don't have a lot of experience with
political activism and they still don't know its importance," says
Muhammad Hassan Haqyar, an independent political analyst in Kabul. …