After Malala help, Afghans are asking, ‘What about us?’

Reuters, KABUL

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 - Page 6

The global attention bestowed on a Pakistani schoolgirl allegedly shot by the Taliban has sparked outcry amongst many Afghans dismayed by what they say is the unequal response to the plight of their women and children.

Malala Yousufzai, apparently shot by Taliban gunmen for advocating girls’ education, was flown from Pakistan to Britain to receive treatment after the attack this month which drew widespread condemnation and an international outpouring of support.

“Every day an Afghan girl is abused, raped, has acid thrown on her face and mutilated. Yet no one remembers or acknowledges these girls,” Elay Ershad, who represents the nomadic Kuchi people in Afghan parliament, told reporters.

Echoing concerns of other prominent Afghan women, Ershad said the government took no real interest in women’s rights, instead using the issue for political gain and currying favor with Western backers, a claim Kabul has dismissed as untrue.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly condemned Yousufzai’s shooting, even using it to address women’s rights in his country.

“The people of Afghanistan ... see this attempt not only against [Yousufzai], but also against all Afghan girls,” he said last week.

The closest Karzai has come this year to condemning violence against women in Afghanistan, as seen on the scale he has done with Yousufzai, was in July, when gunmen publicly executed a 22-year-old woman for alleged adultery.

“If the president does not care about Afghan women in general, why does he suddenly care about Malala?” Ershad asked. “No one [here] ever seeks justice once the television cameras are turned off.”

The United Arab Emirates provided the plane taking Yousufzai to Britain, while British officials said the Pakistani government was footing the bill for her lengthy treatment in Birmingham.

Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and employment since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, but Afghanistan remains one of the worst places on Earth.

There is now mounting concern that such freedoms will not be protected and may even be traded away as Kabul seeks a peace deal with the Taliban, as most foreign troops prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014.

“We understand Malala’s situation better than anybody in the world, [yet] our government defends women’s rights with empty slogans and actually does next to nothing,” said Suraya Parlika, a member of the upper house of parliament.

The popular, privately owned Tolo television highlighted the story of a policeman in eastern Ghazni Province, called Zalmai, whose young son and daughter were shot dead in front of him by suspected Taliban members just days before Yousufzai’s Oct. 9 shooting.

“How can the Afghan government react so and condemn [the attack on] a Pakistani girl and ignore such an event like this?” Tolo quoted one of Zalmai’s colleagues as saying this week, adding that officials had ignored requests to investigate.