Afghan leader says women are vital for future

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai: signed power'sharing deal with rival. Picture: AP
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai: signed power'sharing deal with rival. Picture: AP
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AFGHANISTAN’S president-elect pledged in his victory speech yesterday to give women prominent roles in his government and told his nation that women are important to the country’s future.

The remarks by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, 65, came a day after a landmark power-sharing deal was signed by Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates. It resolved a drawn-out dispute that had threatened to plunge the country into political turmoil.

Mr Ghani Ahmadzai also said his former opponent – Abdullah Abdullah, who will fill the new role of government chief executive – has turned from competitor to colleague, and that the two are committed to improving Afghanistan.

On Sunday, the country’s election commission announced Mr Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner of a two-man run-off, ending an election process that began with a first round of voting in April. The announcement came only hours after the two candidates signed a political deal to form a national unity government.

The deal allowed the international community, including the United States and Nato, to breathe a sigh of relief, as the settlement greatly decreases the chances of ethnic violence. Mr Ghani Ahmadzai has also pledged to sign a security agreement that would allow about 10,000 US military trainers and advisers to remain in the country next year after US and Nato combat troops withdraw.

At his speech yesterday, Mr Ghani Ahmadzai clasped the hands of female supporters – a notable moment in a country where women are often socially segregated.

Mr Ghani Ahmadzai said he wanted Afghan women represented at the highest levels of government, including on the Supreme Court, where no female justices have ever served.

“In the face of these girls I can see future Afghan leaders,” he said of the country’s youngsters. And he told his “sisters” in attendance they have equal rights in society and government.

Mary Akrami, head of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre, said she welcomed such sentiments but hoped they would be followed by action.

The incoming president is viewed as being worldly and well-educated. A former finance minister, he has worked at the World Bank and earned a PhD from New York’s Columbia University.

Perhaps to increase his religious bona fides in the devoutly Muslim country, Mr Ghani Ahmadzai peppered his speech with references to Islam, and said God is first and Afghanistan second.

And in a message that appeared to be aimed at power brokers outside of Kabul, Mr Ghani Ahmadzai said the national unity government’s aim is to “end all parallel structures”. He also promised a “public report card” every six months on the implementation of the constitution.

To the annoyance of many Afghans, the election commission did not officially release vote totals of the June run-off – ballots that underwent a long audit for fraud – when it announced Mr Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner. Leaked results showed Mr Ghani Ahmadzai had about 55 per cent and Mr Abdullah roughly 45 per cent of the vote.

One of Mr Abdullah’s final demands in talks with Mr Ghani Ahmadzai was that the election commission refrain from releasing the vote count because of the fraud he alleges took place.