‘It&’s nice not hearing bullets’
Roshanak Wardak is a doctor and former member of Afghanistan&’s Parliament (2005-10), who runs the obstetrics and gynaecology service at a hospital in the village of Hasankhel, in Wardak Province&’s Sayyadabad District, which she calls a “battlefield”. She also campaigns there against civilian casualties and for the education of girls. Wardak spoke with SAM TRANUM in Ireland on 10 October at the seventh biennial Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders, organised by Dublin-based non-governmental human rights organisation Front Line Defenders. She talked about her preference for Indian rather than Pakistani development aid, the 2014 presidential election, and the drawdown of NATO forces. Excerpts:

Why aren’t you an MP anymore?
I was MP for five years and then I ran again, but because while I was an MP, I was a human rights defender also and I never shut my mouth, people who were in government, the ministers, they tried very hard to prevent me from succeeding in the next election [in 2010], so I didn’t succeed.

Are you running in the April 2014 elections — for president or for your provincial assembly?
No, no. Unfortunately, in the south of Afghanistan, in those provinces in which there is no security [such as Wardak], there will be no election; they will fill the boxes by rigging.

What are the main things that you deal with in your hospital?
This district is a battlefield of the Taliban and the government and, of course, when there is war, there are specific problems, which the people suffer, especially the civilians. The war is between two groups. From one side, government, army. From the other side, insurgents. They are fighting. They are shooting bullets, heavy bullets like RPGs or rockets, other very sophisticated weapons. They are firing and this is destroying innocent people, their houses, their lives, their bodies. Every morning, we go for visits around the hospital. Especially in our surgical ward and our children&’s ward, we find members of families who are injured by these bullets. Nobody cares about this. In spite of giving a report to the human rights commission in Afghanistan and to the other concerned departments, they never pay attention to this problem, to prevent the government forces from firing into the air.

It seems like to solve that problem, you would have to end the war.
You know, when one insurgent fires one bullet at one checkpost or a group of police or a group of army personnel, that group fires about 1,000 or 2,000 bullets at the village where they think the Taliban insurgent is hidden. They can’t find the insurgent. They can’t target the insurgent. But they make like a shower of bullets and those bullets go directly on civilians. Every day, we have two or three dead bodies — mortality cases — of these innocent people.

And you are treating these war-related injuries?
The other main problem in our province, which is increasing day by day and will remain for long time, is mental problems, especially for mothers or wives. They are losing their young children. They are losing their property, and all the time for years, they have been living with war. Now they are mentally disabled… Unfortunately, for their treatment, we don’t have any facilities.

What kind of symptoms do you see of mental illness?
They come to you and say, “I have a headache”, “I have pain in my neck”, “I have pain in my back”, “I have insomnia”, “I have anorexia”, “I have this and this and this”. We do many, many investigations and we can’t find anything; the person is organically well. They complain of sleeplessness. They are speaking with themselves. They are always sad and they want to sit alone. They are hopeless, completely… One lady came and I said, “What&’s your problem?” and she said, “I’m afraid. When I hear the sound of a bullet, I faint. Within five minutes or ten minutes I will hear the sound of about 100 bullets.” You know, this is the first time in a year that I haven’t heard the sound of even one bullet — in these two or three days at this conference [laughter].

That must be very nice [laughter].
Yes, it&’s very nice [laughter].

I wanted to ask you about India&’s involvement in Afghanistan. Do you see evidence of Indian development assistance?

India gave us $500 million for different projects! We prefer India more than Pakistan because their help is without any aim. They want to help us. They don’t want compensation for their help.

Do you think their help is in part because they want to make things difficult for Pakistan?
Afghanistan is an independent country. It is up to us which country we have relations with and from which country we ask for help. We will never let Pakistan prevent us from having relations with India. And we see — you know I told you our schools for girls are closed in 18 of 34 provinces? This is due to whom? Due to Pakistan. There are these guerillas, these terrorist training centers all still operational in Pakistan. They are supplying these training centers, the Pakistani government, with American money. And they sent those terrorists to Afghanistan under the name of Taliban and they say to close the girls’ schools.

Has any of that changed at all since the election in Pakistan?
No. This is Nawaz Sharif. We have experience with Nawaz Sharif. He&’s the worst man in their politics. He&’s against Afghanistan.

What will come next for the security situation in Afghanistan, with the drawdown of NATO forces?
You know, I’m against them leaving Afghanistan completely. They should decrease their numbers very much and remain just for the training of our army. Some of them should remain… They should stay for a few years and not repeat the bad experience of Russia, which left Afghanistan suddenly and they delivered Afghanistan to our neighbours and their spies.

What do you think is going to happen in the presidential election in April?
Unfortunately, we have a very bad experience with rigging in our elections. In the last election, they gave out identity cards that were not computerised, but when I was in Parliament, we asked the government to distribute electronic ID cards for civilians. They took the money from the international community to do it, but they have delayed until now. They were saying, “We don’t want to go to the provinces because there is no security, so we don’t want to distribute these electronic cards.” Now, what they plan, those people that are candidates, they want to use the old cards. They are buying those old cards with money for their use in the upcoming elections.

Who does that favor? Who do you think is going to become president?
We have two parties, two people that are most prominent, and one of them will get in. One is Dr Abdullah [Abdullah], who has made an alliance with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The other is [Abdul Rasul] Sayyaf.
He was member of Parliament and he was leader of a party which is supported by Arab people. The competition will be between these two.