Subel Bhandari and Najebullah Hazem
Kabul (dpa) – Afghan lawmaker Shukria Barakzai’s schedule was full as usual on that sunny November morning.
She was gathering signatures from other lower house members to ratify two security agreements recently signed by the Afghan president with the United States and the NATO.
She was also due to meet university students to talk about their concerns, some women from outside the provinces who were facing problems with the security forces, and the president to talk about the issues raised by the Kabul residents.
That morning she left her home, located in a highly secured area among the embassies, a bit late. Her security checked her car, twice, for possible magnetic bombs.
As usual, there was heavy traffic on Kabul’s streets. Her driver passed through several checkpoints to reach the parliament building on Darulaman Palace road, when suddenly there was a loud explosion.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-filled car right outside her armoured Land Cruiser.
“I just want to be frank with you. I never left Afghanistan and I have dreamt about these kind of incidents a lot: war and other things,” Barakzai told dpa from her hospital bed.
She is recovering from trauma, skin burns, and an injured hand.
“I thought this was a dream, like many other times. But I could feel my skin burning, my hair burning. The explosion and the sound were real. And my driver was crying,” she said.
“I was in shock.”
She could not get out of the car because the impact of the explosion had badly damaged the car door.
“The horn kept on going. I heard voices from outside: ‘Don’t come out. There could be a second attack.’”
Her driver came to help her jump out from the other side.
She hitched a ride with a journalist to a hospital run by the Afghan intelligence agency.
“They nearly got me this time,” she said in a faint voice.
Kabul has seen spate of recent attacks, occurring almost daily. The number of casualties has been relatively low, but the situation has grown precarious, since some of the targets includes secure places, such as the attack inside the office of the Kabul police chief.
For Barakzai, it was not the first attempt on her life.
In 2003, she was part of the team drafting the new constitution, collecting suggestions from voters, when her car was hit by a roadside bomb in the northern province of Kunduz.
In 2005, she was again targeted and rescued by NATO troops.
She has received several warnings from security organisations and has even been asked to leave the country temporarily for her own safety.
“One time they caught a suicide bomber who had come dressed in female clothes to target me,” she said.
The attack this time took Barakzai by a surprise because it came “without any information or warning.”
“Another strange thing was that the Taliban denied the attack,” she said. “I am surprised. If not the Taleban, then who? In their opinion, I am pro-West, etc.”
“We do not know who attacked her,” a Taliban spokesman told dpa.
The rebels are not her only enemies.
She was also pushing for a new banking law, which some conservative lawmakers are opposed to, saying Afghanistan needs to adopt “Islamic banking.”
“We women are the soft target. And Taleban, in general, are not the only enemy of Afghan women,” Barakzai said.
“People are afraid of women being empowered. They feel like the women have become their opponents in politics and everything.”
In the deeply conservative society, a popular saying reveals a general attitude: “A woman is either at home or in the grave.”
“Afghan society is elitist at its core, populist in its aura, and misogynist in its heart, where women are secondary citizens, always one of the four: someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother,” a report published by an Afghan research institute said.
In the last 13 years, there were “technical fixes to an adaptive situation,” the report said, where constitutionally protected women’s rights clash with the publicly accepted cultural norms.
But Barakzai vowed to continue to fight for change.
“No matter how many lives are lost, there will always be others to replace them. We will continue our struggle,” she said.