Governor talks of quitting job

Afghanistan's only female governor has become so disillusioned with her role that she is considering quitting the position.

Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan's only female governor, says she may quit her post in six months.
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Afghanistan's only female governor has become so disillusioned with her role that she is considering quitting the position in six months. Habiba Sarabi told The National substantial improvements in the central province of Bamiyan have been few during her tenure because the international community failed to give her ideas long-term backing. She also warned that US and Nato-led forces "have to change their policies" across the country if they want to regain the trust of the population.

"Always the international community is raising the voice of women's rights," she said. "But, practically, when I request some support from them to get more projects it's very difficult. "Of course politically they are supportive, but financially it's very difficult, and I have to lobby a lot for that." Mrs Sarabi was appointed governor of Bamiyan in 2005 after serving as minister for women's affairs in the interim administration of Hamid Karzai, the president. She took up the role willingly, believing she could help spearhead development in one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces.

Today, however, Mrs Sarabi, 50, a native of Ghazni, in eastern Afghanistan, is visibly frustrated as she finds herself facing growing discontent from local people. "Some of them are telling me that they expected a lot from me, that as a female governor maybe the international community would support me a lot. But now they are angry with me," she said. Although it is among the country's safest areas, signs of reconstruction are few in Bamiyan. The main road used by visitors from Kabul is not paved, making what should be a relatively short and easy journey - about 200 kilometres - long and arduous. Other supply routes are only just undergoing development.

Farmers frequently complain they cannot sell their crops locally or transport them to other parts of Afghanistan. Mrs Sarabi also said she has spent three years trying to get funding for an urban master plan that would help develop basic infrastructure here. "Unfortunately, some of the aid is just kind of a temporary solution for the poor people, but I think it's better to do some fundamental work to remove the poverty," she said. "For example, if we can distribute aid to the people ? it will be a solution for one week. We have to [find] the root of hunger."

Mrs Sarabi accused the international community of being too focused on southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is fiercest. Now security is slowly deteriorating in Bamiyan as unrest in the neighbouring provinces of Baghlan and Maidan Wardak begins to spill over. The governor said she had received threats "several times" and revealed that some elders are calling for two notorious officials from elsewhere in the country to be offered her job. Meanwhile, local militiamen continue to cause trouble.

"Of course working in a society like Afghanistan, which is a male-dominated society and a post-conflict society, is very difficult," she said. "Especially the warlords and the former commanders who had control over this area and wanted still to keep their power - sometimes they are making problems." Mrs Sarabi, who has three children, lived in Kabul during the Soviet occupation and the ensuing civil war. She moved to Pakistan during the Taliban regime and, like many Afghans, had high hopes after the US-led invasion. @Email:csands@thenational.ae

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