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Female Afghan MP injured but defiant after suicide attack

Afghan women’s rights campaigner Shukria Barakzai speaks in a tired whisper as she recovers in hospital from an assassination attempt that nearly killed her a week ago, but her message is strong and clear.

“I don’t want the women of Afghanistan to be scared,” she told AFP at her bedside in Kabul.

“I am waiting for my recovery and I will go back (to work). And this time I will work even harder than before.

“This attack was an attack on all women in Afghanistan — this is not only on me.”

Barakzai, a 41-year-old member of parliament, staggered from the wrecked remains of her car after it was hit by a suicide bomber on a main road near the parliament last Sunday.

She was still carrying her mobile phone and handbags as she was led away to safety, and she appeared to have not been seriously injured.

But the huge impact of the blast, which killed three nearby civilians, took its toll and she is being treated for shock as well as for burns on her right hand.

Barakzai is one of the most prominent female activists in Afghanistan, where women’s rights have been at the centre of radical changes during 13 years of international intervention since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Women, who were confined to the home and forced to wear all-encompassing burqas under the Taliban, have secured more freedoms, but Barakzai’s pro-equality stance has earned her a lot of enemies.

She has faced hostility from many conservative Muslim men and received regular death threats from Islamist groups, including Taliban insurgents.

“I had lots of threats, but this one was (nearly) successful,” she said on Friday, sitting up in her bed with her outstretched hand covered in medical gauze.

“Am I such threat to them? I’m just a women working for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

“I’m surprised that the Taliban didn’t claim responsibility (for the attack)… It’s someone else.

Progress under threat?

She says she doesn’t know who targeted her, but wonders if it could be related to her support for some US troops staying in Afghanistan after NATO combat operations finish at the end of the year.

Or perhaps it might be elements in neighbouring Pakistan, which is often accused of fuelling violence in Afghanistan.

“I’m outspoken, I’m very clear,” she said. “I would be very surprised if Pakistan supports my activities.”

Whoever was to blame, Barakzai said she is determined to protect and advance women’s rights even as the multi-billion-dollar international development effort since 2001 declines in the coming years.

“I’m optimistic for the future of the country. I believe things will get back on track,” she said.

Barakzai ran a secret girls school when the Taliban regime outlawed female education, and she has criticised any plan to open peace talks with the group that is now waging a bloody war against the Kabul government.

She has already been pushing the new president, Ashraf Ghani, to come good on his campaign promises of improving the status of women in Afghanistan, where they endure routine discrimination and violence.

“It’s ok when the president visits a hospital at midnight. But for me it’s (only) symbolism,” she said. “He needs to take stronger steps, very serious steps. I encourage his team.”

For now, Barakzai is counting her luck and wondering how she will keep herself and her five children safe.

Her twins, Usman and Toran, bound into the hospital room to see their mother for the first time since the attack, sitting on her bed and kissing her.

They will turn four on Monday.

“When you see my vehicle, you see how very powerful the bomb was,” she reflects.

“God protected me. God wants me to do more in my job.

“We want children to go to school. We want a normal life for everyone.” (AFP)

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