Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Video - Shakira - Loca (Spanish Version) ft. El Cata

Cuba Talks to Focus on Opening Embassies, Not Human Rights

Teresa Welsh

The second round of talks with Cuba will focus exclusively on restoring diplomatic relations, the State Department said Wednesday. A senior State Department official said the administration expects to fully establish embassies before human rights discussions will take place.
“The human rights dialogue is the first such open conversation that we’re going to have with the Cuban government. It is quite honestly premised on having diplomatic relations,” said the official, who briefed reporters on the upcoming talks. “That’s what comes first.”
The Cuban delegation is led by Josefina Vidal, director-general of the U.S. division of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who will spend most of Friday at the State Department with the U.S. delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roberta Jacobson. The two will focus on the logistics of opening embassies in both countries, conversations that began last month in Havana. The current U.S. interests section building there will become the embassy.
President Barack Obama announced in December that the U.S. and Cuba would being the process of establishing formal ties. This includes the opening of embassies, examining Cuba’s place on the U.S.’s state sponsor of terrorism list and increasing telecommunications and economic ties. The new policy does not include the formal lifting of the embargo against Cuba, an action that can only be taken by Congress. 
The senior State Department official said that the process of removing Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list was ongoing and involved several offices within the department. The official declined to provide a target date for when the administration expected the review to be complete.
“These processes tend to be a little more complicated than they seem,” the official said.
The department also declined to provide a formal timeline for when full diplomatic relations would be restored and embassies would be operational, but negotiators hoped to “get as far as possible” Friday. It also said the terrorism sponsor review and the establishment of diplomatic relations were being treated as two separate issues.
Assistant Director for the U.S. at the Cuban Foreign Ministry Gustavo Machin said Cuba wants the embassies to be opened before the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama in April. He told local media that his delegation was heading to the talks in Washington with a "constructive spirit." 
Members of Congress have objected to restoration of ties, which was initiated without input from legislators. Those who oppose the move say the U.S. is rewarding President Raul Castro, whom they brand a dictator, for human rights abuses. The administration contends that an opening of ties will give the U.S. greater leverage for positive democratic influence on the island.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations that U.S. support for democratic reform and human rights was “unequivocal.”
“[T]he change that we are making, we believe, actually assists the United States to be able to promote the democracy and the rights that we want for the people of Cuba,” Kerry said. “It will also make it harder for those who want to close the door to blame America for what is happening there, and we believe, in the end, can help create accountability for the hardships that those folks live under.”
The senior State Department official said the department hoped to discuss Friday with the Cuban delegation dates for future talks on human rights. 

Severing economic ties with Russia to harm EU: Putin
Curtailing cooperation between Moscow and the European Union(EU) will blunt the economic competitiveness of the European countries, Russian President VladimirPutin said Wednesday.
"Severing economic ties between the EU and Russia will inevitably lead to the loss of certain degree of competitiveness of the entire euro-zone in mid-term and long-term prospective," Putin told reporters following talks with his visiting Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades.
The EU has lost tens of billions of euros due to anti-Russia sanctions and the ensuing counter-sanctions by Russia, which boasts enormous natural wealth and holds leading positions in many other sectors such as nuclear power, he said.
Admitting that cutting ties with the EU also casts negative effect on Russia, Putin said European countries should have taken their national interests into account when imposing sanctions.
Meanwhile, the recent flare-up in the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine would also likely to threaten Moscow's gas supplies to Europe, the president said.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller warned Tuesday to fully halt natural gas supplies to Ukraine in two days due to the absence of prepayments.
Russia's Gazprom and Energy Ministry "are taking energetic measures not only to inform our European partners about the problem on gas supplies but also to get them involved in trying to solve it," Interfax quoted Putin as saying.
Regular contacts were made among Russian, Ukrainian and European sides to solve the gas issues, European Commission Vice- President responsible for the Energy Union Maros Sefcovic said Wednesday.
Putin said Kiev's decision of cutting gas supplies to Donbass " looks like genocide," especially considering current humanitarian crisis there.
Under the Minsk agreements and the resolution of the UN Security Council, Kiev must ensure energy supplies to Donbass in line with the provision on the economic recovery and social restoration in eastern Ukraine, according to Putin.
Kiev last Wednesday cut off its gas supplies to Donetsk and Lugansk regions because of "critical damage" of the gas pipelines, which was seen by the rebels as a political move.
Putin on Wednesday stressed that Gazprom did not breach any contract terms on gas supplies to Ukraine through border points in eastern regions.

Putin: Gas supplies to Europe could suffer in 3-4 days if Kiev doesn't pay

Russia will cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev fails to pay in “three or four days,” President Vladimir Putin said, adding that this "will create a problem" for gas transit to Europe.
“Gazprom has been fully complying with its obligations under the Ukraine gas supply contract and will continue doing that,” Putin told reporters after talks with the president of Cyprus on Wednesday. “The advance payment for gas supply made by the Ukrainian side will be in place for another three to four days. If there is no further prepayment, Gazprom will suspend supplies under the contract and its supplement. Of course, this could create a certain problem for [gas] transit to Europe to our European partners.”
However, Putin expressed the hope that it would not come to that, stressing that “it depends on the financial discipline of our Ukrainian partners.”
He noted that Russia’s ministers and the CEO of Gazprom have “actively” reminded Ukraine of the looming deadline.
On Tuesday, Gazprom's CEO Aleksey Miller reminded Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz of the gas prepayment. Miller said that Ukraine had not paid for March deliveries and warned that Kiev was risking an early termination of the advance settlement and a supply cutoff.
"It takes about two days to get payment from Naftogaz deposited to a Gazprom account. That's why a delivery to Ukraine of 114 million cubic meters will lead to a complete termination of Russian gas supplies as early as in two days, which creates serious risks for the transit to Europe,” Miller said.
Putin said that Gazprom had breached no contract terms of gas supplies to border points to eastern parts of Ukraine.
"It has become known to us that Kiev suspended gas supplies [to Lugansk and Donetsk regions] referring to the alleged damage to gas pipelines," Putin said.
"At the same time, Gazprom is fulfilling the contract signed back in 2009 and an addendum to it made in October last year. In full compliance with this contract, it supplies gas to Ukraine under advance payments made for the volumes, which Ukraine needs."
Putin indicated that these contracts also stipulated border points. "Gazprom is not breaching any provisions," he added.
"As for the damage to the gas pipeline, I don't know for certain, but I know that these regions are home to about 4.5 million people. Just imagine that these people may be left without gas supply during the winter period. In addition to the hunger, there as is already stated by the OSCE and the humanitarian disaster, just imagine these people may also be left without gas supply," Putin said.
He accused some Ukrainian officials of failing to understand the humanitarian issues in Ukraine’s eastern regions.
Citing the OSCE report of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in southeastern Ukraine as well as famine, President Putin said Kiev’s recent decision to switch off gas for those regions “smells like genocide.”
Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz suspended gas supplies to eastern regions on February 19, citing damage to a pipeline. Under the gas deal between Moscow and Kiev, Gazprom promptly launched gas supplies to Ukraine’s southeast through border gas metering stations supplying 12 million cubic meters a day.
Kiev said it restored the damage in several hours and restarted gas supplies. Naztogas has refused to pay Gazprom for the gas supplied to eastern regions from February 19. The same day, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the country’s energy minister and the head of Gazprom to prepare proposals on fuel deliveries to Ukraine’s southeast regions.
Naftogaz has also accused Russia of breaking the agreement to deliver 114 million of cubic meters of natural gas to Ukraine by delivering only 47 million cubic meters.
According to Naftogas, since February 22 Gazprom has been fulfilling only 40 percent of its requests for pre-paid gas, yet the Ukrainian company plans to get 206 million cubic meters of pre-paid gas by the end of February, RIA-Novosti reported Wednesday.

Ukraine under pressure from currency fall, gas supply threat


Israeli Music Video

Amnesty: World Response to Violence 'Shameful'

World governments failed to protect civilians from violence by states and armed groups, Amnesty International said Wednesday, calling the global response "shameful and ineffective."
In its annual report, the human rights watchdog called 2014 a "catastrophic" one for millions of people around the world.
"As people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting,'' Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.
Refugee Crisis
The report said millions of civilians suffered horrific violence and human rights violations from Syria to Ukraine, Gaza to Nigeria, while the number of displaced people around the world exceeded 50 million last year for the first time since the end of World War II.
It criticized the European Union's response to the 4 million Syrian refugees displaced by conflict in the world's worst refugee crisis. By the end of 2014, only 150,000 Syrian refugees were living in EU states, it said, while 3,400 refugees and migrants had died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make their way to Europe.
"It is abhorrent to see how wealthy countries’ efforts to keep people out take precedence over their efforts to keep people alive," Shetty said.
Amnesty singled out the United Nations Security Council for criticism, with Shetty saying it had "miserably failed" to protect civilians.
UN Security Council
The five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. -- "consistently abused" their veto right to "promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians," he said.
The report pointed out that the threat of a Russian veto has made it impossible for the Security Council to take any action because of events unfolding in Ukraine.
Amnesty is now urging the five states to give up their right to veto action in cases where genocide and other mass killings are being committed.
Armed Conflicts
The report said armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries -- out of 160 surveyed -- in 2014, and called the rise of the Islamic State militant group a particular concern.
The report said the Islamic State group committed wide-scale war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions that targeted minorities.
The militants also killed members of the Sunni community they suspected of opposing them, the report said. 
Hundreds of women and girls were subjected to sexual abuse by Islamic State fighters.
A huge number of arms were delivered to Iraq, Israel, Russia, South Sudan and Syria in 2014, despite the likelihood of these weapons being used against civilians, it said.
The report also highlighted how several governments, including Kenya and Pakistan, reacted to security threats with "Draconian and repressive" tactics.
Call to Action
Shetty said world leaders "have it in their power to alleviate the suffering of millions" by committing enough political and financial resources.
"The global outlook on the state of human rights is bleak, but there are solutions. World leaders must take immediate and decisive action to avert an impending global crisis," he said.
In 2014, Amnesty International recorded and investigated human rights abuses in 160 countries and territories worldwide. These are some of the findings:
*  War crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were carried out in at least 18 countries.
*  Armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries, more than 20 percent of the countries Amnesty International investigated.
*  119 countries arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression, including jailing of journalists and forced closures of media outlets.
*  62 governments held prisoners of conscience -- people who were simply exercising their rights and freedoms.
*  93 countries conducted unfair trials. 
*  131 countries tortured or otherwise ill-treated people.
*  28 countries around the world have laws that completely ban abortion even in cases where a woman’s life or health is in danger and in cases of rape.
*  78 countries have laws in effect that are used to criminalize consensual sexual relationships between adults of the same sex.​
Source: Amnesty International

US national security advisor Rice says Netanyahu address 'destructive'

Susan Rice, US President Barack Obama's national security advisor, said on Tuesday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's acceptance of an invitation to address Congress next month is "destructive of the fabric of the relationship" between Israel and the United States.

"We've been fortunate that politics have not been injected into that relationship," Rice said to American journalist Charlie Rose.

But "what has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the Speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu on two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship."

Those decisions from both men were "not only unfortunate," Rice continued, but "destructive."

"It's always been bipartisan," she said. "We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. And when it becomes injected or infused with politics, that's a problem."

Netanyahu accepted the invitation in late January, originally scheduling him to speak in mid-February. He requested the speech be delayed until March 3, when he will already be in Washington for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Both of his speeches, to AIPAC and to Congress, are expected to focus on a pending international deal on Iran's nuclear program, which he vehemently disapproves of. In a letter to Senate Democrats on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he planned to "voice Israel's grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country."

Negotiators from Iran, the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany seek to clinch a political framework agreement on the nuclear issue by the end of March.

As first reported in The Jerusalem Post in November, US officials are suggesting a deal with a sunset clause in roughly ten years, during which Iran would gradually be granted the rights and privileges of fellow signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Arab powers and Israel believe Iran has been in violation of its international obligations under the NPT, growing its nuclear program in size and scope while experimenting with weaponization techniques.

"They're not going to be able to convince anybody on day one that they have stopped enrichment," Rice said to Rose, speaking of a possible deal.

"They're going to have to prove over time through their actions which will be validated that they are, in fact, upholding their commitments. So this will be a phased process any way you slice it."

U.S. Treasury presses Qatar on terror finance

Anna Yukhananov

 U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with the emir of Qatar and emphasized the importance of fighting "terror financing," amid suspicions that money from one of the key U.S. Middle East allies had gone to violent extremists in the region.
"(Secretary Lew) ... emphasized the vital importance of combating the financing of terrorism," Treasury said in a statement. "(Lew) expressed his hope that in the coming months ... the two nations can continue to work together to take effective, lasting action to disrupt the activities of terrorist financiers."

The emir of Qatar had previously met with U.S. President Barack Obama and said he is committed to fighting Islamic State. Qatar is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the extremist group, which controls a wide swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Hypocrisy Alert: Qatari Leader Throws Weight Behind Pluralism and Inclusiveness

When Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani argued in theNew York Times on Tuesday for the necessity of holding authoritarian leaders to account, he probably wasn’t talking about himself.
In Washington for an Oval Office meeting Tuesday afternoon with President Barack Obama, Thani previewed the message he would deliver to his American counterpart with this whopper:
Addressing the root causes of terrorism will require a deeper, longer-term, and more strategic approach to the problem. It will require political leaders to have the courage to negotiate pluralistic, inclusive, power-sharing solutions to regional disputes. And it will require that tyrants be held to account.
This from a man who was handed his country’s throne by his father. A hereditary monarchy, Qatar has managed to avoid the storm winds of the Arab Spring by holding to the basic bargain of the Thani family’s rule: Acquiescence to authoritarian power in exchange for vast wealth.
So when Thani writes of holding tyrants to account, it’s with no small measure of unintended irony given the human rights abuses his government has condoned in preparing for the 2022 World Cup, the bid for which has been dogged by allegations of bribery.
The country has relied heavily on migrant labor to build stadiums and related infrastructure, and human rights advocates have described their labor conditions as a form of modern-day slavery. Moreover, Nepalese migrant workers are reported to have died while working on these projects at a rate of one every two days. While precise figures are hard to come by, hundreds of migrant workers have likely lost their lives on the job in Qatar.
But this, of course, is small potatoes, as Qatar and the United States work hand-in-hand to “to negotiate pluralistic, inclusive, power-sharing solutions to regional disputes,” as Thani put it in the Times. Following their Oval Office meeting, Obama and Thani pledged solidarity in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.  “We are both committed to making sure that ISIL is defeated,” Obama said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State.
In recent years, Qatar has carved out a powerful role for itself as a broker between the United States and the Middle East’s many Islamist movements. It was Qatar that brokered the release of the American writer Peter Theo Curtis and negotiated the prisoner swap with the Taliban that secured the freedom of Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Moreover, Qatar played a key role as an intermediary in ending fighting in the Gaza Strip last summer. The country also plays host to a significant American air base.
At the same time, Qatar has used its oil wealth to finance the activities of Islamist groups in the region. Some American intelligence officials believe that Qatar’s patronages has included financing terrorist groups — or at the very least turning a blind eye to Qatari financiers backing organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
Qatar vehemently denies these accusations and argues that it plays a necessary role in helping to free Western hostages and creating what the country’s foreign minister has described as “platforms for dialogue.”
That position as a go-between has helped insulate Qatar from criticisms of its human rights record. Indeed, reading Thani’s op-ed in the Times one could be forgiven for getting the impression that he arrives in Washington as a reformist democrat, and not a major player in the autocratic politics of the Middle East.

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Pakistan - Security for polio workers

Polio immunisation campaigns are probably in the last phase of low-incidence-high-urgency cycle before the onset of summer, when the polio virus is highly active and contagious. Among the chief security concerns for these campaigns include rising sectarian warfare. Sectarian attacks have rattled the fragile security apparatus, exposing the incompetence of the local administration and the incongruities of the security infrastructure. What do these sectarian attacks mean for the summer polio immunisation campaigns?
According to reliable sources, 2013 was one of the worst years for Shias in Pakistan when more than 500 people were killed in bomb blasts, suicide attacks, targeted killings and indiscriminate firing. This means that nearly 42 Shias lost their lives on a monthly basis and 1.4 on a daily basis in 2013. In the current year, so far nearly 104 persons of the same sect have been killed, which means 2.08 persons are killed per day. The increased number of sectarian killings adds an explosive mix in the violent extremist atmosphere prevailing across the country.
Since sectarian outfits perpetrate terror through violence to achieve their myopic goals, they make it difficult for social service operators to function properly. The polio immunisation campaign teams will be operating in a difficult environment this summer where neutral action, non-partisan administrative operations and even the engagement of sectarian groups shall perhaps, decide the effectiveness of these campaigns.
To start with, polio security risk managers must enhance coordination with the local administration and the police. Each settled district must be divided into a reasonable number of polio zones, either on the basis of existing administrative units or to accommodate an irregular population density. The number of religious seminaries and places of worship must be carefully counted and evaluated. Each street should have at least two local members (one male and other female) to assist the polio immunisation campaign team workers during door-to-door visits in order to diffuse any administrative-cum-cultural barriers and reduce access problems.
Second, each police station has criminal data that indicates crime pockets in its jurisdiction. The high crime corridors should be earmarked with a relatively high security deployment. Moreover, the detection of polio cases has become synonymous with a marked probability of the presence of TTP affiliates, sympathisers or financiers. Since the TTP have rejected polio immunisation campaigns in the populations under their control, they have exposed their social capital to counterinsurgents and deployment of security must be ensured in zones of high polio detection cases.
Third, provincial civil intelligence agencies, like the special branch, must reinvigorate their social networks to generate actionable intelligence before the start of polio immunisation campaigns. All inaccessible regions must be indicated in order to make proper security arrangements for the protection of polio immunisation campaign teams. Discreet selection of experienced field officials must be made in order to coordinate and collate intelligence with all stakeholders. The deeper the intelligence penetration and broader the sweeping area, thebetter the security of polio workers in polio zones. To involve the federal government, the Intelligence Bureau may be deputed to countercheck the intelligence of local agencies. Army intelligence should be solicited and troops should be deployed in areas where a high probability exists of counterterror action taking place.
Fourth, each district has a sizable number of retired army and police personnel. The data of retired officials, having ages below 60-62 years, may be obtained from these organisations and a list should be maintained by local officers. These retired personnel can re-energise their personal networks and can be deployed readily owing to their understanding of security mechanisms and surveillance duties. The success of the polio immunisation campaigns hinges upon high social connectivity. If a senior Unicef command succeeds in creating a dynamic and highly-integrated social networking in the polio zones, a sizeable reduction in the number of polio cases may be observed.
Lastly, we need to engage the media properly and vigorously for initiating actions to counter violent extremism and the propaganda against polio immunisation campaigns.

Pashto Music Video - Nazia Iqbal - Da Meeni De Ashna

Amnesty International Reports Increased Human Rights Abuses in Afghanistan

Amnesty International has released a new report expressing deep concerns about the state of human rights in Afghanistan. The report indicates that not only were no improvements made in Afghanistan's human rights arena last year, but that violations actually increased around the country.
According to the international human rights watchdog, the deteriorating picture of human rights in Afghanistan is a result of a number of factors. The failure to implement the violence against women bill in Parliament, increased cases of sexual abuse against women, rising rates of child marriage, reduced representation for women on Provincial Councils and the undermining of women's role in the peace negotiation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban were all factors cited.
The Amnesty International report asserts that the security situation has worsened in Afghanistan as the drawdown of foreign troops has pushed on, in part causing the spike in human rights violations. A number of independent organizations, in addition to Amnesty, have confirmed that 2014 was the most deadly year for Afghan civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, Sim Samar, the Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), responded to the report by trying to defend Afghanistan's human rights record has relatively better than its neighbors. "Undoubtedly, human rights violations have increased in Afghanistan, but I think this doesn't mean Afghanistan is the worst, because, if you compare Afghanistan with its neighboring countries, we find that the human rights situations are worse in those countries than in Afghanistan," Samar told TOLOnews.
Nevertheless, Samar acknowledged that a pervasive culture of impunity for men and government officials in particular perpetuated Afghanistan's human rights violations. As well, lack of rule of law in many parts of the country was cited as a enabling factor for the rise in violence.
MP Fawzi Kofi, also a member of Parliament's Women's Affairs Commission, responded to the Amnesty report by calling on the government to take concrete steps to curb violence and other violations of human rights. "The government must adopt more coherent steps and undertake clear a strategy in combating violence and bring the people of Afghanistan out of the current situation," Kofi said.
Amnesty International's report covers 160 countires of the world for the year 2014. The report includes Afghanistan as part of the group of countries where Amnesty concluded little action had been taken to curb human rights abuses.

Afghanistan’s quietly forceful first lady

By Ruth Marcus

The most striking thing about interviewing Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, may be that the interview is taking place at all.Consider: Zeenat Karzai, the physician wife of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, was rarely seen in public during her husband’s decade-long tenure.

Ghani, whose husband, Ashraf Ghani, became president last year, is a natural-born diplomat, careful to note the distinction between her situation (two grown children) and that of her younger predecessor. “We are in different phases of our lives,” said Rula Ghani, 66.
Zeenat Karzai herself once acknowledged the societal constraints against taking an active role as first lady. “He [Hamid Karzai] and I both know our country’s culture, traditions and the current state of affairs,” she explained in a rare 2013 BBC interview. “We need to take this into account.”
Ghani, raised in a Lebanese Maronite Christian family and educated in France, the United States and Lebanon (she and her husband met as students at the American University of Beirut), has adopted a decidedly different route. It began during the presidential race, when she campaigned alongside her husband, just once, on International Women’s Day.
“I told him, it’s kind of strange, here you’re going to be talking about women’s rights. . . . I think I should be there with you,” she recalled in an interview at the Afghan embassy in Washington. She not only appeared, but, at her husband’s suggestion, spoke, briefly, about women’s ability to use the skills developed in the household — educating, managing and peace-keeping — in a public capacity.
“For me it was really a  no-brainer, and I was surprised by the reaction that people thought it was such a huge step,” Ghani told me.
She made news, again, during the inauguration, when her husband lavished praise on “my partner” for her work on behalf of Afghan women.
When they returned to Afghanistan in 2002 (Ashraf Ghani had been working here, for the World Bank) and her husband served as finance minister, she worked with an organization, Aschiana, that helps feed and educate street children. Bored out of her wits in the presidential palace, she decided to open her own office “to try and forge a role for myself,” advocating not only for women and girls but other vulnerable populations. She now has a staff of six.
This month found her on a solo two-week visit to the United States, with speeches at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Georgetown University, appearances on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” and “Morning Edition,” and visits with her American-born children (Mariam, a Brooklyn-based artist; and Tarek, a doctoral candidate in business at Berkeley).
In a Western democracy, the job of first lady is at once anachronistic and fraught — its occupant caught between competing conceptions of women’s roles. Multiply those tensions a thousand-fold in a developing, Muslim country such as Afghanistan, which simultaneously has quotas designed to ensure women’s representation in government and appalling practical restrictions on the ability of women and girls to obtain educations and live freely.
Ghani deftly threads the cultural needle, serving as a soft-spoken force for change while refraining from pushing too hard against societal norms. Thus, Ghani is happy to wear a headscarf when in Afghanistan but goes uncovered in the West.
“I’m now first lady and so I’m no longer myself, I have a responsibility to the rest of the women, and so if that’s the culture of the moment, I will abide by it,” Ghani said.
Similarly, she speaks not of feminism but of the family. “If I were a feminist, I would be talking about women’s rights left and right and annoying men and pushing their buttons,” Ghani said. “I have a very mild approach to things. It doesn’t mean that my commitments are not strong.”
To speak with Ghani is, also, inevitably to worry about the tenuous future facing girls and women in Afghanistan, as the U.S. presence recedes and her husband’s government weighs peace talks with the Taliban.
“We need to find solutions that include them,” Ghani said of the Taliban. “Certainly women’s rights will be a very important issue, and I don’t think that my husband will stand for any regression on that account, but this is their country, too.”
In the interim, she argues, women’s gains in education and the workplace need to be entrenched. “The women of today will not kneel in front of the Taliban,” she said. “But we can make [women] even stronger and then the question will be moot — totally moot.” Let us hope.