By Mick Krever, CNN
Fawzia Koofi would like to be the next president of Afghanistan. But that is nearly inconceivable, because Koofi is a woman.
The Taliban has tried to kill her multiple times. When she travels for her work as a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, she leaves goodbye letters for her two daughters, in the event that she does not return.
“We need to start thinking about changing our mindset,” Koofi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “Still there is this wrong understanding of culture and tradition. But that’s a fight. One has to take on the risks and go for it.”
Just one in ten Afghan women are literate, though the literacy rate is three times higher than it was in 2001.
And after 11 years of coalition troops in Afghanistan, A woman can still be routinely executed by the Taliban for even the suspicion of associating with a man who is not her husband.
And beyond that, there is speculation that President Hamid Karzai may try to cling to power after his second five-year term ends in 2014, when he is constitutionally mandated to step down.
It was a charge he vociferously denied in an April interview with Amanpour, saying he was “surprised when there is this question asked.”
The 37-year-old Koofi was clear on the risks posed by Karzai.
“He might support somebody very close to him,” she said, “because they have all the means of power in their control.”
And as international forces get ready to withdraw in 2014, Koofi said, security may deteriorate and “the possibilities for having elections become lesser and lesser.”
But Afghans’ biggest fear, according to Koofi, is not that Karzai maintains a hold on power. It “is the fear for going back to the dark period of our history, where we experienced civil war and Taliban.”
As a woman, Koofi said, she does not want to see Afghanistan’s “blood and treasure” go to waste.
“Women of this country deserve peace more than anybody else; but that peace has to be inclusive, so that there is no fear of losing the gains we have had in the past 10 years,” Koofi said.
The United States has advocated a negotiated peace with the Taliban, but talks have thus far been unsuccessful.
“We all believe that issues can only be solved through discussions and talks, not through means of violence,” Koofi said. But “if Taliban would like to become political players, they need to put weapons away, they need to respect Afghan constitution.”
Both U.S. President Barack Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, have committed themselves to the 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan. But Koofi seemed to issue a warning to the international community.
“We have experienced the 2001 attack; we know that security in Afghanistan is the security of the world,” she said. “I think the international community has a bigger role in terms of helping Afghan people to safeguard the gains they have had, particularly the women’s rights. “
Koofi said that the day women are no longer seen on the streets of Kabul, no longer feel free to work and move freely, “that is the day that there will be Taliban.”
Koofi’s commitment to Afghan women’s plight stems not only from her desire to be Afghanistan first female president. As a baby, her parents abandoned her and left her outside in the hot sun. They later had a change of heart and took her back.
“I think most of what happens in Afghanistan,” she said, “goes to tradition, to wrong … understanding of religion.”
“Perhaps my mother suffered as a woman a lot, and she didn’t want yet another girl to suffer as much as she suffered in this world.”
It is a reality she hopes to change.
CNN’s Claire Calzonetti produced this piece for television.