Zakia Habibi Wants to Know: “What Are You Waiting For?”
by Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women
On August 3, 2008, Zakia Habibi’s husband, Abdullah Taraki, was assassinated in their home in Kabul. He was the Public Properties Director in the Ministry of Finance responsible for management of government properties.
With her own safety threatened, Zakia fled with her three children to Islamabad, Pakistan. From there, she struggled to obtain political asylum in Canada. Since November 2010, she has been in Vancouver. The Canadian government provides her a small stipend plus a year of intensive English study and job training.
I met Zakia in September 2002 in Kabul while working on the Peace X Peace documentary Women on the Frontlines that debuted at the United Nations in October 2003 on the anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, on “Women, Peace, and Security.” At that time Zakia had returned to her position at the Agricultural Development Bank after living at home and under a burka during the years of the Taliban reign. She promised me she would learn English and how to use a computer. She convinced her husband also to learn to use a computer. With those skills, he was appointed to this important position – a job where his honesty brought his death.
Zakia and I have communicated through Skype and email for the past several months. Her story and message to President Obama and United States citizens is below.
Before your husband was assassinated, what were you doing?
I was a finance officer in the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission with Dr. Sima Samar. She is a model of a woman who works in a very risky position for Afghan women and supports their rights.
Are women in Afghanistan in a stronger position now than earlier?
Unfortunately, women are still repressed, and because of security problems no one is safe. But I believe man and woman are two wings of one bird, and just as no bird can fly with only one wing, no country can succeed without the presence of women. And I believe that if all the women in Afghanistan put their hands together, they will be very powerful. Women can change the country and lift up their place in Afghanistan.
Can you tell us what happened on the night of your husband’s death?
I can’t forget that night when my love was murdered. I think still I am in shock. I still hear the last words that he shouted.
On that night I heard voices in the hall and woke my kids gently and told them to be quiet. I took them to the balcony and went back to wake up my husband and go with him to see who might be in our home.
He was deeply asleep but asked me, “What are you doing?” I said that I heard voices from the corridor. He said “No, you made a mistake” and went to the corridor, not waiting for me for a moment. Three men had entered in our house. They shot and killed him and went away.
This was a political assassination?
Yes, definitely. My husband worked honestly. He worked for more than 28 years in the government and never left his country even though he suffered many problems. He had faith that peace would come to our country and that we must be strong.
What can we do?
I would like to say this to President Obama and to all people in the United States who are in high positions: What are you waiting for? Address seriously the problem of corruption in the Afghanistan government. We need officials who work with ethics and who make the needs of the people their priority. I think 99% of the people that are around the Afghan president are corrupt.
Mr. President, you talk about the fight against corruption. I say take care of the honest people of Afghanistan and support them. You need a plan and a training process for officials in civil society about honest responsibility and good management.
The people in the US need to know where anti-American hatred comes from. We lost our belief in you. We thought that you were the authority that could bring change to our lives but you don’t do the work to support the honest people. I ask for your help.
What is your perspective on the citizens’ demonstrations in Arab and Muslim nations for democracy?
It’s not easy to change a government. In the beginning it looks powerful because all the people are together. If no other hand works badly among them and the people can decide their own future, they might be able to bring a positive change to their life.
In my country when the Mujaheddin brought change from the Communist regime, all the people were happy. But after a few months, everyone started fighting each other. We lost many people. Our country is full of widows and orphans, and we still have war in our country! I hope it never happens in the other Arab and Muslim nations. I pray for their bright future.
It’s too early to answer this question. I still can’t believe that I am in Canada. I don’t know what to do or where to start. At this moment, honestly, I feel depressed. I lost everything at once — my husband, my country, my family and friends, my job — so it’s difficult to adjust.
I am an Afghan woman who loves my country. I hope to find a way to prove who I am. I hope I will be able to do what I want for my country and the women who suffer like me in Afghanistan. Now I want to continue my education and improve my English language and find a good job.
I met some other Afghan women in Vancouver and I want to create a circle of women in Vancouver to help other women in Afghanistan.
I think about my kid’s future. That is why I worked so hard to get asylum in Canada. Many of the terrorists are young people. Children are not born to hate. They must have suffered like my children, now without a father.
What do you tell your children about their father?
I tell Aminullah who is 18, Zahra who is 14, and Imran who is 11, that they must be proud. They had an honest father, and they must follow their father’s way. I tell them that their father’s desire for peace was so important that he worked honestly in a corrupt government.
I have faith that an honest government, the Afghan public, and the new generation of Afghans can create a better Afghanistan for the world.
But, my husband lost his life because of honesty. At least his name must be said as the most honest man in Afghanistan. That would be enough for me and my children.