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Into Taliban Territory: People Politics With Rahila Qurieshi

A young girl learns to read at school in Tarbuz Guzar.
A young girl learns to read at school in Tarbuz Guzar.
I arrived in Tarbuz Guzar in the evening of the second day of Eid-ul-Fitr, one of Islam's largest celebrations. This village -- rich with agricultural land and water resources -- seemed to be even livelier than normal.

The first people I came across were a group of local militiamen having a chat under the shade of a tree next to one of five canals passing through the village. Green tea was being constantly served to the gathering, but the agenda of the discussion was unclear and irregular.

But one thing was visible, the joy and happiness of the people, from every corner of the village, and especially on the faces of young women walking in groups on the dusty streets, wishing their friends and other families a "happy Eid."

Strikingly, unlike the women and girls in other villages and towns in Afghanistan, not many of them were wearing traditional Afghan burqas. Some of them were even wearing sunglasses, and I could smell their perfume from across the street.

Among the women was Rahila Qurieshi, a female politician in her mid 30s, who was contesting the parliamentary elections scheduled for September 18, just four days after my trip to Tarbuz Guzar. Eid was the perfect opportunity for Rahila to take her campaign to each household.

But such unusual democratic signs were not limited to young women walking around in sunglasses and perfume in this isolated village of Northern Afghanistan. Despite the fact that the Afghan government was not even able to conduct elections in neighbouring districts of Imam Sahib and Char Dera, here was a female candidate running a door-to-door campaign with her supporters.

The coalition of supporters was interesting. Afghan family culture is usually patriarchal, but in Tarbuz Guzar women were not only able to think differently, but also make their own decisions -- including whom to support in an election. Scattered among Rahila’s campaign team were some female family members of local militiamen.

One of the women was the wife of the commander of the village’s frontline post, Abdul Waheed, who, in a question posed by another militiaman, found himself having to defend his wife’s presence among Rahila’s campaign team. “Well, personally, I support Nuruddin Baig [a male candidate from the same town], but she decided to go for Rahila. I don’t think it’s strange, because she is not the only one in the village. I see many of your female family members are supporting her, so let them do that.”

In fact, in the discussion that broke out after Commander Waheed’s frankness, I discovered that even some wives and close family members of male candidates were supporting Rahila Qurieshi -- they saw her election as a potential breakthrough that would clear a path for other women in the village not only to get involved in political culture, but also socialize outside the town.

It seemed to me that a quiet revolution was going on in this village. Later that day, I would come to see the most telling sign of this patient revolution: that almost all girls of school age were attending classes in the village’s primary school.

-- Muhammad Tahir

Read more from Tahir's journey:

Part 1: Arrival In Tarbuz Gazar
Part 2: The Information War