A cold-blooded murder took place in Afghanistan on November 5, and once again the Taliban claimed responsibility. The victim: Abdul Wasi Ghafari, a colonel in the Afghan National Army and the father of Zarifa, mayor of Maidan Shahr, who herself has been the target of assassination attempts by the terrorist tribe.
On March 4 of this year, I met 26-year-old Zarifa Ghafari, who is one of the youngest and first female mayors in Afghanistan, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented her with the International Women of Courage award. Only three weeks later, on March 24, Pompeo strongly condemned the second and latest attack on Zarifa herself, when gunmen opened fire on the vehicle in which she was riding.
Ghafari is the mayor of Maidan Shahr, the capital of Maidan Wardak province, a city of 35,000 inhabitants 25 miles southwest of Kabul and home to a deeply fundamentalist Taliban stronghold.
As we spoke, Ghafari broke into tears as she addressed her late father, a 53-year-old colonel in the Afghan army and commander in the Special Operations Corps, who was gunned down by the Taliban. Through her tears, she repeated the words she had tweeted on November 9: “Dad, my mentor, my hero! I’m sure you can hear me. Just right now, while missing you, I made a promise to myself: I’ll put every second of my life as well every drop of my blood to serve this country and the people of this beautiful, historic and great land as you did for 37 years.”
Mayor Ghafari removed any doubt as to the perpetrators of her father’s murder and the attempts on her own life. She told The Media Line, “The Taliban killed my dad and it’s a fact; everybody knows it. They announced it on a website named Voice of Jihad.”
In an apparent message to her countrymen, the young mayor vowed to “never stop following the steps or paths” of her father and “never stop working toward his dreams, walking toward his feelings for his country, and then the people. My dad was a brave soldier. He never did wrong.”
In an apparent warning to the United States and other nations, she declared: “My message is clear. Please don’t support any deal, any kind of deal with this stalwart terrorist group.”
As Mayor Ghafari took office in 2018, having been appointed by President Ashraf Ghani, she was rescued by the Afghan security forces when men armed with sticks and rocks attacked her office. It was only nine months later that she was able to return to work and begin implementing programs including public works projects and a Green City, Clean City campaign.
“It is working well,” the mayor told The Media Line, referring to cleaning up her city. “But since the Taliban are threatening me, I cannot go out of my office because anything can happen to me.”
Taking credit for the noticeable improvements, Ghafari speaks of the pride she has as mayor in making the municipal office of Maidan Shahr a place where women freely come in and share their problems in what was a solely male-dominated community.
“I have interns working in my office who are newly graduated from school – universities, not just school. I am working to make this place better for them.”
Plans are underway to initiate an underground market for the economic empowerment of women to bring their handicrafts and sell their wares.
Born in Kabul, Ghafari received a scholarship from Panjab University of India and enrolled at age 16.
“I started my bachelor’s degree there and then did my master’s. At the same time, I wanted to work for women’s rights, so I started working in a nongovernmental organization called Assistance and Promotion for Afghan Women Organization,” Gharafi told The Media Line.
The Taliban had exerted malign influence on her upbringing from her earliest years. The constant threat to the family’s safety resulted in home schooling from the age of 8. At the same time, Gharafi was tasked with keeping house for her parents and seven siblings. Her schoolteacher-mom was too scared to leave the house.
Ghafari tells The Media Line she doesn’t remember being a child. “I used to be the elder one at home. I don’t remember playing as a child or being a young girl.”
In 2015, while studying at university, Ghafari created a radio station called “Peghla” – which means “young girl” in the Pashto language – its focus being women’s rights and women’s affairs. She explained that “being a general director and founder of a radio station, being a member of a youth parliament, and working with so many private-sector [entities] made me think it’s good for my city and being a mayor is a good option to gain this opportunity.”
The radio station proved to be an effective platform for Ghafari. She had intended to run for parliament when elections opened in 2015 but there was a vacancy in a mayoral position in Maidan Wardak province and her now fiancé urged her to run.
But with Ghafari’s success and high visibility came the very real danger of becoming a target for reactionary Taliban. Despite at least two attempts on her life, when asked if she has extensive security, Ghafari surprisingly replied, “Not exactly; I have an armored car and two guards but it is not enough. Right now I have no one from the security ministries or offices in front of my house.”
When asked why not, she told The Media Line, “I don’t know why not. I really don’t know. Only two guys are here day and night.” Reaching out for assistance from the Afghan government, Ghafari was told that it is “doing all the best for you.”
Asked whether she has a message for the American people and the world, Mayor Zarifa Ghafari reiterates her plea not to make any kind of deal with [the Taliban]. “Don’t do this to our lives. Don’t put another Zarifa in the same situation that I’m in. Don’t put another woman, another wife, in the same situation my mom is in. Please, please: Taliban will never change, so please never do this to my land, to my people, or at least to me and my family.”Read more at The Media Line.