In Afghanistan, Kandahar is calm but its spirit is broken

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. An election for a new president and one that is not Hamid Karzai. This ought to be a hopeful moment for Afghanistan. The election this weekend should lead to the country's first peaceful transition of power in modern times, but in Afghanistan hope is often squashed by violence. In a few minutes, we'll hear about one of the latest victims of that violence. A veteran news photographer who was killed today. First though, the voice of an Afghan who's had her hopes dashed before. Rangina Hamidi lived in exile here in the US when the Taliban ruled her homeland. After 9/11 and the US-led invasion, she returned. The future seemed bright. Rangina set up a non-profit in Kandahar to help women, her father became the city's mayor, but then things began to fall apart. Her father was assassinated in 2011 and Rangina moved back to the States. She still visits regularly though and says the mood is not as gloomy as you might expect.

Rangina Hamidi: Surprisingly enough, when I was in Kandahar in February, I actually felt very safe. The mood of the population at that time was very optimistic in terms of security. They hadn't seen a very physical level of violence in the past year or so, and so the mood was kind of good. Even still, I'm in touch with my staff on a daily basis and even though we've shut down our office for the 2 or 3 days around the election, there have not been specific target attacks in Kandahar city at least. Much more of the violence is focused on Kabul than in the provinces throughout the country.

Werman: You say the stability is surprising. That's not exactly what you were expecting. Why do you think that is?

Hamidi: I think for Kandahar the insurgents pretty much wiped out the city of all its leadership or any people were seriously trying to do some service or bring some good service to the region. I assessed the situation of Kandahar as "it's a done deal, they did what they wanted to do with Kandahar and they've achieved their goal of getting rid of active leadership." The majority of the population now in southern Afghanistan are pretty much just living their day-to-day life, not picking sides and taking one day at a time, so it's not really interesting enough for the insurgents to attack a people who are no longer active.

Werman: We should say that the leadership up in Kandahar that had been eliminated included, sadly, your father, who was killed by an assassin's bomb in 2011. Given the absence or what you notice as an absence of violence in that area, are you a little bit hopeful for the future then?

Hamidi: I don't know if I can say that I'm hopeful because my father's loss has definitely killed a lot of my optimism within me, physically, emotionally and mentally. But knowing that he, among millions of people who have sacrificed their lives for Afghanistan, I have no other choice than to be hopeful that progress and stability and good will has to overpower the evil destructive forces that exist within the country and around the region.

Werman: How do you rate Hamid Karzai's performance as a leader of the country for 12 years and what do you think about how his legacy might weigh down the country in the future.

Hamidi: My goodness, what legacy is he leaving behind? Honestly, as a Kandahari citizen myself, knowing that he and his family are from Kandahar, I'm actually ashamed to even share that background of being from the same province, for the poor job that him and his cabinet has delivered to the country and to its citizens.

Werman: It makes me wonder, Rangina, what kind of person would want the job of President of Afghanistan?

Hamidi: You're right, it's not an easy task. But I would hold him responsible. He willing chose the position, nobody forced him to. I'm surprised, with his background, that he chose to listen to more destructive and corrupt forces rather than constructive and developing voices and actions in the country.

Werman: Putting your optimistic side and pessimistic side on the balance, will you try moving back to Afghanistan again?

Hamidi: Even if I'm not physically there, my spirit, my emotions, my mental state is in the country at the moment. I hope to continue supporting and working with the citizens of Afghanistan for the rest of my life, as much as life will allow me, knowing that there are forces who are trying to get rid of initiatives and people like myself who are trying to bring a positive change to the people's lives.

Werman: Rangina Hamidi, Afghan women's advocate and entrepreneur, speaking with us from Washington. Thank you very much.

Hamidi: Thank you, Marco. Have a great day.