KABUL, Afghanistan — A political pioneer and outspoken lawmaker took her first steps toward running for president of Afghanistan Thursday, promising to take the country out of its “days of darkness.”
At a gaudy banquet hall in Kabul, Fawzia Koofi launched her new political party, Movement for Change in Afghanistan, in front of several hundred supporters. In a speech that struck an optimistic tone, the 38-year-old mother-of-two appealed to the youth of Afghanistan — the most likely group to consider voting for her. “I don’t know who will be the next president, I don’t know, no one knows,” she said. “But we must come out of the days of darkness, and bring about change.”
It got an enthusiastic response from her audience. “She has support all around the country, and she will get votes from everyone,” said Shugufa Wassiqzada, 20. “Not only women but people from all over will vote for her!”
Koofi also has the support of some prominent politicians, including Ahmad Zia Massoud, the former Vice President of Afghanistan and brother of assassinated anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud. He congratulated her at the rally, publicly endorsing her potential candidacy. She will officially put her name forward for president if she gets enough endorsements from fellow lawmakers.
But while she enjoys some support in Kabul — and in Badakhshan, her remote and impoverished home province — she still needs to win backing in in other parts of the country.
Wadeer Safi, a political scientist at Kabul University, said: “I’m sorry to say a woman cannot be president in Afghanistan, because of mentality, because of culture, because of tradition.” However, he added that her campaign was a “good start for future generations.”
Indeed, it is the next generation that Koofi hopes to reach. Fully aware that traditionalists would never consider supporting her, she wants to win the youth vote.
She has a small, young — and for now, entirely male — team of campaign workers who will focus on social networking, targeting cellphone and Internet users. Koofi has already blazed a trail as as Afghanistan’s first female Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament – an achievement all the more remarkable for a woman who was the only female in her family to go to school.
Both as a female politician and a possible presidential candidate, Koofi is taking a great risk in a country where the Taliban regularly attacks senior lawmakers and is steadfastly opposed to women’s rights. She recounted how the Taliban threatened to kill her countless times, and how she survived a sustained gun attack on her car. She accepts being in harm’s way as inevitable and confesses to losing sleep now and then.”You get so much involved in life that you almost forget the risks,” Koofi said. “I have chosen this life, and I have chosen to take the risks as well.”
With a grin, she added: “Today the United States, maybe tomorrow Afghanistan.”
NBC News’ Isabelle Sudron contributed to this report.