A deafening cry: Khost MP puts listening first

KABUL (PAN): Sahera Sharif, a female lower house MP from the southeastern province of Khost, says she fields so many calls from constituents that she has lost hearing in one ear.
Those calls, though, were part of Sharif's work of listening to the problems of her province - and part of her work to release dozens of innocent Afghans from the jails of foreign forces based in Afghanistan.
Ilyas Wahdat, a Khost journalist who also serves as a faculty member at the province’s Sheikh Zayed University (SZU), confirmed that the female MP was popular for getting locals released from jails.
During the Parliamentary election, Wahdat interviewed a family whose members all voted for Sharif. The journalist said the father of the family praised Sharif for her role in getting his son released from an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) detention center.
A graduate of Kabul’s University of Education, the 50-year-old two-time representative serves on the Education and Higher Education Commission of the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of Parliament. She says her aim in running for Parliament was to promote education.
She has worked as a member of the Academy of Sciences, on the faculty at Sheikh Zayed University, as Khost Director of Women’s Affairs, as editor in chief of a monthly publication for Afghan women, and as the head of Koranai-Zhewand, a program on Khost radio. She also once ran the Pashto section of a Peshawar newspaper.
She has two sons and two daughters, and performs household chores after early morning prayers.
She said many women had voted for her because of her popularity as a radio presenter, discussing household issues, heath, politics and cooking. She added that SZU students in Khost had also contributed to her campaign due to her position on the faculty there. She won her Wolesi Jirga seat with 4100 votes, she said.
"You might not believe me, but seriously I have lost hearing in my right ear because I receive so many calls from constituents," she said.
“I went to India for my ear, but nothing has helped so far." During the interview her daughter was fielding phone calls on the MP’s behalf.
She said she always helps her constituents with education-related matters.
Asked about rumours that she often fails to show up to the Wolesi Jirga, she rejected the allegations and said, "When there is no specific agenda in the house, I stay home. I prefer to stay home and individually meet my constituents and solve their problems."
Expressing discontent with the performance of Wolesi Jirga, she added, "Unfortunately Parliament has become place of traitors. A number of MPs are involved in land grabbing, some follow their personal interests, and there are some smugglers.
“I believe this is one reason why Parliament is failing."
Parliament, she said, "is in an awful situation and it is intentionally kept this way in order to lose its status to fail in its activities. I mean the government and parties don’t want Parliament to stand on its own."
She accepts the existence of the special election tribunal President Hamid Karzai created to investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s Parliamentary election, but complains that it was established to late.
"The MPs came; they were given the oath, ID card, status, five months’ salary, and passed the budget. Now [the tribunal wants to] replace them on the name of fraud."
The special court disqualified 62 of 249 sitting MPs and said other candidates should replace them based on the results of a vote recount. President Karzai recently dissolved the tribunal and referred the issue back to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Afghanistan’s ultimate electoral authority.
If MPs are disqualified, Sharif asked, "Who guarantees the honesty of the new MPs?"
Sharif campaigned for Karzai during the first presidential election, but changed her mind and supported Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the second presidential election. She explains: "When I would turn to the [Karzai] government to share the problems of my constituents in the first parliamentary term, government officials did nothing but beat around the bush."
She blames neighbouring countries and international troops for insecurity in Afghanistan, but she said international forces should not depart until and unless Afghan military forces are well trained.
She supports the government’s bid to reconcile with the Taliban, but stressed the need to differentiate between armed groups and those who are fighting for some philosophy. "The Taliban who have become accustomed to killing cannot possibly join the reconciliation process," she said.
Sharif is unaffiliated with any groups inside or outside of Parliament. She believes members of such groups and parties are not free. She attends a poetry reading each Saturday, but she is not a poet herself. She is a fan of the songs of Afghan singer Sadiq Fetrat, known as Nashenas, and likes old Indian movies but seldom makes time to watch them.
She is the author of four books on politics, culture, economics and women’s education, and she speaks fluent Dari in addition to her native Pashto. She speaks English as well and has traveled to the US, France, Russia, Turkey, India and Pakistan. Sharif lived in Pakistan during the Taliban regime.

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