Afghan NGO Empowers Women Rangina Hamidi, an Afghan-American activist in Kandahar, is the CEO of Kandahar Treasure, a project of Afghans for Civil Society. The group hires women to create products decorated with Afghan-style embroidery called Khamak.

Afghan NGO Empowers Women

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Many of the new troops headed for Afghanistan will end up in the southern province of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold.


And that's where we've reached Rangina Hamidi. She's an Afghan-American who grew up in the States and went back to Kandahar in 2003. She runs a business there called Kandahar Treasure, which markets the embroidery of local Afghan women. Rangina Hamidi, welcome back to the program.

Ms. RANGINA HAMIDI (Founder and President, Kandahar Treasure, Afghanistan): Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be on the show.

BLOCK: When you and I spoke over the summer, you said this: that U.S. troops cannot win hearts and minds with continuous bombardment and fighting. I'd like to get your reaction to President Obama's announcement this week of tens of thousands more troops due to arrive quickly in Afghanistan.

Ms. HAMIDI: My opinion is still the same. But if the increase in the 30,000 troops here could mean that they could bring security and prevent insurgents from attacking the local citizens, then there is a chance that the troops can win the hearts and minds of people. But if there's an open fighting to, you know, get rid of insurgents, it's only natural to get rid of innocent citizens in the way, I'm afraid that it's going to be a hard battle to win.

BLOCK: Well, you do hear talk of population security. Do you get a sense of what that would mean? What does it mean now?

Ms. HAMIDI: Well, in Kandahar, I see it more as securing the streets, securing the city and the districts. Like Kabul, ISAF trucks drive around to safeguard streets. In Kandahar, that activity has not happened in the past eight years. So I'm hoping that the security of the population could equate to more patrolling rather than killing.

BLOCK: So you're saying an increased presence, a daily presence on the streets, that would bolster security - it would make people feel more confident?

Ms. HAMIDI: Absolutely. Generally people are afraid of armed troops. But there's a general tendency to have more faith in having international troops protect the citizens here rather than counting on our own Afghan police or the national police, which is an unfortunate reality. But nevertheless, it is how the majority of citizens feel here. So if international troops can man the streets and show that they're here to protect the citizens, I think that will definitely help build a trust between people and the international community.

BLOCK: Let me ask you about that unfortunate reality that you just mentioned about the Afghan army or Afghan police: Are they visible at all where you are in Kandahar? And if they are, how are they viewed?

Ms. HAMIDI: They are visible. I mean, there are definitely more local police presence here than the ANA, which is the National Army. The respect for the National Army is far greater than the local police. The people who become the local police are usually either drug addicts or come from families that really don't have a sound or a good, strong Afghan background in the sense of holding Afghan values and traditions in place. You know, most of these are young guys who either drop out of school or come from very poor families who just need a job to, you know, spend or waste their day. And so they become police.

BLOCK: What would be common, everyday, run of the mill abuses by police, the people there are maybe used to, but also completely fed up with?

Ms. HAMIDI: Police officers in the city, at least, of Kandahar, they drive obnoxiously. They drive cars so fast where they've hit people and several people have been killed. They smell of hash and, you know, other drugs. So, you know, that they are - for a lack of a better word, they're high. They've beaten shopkeepers. They have taken bribes from shopkeepers. Or when they come to a situation where there is some kind of commotion created by people, they come to try to solve it, then they end up beating people. You know, even people who are standing to watch to the point where some people, you know, get really badly injured.

BLOCK: Rangina Hamidi, when you talk with the Afghan women with whom you work, what are they saying about the prospect of more U.S. troops in Kandahar? Is that on their radar screen? Is that the main topic of conversation or does it feel very remote to them?

Ms. HAMIDI: No, it's definitely a topic of conversation of everybody. Many women that I speak with, they are very blunt about their opinion. One woman recently told me, she said, you know, we're killing each other anyway, meaning we Afghans, why are the Americans or why is the international community suffering in this war with us? Because we just can't seem to settle our own issues down. So they might as well leave and just let us finish the game.

So it's a very blunt answer. It's not very sophisticated in terms of thinking politically, it's not too well thought of. But I think from any individual point of view, who's just fed up with more than three decades of war, I think this blunt answer might just be the right answer.

BLOCK: Rangina Hamidi, good to talk with you again. Thanks very much.

Ms. HAMIDI: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Rangina Hamidi runs the business Kandahar Treasure in Afghanistan.

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