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Lawmaker: Taliban abduction left her 'even braver'

Sunday - 9/22/2013, 2:08am  ET

In thus Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 photo, Afghan lawmaker Fariba Ahmadi Kakar speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. Since July, several prominent women have been attacked in Afghanistan. Among them: two police officers who were killed in the south, an Indian author living in eastern Afghanistan who was killed years after her memoir about 1990s life under Taliban rule became a Bollywood film; and a senator who was wounded in an ambush. These and other attacks on female leaders in recent years have generally been blamed on the Taliban, though the Afghan militant group, mindful of cultural sensitivities, usually does not admit to targeting women. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

NAHAL TOOSI
Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban kidnappers moved her to at least 13 homes, made her sleep on the ground, and kept asking where she'd been, what she'd done and whom she knew. Every few days, she would be given a chance to call her family.

Still, the militants would push her only so far -- they knew they needed to keep their bargaining chip in good shape.

Fariba Ahmadi Kakar's four-week ordeal ended this month after the Afghan government gave in to her captors' demands to free some prisoners. In an interview with The Associated Press, the 39-year-old Afghan lawmaker gave a rare account of what it's like for a woman to be held captive by the Islamist insurgents.

"I wasn't tortured. I wasn't under constant stress. But I wasn't free," Kakar said.

She's also lucky to be alive.

Since July, several prominent women have been attacked in Afghanistan. Among them: two police officers who were killed in the south, an Indian author living in eastern Afghanistan who was killed years after her memoir about 1990s life under Taliban rule became a Bollywood film; and a senator who was wounded in an ambush.

These and other attacks on female leaders in recent years have generally been blamed on the Taliban, though the Afghan militant group, mindful of cultural sensitivities, usually does not admit to targeting women. The assaults have added to growing fears that what few gains Afghan women have made since the U.S. toppled the Taliban government in 2001 could be erased once American-led foreign troops finish withdrawing next year.

Being a woman in the public eye is a special challenge in Afghanistan, where tribal and conservative Islamic mores have long subjected women across the social spectrum to violence and discrimination.

The spotlight can be a shield, making men think twice about mistreating a woman and perhaps even guaranteeing that she'll be assigned a bodyguard. At the same time, it can make a woman a more attractive target for insurgents hoping to spread fear and weaken confidence in the Afghan government.

Kakar is one of 69 female lawmakers in the 249-seat lower house of parliament, and she's never been naive about the danger she and other prominent Afghan women face. Still, her initial encounter with her kidnappers was so swift and shocking it's still something of a blur today.

Kakar, her four children, her bodyguard and her driver were traveling from southern Kandahar province to Kabul, the Afghan capital, when a handful of armed militants on motorbikes appeared ahead of them on the outskirts of Ghazni city. The gunmen made the driver turn off the highway onto a bumpy, dirt road that led to a small village.

The militants put the group in the home of an Afghan Taliban family, separating the men from the women and saying little. Kakar, though, quickly began pleading with the captors to free her three daughters and son, ages 2 to 20.

She tried to calm her children but did not downplay what was happening. "I told them, 'This is the situation in this country. I will try to make sure you are safe,'" she said.

The Taliban fighters let her call her family. Within a couple of days her children were released to her mother and brother. Kakar, though, was shifted from place to place and kept separate from her driver and bodyguard.

Just days before the kidnapping, a fellow female legislator was wounded in an ambush by suspected Taliban gunmen not far from where Kakar was seized. Sen. Rouh Gul Khairzad's young daughter was killed, as was a bodyguard, while other family members also were wounded.

The militants who kidnapped Kakar had a different goal: They wanted the government to release some prisoners, and Kakar was their leverage.

In recounting her ordeal, Kakar wavered from calm to anger to wariness, and wouldn't always delve into details. At times she looked faint, but then she'd break into a sudden grin. When asked what she did all day in the various homes in which she was held captive, she smirked and said, "Nothing!"

She had only a vague idea of what was happening between her captors and authorities seeking to free her.

Kakar had a couple of female minders, whom she called "the doctor's mother" and "Zolaikha," but she wouldn't go into specifics about them. She said, however, that most of the women she encountered would tell her, "We have no power or authority to talk to you."

The men, like many Taliban, were hard-line Muslims who tried to avoid interacting with women outside their families. They would tell her their commanders were dealing with the details of her case.

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