WASHINGTON - When Sima Samar makes a speech, she often has to stand on a box to be seen. After those speeches, usually to receive an award in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, or Pakistan, she often disappears in the crush of women who rush to hug her.
But yesterday the Afghan physician who on Saturday will become deputy prime minister and minister of women's affairs in the interim government of Afghanistan, did not let her small stature keep her from looking Secretary of State Colin Powell in the eye. She told him the United States should spend as much money to help the Afghan people as it has spent bombing her country. By some estimates, that would be about $10 billion. And she wants a woman appointed ambassador from the United States to Afghanistan.
Diplomatically, Mr. Powell didn't say yes and didn't say no, she said. He smiled and greeted her as a heroine, which to thousands of women she is.
Widowed and left a single mother at the age of 23 when her husband was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, Ms. Samar, 44, went on to found the Shuhada (which means martyrs) Organization, which operates 11 clinics, four hospitals, and 49 schools in Afghanistan. A refugee from the Taliban living in Quetta, Pakistan, she has been running clinics and schools there, seeing patients, and establishing a science institute to train students to work as physician assistants and science teachers.
She reminds listeners that Afghan women had the vote long before women in Switzerland did and wore Western-style clothes before the 1990s when the Taliban imprisoned women behind the burqa and in their homes. But now a generation of girls needs to learn and work to restore the country, she said.
Afghanistan, she said, “became famous because of the wrong actions of others. But we paid the price. And now we're a destroyed country without an infrastructure, without roads, heat, water, electricity, food. We need trauma centers. We need orphanages. We need support.''
As she planned to return this week to Kabul, she noted that she has no experience working in government as she joins 28 men and one other woman, another doctor, Suhaila Seddiqi, who will be health minister, to try to bring stability, law and order, education, human rights, and, she hopes ultimately, democracy to Afghanistan.