Afghan officials call for probe into sexual favours scandal

Allegations that members of Afghan administration offer posts in exchange for sexual favours need probe, officials say.

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    The Afghan president's office called the allegations 'completely false and baseless' [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
    The Afghan president's office called the allegations 'completely false and baseless' [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

    Kabul, Afghanistan -  Afghan officials, including the nation's chief executive, have called for an investigation into allegations that high-level government members were offering jobs in exchange for sexual favours.

    On Monday, Abdullah Abdullah, chief executive of the national unity government, said "something could have happened" and that there should be an investigation into the matter if the claims can be verified.

    Addressing the council of ministers meeting, which he heads, Abdullah said: "The solution should not be to punish those who have conveyed the message."

    So far, the only person to publicly make these allegations is General Habibullah Ahmadzai, a former security adviser to President Ashraf Ghani.

    In an interview with Afghan channel Khurshid TV last Thursday, Ahmadzai said: "People were working systematically for promoting adultery in the [presidential]  palace and everyone is aware of it."

    Ahmadzai went on to say that "some ministers, president's advisers and parliament members have [their] hands in prostitution", claiming that some female parliamentarians were declared victors in last year's highly-contested parliamentary election "based on [sexual] affairs".

    Possible motives

    Ahmadzai himself unsuccessfully ran for one of the 33 parliamentary seats in Kabul province last October, leading some to question his motives for making these allegations after serving as a government adviser for more than three years.

    The presidential palace has categorically denied the charges.

    At a press conference earlier this week, Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said: "Mr Habib Ahmadzai's allegations are completely false and baseless. This issue will be seriously investigated and the results will be shared with the people of Afghanistan … Mr Ahmadzai's allegations are insult to the women who have sacrificed for so long to reach decision-making levels. No one will be allowed to harm the honour of Afghan women."

    The only other person who seemingly confirmed Ahmadzai's claims was Mariam Wardak, an Afghan-American who worked in the national security council for several years.

    Speaking to Indian news channel World Is One News, Wardak brushed off claims that Ahmadzai was a candidate scorned, saying: "The issues he brought up and highlighted reflect reality." 

    Wardak, who has since said her words were misconstrued, has come under attack by defenders of the government online.

    Referring to the interview Wardak gave, Wazhma Frogh, a former ministry of defence official, tweeted: "It's interesting that only people who lose their jobs then come up with revelations. When they remained silent when all this happened and you were silent, that doesn't give you any credibility."

    However, others have come to Wardak's defence, pointing out that it was Ahmadzai who made the actual claim and that he is the one who bears the burden of proof. 

    'Defaming ... distracts'

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    Homaira Etemadi, who served in the administration of former president Hamid Karzai, said on Twitter: "Defaming/stigmatizing Mariam Wardak@MaroWardak because of her comments on WIO News distracts from General Ahmadzai's shocking allegations. He was close to President Ghani. If his allegations are founded, such abuse of power at the centre of gov. cannot be tolerated."

    Later in the WIO News interview, Wardak expressed concern that the allegations could be used to curb women's freedoms and rights.

    "Unfortunately this has become a rallying call for the Taliban and Islamic jihadists. I believe that Afghan women should be concerned that the actions of very few could result in the cause of strengthening application of Shariat (Islamic law) as well as traditional archaic customs of isolating and denying the progress of Afghan women," she said  

    Discrimination against women is widespread in Afghanistan, which ranked 168th out of 189 countries in the United Nation's Gender Inequality Index. Women can end up in jail for accusations of sexual impropriety. 

    Though this may be the first official case of a public allegation of sexual misconduct within the highest levels of government, it is not the first high-profile case of alleged sexual abuse in the country.

    Last year, Ghani ordered an investigation into allegations that female football players were sexually abused by high-level officials in the nation's football federation, including a former provincial governor.

    In the end, five officials were suspended and FIFA launched its own probe into the claims.

    In 2017, a graphic video of an Afghan air force colonel sexually exploiting a young woman went viral. The woman had recorded it as proof of allegations the officer had demanded sexual favours in exchange for jobs or promotions. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News