Three years ago, Salima Mazari knew very little about the violence that has plagued her country for decades. Born and raised as a refugee in Iran, she was sheltered from the worst of the conflict, despite enduring other hardships familiar to millions of Afghans forced to leave their country.
But she returned, Ms Mazari, 39, told The National, because she did not want to be a refugee any longer and wanted to help rebuild her country.
“After I finished university, I started work in Iran. But nine years ago, I returned to Afghanistan with my husband and children to serve my country,” she said.
“Over the years, I worked in various management roles, most recently as an administrator at a private university. I applied through the civil services commission when the vacancy for the district governor opened up for my home district of Charkint. I knew I had a chance because of my qualifications and years of management experience.”
Ms Mazari got the job, becoming the first female governor of the district in the northern province of Balkh, where a resurgent Taliban insurgency threatens the local population. The post brought her face to face with the violence in her homeland.
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“I had never even been close to a gun before this,” she said.
As a district governor, she was given two soldiers as bodyguards, but they were “only provided with really old AK47s”.
Wanting to make sure the weapons still worked, she went with the bodyguards to the outskirts of the town to test the rifles. “When one of them fired the gun towards the mountains, it was the first time I had heard a gunshot up close. It was such a horrible sound, I passed out from shock. When I came to, I was on the ground,” she said, laughing at the memory.
Ms Mazari has become much more familiar with weapons since those early days in office in 2018. “There are many days now when I pick up a gun and join the men in battle, but mostly I help co-ordinate between the people and government forces,” she said.