The secular demand for a strict separation between state and religion is often countered by the argument that this amounts to a call for politics with out values. Without even going into the long history of the debate, the secularist may well ask the proponents of religion–based politics what values underlie the barbarities and inhumanities committed in the past decade alone by those who aspire to or actually rule in the name of God.
If the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia tells us a lot about the ‘Christian values’ of Serbians, and developments in India before and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid have given a foretaste of what to expect from Rambhakts under their promised ‘Ramrajya’, Afghanistan continues to provide evidence in shocking doses of the bestiality the ‘soldiers of Allah’ are capable of committing even on their own co–religionists. Ironically, the foundation for all the horrors that have happened in Afghanistan since early 1992 were laid in the ’80s through the collaboration of the secular USA and Islamic Pakistan — under the late general Zia–ul–Haq — in their joint attempt to contain the ‘communist devil’.
America’s missile attack on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Afghanistan, its outrage against ‘Islamic terrorism’ and Uncle Sam’s ostensible commitment to human rights globally notwithstanding, the Clinton administration continues to be soft on the Taleban — the latest brand of Muslim fanatics who today rule over most of Afghanistan and under whose dispensation life for the average Afghani, women in particular , continues to be a living hell. A more cynical and ‘Satanic’ collaboration between the practitioners of the secular (US) and the sacred (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) will be hard to imagine.
Dr. Najibullah and the communist government he headed in Afghanistan, until his violent overthrow in April 1992, were certainly no angels. But the bestiality and the barbarity shown by various ‘Islamic’ outfits claiming to speak and act in the name of Allah — the Most Beneficial and Merciful — against their own co–religionists should particularly horrify Muslims far more than what the followers of ‘another God’ did to fellow Muslims in Bosnia not long ago.
The gullible believer might be lulled into comfort by the recent Saudi or Iranian castigation of Taliban misdeeds as good examples of bad Muslims. But the brutal fact remains that the era of gross and mass scale rights violations, in particular the physical and sexual abuse of women with impunity, was inaugurated by an assortment of Islamic parties in Afghanistan enjoying the full moral and material backing of Saudi Arabia, or Iran or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The Taliban (Students) movement emerged on the Afghan scene only in the summer of 1994 and seized Kabul in just two years — September 1996. But the horror stories began the moment the Mujahideens and other co–custodians of Islam came together in an uneasy coalition under President Burhanuddin Rabbani to overthrow Najibullah’s communist regime in April 1992.
Immediately thereafter, the Mujahideen and the army generals who were their allies started fighting each other for control of Kabul and other major cities. Of the two major political alliances fighting for control of territory and political authority in Afghanistan, one was the Shura-e Nezar (Supervisory Council) led by Ahmad Shah Masoud. It was a coalition of commanders and leaders belonging to the Jamiat–e–Islami, besides a number of smaller parties. The other was the Supreme Coordination Council, an alliance of the northern–based forces of general Abdul Rashid Dostum and the southern–based Hezb–e–Islami (Party of Islam), led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. It also included the Shi’a party, Hezb–e–Wahdat.
It is well–known that the struggle for supremacy within Afghanistan was fuelled by various international patrons from the Islamic world. Hekmatyar was supported by Pakistan’s notorious ISI in the hope of seeing a pro–Pakistani head the post–communist government in Kabul. Abdul–Rab al–Rasul Sayyaf, the leader of another smaller Pashtun-dominated group, the Ittehad-e-Islami (Unity of Islam), enjoyed the full backing of Saudi Arabia with the prime object of promoting an anti-Iran Wahhabi Islam. Abdul Ali Mazari and later Abdul Karim Khalili headed the Shite Hezb-e Wahdat with full support from Iran.
The bloody struggle for power, inspired partly by personal ambitions and rivalries between the contending
leaders was also fuelled by traditional ethno–linguistic tensions. The Burhanuddin–led Jamiat–e–Islami supported by general Ahmad Shah Massoud was dominated by ethnic Tajiks who formed about 30 per cent of the country’s population and constituted the core of the Afghan intelligentsia. The Hezb–e Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, on the other hand, comprised mostly of ethnic Pushtuns, who form about 50 per cent of the population.
In the backdrop of the warring political groups, more often than not, all members of a particular clan or all residents of a locality affiliated to a rival political group were treated as enemies, and targeted irrespective of whether or not they were combatants. And women have been the worst victims.
This report is, firstly, not concerned with who is right and who is wrong among the various warring factions in Afghanistan. Instead our concern is to show how, so far as the issue of the guaranteeing of most basic human right — security and liberty of every citizen irrespective of race, religion, language, gender – is concerned, there is little to choose between the different segments of the Islamic coalition that overthrew Najib in 1992 and the Taleban who pushed them out of power in Kabul and much of Afghanistan in 1996. Secondly, while tens of thousands of unarmed, non–partisan men have suffered in numerous ways — brutal torture and killing being the most serious of them — life under the Mujahideens and the Taliban has been specially hellish for women. It is for this reason that a large chunk of the report is focused on the fate of the daughters of Islam.
A 1995 report of Amnesty International titled Women in Afghanistan, A Human Rights Catastrophe, stated:
“The lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and children have been shattered in the human rights catastrophe that has devastated Afghanistan in the past three years. Thousands have been killed in artillery attacks aimed deliberately at residential areas by the various political factions who have been fighting for territory since April 1992 when the Mujahideen groups took power. Thousands of others have been wounded.
“Armed groups have massacred defenceless women in their homes, or have brutally beaten and raped them. Scores of young women have been abducted and then raped, taken as wives by commanders or sold into prostitution. Some have committed suicide to avoid such a fate. Scores of women have reportedly “disappeared” and several have been stoned to death. Hundreds of thousands of women and children have been displaced or are living as refugees abroad. Many are traumatised by the horrific abuses they have suffered or witnessed.
“These gross human rights violations of so many unarmed civilian women have been committed with total impunity. The Constitution has been suspended. Laws have become meaningless. The judicial structures have been destroyed. The central authorities have become virtually defunct. As a result, there has been little prospect of any of the perpetrators being brought to justice.”
If the above sounds like anti–Islam western propaganda, this is how an activist from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) summed up the situation for women in Afghanistan during an interview to Paikar–e–Zan (Women’s Struggle), a publication of militant Iranian women, in an interview in May 1998:
“After the tragedy of April 28, 1992 when Jihadi beasts (Mujahideens) perpetrated their aggression on Kabul and other cities, their depravity focused on ravishment of women, girls and children. They resembled savage dogs unchained after years of starvation. The Jihadi miscreants (“Jihadi” is the name they called themselves by, i.e. Warriors in the War of Islam Against Infidelity) didn’t even stop at raping seventy–year–old mothers and old men, let alone orgies of “birth watching”. A large number of women and young girls committed suicide rather than become victims of Jihadi depravity. All this added to massacres, looting, wanton destruction and an assortment of treacherous crimes committed by fundamentalists have resulted in the development of numerous forms of mental disorders, amongst women, especially the women of Kabul. It can be asserted that there is no Afghan female above the age of 10 who has not somehow been traumatised by the living nightmare of the past five years”.
Both Amnesty and RAWA’s reports are based on accounts of either the victims themselves or fellow Afghanis who were eye-witnesses to the atrocities who subsequently fled to Pakistan. Numerous reports highlighting Mujahideen atrocities against women have appearing from time to time in the western media as also in sections of the Pakistani press have the same gory stories to tell.
What has the ousting of the mutually–squabbling Mujahedeens meant for the ordinary citizen of Afghanistan and for women? Mercifully, there has been a decline in the sexual abuse of women, but the oppression of women in other forms has been intensified beyond imagination. Restrictions on women working outside their homes and the compulsory wearing of the hejab, measures introduced by the Mujahideen have been enforced by the Taliban with a vengeance.
“Although incidents of rape did not increase after the coming to power of the Taliban, there was no relief for the perpetual agony and sorrow of our women”, the RAWA activist added in her above–mentioned interview with the Iranian Paikar–e–Zan. “The Taliban brethren of the Jihadi miscreants replaced the previous form of excruciating agony with a deadlier form of mental torture by unleashing a terrorising religious inquisition, humiliating women and depriving them of the basic vestiges of human life. Even now, women are banned from going to educational institutions or government offices, working for a livelihood or even visiting women-only public baths or medical facilities; in short, they cannot step out of their houses without a religiously prescribed chaperon. This is a situation which does not have any precedent, neither at present nor at any time in the past in any fundamentalism or medievalism–blighted country in the world”.
The horror that Afghanistan has been in the last several years is best illustrated through the accounts of victims and eye-witnesses in the accompanying stories in these pages.
Communalism Combat, Hell on Earth, November 1998
Women under Mujahideen rule
Rape as reward
l Several refugee families told the story of a woman in labour who had been taken to a hospital in Kabul by her husband one evening at about pm in early 1994. There was a curfew in force at the time and cars were not allowed in the streets of Kabul. Armed guards reportedly stopped the car at a checkpoint, telling the husband that they would take the woman to the hospital themselves and that he should go back home. The next day, the husband was told at the hospital that the woman had not been taken there. The husband went to the guards to ask where his wife was. They reportedly showed him the dead bodies of the woman and the newly-born baby, telling him that since they had only seen videos of women delivering babies, they wanted to see how a baby was delivered in real life. (AI)
l In March 1994 a 15–year–old girl was repeatedly raped in her house in Kabul’s Chel Sotoon district after armed guards entered the house and killed her father for allowing her to go to school: “They shot my father right in front of me. He was a shop–keeper. It was nine o’clock at night. They came to our house and told him they had orders to kill him because he allowed me to go to school. The Mujahideen had already stopped me from going to school, but that was not enough. They then came and killed my father. I cannot describe what they did to me after killing my father.” (AI)
l A young woman who left her home in Mycrorayan 3 in Kabul for Peshawar after the January 1994 fighting told Amnesty International of a rape which her father had described to her: “One day when my father was walking past a building complex, he heard screams of women coming from an apartment block which had just been captured by forces of General Dostum. He was told by the people that Dostum’s guards had entered the block and were looting the property and raping the women.” (AI)
Rape and revenge
“First, the forces of Hezb–e–Islami began to fire rockets on our residential area from the Chel Sotoon mountains. After that, the forces of General Dostum came to the city. They are known as Gelim Jam (carpet–takers). These guards were only looking for Pashtun people, and would not actually kill non–Pashtuns. We were not Pashtun, so at least our lives were spared... The next day armed guards of Hezb–e–Islami came to us. They carried out a lot of atrocities. For example, a number of young women in our street were raped by them. One young woman was taken away by them and a few days later her body was found somewhere in the city.” (AI)
l A family who left Afghanistan in mid–1994 told Amnesty International how one night in March that year, members of General Dostum’s forces had entered their house in Old Mycrorayan area of Kabul and killed their daughter: “There were about 12 of them all carrying Kalashnikovs rifles with their faces covered. They asked us to give them our daughter. We refused to give her to them. They did not accept that, and asked us to bring our daughter to talk to them. We asked her and she came and told them she did not want to go with them. One of them then lifted his Kalashnikov and shot my daughter dead in front of our eyes. She was only 20 and was just about to finish her high school. We buried her body. There were eight surviving members of our family.” (AI)
l An elderly couple described how their 19–year–old daughter had been killed in front of them in March 1994 because she refused to go with armed guards. The guards then looted the house and forced the family to leave. (AI)
Suicide to escape rape
l In at least one case, a father who saw the Mujahideen guards coming for his daughter reportedly killed her before she could be taken away.
l A number of families told Amnesty International the story of Nahid, who threw herself to her death to avoid being raped: “Nahid was a 16–year–old high school student living with her family in Mycrorayan. In mid–1992 her house was raided by armed Mujahideen guards who had come to take her. The father and family resisted. Nahid ran to the fifth floor of the apartment block and threw herself off the balcony. She died instantly. Her father put her body on a bed frame and wanted to carry it in the streets to show the people what had happened to her, but the Mujahideen groups stopped him.” (AI)
Commanders with 10 ‘wives’
l Women and girls were not safe. Girls were abducted by commanders and forced into marriage, that is raped. Commanders were reported to have as many as ten “wives”. If the girls or their families objected or resisted they were often killed. Many families sent their girls and women away, often to Pakistan. (The News, Pakistan, November 11, 1995).
l A woman told Amnesty International that her 13–year–old niece was abducted by the armed guards of a Hezb–e–Islami commander in late 1993: “They said their commander wanted her. They took her away. She was resisting and screaming but they dragged her away. We were frightened that if we did anything we would all be killed. Several months later, the commander was killed during fighting and the girl was able to come back to her father’s house. Abducting young girls has been very common in recent years. They would kill any girl who refused to go with them.” (AI)
l A family who had lived in Iran for five years and went back to their home in Farah province after the Mujahideen took power in April 1992, told Amnesty International how armed guards of a Jamiat–e–Islami commander entered their house in early 1994 to take their daughter for the commander: “We were a farming family. There were 10 of us in the family. One Jamiat–e–Islami commander who had three wives came with his armed guards to our house asking to marry my sister who was 15–years– old. My brother objected and told him that as a white–bearded man he should not seek to marry such a young girl. But the commander’s guards beat my brother. One of the guards pointed his Kalashnikov at my brother’s arm and fired a shot. His shirt was covered in blood. We were forced to give my sister away.” (AI)
Pushed into prostitution
l On July 4, 1994, an Afghan woman, Zhala Ejlal burnt herself in front of the UN office in New Delhi as a gesture of protest against the inhuman treatment of the jehadi traitors. Three jehadi criminals wanted to drag Zhala towards prostitution to satisfy their lust. But she in order to save her honour set herself ablaze and died. She is one of the hundreds of ill–fated Afghan women who in fear of rape and dishonouring in the hands of Afghan fundamentalists had resorted to suicide to avoid gang–raping. (Payam–e–Zan, No.38)
(AI– From Amnesty International’s 1995 report, Women in Afghanistan, A Human Rights Catastrophe)
(Communalism Combat Archives: Story from November 1998.)
Observance of the Islamic Hejab or Veil
To comply with the Islamic code of Hejab, as well as to reduce the degree of threat to the personal safety of women, the Islamic State of Afghanistan is asking the women to observe the Islamic Hejab, and cover their faces in public. This is a measure that is undertaken for the simple reason of protecting the honour, dignity, and personal safety of the women in Afghanistan.
l “Turpeki was taking her toddler to the doctor. The child had acute diarrhoea and needed to be seen by a doctor soon. Turpeki was dressed in a burqa. She reached the market area when a teen-aged Taliban guard noticed her. The guard called her. Turpeki knew that if she stopped she would be beaten for appearing in public. She was also frightened that her child might die if she did not hurry. She began to run. The Taliban guard aimed his Kalashnikov at her and fired several rounds. Turpeki was hit but did not die. People intervened and took the mother and the child to the doctor. Turpeki’s family then complained to the Taliban leaders. But were simply told that it had been the woman’s fault. She should not have been appearing in public in the first place; one she did, she should stop, when told to and not run away.”
l “A Taliban guard stopped an Afghan woman who had gone out of the house, and beat her severely with a cable rod for not wearing a burqa. The woman cried that she could not afford to buy a burqa but the guard did not stop beating her”.
l “The young woman was carrying her baby, her two friends walking beside her. All three were veiled, their faces completely hidden from view. Suddenly a passing car braked to a halt and two men jumped out…It was clear they were the Taliban from Kandahar. Each was brandishing a stick They set about beating the women on the legs. As their arms rose and fell, they shouted that the women should never come out in public dressed in such immoral fashion again. A few inches of bare leg were showing above the women’s ankles between their shoes and the bottom of their pajama–style trousers. The woman with the baby staggered and swayed beneath the blows, desperately trying to stay upright. None of the three dared to utter a sound as the sticks whipped their legs. Then the men got back in the car and drove off. The incident lasted less than 5 minutes, but it was sufficiently brutal to leave the women quaking as they limped silently away.”
(Amnesty International, November 18, 1996, reported in the RAWA publication, Burst of the “Islamic Government” bubble in Afghanistan, January 1997).
l “A woman comes into a Kabul hospital with burns over 80 percent of her body. An official of the Taliban, the fundamentalist group ruling most of Afghanistan, prohibits the doctor from undressing her. The doctor says she will die if he does not treat her. “Many Taliban die on the battlefield,” replies the official. The woman, untreated, dies.”
(New York Times, Editorial
Nov. 6, 1997).
l Doctors working in Taliban-held Afghanistan were ordered Thursday to deny treatment to women not accompanied by a close male relative, state–run Radio Shariat announced.
“The department of regulation and inspection of the public health ministry announces to all doctors and medical personnel not to examine and treat women without their legal Mahram present,” Radio Shariat said.
The ruling is the latest in a long series of tough measures aimed at reforming public health structures, in which the puritanical Moslem militia has attempted to minimize contact between men and women. It is also likely to pose serious problems for the Afghan capital’s estimated 30,000 widows, many of whom have no male relatives to accompany them. All public hospitals have already been tightly segregated and are subject to regular inspections by religious police squads from the ministry for the fostering of virtue and prevention of vice.
It also comes amid a crisis of foreign–aid medical projects in the Afghan capital, many of which have been suspended following militia threats to locally recruited female staff.
(AFP, Kabul, June 25, 1998)..
Restoration of Women’s Safety, Dignity and Freedom
Being highly concerned about the well–being of its female citizens, the Islamic State of Afghanistan, soon introduced measures to put a stop to the miserable living conditions under which the women lived in Kabul. After the communists took over in Kabul, they began to exploit women for the purpose of advancing their political and social agendas. In spite of war condition in the country and with no work in the offices, the communist regime forced a large number of women to attend government offices only for their amusement.
The Islamic State decided to pay the salaries of these women at their homes, so that they could stay home and take care of their families and children. The purpose of this policy is to help revive the Afghan family and household, as the foundation of the Afghan society, a foundation that was intentionally destroyed by the communist regime.
The Islamic State of Afghanistan is determined to provide educational and employment opportunities for the women of Afghanistan.
l The United Nations called for an emergency meeting with Afghanistan’s Taliban religious army after its decision to close more than 100 private schools, many of them educating girls. “The closure will have a devastating impact on welfare of many of the … neediest people — particularly women and children,” the UN said in a statement released in neighbouring Pakistan. Scores of small, home–based vocational training programmes are also to be shut.”
(AP, June 18, 1998)
l KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Concealed in giant swaths of blue cloth, an Afghan woman steps out of the shadows and whispers in accented English: “I am an educator. Do you have a job for me, not in Kabul, in the provinces?”
The rancid smell of an open sewer hangs heavy in the mid–afternoon heat and the bark of stray dogs makes the whisper barely audible.
Another woman outside a blue-tiled mosque eyes a foreigner. Quickly she tucks her chin to her chest and stoops her shoulders trying it seems to bury herself deep inside her burqa. She steps forward, her hand outstretched.
“I’m not a beggar, but I have no choice. I need food for my family,” says a voice from within. In the capital, ruled by Afghanistan’s hard–line Taliban religious army since 1996, women have been on the receiving end of most of the militia’s harsh Islamic edicts. They can’t work and are forbidden to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. Taxi drivers routinely are beaten if their fare is a woman alone.
l Kabul, May 17, 1998: Aid workers in Taliban–controlled Afghanistan have reported a dramatic increase in the number of women committing suicide because they can no longer bear the country’s all–pervasive Islamic code.
In the worst cases, women have taken their own lives by swallowing caustic soda — an agonising and lingering death. In addition, the number of women admitted to mental hospitals with severe depression has more than doubled since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, 20 months ago and forbade women to work.
There has also been a rise in domestic violence as frustration builds up in families, already in dire economic straits. And there are reports of prostitution among street children as young as eight or nine.
(Julian West, International News Electronic Telegraph,
17 May 1998, Issue 1087)
l Islamabad (AFP): Pakistan has banned the importation of bones from neighbouring Afghanistan after reports that human remains were being sold as animal bones, officials said Thursday. An investigation has also been ordered into allegations suggesting the human bones were being brought into Pakistan in the guise of animal remains, they said.
The ban on import of all kinds of bones from Afghanistan will remain in force until the completion of the probe. The Sunday New York Times reported this week that desperate Afghan children retrieved human bones from graveyards for export to Pakistan, where they were used for making cooking oil, soap and chicken feed. It quoted merchants in Kabul as saying the human remains were mixed with bones from dogs, cows, horses and donkeys and sold to middlemen who trucked them to Pakistan.
(Published by The Frontier Post, Pakistan, January 17, 1997)
l All token humanitarian relief assistance are under the control of the ‘government’ authorities. Distribution of relief supplies to pauperised widows and their families provides golden opportunities for the depraved fundamentalists to take pious advantage of the destitute ‘beneficiaries’. They begin with asking for bribes and then work their way to more carnal gratification, culminating in the prostitution of the miserable women.
(‘The Burst of the ‘Islamic government’ bubble in Afghanistan, RAWA publication No. 2, January 1997).
l ‘Chief Minister’ of Heart, Mullah Yar Mohammed, leading member of the Taliban, married with two women in a week. He also paid about Afghani 10,000,000 to his third wife’s father.
(Payam–e–Zan, No.44, Sept. 1996)
MEENA Keshwar Kamal (1957-1987) was born in 1957 in Kabul. During her school days, students in Kabul and other Afghan cities were deeply engaged in social activism and rising mass movements. She left the university to devote herself as a social activist to organizing and educating women.
In pursuit of her cause for gaining the right of freedom of expression and conducting political activities, Meena laid the foundation of RAWA in 1977. This organization was meant to give voice to the deprived and silenced women of Afghanistan. She started a campaign against the Russian forces and their puppet regime in 1979 and organized numerous processions and meetings in schools, colleges and Kabul University to mobilize public opinion.
Another great service rendered by her for the Afghan women is the launching of a bilingual magazine, Payam–e–Zan (Women’s Message) in 1980. Through this magazine, RAWA has been projecting the cause of Afghan women boldly and effectively.
Payam–e–Zan has constantly exposed the criminal nature of fundamentalist groups. Meena also established Watan Schools for refugee children, a hospital and handicraft centers for refugee women in Pakistan to support Afghan women financially.
Her active social work and effective advocacy against the views of the fundamentalists and the puppet regime provoked the wrath of the Russians and the fundamentalist forces alike and she was assassinated by KGB agents and their fundamentalist accomplices in Quetta, Pakistan, on February 4,1987.
(Amnesty International’s inves-tigations subsequent to her killing “strongly indicate that the assassins may have been closely linked to the Hizb–e–Islami)..
(Communalism Combat Archives: Story from November 1998.)
(We reproduce below, a news report published by a Pakistani newspaper on a RAWA demonstration)
Police restrain Taleban attacking RAWA procession
(The News, April 29,1998)
PESHAWAR: Police resorted to teargas shelling and baton charge Tuesday to disperse Afghan Taleban who
attacked a procession of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) and caused injuries to several women.
The Peshawar police, which accompanied the procession right from Shaheen Town to the Defense Colony, swung into action soon after the Taleban attacked the process-ionists and chased and beat them up. The police also arrested 13 of them.
The RAWA procession comprising some 250 women and girl students of the local Afghan schools was attacked near Tambwano Chowk on Jamrud Road by a group of over a dozen stick–wielding Taleban. At least 10 women received injuries, three of whom were rushed to hospital for first aid.
The women showed extreme courage by raising highly charged slogans against the ‘fundamentalists’ and retaliated with sticks and stones in self–defence rather than running for shelter. They were joined by some of the men, both Afghans and Pakistanis, accompanying the procession. “We wanted to convey to the ‘fundamentalists’ that women can fight for their rights,” remarked an emotional RAWA leader Nasima Bareen. The attackers were overpowered by police in no time.
Mindful of the wrath of the Taleban and other Afghan groups, the RAWA organizers had arranged bundles of sticks in advance for observing the “6th black anniversary” of what the organization termed “swarming of fundamentalist criminals into Kabul on April 28,1992.”
Despite tension and fears of recurrence of the happening, the processionists did not disperse and reached their destination chanting slogans and playing patriotic songs through a loudspeaker. “Nothing can be achieved in today’s Afghanistan without sacrifice,” commented another RAWA leader, Jamila Habib.
The situation would have taken yet another ugly turn had the 300 stick–wielding Taleban both Afghans and Pakistanis from the nearby Jamia Imdad–ul–Uloom Islamia of Masjid–I–Darwish reached the scene of incident on time. After having heard about the incident, the Taleban rushed there but by then the Afghan women had dispersed peacefully.
The angry Taleban blocked the main Peshawar–Jamrud road near Peshawar Club for sometime and searched the passenger buses for the Afghan women who took part in the procession. The Taleban procession marched to the Tambwano Chowk and disrupted traffic on the busy University Road.
The prominent feature of the RAWA procession, which traversed a distance of two kilometres, was the hanging of the effigies of five Afghan leaders atop a vehicle. They included Taleban spiritual leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb–I–Wahdat chief Ustad Karim Khalili and Uzbek warlord Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum.
The RAWA leaders said these Afghan leaders “playing in foreign hands” were responsible for the on–going genocide in Afghanistan. The Taleban chief Mullah Omar was depicted as a “pirate.”
The Afghan women were all praise for the local police who took timely action to trace down the attacking Taleban despite the fact that no proper permission had been secured for staging the demonstration in Peshawar by RAWA.
It was the Quetta–based RAWA’s third show in the city. The main target of the speeches and sloganeering of the processionists were the Taleban, who were blamed as “stooges of Pakistan”.
The young schoolgirls were more vocal in condemning the Afghan leaders. “Marg bar (death for) Taleban, marg bar Rabbani, marg bar Hekmatyar, marg bar Masud, marg bar Khalili, marg bar Dostum, marg bar Sayyaf, marg bar Akbari” were the slogans which echoed all the way on the route of the procession. The RAWA members also condemned the alleged interference by Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan’s affairs.
(Communalism Combat Archives: Story from November 1998.)
If we get access to the archives at Langley (headquarters of the CIA), we would find one particular manual possibly written in the late 1940s. This manual would perhaps have been xeroxed many times, since it seems to have been used almost every few years by the unimaginative, but effective, CIA. Like other manuals, it will probably be bound in a bold colour with large black letters that say something like “Manual for Counter-Insurgency: How to Manufacture An Enemy Who Once Was An Asset.”
During the Reagan and Bush (1980–92) years, the CIA operatives and analysts kept that particular manual on their desks on the alert as they remade the lives of their former allies into newfound enemies. Manuel Noriega, for instance, was a valuable CIA asset inside the Panamanian military right upto the US invasion of that country in December 1989 in which the marines arrested the sovereign, but corrupt, leader and incarcerated him in the US. This was a preview of the Gulf War of 1991.
After the Iranian revolution and the taking of US hostages by the Islamic republic, the US was bent upon vengeance against Iran. With financial and military support, the US pressured Iraq to test its mettle against its neighbour, always clear, however, that Iraq must not be allowed to gain too much power in the region (hence, the tacit allowance given to Israel when it conducted its pre–emptive strike against the Osirak reactors in northern Iraq on 7 June 1981). During the Iran-Iraq conflict, the US emerged as the main support for Saddam Hussein, who, incidentally, was closely allied with Kuwait.
During these years, Hussein discharged the communist left and persecuted the Kurds, both events well-known to the Washington. In fact, prior to Hussein, the Ba’athists entered Iraqi history “on an American train” (in the words of Ali Saleh Al-Sa’di, secretary general of the party in the 1960s) with a commitment to crush the popular and extensive Communist Party of Iraq. Hussein relied upon the silent approval of the US when he told US envoy April Glaspie of his intent to invade Kuwait in 1990 (reported by the New York Times, September 23, 1991).
He miscalculated, since the CIA already drew out our famous manual, partly to ensure that Iraq not challenge US–Israeli hegemony over the region and over oil, but also to ensure that the US President Bush (previously head of the CIA) coast into a second presidential term in 1992 (Bush, like Churchill, won the war, but lost the election).
Osama Bin Laden, a minor player in the world of Islamic fundamentalism, has now attained the stature of Noreiga and Hussein due to the 75 (misguided) cruise missiles that struck Afghanistan and Sudan. Very quickly after the attack, the leading US papers reported that not only was Bin Laden a close associate of the CIA during the Afghan conflict, but the very bases used by Bin Laden (near Kunar in the Bakhtiar mountains) in that country had been built by the CIA as part of its assistance to the Mujahidin factions.
In the 1980s, the US spent about $6 billion on these commandos in its quest to wrest Afghanistan from both the left inside the nation and from the Soviet orbit. The US was joined in this anti–communist crusade by Zia–ul–Haq’s military regime (a man famous for his participation in the 1970 Black September massacre in Jordan) and the Saudi monarchy. From the latter, the US was able to gain the fellowship of a young Saudi man, Bin Laden, who came from a wealthy family ($5 billion) with much zeal. The Saudi’s Rabitat al–Alam al–Islami (Muslim World League) provided tremendous resources towards the Mujahidin. Osama Bin Laden, through his Islamic Salvation Foundation, was able to bring monies and hardware into Afghanistan and he mobilized many young people, with CIA support, through his “Afghan International” (Washington Post, June 20, 1986). His net worth of $300 million is now committed to the removal of the US from West Asia, a goal set in motion by his disgust at the Gulf War.
There is incidentally little firm proof that Bin Laden had anything to do with the acts of terror in East Africa. If we believe the US experts who make this claim, then we may need to recall that most of them felt that the Oklahoma City bombing was conducted by an Arab: “I think as we sort through the evidence, in my judgement,” said Larry Johnson, a regular counter terrorism expert at the US State Department, “this has the hallmarks of Islamic ties” (CNN, April 20, 1995). The bombers, it turned out, were white supremacists. Also the CIA only recently claimed it knew nothing of India’s nuclear tests and yet, it can now claim to know exactly where its erstwhile asset resides in the mountainous Afghanistan!
There is little consideration of the production of these people by the amoral foreign policy of the US.
(Vijay Prashad is assistant professor, International Studies, at Trinity College, Hartford, USA
Under the UN sanctions, casualties include not only Iraq’s self– sufficiency and its modern, secular society, with its advanced medical and educational systems, but also the progressive lives of eight million Iraqi women, who find themselves forced into social contracts which they thought ended a century ago.
In the long struggle between Iraq and the US, Iraqi women have been the most harmed of that nation’s beleaguered masses. Like men, of course, they’ve lost opportunities and seen their living standard plummet. But they’ve also been forced into social contracts which they thought ended a century ago.
Seven years of sanctions have desiccated more than bombs could. The casualties include not only Iraq’s modern, secular society, with its advanced medical and educational systems, self–sufficiency, university research, and child vaccination programmes, but also the progressive lives of eight million Iraqi women.
Before 1990, Iraq had an exemplary policy of educating women and opening the professions to them. Before the Gulf War, women were found in all sectors of life. But in the years since then, those gains have been reversed. It’s well–known that women everywhere endure a double victimisation during war.
As far as we know, Iraqi women were not raped — not directly. But as a result of war conditions ignited by the sanctions, they’ve lost many of the rights they had — even under Saddam Hussein. And let us be clear. The UN sanctions, now in their eighth year, are a terrible form of war. The economic embargo on Iraq, policed by the US, is proving to be the most punitive and strictly enforced in human history.
Well over a million civilians -– mostly children — have perished, all of them needless deaths created by a lack of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of children are stunted or retarded due to disease and malnutrition, while war–related pollution and contamination has pushed up cancer rates. At least four million Iraqis have fled the country, seeking refuge elsewhere.
An unreported effect of the sanctions — and another reason to consider them a weapon of war — is the social disruption they’ve created. Over the past seven years, Iraq has experienced a complete economic breakdown and class upheaval.
As a result, fewer jobs are available to women. With the collapsed economy, unemployment rose. To secure work, men travelled to other parts of the country or emigrated in search of work. Employers also began to give priority to young men for the few available places. Even so, inflation (a 6000 per cent increase since 1990) is so high and salaries so low that families haven’t been able to manage.
To help their parents, young men delay marriage. And any boy with dreams of emigrating in search of a new life (according to reports, 2,00,000 single men have already left for New Zealand) isn’t likely to marry before leaving. So, Iraq’s male–female ratio is now unbalanced and young women find themselves without a choice of partners.
Within Arab society, women are under immense pressure to marry, especially if they have no profession. Meanwhile, sexual contact outside marriage is hardly possible. The chronic dilemma has intensified, increasing already overwhelming burdens.
Societies have different ways of absorbing strain. Sometimes the adjustment is positive, sometimes not. In Iraq’s case, coping with the gender imbalance created by the sanctions has led some families to adopt polygamy as a solution for their daughters’ limited marriage prospects. To secure their daughters a future as mothers and some kind of economic security, parents are offering their daughters as second, junior wives. The marriages are legal.
Arranged by the family, they generally involve an older man already supporting a wife and children. The first wife objects and protests, but many men welcome such arrangements. Though sanctioned in Iraqi religious law, for many decades polygamy wasn’t practised in most parts of the country. In fact, multiple wives were discouraged by both the state and educated society. Today, however, due to social upheaval, a woman has less leverage to refuse a second wife. And parents who never would have allowed it in their youth see polygamy as a solution. It’s a desperate strategy to help their families cope with the intolerable conditions all Iraqis face.
(Third World Network Features. The above article first appeared in Toward Freedom
(March/April 1998, ‘Back to the Margins’).
(Barbara Nimri Aziz, a New York–based journalist and anthropologist,
has followed developments in Iraq since before the Gulf War ).