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.)