A RAWA rally showing the portrait of Meena the founder of RAWA assasinated in Quetta in 1987.
See article: New Moon Magazine http://www.newmoon.org girl@newmoon.org
PO Box 3620 Duluth MN 55803-3620 USA PH: 800-381-4743 or 218-728-5507

Address: RAWA, P.O.Box 374, Quetta, Pakistan

Home Page: http://www.rawa.org
E-mail: rawa@rawa.org

Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK Afghanistan's clandestine army

Until recently RAWA received little media attention

By BBC News Online's Fiona Symon

The renewed media interest in Afghanistan in the wake of the bombings in Washington and New York has focused attention on RAWA - the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

It is based just inside Pakistan in the border town of Quetta. Its members are regularly photographed distributing aid and medicine among the swollen refugee camps.

RAWA runs classes for Afghan women, only 5 per cent of whom can read

They wear the concealing clothing that is obligatory for all women who wish to move in safety in this part of the world - but this is not a reflection of their beliefs or piety.

Behjat, who works in RAWA's media office, says she would like to see a government in Afghanistan that is 100 per cent secular.

"We believe that's what the Afghan people want. We don't want anyone to impose their beliefs or religion on anyone else."

Intellectual origins

RAWA was set up in Kabul in 1977 as a movement of women intellectuals with the aim of increasing women's representation in politics and society and promoting a secular democratic society.

A US military attack would be another catastrophe for Afghanistan Behjat, RAWA spokeswoman

That is still its long-term aim, but deteriorating conditions inside Afghanistan have forced the movement to shift its focus to more practical matters such as healthcare and education.

As a condition of membership RAWA members are also obliged to act as witnesses and record what is going on inside the country.

It is dangerous work and many RAWA supporters have been killed.

Secret witness

One of its greatest media coups was smuggling out a video cassette showing a summary execution carried out by the Taleban in a stadium in Kabul.

RAWA posters publicise the Afghan womens' plight

The video was shot by a RAWA member who hid the video recorder under her burqa - the long veiled garment that all Afghan women are obliged to wear in public places. It shows a horrifying scene.

A man with a microphone is pictured reading from the Koran. One of three women, accused of adultery, is then led to the centre of the stadium where a man puts a gun to her head and shoots her.

Behjat welcomes the increase in media attention, but says it has not so far led to any increase in support or funding for the organisation.

RAWA has even received hate mail from those who equate all Afghans with the atrocities committed against the US. But she says the overwhelming majority have been supportive.

Dedicated membership

Like Behjat, many members of RAWA are from what once made up the educated middle classes.

Behjat moved with her family to Pakistan from Kabul 13 years ago and was educated at one of two secondary schools run by RAWA in Quetta.

Her mother was a member of the organisation and Behjat gave up the chance to go to university to work full time for RAWA.

RAWA supporters relay messages across the Pakistan-Afghan border

But the membership has grown to include many women who learnt to read through RAWA's clandestine literacy classes inside Afghanistan.

Those who have benefited from these classes now form some of the organisation's most active and dedicated members.

But, understandably, morale inside Afghanistan is not good.

No news

RAWA has hundreds of members inside the country who are still carrying out their work running literacy classes and offering basic healthcare services.

But since the borders were closed there has been no news of them.

Until recently, people made contact by relaying messages via people coming across the border, but this is no longer possible.

Behjat believes that if the United States leads an attack on Afghanistan it will be "another catastrophe for the country".

But she is hopeful that the current situation will eventually lead to a change of regime.

RAWA sees the exiled king as the best hope of uniting the country

In the meantime, RAWA is looking into ways of expanding its membership to include the vast numbers of supporters who would like to help, but are not able to make the sacrifices required of the current membership.

Behjat believes most Afghans share RAWA's basic aims: "We want a peaceful country where people can express their beliefs and feelings without fear."

RAWA has stated that it would support the return of the exiled King Zahir Shah.

His 40 year rule which ended in 1973 "though unremarkable, was one in which at least the people did not suffer", says Behjat.

Friday, 23 March, 2001, 17:08 GMT Afghan feminists go online

RAWA wants to publicise the plight of Afghan women A group of Afghan feminists have turned to the internet to draw attention to atrocities and human rights abuses committed against women under Taleban rule.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) - based in Peshawar in neighbouring Pakistan - say they hope their website will increase international awareness of the plight of women in Afghanistan.

RAWA says it has around 2,000 members who work both outside and inside Afghanistan.

They secretly educate young girls and raise funds to help women made destitute by the Taleban ban on them working.

Their website is not for the squeamish.

It contains many photographs of what RAWA says are atrocities committed against women, which have apparently been smuggled out of Afghanistan.

Under the Taleban, women are banned from working outside their homes.

The fundamentalist regime has also stopped them attending schools and universities and forced women to be veiled from head-to-toe in public.

Health care is segregated and often it is difficult for a woman to see a male specialist.

And Taleban radio has warned that women not obeying these edicts will "face punishment".

A RAWA spokeswoman told BBC News Online that they had not been able to provide their supporters inside Afghanistan with internet facilities, because of the "watchful eye" of the Taleban.

"Our chief purpose, therefore, is to awaken the world to the plight of women in Afghanistan".

Technical assistance and training for the website have been provided by men, but the site is maintained and developed only by women.

Threats

The spokeswoman said RAWA had received threats via the internet, many of which had been vulgar and salacious.

But, she added, their website needed visitors and publicity.

The women say they are committed to non-violent change.

But both inside Afghanistan and in Pakistan most of the group's work has to be carried out in secret and can be dangerous.

The spokeswoman said the Taleban had issued a fatwa or Islamic sentence against RAWA members.

"They have ordered their forces to arrest any RAWA members on sight and stone them to death in public," she said.

The women say that so far they have been lucky. Several activists had been arrested, but had later been released.

'Pariah status'

A United Nations report on religious extremism in October last year said women in Afghanistan had been reduced to pariah status, being afflicted by social, economic and cultural exclusion.

The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, said in a report that under the Taleban women were being punished for violations of their Islamic code by stoning to death.

The Taleban's own website says the international media are distorting the situation in the country and that they are "fully committed to the social, cultural and economic development of women" in employment, education and other areas.

Behind the burka

We should make the Northern Alliance sign a contract on human rights - especially women's rights

Polly Toynbee Guardian

Friday September 28, 2001

Something horrible flits across the background in scenes from Afghanistan, scuttling out of sight. There it is, a brief blue or black flash, a grotesque Scream 1, 2 and 3 personified - a woman. The top-to-toe burka, with its sinister, airless little grille, is more than an instrument of persecution, it is a public tarring and feathering of female sexuality. It transforms any woman into an object of defilement too untouchably disgusting to be seen. It is a garment of lurid sexual suggestiveness: what rampant desire and desirability lurks and leers beneath its dark mysteries? In its objectifying of women, it turns them into cowering creatures demanding and expecting violence and victimisation. Forget cultural sensibilities.

More moderate versions of the garb - the dull, uniform coat to the ground and the plain headscarf - have much the same effect, inspiring the lascivious thoughts they are designed to stifle. What is it about a woman that is so repellently sexual that she must diminish herself into drab uniformity while strolling down Oxford Street one step behind a husband who is kitted out in razor-sharp Armani and gold, pomaded hair and tight bum exposed to lustful eyes? (No letters please from British women who have taken the veil and claim it's liberating. It is their right in a tolerant society to wear anything including rubber fetishes - but that has nothing to do with the systematic cultural oppression of women with no choice.)

The pens sharpen - Islamophobia! No such thing. Primitive Middle Eastern religions (and most others) are much the same - Islam, Christianity and Judaism all define themselves through disgust for women's bodies. There are ritual baths, churching, shaving heads, denying abortion and contraception, arranged marriage, purdah, barring unclean women access to the altar, let alone the priesthood, letting men divorce but not women - all this perverted abhorrence of half the human race lies at the maggotty heart of religion, the defining creed in all the holy of holies.

Moderate, modernised believers may claim the true Bible/Koran does not demand such things. But it hardly matters how close these savage manifestations are to the words of the Prophet or Christ. All extreme fundamentalism plunges back into the dark ages by using the oppression of women (sometimes called "family values") as its talisman. Religions that thrive are pliable, morphing to suit changing needs: most Christianity has had to moderate to modernise. Islamic fundamentalism flourishes because it too suits modern needs very well in a developing world seeking an identity to defy the all-engulfing west. And the burka and chador are its battle flags.

The war leaders are coy about this mighty cultural war of the worlds that is fought out over women's bodies. Other considerations always did come first. When the mojahedin were western heroes against Russia and western TV reporters pranced about hilltops in teatowels extolling them, the Guardian women's page had just about the only non-Russian inspired writers pointing to the plight of hidden mojahedin women. Now again there is a danger western leaders seek to blur the issue, to mollify semi-friendly Arab countries. Already our new allies, the "Northern Alliance" or the "United Front" sneak into the language now as our brethren, the good guys. Already their name emits a warm glow of security as we imagine our boys going in behind their lines to support them to victory for democracy, freedom, human rights and equality for women. But wait, what's that in the background of all those nightly pictures of our gallant allies? Flitting burkas, just like the Taliban women. Talking to those in the UN, aid agencies and others who have lived there, they all say there is little difference between the two sides beyond old ethnic and tribal allegiances. The Taliban are Pashtuns, the Alliance are an unstable mix of minority ethnic groups. Turn to the Amnesty or Human Rights Watch websites and there are atrocities aplenty on both sides. As for women, a UN official I spoke to was sitting in his office in Kabul back in 1992 when our friends the Alliance barged in to demand all women staff be sent home at once: they banned women from jobs long before the Taliban. Far from a "united" front, this makeshift Alliance are just tribal warlords each with their own supporters abroad, some selling heroin, many with a history of ratting and re-ratting across the battlelines. Their assassinated leader, Ahmad Shah Masood, had a pleasing, French-speaking westernised educated aspect, but his past was hardly savoury. He cannily wooed western support with promises that women can work and girls attend school, with a few women engineers in evidence, but life for women in burkas on both sides of the divide is virtually identical servitude.

Does it mean the war is not worth fighting? No, but it requires extreme circumspection about our allies and no illusions about how difficult it will be to build a stable or half-civilised government. Given the Northern Alliance's past, we should draw up a human rights contract now and make Alliance leaders sign the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, binding them personally against atrocities before fighting begins. Raping, burning, slaughtering and ethnic revenge killings marked their last victorious entry to Kabul. Present eagerness to chase out Bin Laden must not make human rights an afterthought in our intervention in this black hole of humanity. Global moral authority on universal rights and women's equality will matter more in the long run than appeasing the Islamic sensibilities of coalition members now.

This is a rationalist jihad. This war against terrorism is not a war not against moderate Thought-for-the-Day Islam but against the fundamentalism that breeds murderous martyrs. But the war leaders are fudging even this, on anxious visits to Iran where BBC women correspondents are forced into chadors. Women are missing from the story so far when they should be up at the front - literally and metaphorically: this war between reason and unreason is ultimately about them. With such a dearth of satisfactory allies, the coalition should turn to one Afghan group completely ignored so far - the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Their leader was a poet called Meena, who was assassinated by the KGB with fundamentalist help, in exile, in Quetta in 1987. They are secular, sane and working hard in the camps of Pakistan, running schools and clinics. They get no help from any government because rationalist feminists naturally have no sway with any tribal warlords. With all the money now flooding in, pushing these women forward and backing their progressive work would be an act of good faith in a democratic equal rights future. Or will realpolitik come before real women?

Wente: The Taliban's forgotten war on women

By MARGARET WENTE
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

On Fridays, the shops in Kabul close and everyone goes to the stadium. There, they watch as thieves and heretics have their hands cut off. One day, the Taliban brought in three women covered in burqas. A smuggled video shows a man with a microphone reading from the Koran. One of the women, accused of adultery, is led to the centre of the stadium. A man puts a gun to her head and shoots her dead. The video ends.

"The Taliban actually sells popcorn before these events," said Freshta, a young Afghan woman, in a recent interview with a reporter from the West. "Executions have become entertainment for children."

The women of Afghanistan are the most oppressed group of people in the world. Their country has been destroyed by wave on wave of war, and now they live under the tyranny of brutal misogynists. The Taliban believes that females are scarcely more than walking wombs, and they treat them worse than animals. If - when - the Taliban is overthrown, the women of Afghanistan will probably be better off.

Freshta is 26 years old. She belongs to a secret organization known as the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, RAWA. They do not fight with guns. Instead, they set up secret schools to teach girls to read. They offer clandestine medical care to the sick and illegal jobs to women widowed by two decades of war. Many of their members have been killed.

Freshta's job is to bear witness. She and others document and report on Taliban atrocities to the outside world. A video of the summary execution in the stadium was shot by another RAWA member, who hid a camcorder under her burqa, the stifling garment that covers every Afghan woman from head to foot whenever she is in a public place. They communicate by way of the Internet. Their Web site is <http://www.rawa.org/>http://www.rawa.org/

That this group exists at all is testimony to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable hardship.

"Since schools for girls were banned by the Taliban, we run underground home-based classes for girls and literacy courses for women," Saba, another RAWA member, told a New York Times reporter last year. Based now in the Pakistan border city of Quetta, RAWA also runs schools and mobile health clinics in the refugee camps across the border. "If the Taliban caught me inside Afghanistan, they would definitely torture me and kill me, stone me as a prostitute," Saba said.

RAWA was founded in 1977 by Afghan women intellectuals with the aim of expanding women's human rights and working toward a democratic, secular government. There were educated women in Afghanistan then. In a largely illiterate population, they made up 40 per cent of doctors and 70 per cent of teachers.

Then came the Soviets. The women of RAWA resisted the Soviets, but they also resisted the forces of fundamentalism. They were targeted by both sides.

After the Taliban clerics came to power, girls were forbidden to attend school. Women aren't allowed to work, even if they have starving children and no husband or male relatives to support them. A girl can be killed if her hymen is not intact at marriage. Family planning is forbidden, and women cannot be seen by male doctors. Few female doctors are left, and agonizing deaths in childbirth are common.

Perhaps the cruellest rule is the one that requires women to live behind windows covered over with paint, so that no man can see them. Lack of sunlight and a wretched diet has created an epidemic of osteomalacia, a softening of the bones caused by vitamin D deficiency.

Until now, the outside world has turned the other way from the suffering of Afghanistan's women. It took a terrorist attack to get anyone to care about mobilizing against the Taliban.

"The nature and range of crimes perpetrated against Afghan women by fundamentalists has no precedence in modern history," says RAWA. That's true. If what is done to them were done to, say, Christians, it's unlikely the Western world would have turned its back. But after the Soviet defeat, the Americans abandoned Afghanistan for hotter theatres of war.

"No regime . . . that treats women the Taliban way should be allowed access to the community of nations," concluded a UN observer. But the UN did nothing either. There was no will. The Taliban and the terrorists they harbour are condoned or cheered on by millions throughout the Muslim world, including the refugee camps where RAWA does relief work.

RAWA's belief that it is possible to express the Muslim faith through a secular democracy is, simply, heretical to these believers, as is the notion of female equality. And the women of RAWA are nearly as hated outside Afghanistan as in it. "Just talking about women's rights in a system like this is revolutionary," said Zoya, a RAWA member who is just 23.

The Taliban war against the West is also a war against its own women. There is more than one reason to pray the West will somehow prevail.

Risking death to expose the Taliban

By Matt Bean
Court TV

RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, has used its Web site to expose the atrocities of the Taliban regime

Visitors to www.rawa.org, be warned: "This Web site contains photos and links to video footage that some users may find disturbing ... Our Apology: This is the reality of life for the people of Afghanistan."

Since 1977, members of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) have risked death to expose that reality, and more recently have begun doing so online. When the Taliban took power in 1996, members of RAWA, a Pakistan-based group of more than 2,000 Afghan women, began working in secret to document and publicize through the Internet the cruel treatment of women and the people of Afghanistan.

"The Web site has changed so much about what RAWA does," said Sonali Kolhatkar, vice president of the Afghan Women's Mission, a nonprofit group formed to support RAWA from the U.S. "Before, they never had a way to reach the rest of the world. But since RAWA put their Web site out in 1997, [Afghans] have gotten so much attention. Individuals have just been pouring in the support."

With no freedom of the press in Afghanistan, RAWA's efforts have provided the world with some of the only accounts of Taliban atrocities.

The site's contents, obtained through hidden cameras and eyewitness accounts, are painfully vivid. In one image, a Taliban fighter, a teenager, brandishes the severed right hand and left foot of a highway robber punished in that way for his crime. Another shows a woman, covered by the mandatory head-to-toe shroud, a burqa, being beaten for removing part of the garb in public. Many more show men hung from cranes or trees, with onlookers gathered around.

Capturing the abuses and executions surreptitiously is a must for RAWA members, because they do so under threat of death. In 1987, RAWA's founder was assassinated, sending the group underground. Since then, numerous members have been killed or injured during peaceful protests. But the most ominous reminder of their grave task is a 1996 fatwah levied against the group by the ruling Taliban, which threatens any member captured with instant execution.

The group's forthright methods, spearheaded by the Web site, make RAWA unique, says Amelia Wu, who oversees funding for a number of Afghan women's groups as senior program officer for Asia at the Global Fund for Women. "They are the most politically active and vocal of all the Afghan women's groups," she said. "Very few groups are working to actually change the political situation."

But while much of the content on RAWA's site is political, designed to expose the swift, and often brutal, forms of justice carried out against violators of the Taliban's cryptic code of laws, the organization has other goals.

"That's only one component of what they do," says Wu. "The majority of their work is in supporting and empowering Afghan women to lead their daily lives and survive."

The site showcases some of these efforts, including running clandestine schools for women and children in Afghanistan (educating women is illegal under the Taliban), boosting health resources in Pakistan's Afghan refugee camps, opening a number of orphanages, and a recent campaign to reopen a hospital in Malawai, Afghanistan, for women and children.

And now, with the U.S. military focused on the Afghanistan-based ruling Taliban as possible targets for retaliation in the September 11 terrorist attacks, RAWA's role has begun to shift.

The group stays out of touch for reasons of security, appearing rarely in the U.S., and then only under pseudonyms, but a statement on its Web site shows it has already considered the impact of the terrorist acts.

"While we once again announce our solidarity and deep sorrow with the people of the US, we also believe that attacking Afghanistan and killing its most ruined and destitute people will not in any way decrease the grief of the American people," it says. "We sincerely hope that the great American people could DIFFERENTIATE between the people of Afghanistan and a handful of fundamentalist terrorists."

RAWA's many activism fronts will also become more difficult, say those close to the group, because of the clogged Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Kolhatkar says that, since the terrorist attacks, it has become increasingly difficult for RAWA leaders to keep tabs on their members. The clandestine teaching operations, which depended on teachers from Pakistan stealing across the border to hidden schools, are likely to have been halted as well, said Wu.

But despite the increased turmoil and risk of death, the members of RAWA will stay true to their task, says Kolhatkar.

"That's the amazing thing about these women," she says. "They know these are the things they are going to have to deal with when they join RAWA. But they either do nothing, and watch their country disintegrate, or they join in the struggle and risk their lives."

The Independent (UK), Oct.4, 2001

The women's war

Of all the Taliban's many enemies, few oppose them with such bitter passion as the women of Afghanistan, whose place in society is now scarcely higher than that of animals. But some, reports Raymond Whitaker, have taken their lives in their hands to fight for their rights

The sequence lasts only a minute. In a packed football stadium in Kabul, a woman in a blue burqa ­ the head-to-toe covering that the Taliban force every woman to wear in Afghanistan ­ is taken from a vehicle and made to kneel on the edge of the penalty area. A Taliban fighter steps forward with an automatic rifle and shoots her in the back of the head, then pumps several more bullets into her prone body.

The death in 1999 of Zarmeena, a mother of seven who was said to have killed her husband as he slept, has been seen around the world, thanks to another woman who was in the crowd that day. At great risk to herself, she smuggled a digital video camera into the stadium under her burqa and filmed the execution through the gauzy slit which permits the wearer a dim view of her surroundings. She was a member of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which has also filmed public amputations and the stoning of women.

If the world wants to gather the intelligence it needs in Afghanistan to capture the suspected arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden, it could take a few lessons from these women. RAWA is a feminist organisation that has operated more or less undercover for over 20 years in the face of hostility from the Communists, the mujahedin, Islamic fundamentalists, the Taliban ­ and members' own families.

Feminism has never gained much of a foothold in Afghanistan. The virtual imprisonment into which the Taliban have shoved women all over the country ­ never appearing unveiled before any man outside their immediate family, never going out unescorted by a male relative, beaten for laughing or other "immodesty" in public, and certainly never going to a male doctor ­ has been the norm for centuries in the movement's heartland, the rural Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Rulers there attempted to challenge these traditions at their peril. In the 1920s, King Amanullah, fired by Ataturk's reforms in Turkey, called a Loya Jirga, or grand tribal assembly, at which he announced a programme of sweeping modernisation. The climax came when he condemned the subjugation of women, and called on his queen to remove her veil before the assembled elders. Shocked, they returned home to foment a revolt, which forced him to abdicate and flee Kabul in his Rolls-Royce.

It was the 1950s before any further attempt at liberalisation was made, but unveiled women risked having acid thrown in their faces by Muslim zealots such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, later the leader of the most fiercely Islamist mujahedin faction in the war against the Soviet invaders. In some respects, Hekmatyar is more modern than the Taliban ­ he supports education for women, for example ­ but when RAWA was founded, he became one of its most bitter enemies, with fatal results for many of its members.

Ironically, the closest any Afghan woman ever came to enjoying Western-style social freedom was under the puppet governments installed by Moscow, which tried to give them their place in the new revolutionary order. People rarely believe me when I tell them that when I first visited Kabul in 1992, it was possible to see bare-headed female university students in jeans and make-up, smoking in the street. By the time I returned in 1994, the Communists had gone. The capital was ruled by northern-based mujahedin, the forerunner of the Northern Alliance now seeking international help to oust the Taliban, and Hekmatyar was bombarding the city in an attempt to seize power for himself. But middle-class women could still work and move around, wearing just a scarf over their heads.

For their less well-connected sisters, however, it was a different story. They found themselves at the mercy of ill-educated rural fighters who lost all restraint in the urban atmosphere of Kabul, kidnapping and raping women with virtual impunity. Female doctors and civil servants were appalled when the Cromwellian Taliban seized the capital five years ago, and forced them out of their jobs and into burqas, but many others were relieved, at least initially.

The founder of RAWA, known only as Meena, never lived to see the Taliban. She grew up in the days when left-wing rhetoric and feminism were synonymous, and founded her resoundingly named organisation in 1977, when she was a 20-year-old student. Unlike some others of her background, though, Meena did not welcome the Soviet invasion that came two years later. She immediately began organising protest rallies of students and high-school pupils, only to discover that in the brutal struggle between the occupiers and the bearded Islamists who had declared a holy war against them, there was no room for a secular middle-class feminist.

Meena went into exile in Pakistan, but, as it turned out, she was not safe there either. She was assassinated in 1987 in Quetta, where she set up a clinic for women: her organisation blames a combined plot by Khad, the Afghan KGB, and exiled Afghan fundamentalists of Hekmatyar's Hizbe Islami faction, who each had their own reasons for wanting to kill her.

Most of RAWA's activities are now among the two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, where it runs co-educational schools for young children, as well as literacy and handicrafts projects for women. Members in the West help to operate a slick website (www.rawa.org), which includes a clip of Zarmeena's execution. "Thank you for visiting the homepage of the most oppressed women of the world," it says. Even in Pakistan, though, RAWA has to be careful. Under constant harassment and threats from Pakistani as well as Afghan zealots, members use only their first names and usually refuse to be photographed. The website offers a single mobile-phone number: a call brings a visit from Nida, a serious 28-year-old with tinted glasses who is the organisation's director of education. She has to be accompanied by a teenaged male relative.

Nida left Afghanistan when she was 12, but has returned a few times, most recently under the Taliban. "It was a shock," she says. "I had never worn a burqa in my life before, and I could hardly walk in it. But in Kabul, I saw women sitting under them in the hot sun, selling all they owned to make a little money. If you are a woman without a male relative, you are not allowed to go out at all, even to the doctor, and you have to paint the windows of your home black.

"I know it is said that the Taliban restored some order and discipline in Kabul, but they have stolen the soul of the people. I had heard the stories, but when I saw it with my own eyes, it was unbelievable. People are constantly afraid. If they are not killed by hunger, rockets or disease, they fear being imprisoned or put to death for no reason. The Taliban say this is Islamic law, but it's nothing but arrogance. They even said that women must not wear new burqas, only old."

RAWA continues to educate women and children in Afghanistan, but in small groups and under conditions of great secrecy. "It is an underground business," said Nida. "They keep Islamic texts to hand, so that if they are raided by the Taliban, they can appear to be studying Muslim theology, which is all that is permitted." In Pakistan, the organisation does not attach its name to many of the activities it runs, for fear of fundamentalist retaliation; sometimes only the staff of a project know that RAWA is behind it.

Members often come under pressure from their own families. "They do not consider it suitable that we have to spend nights away from home to do our work," says Nida. "Committed women like me tell prospective husbands that we will carry on after we're married, and if they don't like it, we won't marry them. My father supported me, and so does my husband. He's not afraid of the fundamentalists.

"We are waging a two-way struggle: with our families, to make them understand that we have to work for Afghanistan, and with the fundamentalists, who want to keep the country backward. That's why we make a point of educating boys as well as girls, and in the same classroom: to teach them about progress."

Meena was something of a left-wing firebrand, and the organisation she founded has been accused of being Maoist. Nida dismisses this as just one of the calumnies heaped upon RAWA by "ultra male chauvinists". "They say we are whores, and tell people that if they send their children to our schools, we will poison them," she said. It might be closer to the mark to call them middle-class do-gooders, were it not for the fact that what Britons would consider unexceptionable Women's Institute work, carries a potential death sentence here. "Only my family knows I am in RAWA, otherwise my life would be in constant danger," says Nida.

Whatever happens in Afghanistan, activists like Nida face a hard struggle. Hekmatyar is trying to make a comeback from his exile in Iran, the Taliban's attitude to women is medieval, and the Northern Alliance promises social conditions akin to the Thirty Years War. The favoured option of the United Nations, a Loya Jirga presided over by the former king, Zahir Shah, is unlikely to have women's rights on its agenda, especially if ­ as is possible ­ the Taliban take part.

"We know our way is very difficult, and that it will take a very long time to change attitudes," said Nida. "But we never think of stopping. We are prepared to make sacrifice after sacrifice for Afghanistan."

Afghan women defy Taliban

Refugees tell stories of resistance, including secret schools for girls

By Yuka Tachibana

NBC's Ron Allen looks at the life of women in Afghanistan -- held hostage, in effect, by the Taliban.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct. 5 - Fatima is an Afghan refugee living in a camp in the outskirts of this northern Pakistani city. She teaches English to a class of a dozen teen-age Afghan students. In most countries, there would be nothing extraordinary about a classroom full of girls and a female teacher, but for these women it is a hard-won prize. Back home in Afghanistan, a scene like this could bring death to those involved.

IN AFGHANISTAN, under Taliban's harsh regime and its extreme interpretation of Islamic law, women are not allowed to go to school, work or even leave their homes without a close male relative accompanying them. And when they do go outside, women have to cover themselves completely in a burqa - a heavy veil that covers every inch of their body. Even their faces are obscured, with the exception of a thick mesh cloth, which covers their eyes.

Breaking the Taliban's rules can mean anything from flogging, to death by stoning. Many women have ended up on the streets begging for money. Some have even resorted to prostitution in order to buy a piece of bread, women's rights workers say.

A report published in 1999 by the Physicians for Human Rights reveals some shocking statistics: 97 percent of Afghan women are in a state of major depression, 42 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and 21 percent have had suicidal thoughts quite or extremely often.

BEATEN WITH STICKS

"One day, I went to the market with a friend," Fatima said. "Our burqas revealed more of our faces than what the Taliban police found acceptable. So they beat us with sticks - we only pulled the burqas up because the heat was stifling."

Fatima is from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. She taught English until the Taliban came to power five years ago.

"I left Afghanistan because I was no longer allowed to teach. All I could do was sit at home, and do nothing. But I desperately wanted to teach. That's why I came to Pakistan."

If the Taliban had caught Fatima teaching, her fate would have been death by stoning.

An underground Afghan's women's rights group has been defying Taliban's iron fist.

RAWA, or the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan run a network of clandestine home schools where female teachers risk their lives by providing education for young girls.

The group also runs secretly held income-generating projects, so mothers and widows can make handicrafts to sell in the markets.

RAWA member Sahar Saba said that "being a woman in Afghanistan means that women know how to resist, and how to battle the hardships imposed on them. I think RAWA and women who think like us are the biggest examples that we will not so easily give up."

Saba described the Taliban regime as "a handful of brutal, misogynist, uncivilized, uneducated people ruling the country."

WORKING IN THE CAMPS

With the ongoing threat of military attack on Afghanistan by U.S. forces, Saba said RAWA's work inside the country is getting more and more difficult because tens of thousands of people are fleeing cities for rural areas, or crossing the border into Pakistan. But RAWA's work doesn't stop in Afghanistan.

In refugee camps located in Pakistan, the organization runs schools and income generating projects for women who managed to escape the Taliban oppression back home.

Fatima's school is run by RAWA. "Here in Pakistan, we are far away from the Taliban, so we no longer live in fear. In Afghanistan, they can impose their rules, but here we are free. They cannot do anything to us here. So I feel safe."

Although Fatima herself may now be beyond Taliban's reach, she still would not give her real name out of fear the Taliban would recognize her and harm family she left behind in Afghanistan.

HORROR STORIES

Fatima has lived in this refugee camp for three years. There are hundreds of thousands of Afghan women living in camps in the outskirts of Peshawar, 50 miles from the border with Afghanistan.

And it's not difficult to find horror stories of living under Taliban rule.

Zeiba arrived in Pakistan in July after fleeing her village in northern Afghanistan. The 21-year-old said she lost her husband to the Taliban. Zeiba and her husband had only been married for a month before he disappeared.

"One night the Taliban came to our village. They rounded up all the men and tied them up and even blinded-folded them. We cried and begged them to let the men go. But instead, they beat us all, women, children and the men, with their rifles. The men were then taken away and executed."

Zeiba said her husband's only crime was to be a Shiite Muslim. The Taliban belong to the majority Sunni Muslim sect, and human rights organizations have frequently criticized the militia for their treatment of Shiites.

"The Taliban has destroyed my life - not just my life but the lives of all women in Afghanistan," Zeiba said, trembling and wiping tears from her eyes.

Zeiba's home these days is a RAWA-run orphanage in the same refugee camp where Fatima teaches and lives.

She spends her days learning how to read and write at Fatima's school.

"I'm not educated, but I want to learn. I want to be a teacher so I can help my people back in Afghanistan."

SIGNS OF DEFIANCE

Thirteen-year-old Belqis fled Afghanistan with her family in August. While living in Kabul, she only managed to receive five months of education. Now in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, she goes to a RAWA school and studies with children half her age, "I want to be a doctor, because there are lots of people suffering in my country and I want to help them."

Belqis has made it to the top of her class.

Away from the voices of children in the classrooms, there is an eerie silence in the school principal's office, where a shelf displays drawings created by students. The pictures show women being beaten, or being arrested by the Taliban. The artwork is a stark reminder of what continues to haunt Afghanistan's women.

Back at the refugee camp in Peshawar, widow Zeiba is defiant. "We want the Taliban finished," she says. "I'm fortunate. I'm here now, and I'm not under the control of the Taliban, but my country is not free. The women in Afghanistan are not free. We hope that the day will come when there will be no sign of Taliban, so we don't have to live in fear."

NBC producer Yuka Tachibana is on assignment in Pakistan.

Poor Rights Record of Opposition Commanders

Human Rights Watch , Oct.6, 2001

 

(New York, October 6, 2001) - A number of commanders associated with the emerging coalition of opposition forces in Afghanistan have a record of serious human rights abuse, Human Rights Watch said in <http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghan-bck1005.htm>a backgrounder released today.

"The U.S. and its allies should not cooperate with commanders whose record of brutality raises questions about their legitimacy inside Afghanistan," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Any country that gives assistance to the Afghan opposition must take responsibility for how this assistance is used."

Human Rights Watch urged in particular that no cooperation be extended to Abdul Rashid Dostum, the head of the Junbish militia; Haji Muhammad Muhaqqiq, a senior commander of Hizb-i Wahdat; Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the erstwhile Ittihad-i Islami; and Abdul Malik Pahlawan, a former senior Junbish commander.

Abuses that were reported from an area controlled by a United Front faction in late 1999 and early 2000 include summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban. Children, including those under the age of fifteen, have been recruited by both the United Front and Taliban.

The various parties that comprise the United Front also amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996.

"Not a single Afghan commander has been held accountable for human rights abuses," said Jones. "The time to break this cycle of impunity is now, and the United States and its allies will have the leverage to do it."

Military Assistance to the Afghan Opposition
Human Rights Watch Backgrounder
October 2001

To respond to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the United States government has begun to put together what it calls a coalition against terrorism. As part of this approach, the United States has signalled support for the creation of a broad-based coalition to oppose the Taliban, the current rulers of most of Afghanistan. This opposition would include forces that presently constitute the United Front--also known under its former name the Northern Alliance--as well as Taliban defectors. Some commanders with experience in the guerrilla war against Soviet occupation in 1979-1989, but not now in the United Front, may also be drawn into the new coalition. A number of present and former commanders who may be eager to assume positions of leadership in the coalition have a long record of serious human rights abuse in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that unqualified support--military, political, diplomatic, financial--for this new coalition, which may come to constitute the basis for a future government of Afghanistan, will encourage further abuses. In responding to the crimes against humanity of September 11, the United States should not resort to means that themselves violate basic human rights and humanitarian law standards, or provide assistance to forces that do.

Support for the Afghan Opposition

While the United States says it has so far provided no arms to the Afghan opposition, recent media reports suggest that it is gearing up to provide financial and possibly military support to the United Front and other armed Afghan groups. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on September 30, 2001: "There are any number of people in Afghanistan, tribes in the south, the northern alliance in the north, that oppose Taliban [sic]. And clearly we need to recognize the value they bring to this anti-terrorist, anti-Taliban effort - and where appropriate, find ways to assist them." The administration declined to comment on reports that the United States was offering covert financial support to the United Front.

The United Front could use new funds to replenish its stocks with arms purchases from Russia. Russia, along with Iran, has been one of the United Front's main arms suppliers during recent years; both have significant strategic interests in Afghanistan, and both have reaffirmed their support for the United Front in recent days. The Russian minister of defense, Sergei Ivanov, said on September 26 that Russia had been "rendering assistance continuously to the Northern Alliance since 1996." A day earlier, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would "expand cooperation with the internationally recognized Afghan government of Rabbani and give its armed forces additional assistance in the form of weapons supplies." The Russian president was referring to the United Front's political arm, the Islamic State of Afghanistan, headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, which has occupied Afghanistan's seat in the United Nations since its ouster from Kabul in 1996. In Iran, the defense minister, Ali Shamkhani, told reporters on October 1, 2001: "We continue to support the Northern Alliance as in the past," and replied "yes" when asked if that meant supplying them with arms. (The level and nature of past military support provided by Russia and Iran to the United Front has been detailed in a Human Rights Watch report, "Crisis of Impunity: The Role of Pakistan, Russia, and Iran in Fueling the Civil War in Afghanistan," available at <http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/afghan2/>http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/afghan2.)

What Is the United Front/Northern Alliance?

In 1996, when the Taliban captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, the groups opposed to the Taliban formed an alliance called the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, commonly known as the United Front. The United Front supports the government ousted by the Taliban, the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA). The president of the ousted government, Burhanuddin Rabbani, remains the president of the ISA and is the titular head of the United Front. For the past year his headquarters have been in the northern Afghan town of Faizabad. The real power was, until his assassination in September 2001, the United Front's military leader, Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was also the ISA's minister of defense. The precise membership of the United Front has varied from time to time, but includes:

Jamiat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereinafter known as Jamiat-i Islami). Jamiat-i Islami was one of the original Islamist parties in Afghanistan, established in the 1970s by students at Kabul University where its leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was a lecturer at the Islamic Law Faculty. Although Rabbani remains the official head of Jamiat-i Islami, the most powerful figure within the party was Ahmad Shah Massoud. Both Rabbani and Massoud are ethnic Tajiks (Persian-speaking Sunni Muslims) but from different areas. Massoud's ethnic power base has historically been in Parwan and Takhar provinces in the northeast, where he established a regional administrative structure in the late 1980s, the Supervisory Council of the North (SCN, Shura-yi Nazar-i Shamali). Massoud's forces have received significant military and other support from Iran and Russia, in particular.

Hizb-i Wahdat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, hereinafter known as Hizb-i Wahdat). The principal Shi'a party in Afghanistan with support mainly among the Hazara ethnic community, Hizb-i Wahdat was originally formed by Abdul Ali Mazari in order to unite eight Shi'a parties in the run-up to the anticipated collapse of the communist government. Its current leader is Muhammad Karim Khalili. The leader of its Executive Council of the North, Haji Muhammad Muhaqqiq, commanded the party's forces in Mazar-i Sharif in 1997. Hizb-i Wahdat has received significant military and other support from Iran, although relations between Iranian authorities and party leaders have been strained over issues of control. The party has also received significant support from local Hazara traders.

Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, hereinafter known as Junbish). Junbish brought together northern, mostly ethnic Uzbek, former militias of the communist regime who mutinied against President Najibullah in early 1992. It also included mainly Persian-speaking former leaders and administrators of the old regime from various other ethnic groups, and some ethnic Uzbek guerrilla commanders. In 1998 it lost all of the territory under its control, and many of its commanders have since defected to the Taliban. Its founder and principal leader was Abdul Rashid Dostum, who rose from security guard to leader of Najibullah's most powerful militia. One of Dostum's principal deputies was Abdel Malik Pahlawan. This group took control of the important northern city of Mazar-i Sharif in alliance with other groups in early 1992 and controlled much of Samangan, Balkh, Jowzjan, Faryab, and Baghlan provinces. A coalition of militias, the Junbish was the strongest force in the north from 1992 to 1997, but was riven by internal disputes. Since the fall of Mazar in 1998 the Junbish has largely been inactive, although Dostum returned to northern Afghanistan in April 2001.

Harakat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan). This is a Shi'a party that never joined Hizb-i Wahdat, led by Ayatollah Muhammad Asif Muhsini, and which was allied with Jamiat-i Islami in 1993-1995. Its leadership is mostly non-Hazara Shi'a. Its most prominent commander is General Anwari. The group has received support from Iran.

Ittihad-i Islami Bara-yi Azadi Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). This party is headed by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. During the war against the Soviet occupation, Sayyaf obtained considerable assistance from Saudi Arabia. Arab volunteers supported by Saudi entrepreneurs fought with Sayyaf's forces.

The United Front's Human Rights Record

Throughout the civil war in Afghanistan, the major factions on all sides have repeatedly committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including killings, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling, direct attacks on civilians, summary executions, rape, persecution on the basis of religion or ethnicity, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, and the use of antipersonnel landmines. Many of these violations can be shown to have been "widespread or systematic," a criterion of crimes against humanity. Although committed in an internal armed conflict, violations involving indiscriminate attacks or direct attacks on civilians are increasingly being recognized internationally as amounting to war crimes.

Abuses committed by factions belonging to the United Front have been well documented. Many of the violations of international humanitarian law committed by the United Front forces described below date from 1996-1998 when they controlled most of the north and were within artillery range of Kabul. Since then, what remains of the United Front forces have been pushed back into defensive positions in home territories in northeastern and central Afghanistan following a series of military setbacks. There have nevertheless been reports of abuses in areas held temporarily by United Front factions, including summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban. Children, including those under the age of fifteen, have been recruited as soldiers and used to fight against Taliban forces. The various parties that comprise the United Front also amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996.

Violations of international humanitarian law committed by United Front factions include:

Late 1999 - early 2000: Internally displaced persons who fled from villages in and around Sangcharak district recounted summary executions, burning of houses, and widespread looting during the four months that the area was held by the United Front. Several of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of members of the victims' families. Those targeted in the attacks were largely ethnic Pashtuns and, in some cases, Tajiks.

September 20-21, 1998: Several volleys of rockets were fired at the northern part of Kabul, with one hitting a crowded night market. Estimates of the number of people killed ranged from seventy-six to 180. The attacks were generally believed to have been carried out by Massoud's forces, who were then stationed about twenty-five miles north of Kabul. A spokesperson for United Front commander Ahmad Shah Massoud denied targeting civilians. In a September 23, 1998, press statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross described the attacks as indiscriminate and the deadliest that the city had seen in three years.

Late May 1997: Some 3,000 captured Taliban soldiers were summarily executed in and around Mazar-i Sharif by Junbish forces under the command of Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlawan. The killings followed Malik's withdrawal from a brief alliance with the Taliban and the capture of the Taliban forces who were trapped in the city. Some of the Taliban troops were taken to the desert and shot, while others were thrown down wells and then blown up with grenades.

January 5, 1997: Junbish planes dropped cluster munitions on residential areas of Kabul. Several civilians were killed and others wounded in the indiscriminate air raid, which also involved the use of conventional bombs.

March 1995: Forces of the faction operating under Commander Massoud, the Jamiat-i Islami, were responsible for rape and looting after they captured Kabul's predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Karte Seh from other factions. According to the U.S. State Department's 1996 report on human rights practices in 1995, "Massood's troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women."

On the night of February 11, 1993 Jamiat-i Islami forces and those of another faction, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittihad-i Islami, conducted a raid in West Kabul, killing and "disappearing" ethnic Hazara civilians, and committing widespread rape. Estimates of those killed range from about seventy to more than one hundred.

In addition, the parties that constitute the United Front have committed other serious violations of internationally recognized human rights. In the years before the Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan, these parties had divided much of the country among themselves while battling for control of Kabul. In 1994 alone, an estimated 25,000 were killed in Kabul, most of them civilians killed in rocket and artillery attacks. One-third of the city was reduced to rubble, and much of the remainder sustained serious damage. There was virtually no rule of law in any of the areas under the factions' control. In Kabul, Jamiat-i Islami, Ittihad, and Hizb-i Wahdat forces all engaged in rape, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, torture, and "disappearances." In Bamiyan, Hizb-i Wahdat commanders routinely tortured detainees for extortion purposes.

Accountability and the Cycle of Impunity

To date, not a single Afghan commander has been held accountable for violations of international humanitarian law. Nor has the United Front, in particular, indicated any willingness to bring to justice any of its commanders with a record of human rights abuse. To the contrary, the representative of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (and the United Front) in the United States, Mohammed Eshaq, remarked in response to a question at a public event in Washington, D.C., on October 2, 2001 that United Front atrocities have been "exaggerated," and that while "criminals should answer to a courtit should not be a demand that all the heads of the United Front should be taken to court," as this would not be "practical."

The United Front's failure to hold its commanders to account for atrocities committed in the past raises the prospect that they will revert to the same practices should they be given the opportunity to do so. Having suffered a series of military setbacks, the United Front has been increasingly pushed back into its "home" territory in recent years. But should its political fortunes turn with United States or other external support, their past record of abuse and impunity gives no reason to believe that abusive commanders will feel discouraged from committing further abuses. Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that United Front factions may seek retaliation against the Taliban, and ethnic Pashtuns generally, if, for example, the United Front succeeds in recapturing Mazar-i Sharif.

The provision of unqualified material and political assistance under such circumstances, rather than sending a signal that human rights abuse is not condoned, would serve to embolden these very same commanders. Such support may feed rather than break the lethal cycle of impunity that has brought so much suffering to the people of Afghanistan. It is for this reason that the United States, Russia, Iran and any other states providing assistance to the Afghan opposition must take responsibility for how this assistance is used. Their failure to do so would entail a degree of complicity in any abuses that may be committed, and they should therefore be held accountable for these abuses.

Leahy Law

In the United States, assistance to units of foreign security forces that have committed gross violations of human rights is expressly prohibited by law. Known as the Leahy Law, this consists of two provisions in the appropriations acts for Fiscal Year 2001. The Leahy Law applies to the Islamic State of Afghanistan and its military arm, the United Front, because the ISA remains the internationally recognized government of Afghanistan. Section 563 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 prohibits the provision of funds available under the act "to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice." Likewise, Section 8092(a) of the Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 prohibits the provision of funds made available under the act "to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the Department of State that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken." This latter provision may be waived in "extraordinary circumstances."

Human Rights Watch's Recommendations

To break the lethal cycle of impunity, Human Rights Watch calls on the United States, Russia, Iran, and any other states providing, or intending to provide, direct or indirect military, political, diplomatic, or financial assistance of any kind through bilateral or multilateral channels to the factions of the United Front or any other armed Afghan opposition groups to:

Actively discourage and refuse to support in any way any group or coalition that includes commanders with a record of serious violations of international humanitarian law standards, including, but not exclusive of, Abdul Rashid Dostum, the head of the Uzbek militia known as the Junbish; Haji Muhammad Muhaqqiq, a senior commander of the Hizb-i Wahdat; Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the erstwhile Ittihad-i Islami; and Abdul Malik Pahlawan, a former senior Junbish commander.

Condition any military or financial support for the United Front, its individual factions, or any other armed Afghan opposition group on firm commitments that they respect international human rights and humanitarian law, and allow U.N. and independent monitors to assess their compliance with these standards. Make it clear that serious violations could result in having aid terminated.

Condition any military or financial support for the United Front, its individual factions, or any other armed Afghan opposition group on a firm commitment not to use antipersonnel landmines.

In accordance with international standards, insist that the United Front end all recruitment and use of children under the age of eighteen as soldiers and take immediate steps to demobilize children currently in its ranks.

Press the United Front to bring to justice any of its personnel, including former commanders, who have been implicated in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Make any aid to armed Afghan opposition groups conditional on their granting full access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to areas under the control of these groups and detainees under their control.

Avoid cooperative activities that will be read by human rights abusers--and the general population--as implying support for abusive practices.

Additionally, to the Government of the United States:

Implement the Leahy Law strictly, without waivers.

Monitor any assistance given to the United Front or any other Afghan opposition groups, and report how this assistance is used and whether these groups comply with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Female Foes of Taliban Seeking Support Abroad
Afghan Group Says Women Are Angry, Want Freedom and Rights Restored

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 8, 2001; Page A02

She uses a fictional name, communicates by cell phone and traveled here from Pakistan days ago under a cloak of secrecy. Tahmeena Faryal, as she calls herself, is a member of the Afghan women's resistance, working to end Taliban rule and to drum up more support for their cause.

Faryal's group, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), runs secret schools and employment sites for women and girls inside Afghanistan, where they are barred from both. RAWA, which was founded two decades ago and claims 2,000 core members in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also aids some of the hundreds of thousands of women and children who have fled the Taliban and are huddled in refugee camps on the Pakistan border.

In what may be its most daring work, RAWA brings brutal images of Taliban rule to the world beyond Afghan borders through its Internet site, www.rawa.org. RAWA members have photographed scenes of privation and punishment and even the public execution of a! woman in a Kabul sports stadium. They have risked their lives to capture the images using small cameras smuggled into the country and carried under the tent-like burka garments women are forced to wear.

"Women of Afghanistan are very, very angry," Faryal said in an interview, explaining what motivates such risky ventures. "They are hopeless, helpless, but they are also very angry."

In the early 1990s, Afghan women in Kabul and other cities went to schools and universities, showed their faces and wore Western clothes. Nearly half the doctors and more than half the teachers in Afghanistan were women.

But since the Taliban came to power in 1996, women's rights and freedoms have been all but eliminated. Women in Taliban-controlled areas must paint their windows so no one can see them. They cannot leave their homes unless they wear a burka and are in the company of a male relative.

If the Taliban weaken, Faryal said, "the burka would definitely be thrown! out in Afghanistan with anger."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, RAWA has increased its efforts to build support among humanitarian and women's rights groups around the world.Hence, Faryal's visit here.

Her life may be at risk when she returns to Pakistan if her identity becomes known, so she says little about herself other than that she is in her mid-twenties and from Kabul.

Her organization wants Americans to know that the Afghan people are not the enemy and that they, in fact, have been terrorized by their own government. And the group wants to caution the United States against building up the Afghan Northern Alliance, which RAWA says has a history of lawlessness and violence that exceeds even that of the Taliban.

"It's important not to bring the Northern Alliance to power," she said. "We want a government based on democratic values. That is not possible with the fundamentalists in power."

As the United State! s preparedto hunt down Saudi exile Osama bin Laden in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, it is gauging the political strength of his military ally, the Taliban. One factor in that calculation is the existence of women's resistance organizations, which persist despite the risk of death or imprisonment.

"They have a lot of energy, and women are half the country," said a State Department official. Women's resistance groups, he said, "have a place along with the other Afghani groups in charting the future for their country -- in trying to establish a broad-based government for their country."

RAWA is in touch with refugees in Pakistan who go back and forth to Afghanistan, so members are kept current about conditions in the cities and on the refugee routes. But because women in Afghanistan are so far removed from political discourse and decision-making, U.S. officials said it is unlikely that they would know much that would aid the United States or its allies in it! s military planning.

Taliban women and those associated with bin Laden's forces are especially cut off from what is happening, even in their own part of the world.

"Women in rural areas are not going to have much information because they are not out in public. They stay behind the walls and work in the fields," said Thomas Gouttierre, a State Department consultant and dean at the University of Nebraska's Center for Afghanistan Studies. "They have no transportation. They do go to bazaars, but once a season or less."

Gouttierre said there is no mixing between the Taliban women and Arab women in Kandahar who are relatives of bin Laden troops.

Some of bin Laden's Arab followers have taken Afghan wives, said Sima Wali of Refugee Women in Development, which has aided women in Afghanistan and whose work has been recognized by Amnesty International. Often the marriages are not by choice, she said, and the women are forced to undergo female circumcision. "Thei! r own women are unhappy. What woman would opt for that surgery?" But, they are so cut off, Wali said, "no one knows what their concerns are."

Wali's humanitarian organization, like RAWA, helps fund clandestine schools and textile workshops run out of urban homes in Taliban-controlled areas. But the two groups do not share the same goals.

"RAWA is very controversial," Wali said, stating that RAWA comes from the extreme left of the political spectrum. "They don't represent the Afghan norm," she said, though she acknowledges that they are well organized and have garnered substantial resources from the West.

"Women in Afghanistan are so besieged," Wali said. "They are hungry. They want jobs and education."

Faryal readily acknowledges RAWA has a political agenda that separates it from organizations that provide humanitarian aid.

RAWA's founder, Meena (many Afghans use only one name), was assassinated in 1987 by fundamentalists and the Russian KGB, ac! cording to the organization.

"Hers was a powerful voice for the liberation of women and the liberation of our country," Faryal said. Meena's death is a reminder, she said, "always to try to be very careful."

"RAWA members have been very careful. If they were arrested, the same execution could happen to them."

Unholy alliance

West's new allies include vitriolic anti-Americans, human-rights violators, former allies of Osama bin Laden and more ...

The Toronto Star, Oct.7, 2001
Thomas Walkom, STAFF REPORTER


THE WEST'S new Afghan friends in the war against terrorism and the Taliban are a curious lot. They include Islamic fundamentalists, vitriolic anti-Americans, human-rights violators, one-time allies of Osama bin Laden and soldiers of the former communist regime.

Officially, they are known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. Unofficially, they call themselves the Northern Alliance.

The terror attacks on the United States have given them a boost in their five-year-old war against the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic regime that rules almost all of Afghanistan.

Already, U.S officials are hinting they'll provide weapons to the alliance's estimated 15,000 troops, on top of the non-military aid Washington has been giving since 1998.

Western journalists, too, have rediscovered the alliance and are busy reporting on what some are already calling Afghanistan's new freedom fighters.

But the history of the key players in the Northern Alliance suggests they may prove difficult allies in the U.S.-led war against terror. An uneasy coalition, bound as much by mutual hatred as by dislike of the ruling Taliban, their relations with one another over the past decade have been marked by treachery, backstabbing and a level of deviousness so profound that the word Byzantine cannot do it justice.

"They may not be perfect," acknowledges Mike Vickers, a former officer with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and now director of strategic studies for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgeting Assessments. "But the Northern Alliance does have some good elements."

At times, those good elements are hard to find.

Senior members of the alliance, including former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and northern warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, a key ally of the Soviet Union during that country's attempt to occupy Afghanistan, have been cited by the U.S. for human-rights abuses.

Deputy-premier Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the alliance's number two political figure, is a hard-line, vehemently anti-American Islamic fundamentalist who is so strict on the subject of separation of the sexes that, according to one Associated Press report, he won't even speak to women.

Yet another figure in the alliance, eastern warlord Haji Abdul Qadir, was Osama bin Laden's first sponsor in Afghanistan when the Saudi millionaire ó already wanted at the time by the U.S. for his alleged involvement in anti-American terrorist attacks ó fled to that country in 1996. At different times, both Rabbani and Dostum have found themselves in informal alliances with the Taliban and occasionally against each other.

At other times, the various factions have cheerfully massacred one another. In 1993, according to the non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch, Rabbani's Society of Islam killed 70 to 100 members of the Hazara minority linked to the rival Party of Islamic Unity, another member of the Northern Alliance.

Two years later, according to the U.S. State Department, Rabbani forces ó under the command of Ahmed Shah Massood (celebrated by Western journalists as the "Lion of the Panjshir" until his untimely assassination last month) ó went on another anti-Hazara rampage "systematically looting whole streets and raping women."

As for the shifting loyalties of the Northern Alliance members, these are so numerous as to make the head ache.

In 1994, Rabbani's Society of Islam was informally allied to the Taliban in an effort to defeat the rival Party of Islam of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Islamic fundamentalist who, during the decade-long war against the Soviet Union, had been sponsored by the CIA.

A year later, Rabbani and Hekmatyar allied with each other to fight the Taliban.

And now Hekmatyar, in exile in Iran, is opposed to both Rabbani and the Taliban.

Dostum's career is even more complicated. From 1979 to 1992, he was allied with the communist government in Kabul. As that government was about to fall, Dostum switched loyalties to join the anti-communist mujahideen "freedom fighters."

When the various mujahideen factions had a falling out, he first allied himself with Rabbani to fight Hekmatyar. Later, he joined Hekmatyar to fight Rabbani.

By 1995, he was supporting the Taliban against both Hekmatyar and Rabbani. By 1996, he was allied with his two former enemies against the Taliban.

Up to now, the U.S. and other Western countries have kept a respectable distance from the Northern Alliance.

The United Nations recognizes Rabbani's Islamic State of Afghanistan as the legitimate government of the country. But except for India, Iran, Russia and a few Central Asian states, almost no one else does.

Neither Canada nor the U.S. has recognized any government in Afghanistan since 1979.

Then, there is the drug question. Until last year, about three-quarters of the world's heroin came from Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance used profits from opium production and drug smuggling to finance their war against each another.

Last July, in a move to win acceptance from the U.S., the Taliban banned opium production in the 95 per cent of Afghanistan it controls. While the U.S. was initially skeptical, it finally acknowledged this year that the Taliban proscription was working.

Much to the embarrassment of those who would support Rabbani's forces, however, the Northern Alliance merrily continues in the heroin trade.

According to the U.S. State Department, virtually the entire Afghan opium crop this year ó about 77 tonnes ó was grown in territories controlled by the alliance. Russian media report that the heroin manufactured from that opium is smuggled to Europe and America through neighbouring states such as Tajikistan.

To the outsider, the convoluted interrelations of the Northern Alliance might seem pure pathology.

But those who know Afghanistan say the alliance's history ó and indeed the history of the Taliban ó can be understood only in light of the country's tribal, ethnic and social divisions.

Afghanistan is a melange of peoples. The largest group, the Pashtun, who inhabit the southern parts of the country near Pakistan, are thought to comprise anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent of the population.

Tajiks, who tend to live in the northeast, form the next largest group. Smaller minorities include the Hazara of the west (roughly 15 to 20 per cent) and the Uzbeks of the northwest.

Unlike most Afghanis (who are Sunni Muslims), the Hazara tend to be Shi'ite, with links to Iran. Traditionally, the Hazara have also faced more discrimination than the other groups.

For more than 100 years, a Pashtun clan, the Muhammadzai, dominated the country and provided the kings, including the current exiled monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah.

The Muhammadzai also provided the governing elite, which made efforts, often bitterly opposed by religious conservatives, to make Afghanistan more closely resemble the West.

(In 1926, one king who tried to follow Turkey's lead by requiring women to give up the burqa, or head-to-toe veil, was forced to flee the country).

"The government in Afghanistan was like a club for the Muhammadzais," noted Barnett Rubin, an expert on the region and head of New York University's Center on International Co-operation, in an interview with the U.S.-based Asia Society this year.

"This is why so many other newly educated elites who were not Muhammadzais resented them and became Islamists or radical nationalists or communists or Maoists."

Meanwhile, in the countryside, local tribal leaders and, to a lesser extent, local religious leaders remained powerful.

Tensions finally came to a head in 1973. The king was deposed by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud, who proclaimed a republic and began ó with the help of the U.S. and the Soviet Union ó to accelerate the pace of reform.

Daoud's move met instant opposition. Islamists ó including Rabbani, Hekmatyar and Massood ó fled to Pakistan to plot against the regime.

Pakistani authorities, alarmed by Daoud's support for carving out an independent Pashtun state in their country, eagerly welcomed the Islamist dissidents.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, other anti-Daoud forces, including many in the military, coalesced around what was, in effect, the Communist party.

In 1978, the more radical wing of the communists seized power in a military coup. Their ambitious social and land reform plans, as well as their murderous repression of political enemies, sent the country spiralling into chaos.

A year later, the Soviets invaded and installed in power the more moderate, pro-Moscow wing of the Communist party. That only worsened the crisis. It also brought the U.S. into the fray as chief sponsor of the anti-Soviet mujahideen.

Whatever peace had existed among the country's competing groups evaporated during the bitter 10-year war.

Nominally, the mujahideen were all friends. In fact, there was constant friction. Rabbani and Massood were Tajiks.

Hekmatyar and his forces were Pashtun. Hazaras gravitated towards the Shi'ite Party of Islamic Unity, now controlled by Karim Khalili.

In the northwest, the country's Uzbek minority under Dostum made peace with the Soviets and war on the mujahideen.

Not only were the Uzbeks different ethnically, they also were less militantly Islamic. (Dostum himself drove an armoured Cadillac and vowed he would never bow to those who banned whiskey).

The Soviets withdrew in 1989 and the communist government fell in 1992. It was at this point that the pent-up ethnic, regional and religious tensions spilled into view.

At one level, the complex series of alliances and betrayals among the mujahideen factions, the Taliban and Dostum's Uzbeks that characterize the past nine years boiled down to simple turf protection.

Each faction had its own base. The point was to oppose anyone who threatened it. For each faction, today's ally could always be tomorrow's enemy.

Vickers, the former CIA agent, acknowledges the difficulty of backing a Northern Alliance that isn't really an alliance.

But, he says, the U.S. doesn't have much choice.

"The Taliban is the central objective here. Air power won't deal with them. We will need ground forces.

"The question is: Whose ground forces? That's why the opposition looks attractive ....

"They may not be perfect. But the question is: Is it better to use them or to use Western ground troops?"

Ultimately, however, Vickers and other analysts say the problem the U.S. faces is political.

To Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, the Pashtun, the Northern Alliance is a melange of old tribal enemies.

"It's not that they (the alliance) are horrible," says Vickers." You don't have to demonize them to see that (without a Pashtun component) it won't work."

Presumably, this is what the deposed king is supposed to offer: Mohammed Zahir Shah is Pashtun.

But the 86-year-old ex-monarch has been away from the action for 28 years and, as Vickers points out, the king's Muhammadzai clan was "not great to the minorities."

Still, there appears to be no other anti-Taliban Pashtun leader on the scene who is even remotely credible.

Would Afghanistan be better off with the Taliban replaced by the alliance?

Vickers, expressing the common wisdom, says it couldn't be worse.

But others point out that the position of women, for instance, is not expected to improve greatly under a Northern Alliance government.

They note that Sayyaf, in particular, tried to introduce his rigorous brand of Islamic law to the parts of Afghanistan he and Rabbani controlled well before the Taliban became a force.

In 1992, for instance, when Rabbani, Sayyaf, Massood and other mujahideen finally captured the country's cosmopolitan capital, Kabul, one of their first acts was to ban the use of female newsreaders on television.

Two years later, and still before the Taliban took Kabul, the United Nations reported that women in the capital were being told to quit their jobs and wear the full-length burqa.

Women who didn't comply were liable to be raped by members of the various mujahideen militias that prowled the city.

Ironically, Afghan women did better ó in Western terms ó under the communist government that the West so vehemently opposed. Still, as far as the war against terrorism goes, the welfare of Afghanistan is seen as secondary.

The point is to get bin Laden.

"I don't want more civil war," says Vickers. "But I suppose even chaos is better than what we have."

Training Camp of Another Kind

In Pakistan, defiant young Afghan women bent on reversing years of brutal oppression study and plan. To them, the conflict has no good guys.

By RONE TEMPEST
TIMES STAFF WRITER

October 15 2001

KHAIWA REFUGEE CAMP, Pakistan -- The sprawling refugee camps on the Pakistani-Afghan border have long been breeding grounds for male militants in Afghanistan--first for the moujahedeen fighters who battled the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and, more recently, for the fundamentalist Taliban.

But here in the dusty, abused terrain of Pakistan's northwestern frontier, the Khaiwa refugee camp is a uniquely feminist outpost.

Women in the Khaiwa camp shun the head-to-toe raiment known as a burka. Girls study science and Koranic scripture in a mud-walled school and dream of attending university. The camp's male physician, Dr. Qaeeum, vows that his infant daughter will be educated "from cradle to grave, until PhD." Khaiwa is a training ground for a different kind of fighter: intense young women bent on reversing the trend of female oppression that has helped hurtle Afghanistan into a new dark age.

For the female activists based here, there are no good guys among the factions battling for supremacy in their homeland--not in the notorious Taliban and not in the opposition Northern Alliance. They worry that in the international rush to bring down the Taliban, the United States and its allies will form partnerships with the Northern Alliance or with other groups that also have a history of brutally oppressing women.

"The devil is the brother of evil. The dog is the brother of the wolf," Khaiwa camp school Principal Abeda Mansoor said in her native Dari language. "We condemn both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance."

Mansoor, a former geography teacher in Afghanistan, is a 16-year member of the Revolutionary Assn. of the Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA, a small but influential rights group that sends women on dangerous missions into Afghanistan to set up clandestine schools for girls and to use hidden cameras to document abuse of women. Under the Taliban's harsh version of Islam, girls cannot attend school and women are prohibited from working outside the home.

Displayed on the association's Web site at http://www.rawa.org, secretly taken photos and videos of public executions and floggings have played a major role in building international opposition to the Taliban. The recent critically acclaimed documentary "Beneath the Veil," by London-based filmmaker Saira Shah, was made with the help of RAWA workers who escorted Shah in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, the group operates hospitals, schools and orphanages in the camps where 2 million Afghan refugees live. But even here, their activities remain mostly secret. Taliban-style fundamentalism thrives in many of the camps. A recent RAWA human rights procession in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, was attacked by stick-wielding fundamentalist students.

But the Khaiwa camp, in the middle of a rutted quarry surrounded by smoking brick kilns, is an island of tolerance. It is small and exceptional, home to only 500 families. But it is a microcosm of what Afghanistan might resemble if it was freed of religious extremism and civil war.

Safora Wali, 30, manages the camp's small orphanage, home to 20 Afghan girls ages 6 to 19. A former student at Kabul University in the Afghan capital, Wali also teaches older women in the camp how to read.

"My oldest student is 45 years old," Wali said. "She's so happy now to be able to read letters from her relatives. She told me, 'I now know the pleasure of my eyes.' "

The Khaiwa camp was founded in the early 1980s by one of the more enlightened moujahedeen commanders, who believed in universal education. He allowed RAWA workers into the camp to teach and counsel the families. The camp eventually became known as an open-minded haven for the RAWA activists, who run the 450-student school and the orphanage.

Wali came to the camp last year from western Afghanistan after Taliban authorities found her distributing RAWA literature and she was forced to flee.

In Afghanistan, Khaiwa is known as a place to send girls who are threatened by either the religious restrictions of the Taliban or the sexual aggression of Afghan warlords.

Danish, 15, said she was sent here after her father was killed by agents of the former Communist government in Kabul. She said her mother still lives in Afghanistan but could no longer protect her.

Like the other girls in the four-room adobe orphanage, she wants to finish high school and reenter Afghanistan as a RAWA operative--teaching in underground home schools.

When asked by a reporter how many of them planned to go to work for RAWA, all but the youngest of the 20 girls raised their hands.

Women in Afghanistan have suffered a long history of repression punctuated by brief periods of progressive leadership.

Inspired by the reforms of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, self-styled King Amanullah lifted the veil of subjugation for a short period in the late 1920s. But women in Afghan cities probably enjoyed their greatest freedom during the Soviet-backed Communist regime that ruled in Kabul from 1979 to 1992.

RAWA was founded in the capital in 1977. But its founder, known by the single name Meena, opposed the Soviet occupation and joined resistance forces to fight against it. Considered an enemy by both the Communist regime and the fundamentalist moujahedeen, Meena was assassinated in a Quetta, Pakistan, refugee camp in 1987.

Sahar Saba, 28, who like many of the RAWA activists uses a pseudonym for protection, grew up in one of the Quetta camps and was educated in a RAWA school. Now she works as a spokeswoman for the group in Islamabad and travels abroad seeking foreign support.

Saba came to Pakistan when she was 7 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, she has spent much of her time working to make sure that the U.S. and its allies do not forget the cause of women's rights as they continue their campaign against the Taliban.

Besides providing a well-documented history of the Taliban's suppression of women,RAWA has recorded hundreds of cases of abuse by the Northern Alliance and non-Taliban warlords.

Saba and the other RAWA activists favor the return of Mohammad Zaher Shah, the former Afghan monarch who was deposed in 1973. Through the agency of the ex-king, she says, Afghanistan could have a new leadership tainted neither by the abuses of the warlords nor by the restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban.

When the Taliban swept into power in 1996, it capitalized on its claim to be a "protector of women." Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar gained fame by rescuing two girls who had been kidnapped by a warlord. According to Taliban lore, Omar killed the man and hanged his body from the barrel of a tank.

"The parties that were in power before the Taliban were in some ways worse," Saba acknowledged. "Many girls were raped. Many others committed suicide.

"When the Taliban came to power, women were safer," she added. "But they set the wheel of history back hundreds of years."

Monday, October 15, 2001

The US contributed to destruction of Afghanistaní

By WANI MUTHIAH

PETALING JAYA: The founding director of an American non-profit organisation which raises funds for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) says the United States has contributed a lot towards the destruction of Afghanistan and the plight of its women.

Sonali Kolhatkar, vice-president and secretary of the Afghan Womenís Mission (AWM), said Afghan women had been leading normal lives prior to the United Statesí nurturing of the mujahideen to help battle the Russians.

ìIts unbelievable what the Afghan women have been reduced to by the Taliban in recent years and the mujahideen prior to that,íí said Sonali who was speaking from Pasadena, California.

This realisation, added Sonali, had prompted her as well as friends Steve Penners and Dr James Ingalls to set up the mission in June last year to do what little they could to elevate the suffering and anguish faced by Afghan women.

ìAs Americans, we feel very responsible that the lives of these women and their children had been wrecked by our government which had funded arms for fundamentalist terrorist groups like the Taliban and the mujahideen,íí she said.

Currently, AWM, which is run by volunteers made up of mostly professionals and academics, is RAWA's main fund-raising conduit for all the latterís projects.

According to Sonali, they decided to raise funds for RAWA after research indicated that it was the only political party in Afghanistan which had been continuously battling fundamentalism since its inception more then two decades ago.

ìWe found that RAWA took the non-violence path in its quest for democracy and was the most credible organisation representing the voice of the Afghan masses at the moment.

ìThat is why we decided to take on the responsibility of

sourcing for funds to pay for all its humanitarian projects,íí said Sonali.

AWMís principal undertaking at the moment, she added, was to rebuild and re-establish Malalai Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, to look into the medical needs of the Afghan refugees in the country.

Besides establishing free hospitals, AWM aimed to set up schools to educate and empower the refugees so that they would be able to build sustainable livelihoods once peace and sovereignty returned to Afghanistan, said Sonali.

Apart from fund raising, AWM had also embarked on a public awareness blitz to educate Americans as well as people from other parts of the world on the gross human rights violation netted on the Afghan women and children by the Taliban regime.

ìWe try to bring RAWA members into the States to talk about their organisation, the plight of the Afghans as well as the support they required to carry out humanitarian activities,íí said Sonali.

However, this was not an easy task as RAWA members faced a lot of security problems and were exposed to death threats all the time. Due to this, they were forced to constantly relocate as well as keep their identities undercover.

Rawaís founder Meena was assassinated in Pakistan, in 1987.

Taliban should be overthrown by the uprising of Afghan nation


 

Again, due to the treason of fundamentalist hangmen, our people have been caught in the claws of the monster of a vast war and destruction.

America, by forming an international coalition against Osama and his Taliban-collaborators and in retaliation for the 11th September terrorist attacks, has launched a vast aggression on our country.

Despite the claim of the US that only military and terrorist bases of the Taliban and Al Qieda will be struck and that its actions would be accurately targeted and proportionate, we have witnessed for the past seven days leaves no doubt that this invasion will shed the blood of numerous women, men, children, young and old of our country.

If until yesterday the US and its allies, without paying the least attention to the fate of democracy in Afghanistan, were supporting the policy of Jehadis-fostering, Osama-fostering and Taliban-fostering, today they are sharpening the dagger of the "Northern Alliance". And because of this policy they have plunged our people into a horrific concern and anxiety in fear of re-experiencing the dreadful happenings of the years of the Jehadis' "emirate".

Afghans, while keeping in mind the tremendous disasters they faced at the hands of Jehadi and Taliban vultures, just hang onto their hope for the return of the ex-king. However, if he comes to the scene while relying on the "Northern Alliance" and so-called "moderate" Taliban, he not only will lose his reputation among the people but it will endanger the stability and success of whatever set-up he forms.

In the time of the Taliban's medievalist domination, no Afghan and no honorable and mindful Muslim will be deceived by the "nationalistic" gestures of Taliban who invite the Afghan people and even the whole Muslim world for "Jehad" against America. Any person, group or government that supports the Taliban, no matter under what pretext, is the enemy of the Afghan people, the people who also hate the "anti-Osama" and "anti-terrorism" acts of the "Northern Alliance" murderers. Our people not only have not forgotten the five years after the collapse of the puppet regime of Najib --the most horrible years of terrorism and unchastity-- but as well they don't forget the time when the Jehadis themselves were the cheap servants of Abdullah Ezam and Osama bin Laden.

Now the "Northern Alliance" groups lie in ambush like hungry wolves so they, while riding the guns of the US, can assault and swarm into Kabul and in proportion to the depth and width of their "conquests", besides committing vandalism like the years before, gain ground in order to bargain for position in the second "emirate", and as a consequence again spoil the aspiration of the people for the establishment of a stable and democratic government acceptable to all.

The continuation of US attacks and the increase in the number of innocent civilian victims not only gives an excuse to the Taliban, but also will cause the empowering of the fundamentalist forces in the region and even in the world.

Our people have two options:

Either the eradication of the plague of Taliban and Al Qieda -though they (our people) didn't have any part in its cultivation and germination- and the establishment of a government based on democratic values, or to hand over Afghanistan to these forces who have dependence, looting, crime and national treason as the main components of their perfidious entity.

Our compatriots, therefore, must rise up for a thorough demolition of Taliban and their Osamas so the world should understand that the tired, wounded, mournful and deserted Afghans not only in word, but practically too, have no connection with the criminals and don't regard a handful of Arab or non-Arab terrorists as "honorable guests".

Only an overall uprising can prevent the repetition and recurrence of the catastrophe that has befallen our country before and with or even without the presence of the UN peace-keeping force this uprising can pave the way for the establishment of an interim government and preparation for elections. We believe that once there is no foreign interference, especially of a fundamentalist type, all ethnic groups of all religions, with no regard to the devilish designs of the fundamentalists, will, prove their solidarity for achieving the most sacred national interests for the sake of a proud and free Afghanistan.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) asks that all anti-fundamentalist, freedom and democracy-loving and pro-women's rights forces and also the ex-king of Afghanistan, before it is too late, must play their role in the organizing of mass-uprising and as well thwart the plans of the internal and external enemies of Afghanistan.

The peace and justice-loving people of the world will be on the side of the Afghan people.


Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)


October 11, 2001

Where Are the Women?: Subject to Debate

 

Are there any people on earth more wretched than the women of Afghanistan? As if poverty, hunger, disease, drought, ruined cities and a huge refugee crisis weren't bad enough, under Taliban rule they can't work, they can't go to school, they have virtually no healthcare, they can't leave their houses without a male escort, they are beaten in the streets if they lift the mandatory burqa even to relieve a coughing fit. The Taliban's crazier requirements have some of the obsessive particularity of the Nazis' statutes against the Jews: no high heels (that lust-inducing click-click!), no white socks (white is the color of the flag), windows must be painted over so that no male passerby can see the dreaded female form lurking in the house. (This particular stricture, combined with the burqa, has led to an outbreak of osteomalacia, a bone disease caused by malnutrition and lack of sunlight.)

Until September 11, this situation received only modest attention in the West--much less than the destruction of the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. The "left" is often accused of "moral relativism" and a "postmodern" unwillingness to judge, but the notion that the plight of Afghan women is a matter of culture and tradition, and not for Westerners to judge, was widespread across the political spectrum.

Now, finally, the world is paying attention to the Taliban, whose days may indeed be numbered now that their foreign supporters--Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan--are backing off. The connections between religious fanaticism and the suppression of women are plain to see (and not just applicable to Islam--show me a major religion in which the inferiority of women, and God's wish to place them and their dangerous polluting sexuality under male control, is not a central original theme). So is the connection of both with terrorism, war and atrocity. It's no accident that so many of the young men who are foot soldiers of Islamic fundamentalism are reared in womanless religious schools, or that Osama bin Laden's recruiting video features bikinied Western women as symbols of the enemy.

But if fundamentalism requires the suppression of women, offering desperate, futureless men the psychological and practical satisfaction of instant superiority to half the human race, the emancipation of women could be the key to overcoming it. Where women have education, healthcare and personal rights, where they have social and political and economic power--where they can choose what to wear, whom to marry, how to live--there's a powerful constituency for secularism, democracy and human rights: What educated mother engaged in public life would want her daughter to be an illiterate baby machine confined to the four walls of her husband's house with no one to talk to but his other wives?

Women's rights are crucial for everything the West supposedly cares about: infant mortality (one in four Afghan children dies before age 5), political democracy, personal freedom, equality under the law--not to mention its own security. But where are the women in the discussion of Afghanistan, the Middle East, the rest of the Muslim world? We don't hear much about how policy decisions will affect women, or what they want. Men have the guns and the governments. Who asks the women of Saudi Arabia, our ally, how they feel about the Taliban-like restrictions on their freedom? In the case of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance presents itself now to the West as women's friend. A story in the New York Times marveled at the very limited permission given to women in NA-held territory to study and work and wear a less restrictive covering than the burqa. Brushed aside was the fact that many warlords of the Northern Alliance are themselves religious fighters who not only restricted women considerably when they held power from 1992 to '96 but plunged the country into civil war, compiling a record of ethnically motivated mass murder, rape and other atrocities and leaving the population so exhausted that the Taliban's promise of law and order came as a relief. It's all documented on the Human Rights Watch website (www.hrw.org).

Now more than ever, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which opposes both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance as violent, lawless, misogynistic and antidemocratic, deserves attention and support. "What Afghanistan needs is not more war," Tahmeena Faryel, a RAWA representative currently visiting the United States, told me, but massive amounts of humanitarian aid and the disarming of both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, followed by democratic elections. "We don't need another religious government," she said. "We've had that!" The women of RAWA are a different model of heroism than a warlord with a Kalashnikov: In Afghanistan, they risk their lives by running secret schools for girls, delivering medical aid, documenting and filming Taliban atrocities. In Pakistan, they demonstrate against fundamentalism in the "Talibanized" cities of Peshawar and Quetta. Much as the victims of the WTC attack need our support, so too do Afghans who are trying to bring reason and peace to their miserable country. To make a donation to RAWA, see www.rawa.org.

PUBLIC STATEMENT
Pakistan: Afghan Women's Day demonstrators must be protected

In view of continued threats against Afghan women's rights activists living as refugees in Pakistan, Amnesty International today urged the Pakistani government to ensure their safety during meetings and demonstrations to mark International Women's Day on 8 March 1999

There is particular concern that members of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) are at risk of attack. Even in Pakistan, RAWA's leaders continue to receive death threats from Afghan warring factions, and several of them have had to go into hiding in fear for their lives.

Members of RAWA and other women's groups could clearly be in danger, especially because of continued threats and recent political killings of prominent Afghans in Pakistan, Amnesty International said. The government of Pakistan must take this threat seriously and do everything in their power to protect all Women's Day protesters.

In December 1998, RAWA had to postpone a scheduled demonstration against Taleban policies towards women following Pakistani press reports that a person claiming to represent the Taleban had warned that they would break the legs of RAWA participants if they took out a protest demonstration.

A number of people were detained by members of an armed political group, reportedly with cooperation from the local police, during a peaceful RAWA demonstration in Islamabad on 28 April 1997, organised in protest against the Taleban's policies towards women in Afghanistan. At least one of the detainees was severely beaten in custody and others were pressurised to give details of RAWA leaders, their telephone numbers and their whereabouts.

Background information:

RAWA is a non-violent, left-of-centre group which has been active for over a decade. It is at the forefront of campaigning for women's rights in Afghanistan and has continuously opposed the Afghan Mujahideen groups' policies towards women.

RAWA campaigns for women's rights and provides education and health facilities for women and children, mostly in Afghan refugee areas in Pakistan. It has set up a number of educational and health programs in Afghanistan but has had to scale down these initiatives because of threats. RAWA's demonstrations are attended by Afghan women only, but many Afghan men who support their cause usually stay in the background and provide security when necessary.

Commemorate March 8 With Intensified Struggle to End the Human Rights Disaster in Afghanistan!

While the people around the globe are gearing to celebrate the last International Women's Day of the twentieth century, Afghan women live under hellish conditions imposed on them by the Taliban, making them some of the most deprived women in the world. Whatever you may have heard or witnessed about oppression, humiliation, and deprivation of women is fully imposed on our ill-fated women.

Khalqi and Parchami traitors sought to entrap, misguide, and politically and propagandistically exploit our women. Since Jehadi criminals' takeover in Kabul, however, our women have been enchained and depravedly victimized in a way unprecedented in the history of any country. Today, with shameless backing of their foreign masters, Taliban consider it their first duty to deny our women their most basic rights and keep them in medieval fetters. Cynically exploiting popular beliefs they justify their ever increasing pressure on women in the name of Islam and Sharia.

While the rest of the world is set to welcome the twenty-first century, in Afghanistan television, music, film, theatre, sport -in short all the manifestations of modern civilized life- are being stamped out by the Taliban; while the women's movement is making significant gains worldwide, our women are deprived of the most elementary rights. Indeed, they are bought and sold like cattle, humiliated, whipped, beaten, restricted in their movements, and are considered to have little worth other than satisfying male sexual needs and bearing children. Fascistic restrictions, starvation, scarcity, homelessness, unemployment, war and destruction -all gifts from Taliban and Jihadis- have so darkened the lives of our people and specially women folk that large numbers have turned to beggary, prostitution and suicide. It is a measure of the depth of the tragedy created by the fundamentalists that many desperate mothers and fathers have, out of poverty and necessity, been reduced to selling their children.

Women's oppression and suffering in Afghanistan today is of an entirely different magnitude. While women in the rest of the world are justly demanding full equality with men, elimination of patriarchal chauvinism in the family and society, end to a heinous crime as female circumcision, reproductive freedom and etc. Afghan women have to fight for least basic rights such as going to the bath house, working outside the home, getting an education or choosing a dress. It is for this reason that we insist on the complete overthrow of the fundamentalist order. Only then can our women join their sisters in the rest of the world for the attainment of higher freedoms.

Glaring violations of human rights in Afghanistan today is still more intolerable as many organizations claiming to defend human and women's rights remain deafeningly silent regarding the situation. At best they limit their efforts to merely issuing proclamations and at worst see unity among fundamentalist forces as the only way to solving the situation in Afghanistan. No settlement, including multi-ethnic broad based government as is being trumpeted these days by America, Pakistan and other countries, to end the Afghan tragedy will be acceptable to our people if it does not consider fundamentalist murderers as criminals. After all, if in other nations certain individuals are as war criminals there is no reason why fundamentalist and Taliban warlords who have committed more heinous and barbaric crimes against our people should not meet the same fate?

The people of Afghanistan, like all peoples of the world, need peace, freedom, and democracy. Achieving even a semblance of these under Taliban and Jehadi rule is wishful thinking. After all, they recognize peace to be the end of their money-making business and openly equate democracy with infidelity. Unfortunately, the United Nations and kindred organizations have chosen to deliberately ignore the issues of democracy and women's rights in Afghanistan and indeed actively omit these notions of plans to ending the Afghan tragedy. But the vast majority of our people, including women, paying no heed to fundamentalist ideologies and will surely travel the path that ends up in freedom and democracy.

The noise about differences between Taliban and their protectors over the Osama affair is a transparent attempt at creating the deceptive impression that Taliban are indeed "independent" of their foreign masters! But everyone knows that the survival and sustenance of these mediaeval-minded hypocrites is impossible without the generous support and guidance of world and regional powers and their intelligence services. These powers are capable of determining the fate of the Taliban whenever they wish, in the same manner, for example, they did of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other no more useful "leaders". Osama is himself, however, the filthy by-product of the policy of befriending and generously supporting Islamic fundamentalist forces during the Afghan anti-Russian war.

RAWA, though besieged and threatened on all sides, will continue with its struggle for freedom, democracy, and social justice. It demands that, keeping in mind the great pain and suffering of our ruined people, freedom-loving organizations and individuals abandon their neutrality and passivity vis-a-vis the fundamentalists and, at whatever level and with whatever means, resist Taliban and Jehadi barbaric rule. We have full faith that only unity of democratic forces, to rally to mobilize the masses for the formation of a broad anti-fundamentalist front, can guarantee the establishment of peace and democracy in our country.

Once more we ask that human rights and women's rights organizations around the world and especially in Pakistan not forget the desperate plight of Afghan women, convey the extent of their sufferings to world audiences, and extend to them effective and practical assistance.

RAWA, in its turn, conveys its deep support for and solidarity with the heroic struggle of women and freedom-loving forces in Iran, Palestine, Kashmir, Kurdistan and throughout the world against reactionary and oppressive forces and states.

Let us mark International Women's Day with intensified struggle against fundamentalists!
Down with Jehadi and Taliban murderers and their protectors!
Long live freedom and democracy!

Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

March 8, 1999 - Peshawar

Address: RAWA, P.O.Box 374, Quetta, Pakistan

Home Page: http://www.rawa.org
E-mail: rawa@rawa.org

Amnesty International News Service 045/99 AI Index: ASA 11/05/99 4 March 1999


Ms Deb Ellis the founding leader of Women for Women in Afghanistan based in Canada, who had participated and made a speech in RAWA,s function on the occasion of International Women,s Day on March 8,1999, received the following shameful threatening letter. It speaks for itself. It shows who are ruling Afghanistan and how those countries that are supporting these sworn enemies of democracy and rights of women in one way or another, can be regarded as friends of our trampled people?

As for as we are concerned, it should be stressed once more, as we had already announced to the Taliban, that RAWA inspired by the Meena and other martyrs, will never bow down before the fundamentalists be it so-called Jehadi or the Taliban. RAWA will continue to carry on its struggle for freedom, democracy and women,s rights!

You can contact Ms Deb Ellis through eisenhauer@praxis.ca