At Afghan women’s cost – by Sahar Saba

The US attempts to broker a deal with the Taliban have neither surprised nor upset Afghan women. The Afghan woman is not like naive liberals across the world who are deeply frustrated over this US betrayal. The liberals had pinned their hopes on the US to rid Af-Pak of the Taliban. Hence, they are most upset and surprised at US endeavours to woo the Taliban. My Afghan sisters are not impressionable fools. Having lived through the horrors of a 30-year-long civil war, they have learnt from experience that imperialism always acts in its own favour.

Despite their self-created media image of being ‘anti-American’, Afghan women never bought this image of the Taliban. More and more evidence is emerging regarding tacit US support to the Taliban, back in the mid-1990s, to stabilise their regime. It was not the total exclusion of women from public life under the Taliban regime that made them universally unpopular among women. It was the daily insults in full public view handed down by the Taliban as punishment for improper dress (high heels) or improper behaviour (laughing!) that made Afghan women hate the Taliban. One public lashing in the Swat valley shook Pakistan. On the streets of Kabul, it was a daily spectacle on public display. When two brave women activists, risking their lives, filmed Zarmina’s execution at Kabul’s stadium, no US channel was ready to show this footage. The footage showing a burqa-clad Zarmina, squatting in the middle of the stadium, while being fired at point-blank by a Talib, was considered too shocking to be aired to the US public. However, it was only after September 11 that the Revolutionary Afghan Women Association (RAWA) — whose members had filmed this horrible incident to alarm the world regarding Afghan women’s plight — started getting telephone calls from US channels. Every channel now wanted to show Zarmina’s execution. Ahead of the US invasion, it was no longer too ugly to air for a sensitive US audience.

It was a mockery of the official rhetoric — the liberation of Afghan women — when the Taliban were replaced by an even more brutal, misogynist regime consisting of sadist warlords gathered together in the Northern Alliance. These same warlords had wreaked havoc, for four years, before the Taliban arrived. Compared to the Northern Alliance regime, even the Taliban’s barbarities appeared as a relief. At least women were not kidnapped and raped. The Taliban only insulted, subjugated and excluded them.

True, in the post-Taliban period, Afghan women have felt a certain sense of relief. But the situation for Afghan women today should not be compared to the Taliban era or the preceding mujahideen era (1992-96) when the Northern Alliance was in control. Compare it with the 1970s and 1980s to gauge the disempowerment Afghan women have suffered since. It is not an exercise in nostalgia to invoke the 1970s or 1980s. There were concrete rights the Afghan woman had won, at least in big towns. True, on the countryside her situation did not radically improve.

Now, after nine years of US occupation we, the Afghan women, are not even mentioned. We were dropped from official rhetoric long ago. The more the Taliban insurgency picked up, the less the Afghan women were mentioned. It was not a case of amnesia. The US had, two years ago, initiated talks with notorious warlord Gulbadin Hikmatyar. Talks were held in Saudi Arabia under royal watch. Hikmatyar achieved notoriety as student leader back in the 1970s at Kabul University. Being a member of a fundamentalist Salafi group, Hikmatyar was infamous for allegedly throwing acid on the faces of girls for not wearing niqab. It was at Kabul University that he started his bloody career by allegedly murdering Maoist student leader Saidal Sukhandan. During the ‘jihad’ against the Soviets, he was pampered by the CIA, the ISI and the Saudis. His brutalities deserve a separate essay. In short, he joined hands with the Taliban after September 11. A year ago, he was even tipped as prime minister. Having wooed Hikmatyar, the US started courting the Taliban. Most likely a few will be bribed into laying down arms. Others, the hardcore ones, will remain holed up in caves.

To accommodate Taliban deserters, Karzai will be asked to further Islamise his regime. Already, to please Shia extremists in his government, he has legalised what is widely viewed as marital rape (this law applies to Shia women only). Now to accommodate the Taliban, let us see what kind of misogynist brutality Karzai will have to legalise. Whatever the case, the purpose of all these talks is to stabilise the US occupation of Afghanistan even if it means bringing the Taliban on board. If the Taliban join the coalition, Afghan women will suffer even more in the name of so-called sharia that the Taliban will bring into the government. Thus hypocrisy has come full circle. Back in 2001, the US occupied our country in the name of Afghan women. Now, Washington is talking to the Taliban at the cost of Afghan women.

The writer is an Afghan activist. Email:

Source: The News



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