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People's Global Action
Nuclear Nightmare Goes Critical
The Schools We Want
E. Wayne Ross
Signs of a Police State â€¦
Movement Building Is the Only â€¦
In Memory Of Bhopal
An interview with Tahmeena Faryal â€¦
The Threat Of Global State â€¦
Colombia is the third largest â€¦
Airline Layoffs, Worker Concessions
Extending U.S. Dominance
Urgent Patient Tasks
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An interview with Tahmeena Faryal of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
An interview with Tahmeena Faryal of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan By Sonali Kalhatkar
SONALI KALHATKAR: Afghanistan has experienced brutal war for the past 20 years. There have been many different eras of conflict from the Soviet invasion and occupation to the subsequent pullout of the Soviets to a puppet regime installed by the Soviets and then toppled by the U.S.-backed Mujahadeem to brutal civil war and the Taliban's rule. Now we're seeing a bombing campaign by the United States. What has been the worst era for Afghans and why?
TAHEENA FARYAL: I think that first of all, I should make it clear that these eras are related. It is like a chain. Had the Soviets not invaded Afghanistan there would not have been the U.S.-backed fundamentalists and the current Taliban. From our point of view, the tragedy began in Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion, but everything got worse, especially towards women, when the fundamentalists took power in 1992. There were eight parties fighting each other and their main and easy target was women.
And these are the groups that are now called the Northern Alliance?
Well, not all of them are in the Northern Alliance, but some of them are. One of the groups, called Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan led by Gulbudin Hekmatyar, is not in the Northern Alliance. In fact Hekmatyar is very much against the Northern Alliance. He was one of the main parties fighting and killing hundreds of innocent people from 1992 to 1996.
He's also pretty anti-American, isn't he?
Well, at this point, yes, because now he is supporting the Taliban and wants to be in a coalition with Taliban. But during the Cold War, he was a favorite of the United States and he got the most military and financial support.
And his record of women's rights and human rights?
He has the worst record of human rights. Not only when he, along with other groups, took power in Afghanistan in 1992, but even in Pashawar, a Northern city in Pakistan, where he was based, a lot of crimes and atrocities happened. He killed, if not hundreds, tens of intellectuals in Pashawar, including the assassination of our founding leader, Meena.
RAWA says the Northern Alliance is no better in terms of their human rights record, yet the United States is supporting the Northern Alliance to advance its war in Afghanistan. Should Afghans be afraid of the Northern Alliance taking over the country as they did in the early 1990s?
The people of Afghanistan are terrified of the Northern Alliance being a part of any official government in Afghanistan. The period from 1992 to 1996 was the blackest in the history of Afghanistan. People will not forget that the hospitals, the schools, the museums, and the 70-80 percent of the capital city of Kabul were destroyed during that time. Many cases of rape, women's abduction, forced marriages happened at that time. That would happen again, if they take power.
What has RAWA's appeal been to the international community?
RAWA warned in the early 1980s—when many different countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, United States, and France started supporting financially and militarily the fundamentalists—that they were going to be a very dangerous phenomenon, not only for the people of Afghanistan and that region but for the whole world. RAWA had anticipated incidents such as September 11.
RAWA has been calling for years for UN intervention in Afghanistan in order to disarm groups in Afghanistan as well as to sanction, militarily, the countries that supply arms and financial support to the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.
Such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates...
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India. These last countries support the Northern Alliance. We believe that if they want to seek a real solution to the problems in Afghanistan, the first thing is to sanction, again militarily, the countries that support them.
You mean stopping the weapons' sales?
Yes, the weapons' sales, any financial or any other support. Then these groups should be disarmed inside Afghanistan. As long as they are armed, as long as they are supported by other countries, they're not going to stop fighting.
What is RAWA's position on the bombing campaign by the United States?
It is unfortunate that all of the attention toward Afghanistan came after September 11. Before that it was the largest forgotten tragedy in the world. We welcome the combat against terrorism. In fact, this combat should have started years ago in terms of preventing incidents like September 11. But this combat against terrorism cannot be won by bombing this or that country. It should be a campaign to stop any country that sells arms or supports financially the fundamentalists' movements or fundamentalist regimes.
Seven million Afghans are on the verge of starvation today who were dependent on aid agencies supplying them with food. UNICEF has estimated that 100,000 children will die this winter from starvation because we couldn't reach them with aid. How should the international community respond to this impending disaster?
Immediate humanitarian aid is the first thing that should be done. In Afghanistan, because of the bombing, many of these humanitarian organizations have trouble getting in. In Pakistan, Iran, or in other neighboring countries, where thousands of refugees fled after September 11 and after the U.S. bombing, it should not be very difficult for these humanitarian organizations to provide for those refugees. In Pakistan, after September 11, more than 100,000 refugees came. Or last year, from the drought and cold and war, we had more than 100,000 refugees come into Pakistan. This seven million on the verge of starvation, by the way, happened months ago.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, one of the pretexts used was that the Soviet Union was coming in to liberate Afghan women from fundamentalism. Today the United States government and supporters of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan seem to be using fundamentalist oppression of women to justify its bombing campaign. Can you comment on this manipulation of women's issues?
During the Soviet invasion and the puppet regime, there were claims that it improved women's situation in Afghanistan, but that was not true, because the situation of women in Afghanistan was beginning to improve in the early 20th century. During the reign of the former king or during the first president or before even the former king, women had the very basic right of education and the right to work. We had women in the government. The government in some parts forced people to send their children, especially girl children, to school.
While the Soviets claim that it was during their time that the women's situation in Afghanistan improved, they were trying to give some rights to Afghan women that are obviously okay in Western societies, but are not acceptable in our societies. You really cannot bring all those changes overnight. For example, they wanted to give so-called liberties of having a boyfriend or dancing in a nightclub, which are not acceptable in our society. We really need to start from the very basic things, like education. The Soviets never made women realize their real potential. Then, after September 11 the U.S. realized, “well, this is not an appropriate situation for the women of Afghanistan and this should change and we should get rid of this regime by bombing that country.”
RAWA doesn't receive any support from governments. Why is that? Would RAWA accept governmental aid if it were offered?
We've always made it clear that in a country like Afghanistan, which is male-dominated and fundamentalist, the existence of an independent women's organization is revolutionary. Not that RAWA is a violent organization, not that RAWA is a pro-arms struggle organization, but I think sometimes certain governments or NGOs think that RAWA is a pro-arms struggle organization or violent. When we have tried to get financial support, they've openly told us, if we change this or that policy we might be able to give you some financial support. Once we approached the British Embassy in Pakistan. They said if you change this word in your name, we might be able to give you some support. I think that RAWA would not mind getting support from governments, as long as it doesn't compromise our policies.
What if the United States government decided to support RAWA as a viable part of a future coalition government in Afghanistan, a coalition government that would include moderate elements of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Would RAWA accept that?
I think it's important to know what they mean by the moderate Taliban. If that moderate Taliban is, for example, their foreign minister, then he wouldn't be moderate because he believes that the international community should help the Taliban build another stadium where they could carry on amputations and executions, as he stated in Saira Shah's documentary, Beneath the Veil. But one can also not claim that each and every person fighting with the Taliban, fighting with the Northern Alliance, are as criminal as all of them.
Among the Taliban, there are 70 percent who are forced to fight with them, just because of the money. Ideologically, they are not with them. Whenever we talk about these groups, we mean the main leaders and commanders who are criminals. They should be brought to the international court of law. They should not be included in any future government of Afghanistan. I don't think RAWA would take part in a coalition government if these criminals were included.
If the United States were to promote RAWA, how would that effect RAWA's credibility amongst Afghans?
If they support us with our policies of being anti-fundamentalist, for democracy, for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of belief, for human rights and women's rights and obviously we have always exposed the countries who've supported this or that fundamentalist group in Afghanistan, then I don't think that we would mind if they support us with all of our policies, but I don't think that would be possible.
Why do fellow Afghan groups discredit RAWA?
We don't really care what they label us. If they think we are too radical, as Ms. Sima Wali in one of her articles in the Washington Post on RAWA says, “RAWA does not represent the Afghan norms.” I don't know what the Afghan norms are. And because we are for freedom, because we are for democracy, because we are for rights, we do not represent the Afghan norm, because those are not considered Afghan norms. Afghan norms are women in burka, women at home, women comprising half a human being. For that RAWA is extreme left? Then let us be extreme left and radical in order to defend our country and people.
One of the many comments about RAWA is that, because RAWA criticizes the Northern Alliance, they don't want minorities in the government; or because they criticize the Taliban, they don't want Pashtun representation. Forty percent of the country are Pashtuns. What is the ethnic makeup of RAWA's members?
RAWA has Hazaras, we have Pashtuns, we have Tajiks, we have Uzbeks, we have Pashai, Nooristani, and people coming from the very removed areas of Afghanistan.
Does RAWA discuss economic models of development in any future stable and peaceful Afghanistan and, if so, what economic models are those?
I don't think RAWA has discussed the future economic infrastructure. Maybe this is an issue that RAWA should discuss. Obviously, I think that any economic structure that RAWA would belong to would guarantee that people in Afghanistan should live equally. That all the starvation or the lack of education or lack of basic health services that we have witnessed in Afghanistan, not only during the war, but also before that, shouldn't happen again.
I recently read that the World Bank already promising to aid reconstruction in Afghanistan. How do you think Afghans would react to the presence of foreign corporations?
We definitely need international cooperation and their support. But the support should not include Afghanistan as a puppet regime.
Many people have talked about the fact that the United States spent billions of dollars in the 1980s to fund these men, some of whom now comprise the Northern Alliance, including Gulbudin Hekmatyar. Billions of dollars of aid have been flown into Afghanistan in terms of weapon and military training. We're seeing the Northern Alliance being helped by the United States, by Russia, by China, and by India. What do you or RAWA in general feel about some sort of reparations with no strings attached from the international community?
If these countries are kind enough to offer a certain amount of money just to rebuild the country, obviously no one would mind using that to rebuild Afghanistan. But if that is going to the fundamentalists, to the elements that would plunge Afghanistan and the people into deeper misery just because these countries own interests in Afghanistan then that is a different issue.
If RAWA is included in some sort of future government of Afghanistan, if you or other members of RAWA are included as representatives of the government, how will that compromise your security?
I think that a democratic government, or relatively democratic government, would be the only government that we would be willing to take part in. We can not take part in a government that is led by the fundamentalists or the fundamentalist regime. Then the situation is different and the security issue for RAWA is different. Maybe by that time we won't have to be a totally secret organization, as we are today, and we will be able to conduct our business in public. If we achieve that idea of society, then women can be part of that. And we don't have the fundamentalists and we don't have all these threats, then we don't have to be in secret.
Does RAWA have relationships with other women's movements in the world?
Since 1997, we have been in contact with hundreds of women's organizations. But most of these contacts are through email or our website. But many don't have access to the Internet or email. In this country, we enjoy support in many different ways and so far we have seen the impact in saving maybe thousands of lives in Afghanistan and educating thousands of children.
You've been a member of RAWA for most of your adult life. What keeps you going and what keeps other members of RAWA going?
It has a lot to do with the situation. When you live in a country where you see people having lost everything, their moral and material values, and you see women in your country going through the most horrible experiences one can imagine happening to a human being, I think that if you have a little bit of consciousness, you cannot keep quiet. You need to do something. I think this is the main reason so many women, educated women, committed suicide in Afghanistan, because they did not have contact with an organization like RAWA. They found themselves totally helpless and hopeless and out of options. But when you do something and you know it saves lives, you can get energy and continue with that. Also, I think that we are inspired by our other members. We are all inspired by the founder of RAWA, Meena. And it is very strengthening and heartfelt that we have the support of the international community. I think when we see the support of, especially women, all over the world—like women who walk in order to raise awareness and raise money or people going on hunger strikes to raise money for RAWA or the committed supporters we have in this country like the Afghan Women's Mission.
What can people who believe in RAWA's vision for Afghanistan do to help?
is always the most meaningful and practical way to help. Also, especially at
this time, political involvement is very important. By writing letters to
representatives of their government, people can put pressure that would be
difficult for the government and the United Nations to ignore. The main issue
should be about the bombing. That the real combat against terrorism should be
stopping any financial and military support to the countries that harbor
terrorism or terrorists or fundamentalists, by disarming the groups in
Afghanistan, by putting pressure on the countries that support the armed groups
in Afghanistan, by putting pressure on the government not to include the
Northern Alliance, knowing their crimes and atrocities; that women should be a
part of any future government of Afghanistan. These are the most important
things that people can tell their governments about.
Sonali Kalhatkar is vice president of the Afghan Women's Mission, www.Afghanwomensmission.org. This interview was recorded for the Los Angeles Independent Media Center by Radio IMC-LA and the Community Voices Project.