Established in 1977, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is an independent women's organisation fighting for human rights and social justice in Afghanistan. RAWA opposed the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-89, aswell as the subsequent Mujahaden and Taliban governments, running underground schools for Afghan girls, publishing a journal and setting up humanitarian projects.
Mariam Rawi a member of RAWA's foreign relations committee, answer's Peace News's questions about the current US-led occupation of Afghanistan.
1) In 2001 President Bush claimed the United States invaded Afghanistan to fight for "progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom". Why does RAWA think the United States invaded and continues to occupy Afghanistan?
The US invaded Afghanistan to fulfil its geo-political, economic and regional strategic interests and to change Afghanistan into a strong military base in the region. Since Afghanistan is the heart of Asia, it would serve as a strong base for controlling surrounding countries like Pakistan, China, Iran and above all the Central. Additionally, as a superpower, it continues to occupy Afghanistan to combat rising powers like Russia and China, who are becoming greater rivals for the US in the economic, military and political fields. Asian Republics
Many argue today that the 2001 invasion was planned before 9/11, but it gave the war-mongers in the White House and Pentagon a golden opportunity to advance its agenda in the region. In the words of Tony Blair "to be truthful about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent to have suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened on September 11..."
Getting hold of the multi-billions drug business was another reason for invading Afghanistan and in the past few years we clearly see that the US and its allies changed Afghanistan into the opium capital of the world. Opium production increased more than 4400%, with 93% of world illegal opium produced in Afghanistan. Narcotics is said to be the third greatest trade commodity in cash terms after oil and weapons. There are large financial institutions behind this business and the control of the routes of narcotics was important for the US government and now they have reached their goal.
Furthermore, Afghanistan holds a rich source of gas, copper, iron and other minerals and precious stones and the big powers are of course interested in looting it the way they are doing in poor African countries. In the past few years there have been exploration efforts of our natural resources. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates there are about 700 billion cubic meters of gas and 300 million tonnes of oil across several Northern provinces of Afghanistan. Also the world's second-biggest unexploited copper deposit is located in our country with an estimated 11 million tonnes of copper. So besides routing the oil and gas from the Central Asian Republics through Afghanistan, the US is interested in exploiting Afghanistan's resources too.
The "war on terror" and "liberation of Afghan women" were mere lies to cover the above and many other hidden agendas of the US in Afghanistan. Our peoples' dreams for liberation were shattered in the very first days after the invasion when they witnessed that the war criminals and Northern Alliance murderers and rapists who destroyed Afghanistan, were backed and brought back to power by the US and its allies after the fall of the Taliban regime. When infamous criminals like Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Karim Khalili, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Yunus Qanooni, Mullah Rakiti, Atta Muhammad, Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan, Haji Almas, Hazrat Ali and many more were decorated by the US as champions of freedom and were installed in power, everyone knew that Afghanistan had once again become the centre of a chess game of the US and its allies who made the slogans of "democracy" and "human rights" into painful jokes for our nation.
2) Can you describe what life is like for women in Afghanistan today? Is it better or worse than life under the Taliban Government?
Despite many a hue and cry about "women's rights" and the "liberation of Afghan women", Afghanistan still faces a women's rights catastrophe.
There is no tangible change in the conditions of Afghan women; in certain parts of the country the life is worse than under the Taliban. The rate of kidnappings, rapes, selling of girls, forced marriages, acid attacks, prostitution and self-immolation by young girls and women has reached a record high, even compared to the Taliban regime.
Due to forced marriages and domestic violence, self-immolation by women aged between 18 and 35 is becoming an epidemic in Afghanistan. There have been hundreds of such cases reported mostly in the provinces of Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis. Where there is non-existent rule of law and legal support for women, they have no other option but to get rid of their misery by burning themselves.
Due to severe poverty which affects over 80 percent of Afghanistan's population, life for hundreds of thousands of war widows and poor women is disastrous and in many parts of Afghanistan the level of prostitution and begging in the streets has risen to an unprecedented level. There have been many reports of parents being forced to sell their children as they can't feed them. In the western province alone 150 cases of the selling of children, especially girls, were officially reported in 2008 -- the actual numbers are much higher. of Herat
There are many more that are not reflected in the news as the media is strongly stifled under the shadow of guns and threats of the warlords.
In the past few years only some cosmetic changes were made in regard to women's rights. For example, the Women's Ministry and 68 women members of parliament was trumpeted as a big success. Meanwhile the Ministry has done nothing for women and is just a showcase. The majority of women in the parliament are pro-warlord and cannot represent Afghan women as they themselves are part of the problem.
Afghan women have been badly betrayed in the past seven years under the US occupation. Their plight was used to justify the occupation of Afghanistan, but not only were no steps taken to heal their wounds, rather the worst enemies of women's rights were empowered, supported and installed in key posts.
When the entire nation lives under the shadow of warlords, Taliban, drug-lords, occupation forces and a corrupt, puppet and mafia government, how can its women enjoy the most basic rights?
3) Barack Obama, the new President of the United States, has pledged to institute a "surge" in Afghanistan, increasing American troop levels by 30,000. Does RAWA support this?
Considering Obama's plans for Afghanistan, we can clearly see that there is no difference between Obama and Bush for our country. Both are following a wrong and devastating strategy which has so far pushed Afghanistan and the region towards disaster and deeper conflicts.
Even if the US deployed hundreds of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, they will not be here to bring "peace", "freedom" and "democracy" for the people of Afghanistan. They will only serve the US's regional interests and help the warlords, drug-lords and other US agents who are in power in our country; but for our suffering and war-stricken people, it will have a ruinous outcome.
Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country; they are the values that can be achieved only by our people and democracy-loving forces through a hard, decisive and long struggle. Those who claim to donate these values to Afghan people through force will only push our country to slavery.
The very first outcome of the "surge" for Afghan people will be an increase in the number of civilian casualties which have already sparked protests and opposition from Afghan people. In the past seven years thousands of innocent people have been killed or wounded by the US/NATO bombardments. In the past few weeks under Obama's rule, around 100 Afghan civilians have been killed.
Today many people in Afghanistan ask for the withdrawal of troops and regard them as useless to do any good for Afghanistan. The surge in troops will result in a surge in protests against the US/NATO in Afghanistan and it will also push more people towards the Taliban and other terrorist groups as a reaction to occupation forces and their mistreatment of people.
The troop surge will also give reasons for the insurgency to increase their operations and attacks which in return will intensify the conflict in Afghanistan.
We think the 30,000 extra troops will only serve the US regional strategy in changing Afghanistan into its military base -- it will do nothing to the fight with terrorist groups as they claim. The US and allies are playing a two-faced game in Afghanistan: on the one hand they are increasing troops, and on the other hand, they are supporting the fundamentalist terrorists of the Northern Alliance, and initiating talks with the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to share power with these brutal and criminal forces.
So now it is an open secret that the US is not interested in fighting terrorists. In fact no one can believe that a superpower is really incapable of defeating a small, medieval-minded and ignorant force such as the Taliban. Actually the US government needs an excuse to stay in Afghanistan for longer, so the presence of the Taliban and other terrorist groups give them an excuse for the Tom and Jerry game to continue for years -- the UK have already announced that it will stay in Afghanistan for over three decades.
There are even some suspicions that the foreign troops provide some supplies and arms to the Taliban. Last March the Afghan media and local authorities in Arghandab district of Zabul province reported that NATO helicopters dropped three large containers full of supplies and ammunitions to a Taliban commander. In another move, a Taliban criminal commander named Mullah Abdul Salam, responsible for a massacre in 1998, was appointed as the governor of Musa Qala district in the Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy growing region.
A few months ago, an infamous terrorist from Gubuddin Hekmatyar's party called Ghairat Baheer was released from the US prison at Bagram airbase. Recently media reports uncovered that he is engaged in secret talks to pave the way for a sharing of power with Hekmatyar who is on the US's terrorist list. According to information revealed to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar would be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, after which he would be allowed to return to Afghanistan with immunity from prosecution.
These are just few of the examples that show the US's double standards towards dangerous terrorist bands: whenever the terrorists are ready to work in accordance with its policies, they are regarded as friends of the US, no matter how many crimes and brutalities they have committed and continue to commit against Afghan people.
4) What solutions does RAWA propose to end the fighting in Afghanistan?
RAWA strongly believes that the withdrawal of foreign troops should be the first step, because today, with the presence of thousands of foreign troops from many countries in Afghanistan, the majority of our people are suffering from insecurity, killings, kidnapping, unemployment, rape, acid throwing on schoolgirls, hunger, lawlessness, lack of freedom of speech and many more awful disasters. Peace, security, democracy and independence can only be achieved by our own people. It is our responsibility to become united as an alternative against the occupation, to rise up, to resist and to organize our people.
Right now our people are sandwiched between three enemies. From one side we have the Taliban, from the other side are the US air strikes, and from another side are the Northern Alliance warlords in different provinces. With the troop withdrawal our people will at least get rid of one of these enemies.
The justice-loving people of the US and its democratic-minded allies should continue to pressure their government to change its fundamentalists-fostering policy and work for the disarmament of armed groups who are in the pay of the US.
We think the peace-loving people around the world should support democratic-minded individuals and forces of Afghanistan who are being suppressed and weakened by the US and its fundamentalist stooges. Only the emergence of a powerful democratic movement can lead Afghanistan towards independence and democracy.
Afghan people are deeply fed up with their current conditions and are on the verge of rising up against it. We have already seen protests and rising up of people in the face of threats and terror in a number of provinces of Afghanistan. In the future this wave will without a doubt gain momentum. With the emergence of a third front whose slogan is "Neither Occupation Nor Taliban - Freedom and Democracy," Afghans will rise up to get their rights with their own power. This is a long and painful process, but the only option to lead Afghanistan toward peace and prosperity.
*An edited version of this interview recently appeared in Peace News. email@example.com.