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‘Women’s Rights’ in Afghanistan – Code for Occupation

New America Media, Interview, Elsa Rassbach, Q&A with Zoya Posted: May 29, 2009

Editor’s Note: "The U.S. government has never supported democratic organizations," according to Zoya, an Afghan woman interviewed about the state of women’s rights in the country. Despite more than seven years of U.S. and NATO occupation, the members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) must still use pseudonyms to protect their organization, their families, and their work to liberate the women of Afghanistan. Zoya is the pseudonym used by a member of RAWA’s Foreign Committee. She received international acclaim with the 2003 publication “Zoya’s Story: An Afghan Woman’s Battle for Freedom,” with John Follain and Rita Cristofari. Elsa Rassbach interviewed her in Berlin.

What led you to decide to work with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)?

I’m from the generation of the war crimes in Afghanistan. I was born in 1979, and that was the year of the Soviet invasion. My generation has never enjoyed democracy, freedom, secularism, or peace in
Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviets and the fall of its puppet regime, the darkest part of our history began when fundamentalists took power in 1992. That was the start of the odious part of our history, which continues until this day. Between 1992 and 1996, 80,000 civilians were killed in Kabul under the domination of the Northern Alliance, due to infighting of fundamentalist groups. They turned Kabul into a graveyard, where you could only see tears, fear, destruction, and blood.

Then, when the Taliban came into power, they even raped 70 year olds and four year olds. The main reason I joined RAWA was the misery and pain of our people.

The U.S. government has always played with the destiny of our poor people and has supported criminals, terrorists and the worst enemies of our people.

I was a war orphan; I lost my parents as the result of the war. I studied in RAWA’s school, the
Watan (Homeland) School, in the refugee camp in Pakistan. They had a school for girls and one
for boys. I was there through the 6th grade.

I became aware of RAWA through the school. I found RAWA to be the most serious, honest, radical, anti-fundamentalist, democratic organization fighting for justice and women’s rights.

I began with RAWA at age 14. I am now 28 and a member of the Foreign Committee. I’m in my third year of university, studying law.

What is the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)?

RAWA was first established in 1977 by Afghan intellectual women to fight for equality of men and women and against male chauvinism that was and is being practiced in our society. Most women were illiterate and took literacy courses and then decided to work with RAWA.

In 1979, RAWA fought against the Russians and to expose the Russian puppet government through demonstrations, leaflets, and strikes. In 1987, RAWA’s leader, Meena, was killed by agents of KHAD (the Afghan branch of the KGB) with direct help of the Islamic Party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Our demonstrations were attacked, even in Pakistan. We had to live in a clandestine way. From 1992 to the present, we have fought any brand of Islamic fundamentalists, who are the main cause of our miseries and problems.

Being strongly against the fundamentalist warlords, the Taliban and the puppet government of Hamid Karzai, we still can’t work publicly in Afghanistan, and we continue to work semi-underground. Some of our supporters have been imprisoned and tortured for just having copies of our magazine with them.

The U.S. government has never supported democratic organizations like RAWA. Up until now, we have received not a penny from the U.S. or any other government. At the same time, we have the honor of being supported by the peace-loving people of the U.S. and other Western countries. We have received donations of $5 and even $1,000 for orphanages, schools and political work.

What is RAWA’s position regarding the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan?

In 2001, the U.S. and its allies occupied Afghanistan under the beautiful slogans of “war on terror,” “women’s rights,” “liberation” and “democracy.” But when they installed the brutal and criminal warlords after the fall of the Taliban, everyone knew that Afghanistan had once again become a chessboard for world powers. The plight of our people, and especially of women, has been misused to legitimize the foreign military presence in our country.

Afghan people have been badly betrayed by the U.S. and NATO in the past few years. Despite billions in aid, Afghan people are living under awful conditions that are worse than they were under the Taliban medieval rule. Afghanistan still faces a women’s rights tragedy, and the everyday hardships of our masses are beyond imagination.

Everyone knows that the U.S., a superpower, together with the biggest military pact in the world, NATO, could in a matter of days, if not hours, defeat the Taliban and arrest Mullah Omer and Osama. But today they need such enemies to justify keeping their military machine in Afghanistan.

We don’t want their so-called liberation and democracy. If these troops do not withdraw, we are sure that the Afghan people will have no other option but to rise up against them. Our people are already deeply fed up with the situation. The jokes being made in Afghanistan are that the Taliban is getting the most from this situation.

Would you not be afraid of a civil war if the U.S. and NATO withdrew from Afghanistan?

RAWA supports the call for the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO troops because occupation is not a solution. They are constantly killing civilians, even at a wedding party. Do you think we are not human beings and don’t have hearts? What would Americans do if an occupier were killing so many civilians in the U.S.?

If there is a withdrawal, there will probably be a civil war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, but that would not be any worse than what is going on now. When these troops pull out, at least we will then no more be an occupied country.

The reason the fundamentalists are powerful is because they are always being supported by the U.S., which has given billions of dollars to the Northern Alliance, money that has gone into the pockets of warlords and drug lords. Today people are crying of hunger, selling their children for $5, but where did the billions go?

What solutions would RAWA propose?

The withdrawal of military troops must be accompanied by other actions by governments, if they really want to help us as they claim. They must stop supporting any terrorist groups, including the Northern Alliance that destroyed Afghanistan before the Taliban came. There should also be sanctions on governments that support the Taliban, like Iran and Pakistan. Warlords should be brought to the International Court for crimes against humanity.

The message of RAWA to freedom-loving people is to support the democratic organizations of
Afghanistan. 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 the Afghan people through force will only push our country into slavery. This is our responsibility: to stand up to fundamentalists and occupations.

This interview was posted May 16 on PINKtank, a blog of CODEPINK.

Related Articles:

From Mt. View to Afghanistan

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