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Woman as Reason: Afghan women demand justice May 19, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Women.
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From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Is the March 19 murder of Farkhunda by a mob of men who beat her to death with stones and sticks, ran her over with a car, threw her body on the banks of the Kabul River and lit it on fire, a turning point for women in Afghanistan? Some are saying it is.

Farkhunda was a 27-year-old woman who was studying religion and thought she had a right to criticize mullahs selling good luck charms at a religious shrine in central Kabul. But then one mullah started screaming that she was an infidel and had burned the Koran. Even though Farkhunda had been at the shrine for hours castigating the trinket sellers as un-Islamic, the lynch mob believed the mullah and turned on her with inhuman fury.

Her death was captured by cell phones and projected on social media. The impact was profound. Nargis Azaryun, a youth activist and member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), expressed what many felt when she checked her facebook page that morning: “The first sentences I read about the incident left me in shock: ‘Today we killed a woman who burned the Koran. Allah Akbar.’… I cried for hours, thinking how helpless she was when they were kicking her. She kept screaming and saying, ‘I haven’t burned the Koran,’ but no one was listening to her….The police did not help her because everyone believed that she deserved to die, deserved to be burned to death….”

Because Farkhunda’s death was broadcast all over social media, because it was so horrific and because there was such an outcry—for once, instead of taking the man’s word as the unchallenged truth—her murder was investigated and she was declared “completely innocent.”


Then women did something unprecedented: they went to Farkhunda’s family and asked if they could carry her coffin, this in a country where women are often banned from attending funerals. The women who made this move were activists, belonging to groups like WLUML, Solidarity Party, Women for Women International-Afghanistan; others held professional jobs in the city or university.

Against all tradition, women in Afghanistan carry Farkhunda's coffin.

There is no question that they were aware of what happened in Turkey in February at the funeral of 19-year-old student Özgecan Aslan, who was savagely sexually assaulted and murdered. Over 5,000 came to her funeral where women refused the Imam’s orders to step to the back of the crowd. Instead women stepped forward to carry Aslan’s coffin and bury her, vowing: “No other man’s hands would touch her again.” (See “From Turkey to USA, women as force & reason fight inhumanity,” March-April 2015 N&L.)

In Afghanistan at the burial the women chanted: “We want justice!” and “We are all Farkhunda!” A member of WLUML said that at Farkhunda’s funeral, “For the first time in Afghanistan we stood tall to say that no man will touch her burnt body’s coffin.”

It didn’t end there. On March 24 thousands of demonstrators marched on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court demanding justice for Farkhunda, the second protest in as many days. Organizers estimated that 3,000 marched—one of the largest demonstrations ever in Kabul. Demonstrators shouted, “Justice for Farkhunda” and “Down with ignorance.” Afghans in other countries have demonstrated too.

At the March 24 demonstration, the head of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, Fatana Gailani, expressed the hope that Farkhunda’s death would be a catalyst for change. Others thought the response to her death had brought people together who were sickened by the inhumanity of her attackers. Is this the beginning of a better life for Afghan women?


If Farkhunda had burned the Koran, would there have been an outcry? When it was thought she had, the police stood by and watched her murder. A spokesman for them said that the killing of “an unbeliever” was justified. What of the women who are jailed for years for running away from home to avoid a forced marriage or those who die from honor killings? Who carries their coffins or demonstrates in the streets shouting for justice for them?

It means something that these women stood tall in Kabul. They took matters into their own hands and revealed their creativity through action, which is the way that genuine change comes about.

Azaryun made this clear, saying: “I picked up [Farkhunda’s coffin] because I wanted to tell the women in this country that if we want to achieve anything we should sit up and do what we want to do. Do it like a woman. And if we stick together, we break taboos. We proved it yesterday. No one could stop us yesterday from being by Farkhunda’s side because we were together and supporters of each other.”

Book Review: Empire’s Ally: The U.S. and Canada February 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Roger’s note: to some degree Canada has always been a subservient servant to U.S. economic and geopolitical interests.  But when I arrived here in 1968 as a Vietnam war resister, it was a different country politically than it is today.  Of course, for that matter, so is the United States.  I never romanticized Canada as the perfect peace loving nation.  Few do any more.  But there was a time when the Canadian government at least did not “go along” with American imperial adventures.  Stephen Harper and what my friend Charlie calls the suposi-TORIES have changed all that.  Today, more than ever Canada is the 51st state, politically, economically, culturally, and with respect to Orwellian surveillance.  Nothing less than a tragedy for peace an justice loving Canadians.


By  (about the author)OpEdNews Op Eds 1/31/2014 at 17:44:38

Source: Dispatches From The Edge

(image by Amazon)

Book Review
Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan
Edited by Jerome Klassen and Greg Albo
University of Toronto Press
Toronto Buffalo London 2013

Americans tend to think of Canadians as politer and more sensible than their southern neighbors, thus the joke: “Why does the Canadian chicken cross the road? To get to the middle.” Oh, yes, bit of a “muddle” there in Afghanistan, but like Dudley Do Right, the Canadians were only trying to develop and tidy up the place.

Not in the opinion of Jerome Klassen and a formidable stable of academics, researchers, journalists, and peace activists who see Canada’s role in Central Asia less as a series of policy blunders than a coldly calculated strategy of international capital. “Simply put,” writes Klassen, “the war in Afghanistan was always linked to the aspirations of empire on a much broader scale.”

“Empire’s Ally” asks the question, “Why did the Canadian government go to war in Afghanistan in 2001?” and then carefully dissects the popular rationales: fighting terrorism; coming to the aid of the United States; helping the Afghans to develop their country. Oh, and to free women. What the book’s autopsy of those arguments reveals is disturbing.

Calling Canada’s Afghan adventure a “revolution,” Klassen argues, “the new direction of Canadian foreign policy cannot be explained simply by policy mistakes, U.S. demands, military adventurism, security threats, or abstract notions of liberal idealism. More accurately, it is best explained by structural tendencies in the Canadian political economy — in particular, by the internationalization of Canadian capital and the realignment of the state as a secondary power in the U.S.-led system of empire.”

In short, the war in Afghanistan is not about people failing to read Kipling, but is rather part of a worldwide economic and political offensive by the U.S. and its allies to dominate sources of energy and weaken any upstart competitors like China, and India. Nor is that “broader scale” limited to any particular region.

Indeed, the U.S. and its allies have transformed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from a European alliance to contain the Soviet Union, to an international military force with a global agenda. Afghanistan was the alliance’s coming-out party, its first deployment outside of Europe. The new “goals” are, as one planner put it, to try to “re-establish the West at the centre of global security,” to guarantee access to cheap energy, to police the world’s sea lanes, to “project stability beyond its borders,” and even concern itself with “Chinese military modernization.”

If this all sounds very 19th century — as if someone should strike up a chorus of “Britannia Rules the Waves” — the authors would agree, but point out that global capital is far more powerful and all embracing than the likes of Charles “Chinese” Gordon and Lord Herbert Kitchener ever envisioned. One of the book’s strong points is its updating of capitalism, so to speak, and its careful analysis of what has changed since the end of the Cold War.

Klassen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies, and Greg Albo is an associate professor of political science at York University in Toronto. The two authors gather together 13 other academics, journalists, researchers and peace activists to produce a detailed analysis of Canada’s role in the Afghan war.

The book is divided into four major parts dealing with the history of the involvement, its political and economic underpinnings, and the actual Canadian experiences in Afghanistan, which had more to with condoning war crimes like torture than digging wells, educating people, and improving their health. Indeed, Canada’s Senate Standing Committee on National Security concluded that, in Ottawa’s major area of concentration in Afghanistan, Kandahar, “Life is clearly more perilous because we are there.”

After almost $1 trillion dollars poured into Afghanistan — Canada’s contribution runs to about $18 billion — some 70 percent of the Afghan population lives in poverty, and malnutrition has recently increased. Over 30,000 Afghan children die each year from hunger and disease. And as for liberating women, according to a study by TrustLaw Women, the “conflict, NATO airstrikes and cultural practices combined” make Afghanistan the “most dangerous country for women” in the world.

The last section of the book deals with Canada’s anti-war movement.

While the focus of “Empire’s Ally” is Canada, the book is really a sort of historical materialist blueprint for analyzing how and why capitalist countries involve themselves in foreign wars. Readers will certainly learn a lot about Canada, but they will also discover how political economics works and what the goals of the new imperialism are for Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin.

Klassen argues that Canadians have not only paid in blood and gold for their Afghanistan adventure, they have created a multi-headed monster, a “network of corporate, state, military, intellectual, and civil social actors who profit from or direct Canada’s new international policies.”

This meticulously researched book should be on the shelf of anyone interested in the how’s and why’s of western foreign policy. “Empire’s Ally” is a model of how to do an in-depth analysis of 21st century international capital and a handy guide on how to cut through the various narratives about “democracy,” “freedom,” and “security” to see the naked violence and greed that lays at the heart of the Afghan War.

The authors do more than reveal, however; they propose a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan. It is the kind of thinking that could easily be applied to other “hot spots” on the globe.

For this book is a warning about the future, when the battlegrounds may shift from the Hindu Kush to the East China Sea, Central Africa, or Kashmir, where, under the guise of fighting “terrorism,” establishing “stability,” or “showing resolve,” the U.S. and its allies will unleash their armies of the night.

How Much “Success” Can Afghans Stand? September 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Uncategorized.
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Sunday 12 September 2010

by: Nick Turse  |  TomDispatch | News Analysis

Soldiers of Alpha Company(A Coy) in the Panjwaii District of Kandahar Province. (Photo: Sgt Lou Penney / lafrancevi)

With the arrival of General David Petraeus as Afghan War commander, there has been ever more talk about the meaning of “success” in Afghanistan. At the end of July, USA Today ran an article titled, “In Afghanistan, Success Measured a Step at a Time.” Days later, Stephen Biddle, a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, held a conference call with the media to speak about “Defining Success in Afghanistan.” A mid-August editorial in the Washington Post was titled: “Making the Case for Success in Afghanistan.” And earlier this month, an Associated Press article appeared under the headline, “Petraeus Talks Up Success in Afghan War.”

Unlike victory, success turns out to be a slippery term. As the United States approaches the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, pundits have been chewing over just what “success” in Afghanistan might mean for Washington. What success might mean for ordinary Afghans hasn’t, however, been a major topic of conversation, even though U.S. officials have regularly promised them far better lives and trumpeted American efforts to reconstruct that war-torn land.

Between 2001 and 2009, according to the Afghan government, the country has received $36 billion in grants and loans from donor nations, with the United States disbursing some $23 billion of it. U.S. taxpayers have anted up another $338 billion to fund the war and occupation. Yet from poverty indexes to risk-of-rape assessments, from childhood mortality figures to drug-use stats, just about every available measure of Afghan wellbeing paints a grim picture of a country in a persistent state of humanitarian crisis, often involving reconstruction and military failures on an epic scale. Pick a measurement affecting ordinary Afghans and the record since November 2001 when Kabul fell to Allied forces is likely to show stagnation or setbacks and, almost invariably, suffering.

Almost a decade after the U.S. invasion, life for Afghan civilians is not a subject Americans care much about and so, not surprisingly, it plays little role in Washington’s discussions of “success.” Have a significant number of Afghans found the years of occupation and war “successful”? Has there been a payoff in everyday life for the indignities of the American years — the cars stopped or sometimes shot up at road checkpoints, the American patrols trooping through fields and searching homes, the terrifying night raids, the imprisonments without trial, or the way so many Afghans continue to be treated like foreigners, if not criminal suspects, in their own country?

For years, American leaders have hailed the way Afghans are supposedly benefiting from the U.S. role in their country. But are they?

The promises began early. In April 2002, for instance, speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, President George W. Bush proclaimed that in Afghanistan “peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls which works.” He added, “We’re working hard in Afghanistan: We’re clearing mine fields. We’re rebuilding roads. We’re improving medical care. And we will work to help Afghanistan to develop an economy that can feed its people without feeding the world’s demand for drugs.”

When, on May 1, 2003, President Bush strode across the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to deliver his “mission accomplished” speech, declaring an end to “major combat operations in Iraq,” he also spoke of triumph in the other war and once again offered a rosy picture of Afghan developments. “We continue to help the Afghan people lay roads, restore hospitals, and educate all of their children,” he said. Five years later, he was still touting American aid to Afghans, noting that the U.S. was “working to ensure that our military progress is accompanied by the political and economic gains that are critical to the success of a free Afghanistan.”

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama seemed to suggest that efforts to promote Afghan wellbeing had indeed been a success: “There is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in recent years — in education, in health care and economic development, as I saw in the lights across Kabul when I landed — lights that would not have been visible just a few years earlier.”

So, almost 10 years on, just what are the lives of ordinary Afghans like? Has childhood mortality markedly improved? Are women, if not equal in terms of civil rights, at least secure in the knowledge that men are not able to rape them with impunity? Have all Afghan children — or even most — started on the road to a decent education?

Or how about a more basic question? After almost a decade of war and tens of billions in international aid, do Afghans have enough to eat? I recently posed that question to Challiss McDonough of the United Nation’s World Food Program in Afghanistan.

Food Insecurity

In October 2001, the BBC reported that more than seven million people were “at risk of malnutrition or food shortages across Afghanistan.” In an email, McDonough updated that estimate: “The most recent data on food insecurity comes from the last National Risk and Vulnerability Assesment (NRVA), which was conducted in 2007/2008 and released in late October 2009. It found that about 7.4 million people are food-insecure, roughly 31 percent of the estimated population. Another 37 percent are considered to be on the borderline of food insecurity, and could be pushed over the edge by shocks such as floods, drought, or conflict-related displacement.”

Food insecurity indicators, McDonough pointed out, are heading in the wrong direction. “The NRVA of 2007/08 showed that the food security had deteriorated in 25 out of the 34 provinces compared to the 2005 NRVA. This was the result of a combination of factors, including high food prices, rising insecurity and recurring natural disasters.” As she also pointed out, “About 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford basic necessities. Staple food prices remain higher than they are in neighboring countries, and higher than they were before the global high-food-price crisis began in 2007.”

Recently, the international risk management firm Maplecroft put together a food security index — using 12 criteria developed with the United Nations’ World Food Program — to evaluate the threat to supplies of basic food staples in 163 countries. Afghanistan ranked dead last and was the only non-African nation among the 10 most food-insecure countries on the planet.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and the grim years of Taliban rule in the later 1990s, millions of Afghans fled their country. While many returned after 2001, large numbers have continued to live abroad. More than one million registered Afghans reportedly live in Iran. Another 1.5 million or more undocumented, unregistered Afghan refugees may also reside in that country. Some 1.7 million or more Afghan refugees currently live in Pakistan — 1.5 million of them in recently flood-ravaged provinces, according to Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N.’s refugee agency.

Many Afghans who still remain in their country cannot return home either. According to a 2008 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 235,833 internally displaced persons nationwide. As of the middle of this year, the numbers had reportedly increased to more than 328,000.

Children’s Well-Being

In 2000, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), mortality for children under five years of age stood at 257 per 1,000. In 2008, the last year for which data was available, that number had not budged. It had, in fact, only slightly improved since 1990, when after almost a decade of Soviet occupation and brutal warfare, the numbers stood at 260 per 1,000. The figures were similar for infant mortality — 168 per 1,000 in 1990, 165 per 1,000 in 2008.

In 2002, according to the U.N., about 50% of Afghan children were chronically malnourished. The most recent comprehensive national survey, done two years into the U.S. occupation, found (according to the World Food Program’s McDonough) about 60% of children under five chronically malnourished.

Childhood education is a rare area of genuine improvement. Afghan government statistics show steady growth — from 3,083,434 children in primary school in 2002 to 4,788,366 enrolled in 2008. Still, there are more young children outside than in the classroom, according to 2010 UNICEF numbers, which indicate that approximately five million Afghan children do not attend school — most of them girls.

Many youngsters find themselves on the streets. Reuters recently reported that there are no fewer than 600,000 street children in Afghanistan. Shafiqa Zaher, a social worker with Aschiana, a children’s aid group receiving U.S. funds, told reporter Andrew Hammond that most have a home, even if only a crumbling shell of a building, but their caregivers are often disabled and unemployed. Many are, therefore, forced into child labor. “Poverty is getting worse in Afghanistan and children are forced to find work,” said Zaher.

In 2002, the U.N. reported that there were more than one million children in Afghanistan who had lost one or both parents. Not much appears to have changed in the intervening years. “I have seen estimates that there are over one million Afghan children whose father or mother is deceased,” Mike Whipple, the Chairman and CEO of International Orphan Care, a U.S.-based humanitarian organization that operates schools and medical clinics in Afghanistan, told me by email recently.

Increasingly, even Afghan youngsters with families are desperate enough to abandon their homeland and attempt a treacherous overland journey to Europe and possible asylum. This year, UNHCR reported that ever more Afghan children are fleeing their country alone. Almost 6,000 of them, mostly boys, sought asylum in European countries in 2009, compared to about 3,400 a year earlier.

Women’s Rights

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush told Congress: “The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free and are part of Afghanistan’s new government.” Last year, when asked about a new Afghan law sanctioning the oppression of women, President Obama asserted that there were “certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.”

Recently, the plight of women in Afghanistan again made U.S. headlines thanks to a shocking TIME magazine cover image of Bibi Aisha, an Afghan whose ears and nose were sliced off after she ran away from her husband’s house. “What Happens When We Leave Afghanistan” was TIME’s headline, but reporter Ann Jones, who has worked closely with women in Afghanistan and talked to Bibi Aisha, took issue with the TIME cover in the Nation magazine, pointing out that it was evidently not the Taliban who mutilated Aisha and that the brutal assault took place eight years into the U.S. occupation. Life for women in Afghanistan has not been the bed of roses promised by Bush nor typified by the basic rights proffered by Obama, as Jones noted:

“Consider the creeping Talibanization of Afghan life under the Karzai government. Restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, access to work and rights within the family have steadily tightened as the result of a confluence of factors, including the neglect of legal and judicial reform and the obligations of international human rights conventions; legislation typified by the infamous Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL), gazetted in 2009 by President Karzai himself despite women’s protests and international furor; intimidation; and violence.”

Her observations are echoed in a recent report by Medica Mondiale, a German non-governmental organization that advocates for the rights of women and girls in war and crisis zones around the world. As its blunt briefing began, “Nine years after 11 September and the start of the operation ‘Enduring Freedom,’ which justified its commitment not only with the hunt for terrorists, but also with the fight for women’s rights, the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan still is catastrophic.” Medica Mondiale reported that 80% of all Afghan marriages are still “concluded under compulsion.”

The basic safety of women in Afghanistan in, and well beyond, Taliban-controlled areas has in recent years proven a dismal subject even though the Americans haven’t left. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), for instance, 87% of women are subject to domestic abuse. A 2009 report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found that rape “is an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country” and called it a “human rights problem of profound proportions.” That report continued:

“Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes and in their communities, in detention facilities and as a result of traditional harmful practices to resolve feuds within the family or community… In the northern region for example, 39 percent of the cases analyzed by UNAMA Human Rights, found that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation.”

Afghan women are reportedly turning to suicide as their only solution.

A June report by Sudabah Afzali of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting noted that, according to officials in Herat Province, “cases of suicide amongst women… have increased by 50 per cent over the last year.” Sayed Naim Alemi, the director of the regional hospital in Herat, noted that 85 cases of attempted suicide recorded in the previous six months had involved women setting themselves on fire or ingesting poison. In 57 of the cases, the women had died.

A study conducted by former Afghan Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar and released in August gave a sense of the breadth of the problem. Using Afghan Health Ministry records and hospital reports, Kakar found that an estimated 2,300 women or girls were attempting suicide each year. Domestic violence, bitter hardships, and mental illness were the leading factors in their decisions. “This is a several-fold increase on three decades ago,” said Kakar. In addition, he found that about 1.8 million Afghan women and girls between the ages of 15 and 40 are suffering from “severe depression.”

Drug Use

Rampant depression, among both men and women, has led to self-medication. While opium-poppy cultivation on an almost unimaginable scale in the planet’s leading narco-state has garnered headlines since 2001, little attention has been paid to drug use by ordinary Afghans, even though it has been on a steep upward trajectory.

In 2003, according to Afghanistan’s Public Health Minister Amin Fatimie, there were approximately 7,000 heroin addicts in the capital city, Kabul. In 2007, that number was estimated to have doubled. By 2009, UNAMA and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) estimated that the city was home to up to 20,000 heroin users and another 20,000 to 25,000 opium users.

Unfortunately, Kabul has no monopoly on the problem. “Three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment have created a major, and growing, addiction problem in Afghanistan,” says Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNDOC. Since 2005, the number of Afghan opium users nationwide has jumped by 53%, while heroin users have skyrocketed by 140%. According to UNODC’s survey, Drug Use in Afghanistan, approximately one million Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 are addicted to drugs. That adds up to about 8% of the population and twice the global average.

AIDs and Sex Work

Since the U.S. occupation began, AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes the disease, have reportedly also been on the rise. In 2002, only eight people tested positive for HIV. In 2007, Public Health Minister Fatimie reported 61 confirmed cases of AIDS and 2,000 more suspected cases.

Fatamie blamed intravenous drug use for half the cases and the NGO Médecins du Monde, which works with intravenous drug users in Kabul, found that HIV prevalence among such users in the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Mazar had risen from 3% to 7% between 2006 and 2009. A 2010 report by the Public Health Ministry revealed that knowledge about HIV among intravenous drug users was astonishingly low, that few had ever been tested for the virus, and that of those who admitted to purchasing sex within the previous six months, most confessed to not having used a condom.

This last fact is hardly surprising, given the findings from a recent study by Catherine Todd and colleagues of 520 female sex workers, almost all mothers, in the Afghan cities of Jalalabad, Kabul, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Only about 30% of the women surveyed reported clients had ever used a condom with them and about 50% had received treatment for a sexually transmitted infection in the three months prior to being interviewed.

The same study also sheds light on the intersection between high-risk behaviors, socio-economic conditions, and the freedom and opportunities promised to Afghan women by Presidents Bush and Obama. The most common reasons Afghan women engaged in sex work, Todd and colleagues found, were the need to support themselves (50%) or their families (32.4%). Almost 9% reported being forced into sex work by their families. Just over 5% turned to prostitution after being widowed, and 1.5% were forced into the profession after they were sexually assaulted and, consequently, found themselves unable to marry.

A Decade of Progress?

In the near-decade since Kabul fell in November 2001, a sizeable majority of Afghans have continued to live in poverty and privation. Measuring such misery may be impossible, but the United Nations has tried to find a comprehensive way to do so nonetheless. Using a Human Poverty Index which “focuses on the proportion of people below certain threshold[s] in regard to a long and healthy life, having access to education, and a decent standard of living,” the U.N. found that, comparatively speaking, it doesn’t get worse than life in Afghanistan. The nation ranks dead last in its listing, number 135 out of 135 countries. This is what “success” means today in Afghanistan.

The United Nations also ranks countries via a Human Development Index which includes such indicators of wellbeing as life expectancy, educational attainment, and income. In 2004, the U.N. and the Afghan government issued the first National Human Development Report. In its foreword, the publication cautioned:

“As was expected, the report has painted a gloomy picture of the status of human development in the country after two decades of war and destruction. The Human Development Index (HDI) value calculated nationally puts Afghanistan at the dismal ranking of 173 out of 178 countries worldwide. Yet the HDI also presents us with a benchmark against which progress can be measured in the future.“

The only place to go, it seemed, was up. And yet, in 2009, when the U.N. issued a new Human Development Report, Afghanistan was in even worse shape, ranking number 181 of 182 nations, higher only than Niger.

Almost 10 years of U.S. and allied occupation, development, mentoring, reconstruction aid, and assistance has taken the country from unbearably dismal to something markedly poorer. And yet even worse is still possible for the long-suffering men, women, and children of Afghanistan. As the U.S. war and occupation drags on without serious debate about withdrawal on the Washington agenda, questions need to be asked about the fate of Afghan civilians. Chief among them: How many more years of “progress” can they endure, and if the U.S. stays, how much more “success” can they stand?

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), which brings together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has just been published. He discusses why withdrawal from Afghanistan hasn’t been on the American agenda in Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview, which can be accessed by clicking here or downloaded to your iPod here. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. His website is NickTurse.com.

Copyright 2010 Nick Turse 


Plight of Afghan Women May Worsen as War Effort is Stepped Up, Warns Report December 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War, Women.
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Published on Monday, December 7, 2009 by The Guardian/UKby Jon Boone in Kabul

The already dire plight of women in Afghanistan risks deteriorating further as the US and its allies take steps to turn around the war against the Taliban, according to a report by Human Rights Watch today.

[A human rights group has highlighted a catalogue of abuse of women in Afghanistan. (Photo: AFP)]A human rights group has highlighted a catalogue of abuse of women in Afghanistan. (Photo: AFP)

Eight years after the Taliban were ousted from power, rapists are often protected from prosecution, women can still be arrested for running away from home, and girls have far less access to schools than boys, the report says. 

With the insurgency strengthening in the south and making inroads into the north, the few gains made for women’s rights since the US-led invasion of 2001 could be further eroded if Hamid Karzai‘s government and the international community push for peace talks with factions of the fundamentalist movement.

Among the examples of abuses against women collected by the organisation was the case of a woman who was gang raped by a group that included a powerful local militia commander.

Although she fought to have her rapists prosecuted, they were subsequently pardoned by Karzai. Later, her husband was assassinated.

Rape was put on the statute books as a criminal offence this year but it is still not widely regarded by the police or the courts as a serious crime, with the attackers often receiving greater legal protection than the victims.

One survey found that 52% of women had experience physical violence, while 17% reported sexual violence.

“Police and judges see violence against women as legitimate, so they do not prosecute cases,” said Soraya Sobhrang, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Watch said that more than half the women and girls in Afghan prisons were held for “moral crimes”, such as adultery or running away from home – although the latter is not a crime under Afghan or Islamic law.

“Whether it is a high-profile woman under threat, a young woman who wants to escape a child marriage, or a victim of rape who wants to see the perpetrator punished, the response from the police or courts is often hostile,” the group said.

Rachel Reid, of Human Rights Watch, said the situation “could deteriorate”.

She added: “While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women’s and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors.”

The report also warns that wives in half of all marriages are younger than 16, and up to 80% take place without consent.

A 13-year old girl said that after she escaped marriage she was pursued by her husband’s family. Years later she still has not succeeded in getting a legal separation from her illegal marriage and women’s activists have been denounced in parliament for giving her shelter.

Campaigners have also been angered by the murders of high-profile women, including Sitara Achakzai, an activist and member of Kandahar’s provincial council, who was shot dead in April.

A female member of parliament, who cannot be named, said: “I’ve had so many threats. I report them sometimes, but the authorities tell me not to make enemies, to keep quiet. But how can I stop talking about women’s rights and human rights?”

In August, Afghanistan quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands, despite international outrage following a report in the Guardian about an earlier version of the legislation, which Karzai had promised to review.

Although western and Afghan politicians like to hail the increase in school building since 2001 as a major success story, the Human Rights Watch report says the participation of girls remains very low, with just 11% of secondary school-aged children in education.

Karzai, who was reappointed as president after a fraud-marred election regarded by most legal experts as unconstitutional, is due to announce his new cabinet in the coming days.

Human Rights Watch called on Karzai to release all women detained for running away from home and offer them compensation.

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

Afghans’ ‘Bravest Woman’ Calls on U.S. to Leave November 12, 2009

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By Amy Littlefield

WeNews correspondent

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Malalai Joya, called the “bravest woman in Afghanistan,” is finishing up a U.S. tour where she has pressed the Obama administration to pull the military out of her country. She says nothing could be worse for women than what she sees as the current civil war.

(WOMENSENEWS)–Surrounded by powerful men twice her age, Malalai Joya, then 27 and the youngest person elected to the Afghan parliament, raised her hand to speak. She denounced the warlords and drug traffickers in the government and stood up in favor of women’s rights.

That was 2005, four years after the United States invaded Afghanistan.

Two years later, Joya was expelled from parliament for criticizing the warlords who she says remain in control of the country under U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

Multiple times, her enemies have tried to kill her, forcing her to hide in safe houses and wear a burka.

Now, 31-year-old Joya, known widely as “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” has come to the United States to promote her new book and deliver a message to the U.S. government as the Obama administration, according to widespread press reports, considers some level of troop buildup.

On tour from Oct. 23 to Nov. 12, she’s made the following demand in some two dozen engagements from New York to Los Angeles: “Leave my country as soon as possible.”

Joya is one of a handful of Afghan women speaking out against the occupation of Afghanistan and drawing attention to the worsening condition of women. Following the end of her U.S. tour, she will head to Canada for another round of speaking engagements.

Liberation for Afghan Women?

The United States billed the invasion of Afghanistan as a liberating moment for Afghan women.

“The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school,” President George W. Bush said in his 2002 State of the Union address. “Today women are free and are part of Afghanistan’s new government.”

Joya said the violence of occupation and the misogyny of the country’s current political leaders have made life worse.

“Woman’s situation is like hell,” said Joya in a speech at Brown University, as part of her tour, noting that a single hospital in Kabul reported more than 600 attempted suicides, primarily by women from 2008 to 2009.

Joya called the current regime under the recently re-elected President Karzai “mentally similar to the Taliban,” saying the government “only physically has been changed.”

She pointed to Karzai’s signing of the so-called “rape law” as evidence of the misogynist nature of his government. Following global outcry in April, Karzai vowed to change the law, which mandated that Shia women submit to sex with their husbands. A second version of the law, which permits Shia men to deny food to their wives if they do not obey sexual demands, was passed this summer.

Afghanistan is “sandwiched between two powerful enemies . . . external enemies and internal enemies,” said Joya. “It is much easier to fight against one enemy than against two.”

The Afghan presidential runoff election scheduled for Nov. 7 was cancelled and Karzai, the incumbent, declared the winner after his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, who had accused Karzai of fraud, withdrew from the race Nov. 1.

More U.S. Troops for Support

Although the legitimacy of Karzai’s presidency remains in question due to charges of vote tampering, President Obama appears poised to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to support him.

Many in the United States, including Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, believe that a civil war would erupt in Afghanistan if U.S. troops withdrew.

Joya is among those who say that the country has already reached levels of violence that amount to a civil war and that the Afghan people should be trusted to take control.

“Democracy by war is impossible,” she said in response to a question at Brown University about who would provide security in the absence of the U.S. military. “Let us breathe in peace,” she said. “We know what to do with our destiny.”

Joya gained international recognition in 2003 when she spoke out against warlords and drug traffickers at the Afghan constitutional assembly. Addressing the “felons” who controlled the country, she called them anti-woman, demanded they be put on trial in international court and declared that history would never forgive them. She was then pushed out of the assembly room in a sea of both threats and applause.

After speaking at Brown, Joya met with Women’s eNews and recounted with a smile another speech in which she compared members of parliament to animals, attacking their integrity and usefulness. That got her banned from parliament and stripped of her formal political role, but she has not stopped speaking.

Joya has little security at her speaking events, even though, as she told Women’s eNews, she faces threats from allies of Afghan warlords in this country.

Worth the Threats?

When asked if it is worth the threats and the separation from her family, Joya, who became emotional when talking about her siblings back home, responds with stories about women and girls who have been raped, tortured and murdered in Afghanistan.

She tells of a 5-year-old girl killed for resisting a grown man’s attempts to rape her, another girl who begged for the right to divorce after her husband tortured her and hundreds of women who have burned themselves alive to escape nightmarish lives of poverty and abuse.

Sometimes she is unable to sleep at night after she has seen pictures of the horrors, she said. It is loyalty to “my people” that has brought her to the United States, where she has spoken to packed auditoriums and sold copies of her 2009 book, “A Woman Among Warlords.”

Joya said she wrote the book in order to communicate a small part of the sorrow and pain of her people and to reveal the truth about the warlords who were her peers in parliament. Although government officials have demanded Joya’s apology for insulting them, she does not believe she is the one who should be sorry.

“Someone had to do that and I did it . . . and I don’t regret it,” she said.

Instead, she addresses President Obama:

“Apologize to my people and end this.”

Amy Littlefield is a freelance reporter who lives in Amherst, Mass.

For more information:

Malalai Joya

Countries ‘Wasting Money and Blood’ in Afghanistan July 3, 2009

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Published on Friday, July 3, 2009 by Australian Broadcasting Corp. by Sophia Gardner

A politician who has been described as “the bravest woman in Afghanistan” says that military intervention is not the way to find democracy in the war-torn county.


[Malalai Joya gained international attention after accusing Afghanistan's leaders of war crimes. (Reuters : Ahmad Masoodd)]Malalai Joya gained international attention after accusing Afghanistan’s leaders of war crimes. (Reuters : Ahmad Masoodd)

Malalai Joya gained international attention for standing before Afghanistan’s constitutional grand assembly and accusing her country’s leaders of war crimes, human rights violations and supporting the Taliban. 

She spent most of her childhood in refugee camps and as a young woman she worked as a women’s rights activist under the Taliban.

She ran underground classes and clinics that would have resulted in her torture and execution had she been caught.

In 2003 the secular Muslim made a fearless and emotional public appearance at a constitutional assembly in Kabul.

“War lords are responsible for our country’s situation,” she said in the speech.

“Afghanistan is the centre for national and international conflicts. They oppress women and have ruined our country. They should be prosecuted.

“They might be forgiven by the Afghan people, but not by history.”

Her remarks were met by uproar from the 300 delegates, most of them former mujaheddin commanders and ex-Taliban officials.

In 2007 she was suspended from parliament for comparing it to a “stable or zoo” and later called the other members of parliament “criminals” and “drug smugglers”.

“When I got into parliament, the war lords didn’t allow me to talk. They turned off my microphone,” she said.

“They beat me by throwing bottles of water at me and threatened to rape me inside the parliament. But they couldn’t make me silent.”

In hiding

Since then, Ms Joya has survived several assassination attempts and spent the last five years in hiding, never spending 24 hours in the same house.

But this hasn’t silenced her. She has written a book, titled Raising My Voice, about her life and experiences as a female politician who dares to speak out.

“I have had five assassination attempts that you can read about in the book I have written on behalf of the ‘war generation’ and on behalf of innocent people,” she said.

“The reason I accepted to write a book was first, to expose the mask of these war lords to the great people around the world and also to tell the truth, as mainstream media is always trying to put dust in the eyes of the people around the world by telling lies.

“Also… the pain and sorrows of my people are reflected in this book. I hope this book will open the minds and the eyes of more people around the world of this catastrophic situation that we are living in.”

The book is currently being launched in Australia and is set to be published in 14 countries.

“One thing I am sure of is that not only my people, but people all around the world love the truth and what I did in this book is I said the truth,” she said.

“Hopefully one day the truth will find its deserved place.”

Intervention the ‘wrong policy’

Ms Joya says she is disappointed in the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan. She says her country needs to find its own way to democracy without military intervention.

“Everyone is always talking about what would happen if these troops leave us – a civil war will happen in Afghanistan – but nobody is talking about the civil war of today,” she said.

“Unfortunately Australia has followed the wrong policy of the US, which is a mockery of democracy and mockery of the war on terror, and it is quite a war crime that they are doing there.

“We are between two powerful enemies. From the ground, the Taliban and the northern allies are continuing to commit crimes and fascism against women and men in our country.

“From the sky these occupational forces are bombing and killing the civilians.”

She says she wants people to stand up to their governments against the “wrong policy” of military intervention in Afghanistan.

“These countries are wasting their money and blood in Afghanistan and I, on behalf on my people, pay my condolences to those people who lost their sons, their loves, their husbands in Afghanistan and have been killed,” she said.

“They should raise their voices against the wrong policy of their governments.”


Ms Joya does not believe the upcoming election, scheduled to be held in August, will make any difference to the unrest and says it will just be “one puppet replaced with another puppet”.

“The next president will be certainly selected behind closed doors at the White House. Our people will have no hope in the selection,” she said.

She says the system is corrupt and there is no justice.

“On behalf of my people I am risking my life so that one day, together with my people, we will bring these criminals to the national and international criminal court, which is a prolonged and risky saga,” she said.


© 2009 ABC

The Military Hides Under the Skirts of Women to Justify War in Afghanistan May 25, 2009

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By Jodie Evans, AlterNet. Posted May 21, 2009.

For eight years, many Americans have justified the war in Afghanistan as a moral battle to “protect” Afghan women. But Afghan women tell another story: more U.S. war will bear them more suffering.

Three decades of foreign occupation — with little sign of ending — have led to the complete collapse of more than a century of progress in Afghanistan for women’s rights, which reached their peak in the 1970s. Occupation destroyed Afghan public services and created incredible poverty, a perfect void of power ready to be filled by the Taliban (encouraged by the U.S. to counter Soviet influence). Many Afghan women say the collapse poses a greater threat to women’s lives: 87 percent are illiterate, 1,600 out of every 100,000 mothers die while giving birth or of related complications, and 1 and 3 women experience psychological, emotional or physical abuse.

Since the 2001 invasion, despite rhetoric of “saving” Afghan women, U.S. policies put in place did not do so. Meanwhile, this week, Congress is debating a $84.2 billion war funding bill that designates only 10 percent of the funds for development assistance — the rest goes to military efforts. If the United States really cared about the women and children of Afghanistan, it would fund real needs-health care, education, food security- and minimize spending on weapons systems and combat troops. Gen. Petraeus himself outlined a counter-insurgency doctrine of 80 percent non-military and 20 percent military, and told the Associated Press earlier this year that “you don’t kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency.”

But in the “save the women” argument, many say more troops will protect Afghan women from the Taliban. Not so — increased troop presence will raise the risk as it further incites the Taliban and al-Qaeda and inspires more of their propaganda; as they strengthen, they further destabilize the country, spark many more to live in constant fear or to join the insurgency. Troops cannot defeat an ideology: a RAND Corporation study last year found that only seven percent of terrorist organizations gave up their violent activities as a result of military defeat.

In addition, more troops has led to more civilian deaths through raids, drone attacks and general violence. A 2009 United Nations report found more than 2,100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, a 40 percent rise from 2007; about 700 were killed by international forces. Hundreds of Afghans, in student, women’s and human rights’ groups, have protested these conditions and called for their end (these protests were largely unreported, however). Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned that “we cannot succeed … in Afghanistan by killing Afghan civilians.”

The United States must quit hiding behind the skirts of Afghan women and come forward in support of real and sustained peace. Drone attacks, midnight home raids, and increased U.S. military presence only serves to alienate Afghans and fuel support for the Taliban’s armed resistance. Afghan women are calling on the Obama administration and Congress for a surge in doctors, teachers, and economic development for food security, job training and infrastructure. If only they would listen.

afghan women refugees 

Jodie Evans is a co-founder of Codepink: Women For Peace. She has been a community, social and political organizer for the last 30 years.

 CODEPINK is launching a new multimedia campaign, “Women Under War Speak Out,” a series of video, audio and written interviews with leading international women activists and policymakers to highlight the affects of war on women, and the promote the voices of women from countries under occupations.

Afghan Women Protest Marital Rape Law; Men Spit and Stone Them April 16, 2009

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Rady Ananda

www.opednews.com, April 16, 2009


Last month, the new Afghanistan parliament passed the “Shia Family Law” which legitimates marital rape and child marriage for Shia Muslims who make up ~15% of the population.  At least 300 women protested the law, with their faces exposed.  Nearly 1,000 Afghan men and their slaves turned maniacal and stoned the protesters. Police struggled to keep the two groups apart, reports the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

Supporters of the law redefine ‘rape’ to fit their narrow patriarchal views.  Forced sexual relations, to them, is about loyalty to the husband.  One counter-protester reportedly described rape as marital infidelity – by the wife!

Rape is what you see in the West where men don’t feel responsibility for their wives and leave them to go with several men.”

Well, honey, that is not the definition of rape.  That’s called cheating.  Afghan protesters object to insane Taliban views that promote stoning women to death for perceived affronts to their masculine godview:

woman_stoned_to_death-2795-20090416-3422Woman Stoned to Death

Last week widespread objection erupted to the stoning of a 16-year-old for leaving her house with a male non-family member, while the man was left unmolested and unpunished.  The Taliban’s femicidal misogyny is infamous, world wide.  RAWA and others hope to neutralize the psychopathic influence of Taliban thought in the Middle East. 

Afghanistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, except when it conflicts with their religion.  How convenient.

Treating Shia women separately than all other citizens sets them up for violence, as the counter-protesters proved.  RAWA tracks this violence, posting photos, reports and, recently, its statement on the 7th Anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan:

Neither the US nor Jehadies and Taliban,
Long Live the Struggle of Independent and Democratic Forces of Afghanistan!


RAWA reports:

“The government of President Hamid Karzai has said the Shiite family law is being reviewed by the Justice Department and will not be implemented in its current form. Governments and rights groups around the world have condemned the legislation, and President Barack Obama has labeled it ‘abhorrent.’

“Though the law would apply only to the country’s Shiites – 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people – it has sparked an uproar by activists who say it marks a return to Taliban-style oppression. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male relative.

“Shiite backers of the law say that foreigners are meddling in private Afghan affairs, and Wednesday’s demonstrations brought some of the emotions surrounding the debate over the law to the surface.

“‘You are a dog! You are not a Shiite woman!’ one man shouted to a young woman in a headscarf holding aloft a banner that said ‘We don’t want Taliban law.’ The woman did not shout back at the man, but told him: ‘This is my land and my people.’

Women protesting the law said many of their supporters had been blocked by men who refused to let them join the protest. Those who did make it shouted repeatedly that they were defending human rights by defending women’s rights and that the law does not reflect the views of the Shiite community.

“Fourteen-year-old Masuma Hasani said her whole family had come out to protest the law – both her parents and her younger sister who she held by the arm.

“‘I am concerned about my future with this law,’ she said. ‘We want our rights. We don’t want women to just be used.'”

This 10-minute 2006 phone-video evidences the murder by stoning of a teen girl who favored a boy outside her religious sect.  The boy, of course, went unharmed.  The femicidal maniacs cheered their actions, with several taking pictures.  Bloodlust fueled the men; they cheered when her head cracked open and blood pored onto the ground. Finally, the mob dragged her off.

Gotta love US influence in the Middle East.  We sure “brought democracy” over there.  Early this month, UK Gay News reported that 100 Iraqis face imminent execution for being gay. 

Despite US President Barack Obama’s “abhorrence” at legitimizing marital rape, RAWA is not happy with US foreign policy in Afghanistan:


More about RAWA


Afghan Women Protesting Rape Law Pelted by Stones April 15, 2009

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Source: CBC News

Posted: 04/15/09 8:56AM

Afghan women protesting against a new law that severely undermines women’s rights were pelted with stones in the country’s capital Wednesday, say reports.

Afghan Shiite counter protesters shout slogans in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. The group of some 1,000 male and female Afghans swarmed a demonstration by 300 women Wednesday protesting against a new conservative marriage law.

Afghan Shiite counter protesters shout slogans in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. (AP Photo)

About 300 mostly young women gathered in Kabul to show their opposition to a recently passed law that forbids women from refusing to have sex with their husbands and requires them to get a male relative’s permission to leave the house.

The demonstration was organized by women’s rights activists in Afghanistan. Critics of the law say it effectively legalizes rape within marriage and is a return to Taliban-style rule.

About 1,000 people opposed to the protest surrounded the women and threw gravel and stones as police struggled to hold them back. The group of counter-protesters included both men and women.

Some shouted “Death to the slaves of the Christians.”

“You are a dog. You are not a Shiite woman,” one man shouted to a young woman in a headscarf holding aloft a banner that said, “We don’t want Taliban law.”

The law, which applies only to the minority Shia community, received widespread international condemnation.

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the law will be reviewed and won’t be implemented in its current form.

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, said earlier this month Afghan officials had assured him they would delete “contentious clauses” from the legislation.

The Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for women, but also allows the Shia to have separate family law based on religious tradition.

With files from the Associated Press

Helping Afghan Women and Girls February 4, 2009

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afghan-women-refugeesAfghan women refugees wait for aid from the World Food Program in Kandahar province. (Photo: Allauddin Khan / AP)


02 February 2009

by: Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

As the coalition I’m working with – Get Afghanistan Right – continues to make the case that the Obama administration would be wise to rethink its plan to escalate militarily in Afghanistan, I’ve tried to engage the arguments made by some feminists and human rights groups who believe that such an escalation is necessary to protect Afghani women and girls. I share their horror when I read stories like this one by New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins describing an acid attack against girls and women – students and their teachers – at the Mirwais School for Girls. But how will escalation or increased US troop presence improve their security or make their lives better?

    I thought it would be important to speak with someone who has experience working on the ground with Afghan women’s organizations. Kavita Ramdas is President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women. For 15 years she has worked with groups like the Afghan Institute for Learning – which serves about 350,000 women and children in their schools, health care centers, and human rights programs.

    This is what Kavita said:

We’re hearing from groups we’ve worked with for over a 15 year period now, on the ground inside Afghanistan and with Afghan women’s groups and Pakistan as well.

    First, I think it’s remarkable that our approach to foreign policy – not just for the last eight years, but with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan in general over the last thirty years – has been almost entirely military focused. There hasn’t been any willingness to take a cold hard look at how effective or ineffective that strategy has been in whether or not it has helped stabilize the country. And there has been much less attention paid to whether this militaristic approach has done anything positive for the women of Afghanistan. It’s doubtful whether America’s foreign policy has ever had the welfare of Afghan women at heart. As many Afghani women have said to us, ‘You know, you didn’t even think about us 25 years ago,’ and then all of a sudden post 9-11, we’re sending troops to Afghanistan and ostensibly we’re very concerned about women. But there’s very little willingness to really look at the implications of a military strategy on women’s security. It is very important to begin with the following question: If the strategies that we used up to this point have not succeeded in ensuring the safety and well being of women and girls, what makes us think that increased militarization with 30,000 additional US troops is somehow going to improve the situation and security of women in Afghanistan?

    The second question is, what has been the role of the existing troops in Afghanistan with regard to the situation and the security of women? In general, what happens when regions become highly militarized, and when there are “peace-keeping forces,” militias, as well as foreign troops – which is NATO and the United States, primarily? In most parts of the world, highly militarized societies in almost every instance lead to bad results for women. The security of women is not improved and in many instances it actually becomes worse.

    What do I mean by that? Take, for example, Afghanistan. In 2003, almost every woman’s group I met with in Afghanistan, which was already a few years after the initial invasion, said that although they were very grateful for the fact that the Taliban was gone, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan in general and in Kabul in particular had highly increased the incidence of both prostitution as well as trafficking – it’s not one in the same thing. Prostitution in the sense of – being something “voluntary” because very poor women and girls would come down, particularly from the countryside where villages are in a state of absolute dire impoverishment … there’s very little to eat, very little production … I talked to so many women and women’s organizations who’ve said, young girls sleep with a soldier in Kabul for $40, $50, which is more than their mothers could make as a teacher in a full month. That’s the incidence of prostitution as a function of – people call it in the women’s movement “survival sex.” The trading of sex for food on a survival basis.

    Then there is also trafficking which actually also increases because when there are military settlements, camps, barracks … criminal elements start bringing in women – forcibly or coercing them under other guises. Girls – in this case mainly from the Uzbek and Hazara tribes, as well as a number of Chinese girls in Kabul – are actually trafficked in to fill the “needs” of foreign troops. Very few Afghans can afford to actually pay for these kinds of services, so you have a situation where the main customers are the military troops.

    Then you put on top of this the fact that there are all kinds of other armed militias and gangs moving around freely in the countryside because the more foreign troops there are, the more resistance there is going to be from indigenous forces – whether it’s the Taliban, different kinds of mujahideen, different groups of ethnic tribal factions. Throughout history, whenever foreign troops are present, there will be resistance against those foreign troops in one way or another.

    Those militias and militant groups are also armed, roaming and wandering, going randomly into villages, and targeting women as they please by sexually assaulting and raping. As for the incidents that you’ve been hearing about – whether it was the girls who got acid splashed on their faces that you read about in The New York Times – these incidents have been going on for the last four or five years across the country. Girls going to school and teachers have been attacked, and under very various pretexts. Either the Taliban, mujahideen or various factions are attacking them for being “morally loose” or “promiscuous.” These people are armed – and because war tends to infuse large amounts of testosterone into large groups of men, living and wandering around together – this does not create the safest of environments for girls in villages, for schoolteachers, for women of any kind – women working in the fields. And so, what we’ve been hearing reports of are random sexual attacks on women in villages, on girls walking to school, on teachers or other women who are working. So, attacks on women have increased, for all sorts of reasons – the most common one that we hear in the West is “Oh, these Islamic fundamentalists don’t want women to work or study and so they’re attacking them.” But there are plenty of people who don’t really care whether it’s about Islam or not, they’re just interested in showing their power by sexually abusing women.

    One has to be very clear-eyed about why we are sending 30,000 troops. Quite frankly from a US government perspective, it’s because we believe that the “bad guys” – Al Qaeda – are running riot in Afghanistan and somehow that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the extremists in Pakistan are all one in the same, and they’re all collectively bad guys, so we need to go fight them.

    I wish we could say to President Obama, “Yes Afghanistan needs troops – but it needs troops of doctors, troops of teachers, troops of Peace Corps volunteers, and troops of farmers to go and replant the fruit orchards. For anyone who grew up in India or Pakistan, Afghanistan was the place where you bought the best, incredible dried fruit in the world. Those orchards have been completely devastated. Afghanistan was not a country that just grew poppy for opium sales. It was a country that was forced into selling opium because it had nothing else.

    So, we need a different kind of troop deployment in Afghanistan, we need a massive deployment of humanitarian troops. We need to invest in Afghanistan’s economic infrastructure, in its agriculture. These are villages where people are literally not able to piece together anything that comes close to a subsistence living. Afghanistan is a country in which the maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world after Sierra Leone. Why are we not sending in teams of doctors and midwives to train local women? We’re not talking about a German Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. Instead, we’re talking about – without a very clearly defined “enemy” – sending in 30,000 troops to look for this shadowy enemy and we’re not even clear about what that enemy represents. Afghanistan has a very long and very proud history of having thrown out every foreign invader that was ever unfortunate enough to try to subdue them. Yet every political leader suffers from this historical amnesia, and seems to lack the willingness to look at the core structures within Afghanistan society. Afghanistan is a very non-centralized nation of very unique and independent small groups and clans that have never had a formally centralized government.

    Returning to this argument that sending in troops is being done because, “we have to save the women,” is exactly what George Bush cynically did in his use of that as a kind of justification. I think the Obama Administration has to be very, very careful not to fall into this trap. Yes, there is an incredible need to make a difference in Afghanistan, but more military presence is not the solution. More presence, yes. More dialogue, yes. More engagement with both Pakistan and Afghan leaders and different factions, yes. More genuine investment in the long-term economic growth and development in Afghanistan, absolutely. But none of that is what is being promised. What is being promised is 30,000 US troops and the accompanying support systems, including the Halliburton companies that will supply, feed and look after them.

    This then creates another effect which is very important to remember. You then have a group of people, who are foreigners, who do not speak or understand your language or your culture, who are allegedly there fighting the bad guys, who are members of your own people. These “outsiders” feel like occupiers – they live in relative comfort with access to food -all the trappings of what looks like a luxurious life. When the vast majority of that population is living on less than $1 a day. This creates a huge amount of resentment. You walk around any of these American camps in Iraq or Afghanistan – huge areas of land which are cordoned off – and there are SUVs and guys full of body armor and machine guns. Inside it’s like a little America with the PX, hamburgers, and TV for the troops to watch whatever they want. Meanwhile, outside, Afghan children on the street are still playing with cluster bombs that were dropped by the American army in 2001 – they risk being blown up, and losing their sight, their limbs, their fingers.

    I think about how this country has been systematically denuded of its core resources – both human capital and natural capital, and it makes me grieve. Kabul used to be a place with incredible trees. Everybody who lives there now will tell you all the trees have gone. What Afghanistan needs is truly a massive Marshall Plan. No one is talking about that. I don’t see anyone holding this government of Hamid Karzai accountable for what is absolutely endemic corruption. You talk to any women’s groups and they will tell you that in order to go to a meeting in any ministry, just to get into the door, you have to pay a bribe. To go to the 1st floor you have to pay a bribe, to get into the room you have to pay a bribe. It is at a level of corruption that is truly extraordinary…. Do we want a situation in which the Afghani people will actually welcome the return of the Taliban because it will finally usher in some kind of law and order?

    We have to be very careful in making these assumptions. Another question I would ask is to what degree has there been any consultation with any aspects or representatives of Afghan civil society, i.e. women’s rights organizations, human rights organizations on the ground in Afghanistan, or with teachers, doctors, professionals about what is needed in Afghanistan today? Or, with others who have any sense of whether the presence of these additional foreign troops will simply serve to isolate someone who is already seen as a puppet of the Americans? Or will it give him any credibility? I doubt it will give him any credibility. And then what?

    What would you say to those who say, “I agree with you that we need humanitarian troops – troops of doctors, troops of midwives, etc. But we can’t do that until there’s more security and the only way to get more security is to send more troops”?

    I actually think that is just a bogus argument. This is not to say that these places aren’t dangerous or difficult – but to Third World ears it sounds like the argument of Westerners who don’t want to put their own lives at risk. When I went to Kabul in 2003, India had sent doctors, nurses, buses – and it was really interesting to see the difference amongst common Afghans, how they saw where US money had gone and where they saw Indian money had gone. Indian development aid was seen in the fleet of over 150 Tata buses – Tata is a company that manufactures buses and cars in India – over 100 buses had been sent over land through Pakistan. Pakistan actually allowed safe passage of those buses. And they were the buses that actually connected cities to each other. And every day Afghans took those buses to go to work, they used them to get around. And they had a sign – [the buses] just said Tata – and everyone knew those buses were from India. Kabul hospital has about 60 or 70 Indian doctors and nurses who were sent by the Indian government and they are assigned over there. Now, is it just that “Third World” peoples’ lives are less important so it doesn’t matter, so we can send them into insecure situations? I bet you if you asked the Cuban government to send doctors to Afghanistan, they would. I’m not sure the American government would like to have them there but I’m sure they would go. I think saying “we have to wait until it’s secure and we can’t send anybody”, it’s a very weak argument. And, of course, you don’t just send anyone, either troops of soldiers or troops of humanitarian workers without asking what local people want and what their priorities are. You sit down, like in 2002 when different groups came together to write a constitution. You see what is and isn’t working in Afghanistan. Bring all the warring factions together – at least ask – which hasn’t even been tried!

    We’re just accepting that the way to get security is with the presence of more guns. If I have more guns than you then that makes me secure. It actually doesn’t. It doesn’t make us more secure. Because as soon as the other person gets more guns he’s going to come and try to take you out any way. We know this from gang warfare. This is how gangs operate in urban centers of the United States. Having more weapons and more troops doesn’t necessarily make you more secure.

    What makes you secure is feeling that you have some legitimacy and some credibility amongst people in the communities where you live. Right now I don’t think the Americans have a shred of that credibility. The US did have that credibility right after the fall of Taliban. Things had gotten so bad that even though people knew that the US came out of selfish reasons post 9-11, they were still willing to give the US the benefit of the doubt. And at that point the US moved on to Iraq – instead of investing in the rebuilding of Afghanistan – which really it owed Afghanistan after the 35 years of misery that it put Afghanistan through by “fighting a proxy war against the Russians via Afghans.” We didn’t commit any troops in that last hot war of the cold war era. No Americans were killed fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. But they certainly seeded a global jihad. US funds and Saudi funds supported a military dictatorship in Pakistan and put people like Osama Bin Laden and others through the ISI training camps, where they learned to fight the “godless communists”. Now they have turned their sights on their erstwhile funders – the US and its allies are now the infidels.

    Although it does not seem like it, I believe that there are real alternative options that could be considered by President Obama and this new administration. Given all the goodwill in the world towards Obama right now, there is a little window of opportunity, in which I believe other nations would give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. If they said, “Let’s sit down with Pakistan and Afghanistan; and Iran has to be part of that conversation too and talk about what we can do to try to improve the situation.

    What are the priorities of the people of Afghanistan? What do they most need at this time?

    I’m quite sure that the people of Afghanistan would not say that what we most need is 30,000 American troops eating food enough to feed each of our families ten times over.

I’m quite sure that the people of Afghanistan would not say that what we most need is 30,000 American troops eating food enough to feed each of our families ten times over.