Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), July 11, 2003

Activist pleads for more help in Afghanistan

ELEANOR HALL: The plight of the people of Afghanistan fell off the front pages once the war against terrorism took a different turn and focussed on Iraq. But an Afghan woman now touring Australia is pleading with people in Western countries not to forget the ongoing turmoil in her country.

TAHMEENA FARYAL, in Adelaide today for the city's Festival of Ideas, is travelling under a pseudonym and does not allow her face to be photographed for fear of reprisals in her home country.

Now in her early twenties, Ms Faryal grew up under the Taliban regime, and was educated in secret at an underground school run by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. She's now a refugee in Pakistan and says she fears for her safety if she returns home.

Our reporter NANCE HAXTON spoke to Ms Faryal in Adelaide.

TAHMEENA FARYAL: You can see some surface changes. Yes, women are not forced to wear the burka and you see some women without the burka. At least they dare to have their faces open but still most, most of the women prefer to wear the burka. And if you ask them why, they say fear and that's, you know, unfortunately um, something that they find protective.

NANCE HAXTON: Does that reflect the lack of stability still in Afghanistan?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Absolutely. Yes, yes. The security situation is quite bad, especially in the parts, in most of the parts of the country that we do have the UN peacekeepers. In Kabul, probably is the best because of the presence of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces, and even with that there have been explosions and assassinations, assassination threats, abductions, rape.

NANCE HAXTON: So, unfortunately the situation really hasn't improved since the days of the Taliban?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Not much in any radical sense.

NANCE HAXTON: What improvements have there been? Is there more access to education, to any of the basic rights that women in Western society such as ours take for granted?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Ah, no there is more access to education, at least officially it's not banned. Girls can go to school, some women have gone back to work, but the problem is that still we do not have a normal infrastructure in the country. Most of the schools were destroyed and they're not fixed. There are many schools that do not even have chairs.

There are many families who are dying to send their children to get an education, but those children have been the only breadwinners in the family. So when the economic situation of people is so bad, it affects other aspects of their lives as well, including education.

NANCE HAXTON: Do you think Afghanistan has fallen off the global radar to a degree? Have people forgotten this country since that blaze of publicity when the war was in full swing?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Absolutely, and that's one of the fears of our people – that Afghanistan has become a forgotten story once again and worse, and it's thought as a liberated country now things are fixed there and, you know, it probably doesn't need attention and support of international community as much as it really does and people…

The other worse thing is that a lot was promised, a lot was promised by the United States and allied countries. A lot was promised by the Government of Afghanistan, which of course, is based on the support of the United States. Nothing was done.

People do not see any reconstruction happening. If there are some it's basically some buildings, houses of the commanders, of the jihadi, I mean, fundamentalist leaders, or some NGOs, ah, not for the ordinary people.

NANCE HAXTON: So, really, since the war in Iraq started Afghanistan has become almost the forgotten country?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Unfortunately yes, that has been pretty much the case.



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