The Hindu, November 25, 2001

'Zahir Shah is our only hope today'
By Anita Joshua

VISAKHAPATNAM, NOV. 24. What was essentially the inaugural session of the sixth triennial conference of the All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) today became a platform for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) to warn the world against the Northern Alliance.

Despite the presence of veterans of the women's movement in India and several ``sisters'' who have been battling terror in various parts of the country, it was the young Ms. Seher Saba of the RAWA who stole the show. And no one appeared to mind the way in which Afghanistan dominated the opening session of this stock-taking conference of the AIDWA which turned 20 this year.

For, according to the AIDWA general secretary, Ms. Brinda Karat, the struggle of women against terrorism has remained invisible despite women being the worst-affected by such acts of terror and fundamentalism. ``With this session, we hope to make this aspect of the women's struggle visible.'' In fact, attaching considerable importance to women's struggle against terrorism/fundamentalism, the AIDWA advanced the session on terrorism from the fag-end of the four-day conference to this morning.

Sharp in her comments, the RAWA activist held the world responsible for the state of Afghanistan today. Describing the Northern Alliance as a ``criminal group which is no different from the Taliban'', Ms. Saba said instead the world should support the return of the deposed king, Zahir Shah.

Having said this, she was quick to add that this in no way meant her organisation was in favour of the monarchy. ``We are for democracy, but in a situation where we have no options, the king is our only hope today. At least he is not a criminal,'' she said, adding the former Afghan President, Mr. Burhanuddin Rabbani, was a war-criminal. ``He does not deserve to be the President and he should be brought before a court of law for what he has done.''

In her view, a United Nations Peace Keeping Force should move into Afghanistan, disarm the warring factions - irrespective of which side they are on - and help the transitional Government pave the way for elections. ``The only way we can find a viable alternative is through elections conducted under U.N. supervision. There is no hope for Afghanistan if elections are conducted under the Northern Alliance.''

Tracing the root of the problem to the Russian invasion in 1979, Ms. Saba said matters took a turn for the worse in 1992 with the coming to power of different groups. ``The world is under the impression that women began facing problems only under the Taliban, but the ground reality is that the Taliban only legalised the terror regime which was put in place by those in control between 1992 and 1996.''

And, it is to expose the Northern Alliance that the RAWA is trying to get an invitation to next week's meeting in Bonn. ``The Afghans invited to this meeting are primarily extremists and criminals,'' Ms. Saba said, adding the RAWA did not expect much from the talks. Also, according to her, the Alliance was trying to deceive the world by paying lip-service to democracy and women's rights.

While her words had the desired effect on the gathering, the fact that she was attending the conference under a different name and her repeated pleas not to be photographed made the women present identify with her even more. For many of them the fear with which she lives was all too familiar. As, Ms. Shabnam from Jammu and Kashmir was to articulate minutes later: ``Though there is no one definition for terrorism, the experience of women from Kabul to Kashmir is the same because of the degree of vulnerability felt by us is the same.''

So it appeared from what Ms. Urmila of Tripura and Ms. Satyabati Bhuia of Assam had to say. And, so it has been as was evident from what the veterans of the women's movement had to say; be she Ms. Ahilya Rangnekar or Ms. Mallu Swarajyam.


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