The Hindustan Times, October 24, 2001

Afghan women see no hope in political moves

By Aditya Sinha

The current political activity to replace the Taliban regime does not fill the women of Afghanistan with hope. For not only are women not being consulted, it seems likely that the present hardliners will simply be replaced by other religious fundamentalists.

"For everyone, particularly those who have suffered the past 20 years, the big question is what will be the result of the bombings and the peace process, especially with Gulbuddin (Hekmatayar) and (Burha-nuddin) Rabbani so active," says Sahar Saba of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

"Presently the best solution is the former king, but not the former king with criminals like Gulbuddin and Rabbani," Sahar says. "We are against all fundamentalists, and we see these former commanders and leaders as criminals who should be punished. Instead, they are all getting a chance in the peace process."

RAWA was founded in 1977 and has since worked for women's rights in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. As it is anti-Taliban, it has been harassed by the Pakistani government, and has to operate under secrecy.

But despite the restrictions on women in Afghanistan, their 2,000 members are able to do substantial work in girls' education, healthcare, and income-generating projects. Even though RAWA is pinning its hopes on Zahir Shah, Sahar says, "The problem is that we have to look at the former king who did nothing during his 40-year rule.

"Another problem is the infighting among his people. It's difficult to believe they are working for the country, it looks like they are just out to grab power." Yet despite the former king's age, RAWA sees him as the only option for heading an interim government that would pave the way for a democratic set-up. And like all Afghans, RAWA is looking to a loya jirga (traditional grand council) to help bring democracy to their war-ravaged country.

"A loya jirga is possible as long as there are no fundamentalists," Sahar says. "The participation of women is important, but not women who are fundamentalists. There have been loya jirgas where women participated, and if real tribal chiefs were given a chance to participate, I'm sure they would agree on women's participation."

Yet the current peace process does not give RAWA reason to be hopeful. For instance, former jehadi government foreign minister Pir Syed Ahmed Gilani is hosting a convention in Pesha-war from tomorrow, and among the delegates will be "ex commanders who worked with fundamentalists.

"If Gulbuddin or Rabbani or their representatives are members of this gathering, then it will achieve nothing for the people of Afghanistan," says Sahar. "The Afghan people are different from these fundamentalists, and don't want criminals or terrorists to rule them any more," she says.

RAWA is particularly irate with the role of other countries in the current process. "We see Russia so active, not even apologizing for what they did in the 1980s," Sahar says. "Now they are shameless supporting the Northern Alliance".


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