Lesmiserables, les Afghans

TheFrontier Post
, September 4,1998
By Dr Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat

Afghanistan, a forgottenepisode of the Cold War era for the West and the US, has flashed back intothe media after the US strikes on alleged training bases of Osama bin Ladenin Afghanistan. The US has reactivated her activities for bringing "peace"rather to tame once more the Afghans in their self-centred agenda for thisregion.

The current tragic stateof affairs in Afghanistan is not sudden or spontaneous, rather it has beenfastidiously calculated and the situation is unfolding itself in tune withthe New World Order.

The historical importanceand consequences of the Red Revolution in 1978, followed by Soviet intervention,resistance and Jehad, fall of Prof Najibullah and the rise of "PeshawarSeven Mujahideen" with the green standard to the echelons of powerin Kabul, and ultimately, the white revolution of the Taliban are so permanentand paramount that it would change the course of history and present geo-politicalsetup of the region if unnoticed by the world community.

It is undeniable fact thatthe French Revolution and the Russian Revolution had far-reaching and lastingimpact on the human history and civilisation. But the magnitude of theAfghan revolutions (both Red & White) is also not less momentous. Theformer introduced new structure of society and ideologies, while the latterproved to be a death knell for the Soviet Empire and the resurgence ofIslamic fundamentalism in the form of militant adventurism, terrorism,tribalism, ethnicism and above all sectarianism. Victor Marie Hugo (1802-1885)a celebrated French poet, novelist and dramatist who dominated the Frenchromantic movement is the author of world classics such as "the Hunchbackof Notre Dame" and "Les Miserables". This eminent politicalwriter and "outlawed sage" in his writings attacked Bonapartismand authoritarianism in France. Hugo believed in the perfectibility ofman, however he never postulated that the attainment of perfection waseasy. The pattern of his work constantly shows a hero having to face exile,hostility and great danger to bring the gift of salvation to all mankind.His best efforts are universal and when they express the deepest longingsof all mankind, they became a vision for all times.

Though the novel Les Miserableswas published in 1862 round about 83 years, after the French Revolution,yet it jolted the mind of Occidental and Oriental men. In 1930's it wastranslated into Dari and Pashto by Late Pohand Abdul Hay Habibi, an eminentwriter and historian of Afghanistan with a name 'Baynawayan' (the deprived)".The narrative provided Hugo with opportunity to plead many of his favouritesocial causes, social consciousness, political systems, prison reforms,prostitution and the judicial system. Its hero, Jean Varljean is sentencedto prison for stealing a loaf of bread. A curious tale of a lady who indestitute circumstances and poverty lost her house, shining teeth, eleganthair and lastly her own chastity.

The picture portrayed byHugo reflects an anarchic milieu in the 19th century France and a truereflection of the agonies of the present-day Afghans.

In Afghanistan, the protractedconflict has changed the traditional, social, cultural, economic and politicalorder of the country. The most important is internal political fragmentation.The Mujahideen factions and the Taliban are riven with fierce politicaland personal differences. No credible social or political institution ornationally acceptable leadership is available within the country to initiateand promote political reconciliation. Having lost its traditional balance,and suffering from a tortured social psyche, Afghanistan presents a confusedpolitical and military situation, in which each group appears to be attemptinga unilateral solution to the grave national crisis, while claiming thesupport of the majority.

Ironically, the patheticsituation of the majority of the Afghans, who have borne the most devastatingeffects of war and infighting, are not only left out of the political processbut are also held hostage to the confrontation between competing groups,the striking feature of whose political and military strategies is theelimination or at least exclusion of the other groups from power with internaland external friends.

As is common in the annalsof history, wars and invasion are always followed by civil wars and internalstrife. But in the case of Afghanistan, it is the chain of events, interactionof various internal and external forces which dragged a backward, landlockedcountry into rubble and disarray. Much happened on the name of Inqilab(revolution) Islam and Jehad. Riaz Piracha, a former Pakistani ambassadorin Kabul once commented: "revolutions, it is said, devour their children.Here [Afghanistan] the revolution's children seem to be devouring eachother. Next they will devour the revolution...." Piracha was rightthat in Afghanistan, first the offspring of revolution and Jehad devouredboth and, later, each other.

The hopes of the disgruntledAfghans are dashed after much expectation for peace and normality. Bothexternal and internal friends and foes played with their sentiments, hopesand expectation: Munawareen, mullahs, Mujahideen, Taliban and may be infuture the Yatiman or orphans.

On the chessboard of Afghanistan,many actors played their roles with their own vicious motives to be achievedout of the debris, flesh and bones of the martyrs. The following loosetranslation of a Pashto tappa reflects the true sentiments of the Afghannation: Some lost their lives for the honour of the country, while othersraised palaces on the very blood of the martyrs.

There has been a strong divergenceof opinion between the masses and the ruling Taliban and Jehadi forces(even after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif); if the former considers theseTaliban and Jehadi leaders as the "scourge of Pakistan" imposedarbitrarily on them, the latter regarded the Kabulis as "Prisonersof War" and their property as war booty.

Through the fall of Mazar-i-Sharifalong with other provinces, the decimation of Northern Alliance, the USmissile strikes on Afghanistan and the growing tension between Islamabadand Tehran could sustain and guarantee the survival of present rulers inany foreseeable future, but the fate of Afghanistan will be shaped by thewill of the people through the ballot not bullet.

Many of the three millionrefugees in the camps in Pakistan and Iran were born and brought up inan age of material and physical discontentment. The psychological impactof the living conditions in camps and other make-shift dwellings must havealso been generally demoralising and depressing. While the bulk of thedisplaced Afghan population lived in a state of destitution, the Afghanleadership, which emerged in Pakistan and Iran, came to enjoy a uniqueposition.

Afghanistan can no longerafford to bear the brunt of more squabbles and conflicts. The already fragileeconomy of Afghanistan was disrupted in the April revolution and the littlethat was left was not treated as the state economy, but the economy ofthe different tanzimat, individual, commanders and the Taliban.

The Afghan tanzimat and lateron the Taliban with the support of their external friends and masters,trained, encouraged and financed religious elements in Afghanistan andin the neighbouring countries. They created, backed and propagated sectarianism,ethnicism and tribalism with the sole aim to undermine the central authorityand the democratic and enlightened elite in Afghanistan. In the absenceof a transparent order and state authority, the country is dragged to theverge of fragmentation. The political and administrative set-up is in atotal disarray. The whole country is leaderless in true sense of the word.Mullah Umar may be a mystic, a pious Talib but not a statesman and a manof worldly wisdom. There is no law but the rule of the Sharia-cum-Pakhtunwaliin a conservative form and interpreted by individual commanders of theTaliban under the white flags. Their rule is more despotic than Islamic.

Unluckily, in Afghan societyin the name of law, despotism was introduced and imposed. And it is quiteclear that "exploitation in society creates exploited people and exploitedpeople due to their lack of morality and peculiar nature are impartingthe same evil and immorality to all the society". For a durable peace,reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan we need unity, brotherhoodand cooperation among all sections and ethnic groups of Afghan society.They should all, individually and collectively, work for the rights ofmen and such task needs practical work and practical people.

There was time when five"R" - Revolt, Revolution, Russians, Resistance and Refugees -were commonly used in the writings of westerners about Afghanistan. Afterthe Soviet withdrawal, these words were replaced by another three "R"- reconstruction, repatriation and rehabilitation- of Afghanistan but nobodyseriously thought about its implementation. With the rise of the Talibanin Afghanistan "R" was replaced with "T" - TalibanTopakian, Tablighian, Tribalism and Terrorism.

The confusion and chaos inAfghanistan is expected to continue despite Taliban control over 19 provincesand the constant retreat of the Northern Alliance, yet it is indeed unrealisticto expect that the fractious warlords would bury their acute animositiesand settle for less dominant positions in a coalition government. LikeMujahideen leaders, the Taliban and their mentors are exposed to the Afghansand now nobody could trust them except the Pakistan government.

For the last one and halfdecades the Afghans have been struggling for their survival. The unabatedcivil war has drastically changed their life-style and has caused socialviolence, death and destruction. Particularly the last six years have witnessedthe worst kind of human disaster, massive destruction, large populationdisplacement and total collapse of the nation's political, social and economicinstitutions.

The long years of war hadbrutalised the warring nations. They destroyed the moral sense of a largenumbers of people, and made many normal persons into half criminals. Peoplegot used to violence and to deliberate distortion of facts, and were filledwith hatred and the spirit of revenge.

Since 1945, we have 120 to150 wars and the world has had 26 days of total peace during that time.Most of these wars have been civil wars. Most of these civil wars werein Third World countries and 119 have taken place in the developing countriesincluding our region. Commenting on the fallout of the Afghan war, theAfghan Youth Organisation in Quetta city reported: "The new Afghangeneration is forgotten and their future is dark. Now the two monstersi.e militarism and mafia have opened their mouths to swallow them. Theyare forced to feed only by the means of war but the majority of the Afghanyouth themselves wish to get education so that they should have a goodstanding and position in the new world order".

George Bernard Shaw statedin the beginning of the 20th century, "we have no enemies below theage of seven" but in the last decade of the same century, Samir Basta,a former director of UN Children's Fund in Geneva believes as many as fiftythousands children are fighting in wars around the globe. Samir reportsput the figure at as high as 200,000. "We have child warriors in variousforms and in different parts of the world. Most of the Afghan kids haveno ideas about society or what their role is. They are only trained tofight and to kill".

Though war is not "biologicalnecessity" as conceived by many, in the case of Afghanistan it isthe necessity of many if not of all. Internal and external secret agenciescreated and propagated war-mongering in the name of inqilab (revolution),jehad and even to disarm the Topakian.

A resolution which was adoptedby an international hearing in Stockholm (1987) stated that "the childrenof Afghanistan are the forgotten ones in a war that has by and large beenignored. And yet, they are not only the principal victims, but also thefuture of the country. Their physical wounds may perhaps heal within ayear or so, the emotional and psychological trauma of the war will remainwith the Afghan for generations".

Around two hundred thousandAfghan children are involved in arm-running beggary, smuggling with thelocal national and international mafia in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Morethan 1300 Afghan children have been forced by poverty to collect garbageprofession only in Peshawar. It should be considered by the WHO and otherlocal health authorities that in this garbage, besides other waste, cotton,papers, discarded, syringes, etc. from the hospitals are also included.

Afghanistan is experiencinghyperinflation which is as devastating and destructive to its economicprogress and development. A qualified Afghan officer in government serviceis paid round about eighty thousand Afghanis (pm) which is less than Rs.200or four US dollars. There has been a dramatic increase in prices of essentialgoods. The over-all politico-economic instability in Afghanistan has resultedin increasing incidence of robbery, looting, rape and kidnapping of childrenfor ransom in Pakistan . Corruption in different forms is widespread ingovernment offices throughout the country.

Food is the most preciousitem for women and children as it has been for years in backward Afghanistan.For food, women sell off bit by bit all their belongings and occasionally,even their own daughters. Last winter, several people were reported tohave offered their beloved children for sale in an attempt to prevent themfrom starving to death in Kabul. Most of the children are suffering froma degree of moderate to severe malnourishment, diarrhoea, and other diseasesbesides severe psychological trauma. More than 50 thousand Afghan womenand children have turned beggars or prostitutes in different cities ofPakistan.

The Taliban edicts whichwere issued in October 1996, disallowed women from working, from walkingin the street unaccompanied by the men from the family, from wearing colourfulclothes, from making noise in the streets. With this new decree almostall women have lost their jobs, even those Afghan women employed in theUNHCR office and NGOs in Kabul have become victims as well. The burqa-cladAfghan women with pale faces are scared of the white-turbaned Taliban whooccupied Kabul and other provinces in the name of peace and protectionhave neither provided peace to the women nor a loaf of bread to them.

Afghan women, particularlythe war widows, are steeped in debt. In April 1998 one widow said: "Isold everything, first property, then household items and now my sewingmachine. Come and see my house. It does not even have a door left".

Thousands of people are maimedby ten million land mines in Afghanistan. I met a woman on a wheelchairwho was collecting firewood when she stepped on a mine and lost both herlegs. She used to sell cloths in the bazaar. Now she is confined to a wheelchair,and lives with her mother. Most women and children are injured while collectingfirewood, fetching water and just coping with the business of living. Itis an irony that even in Pakistan the Afghans are scared of the Talibanand their mentors or supporters. In May, a bold step was taken by the RevolutionaryAssociation of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) when they peacefully demonstratedagainst the Afghan warlords, the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Theywere attacked near Tehkal (Peshawar) by local and Afghan Taliban with sticks.The women and children were carrying placards to mourn the sixth anniversaryof the rise of Islamic fundamentalists in Kabul on April 28, 1992. TheRAWA originally based in Quetta has its own publications in Pashto, Dari,Urdu and English. Some of their founders were killed while other are stillunder constant threats from Jehadi commanders and the Taliban. There areother Afghan publications reflecting the agonies of the Afghan women inPeshawar like Taawoon, Sadaf, Wafa, Azad Afghanistan and Zan-i-Afghan etc.

The rulers of Pakistan whowere preaching chaddar and chardewari in their own country ravaged chardewariby destroying the houses of a millions Afghans tore away chaddar from millionsof Afghan women. The US and its allies of the Cold War era pushed Afghanistanof the 20th century with a secular, liberal, Islamic, nationalist and socialisttraits into the fold of the 6th century conservatism, militancy, fundamentalismand neo-fundamentalism in the form of Taliban. A department was set upby the Taliban and later on raised to ministry called Amr bil maruf wanai anil munkar (Department/Ministry for promoting virtue and preventingvice) to ensure that no one indulged in any vices. This department aimsat: to prevent sedition and bihejibi (unveiled ladies); to prevent music;to prevent beard-shaving and its cutting; to prevent not praying; to preventkeeping pigeons and playing with birds; to prevent kite-flying, to preventidolatry: to prevent gambling; to prevent American and British hairstyles;to prevent interest on loans; to prevent washing clothes by young ladiesalong the streams; to prevent drums and dances in wedding parties; to preventtailors to take measures of women.

The Taliban are plagued witha strange hypocritic affliction of anti-modernism and westernised norms.Having knowledge of the modern sophisticated weaponry, logistics and pajerosof the West, but prefer to shut their eyes from all other domains and relatedfacilities and virtues of the modern world. Even TV, cinema, schools etc.are declared as profane.

Currently, no other countryis so friendless as Afghanistan, no woman is so subjugated and persecutedas Afghan woman. The country is now the home of widows, the orphaned andthe crippled and the voiceless humanity groaning under oppression.

Passive voices of the eliteare suppressed under the dark shadows of white flags, ethnicity, religiosity,traditionalism, tribalism. Regional and international fora are either silentspectators or just passing resolutions. It is also reported that in November1997, the UN Gender Mission's attitude towards the Afghan women refugeeswithin its own ranks was glaringly hypocritical.

The resurgence of Afghanistanfrom the womb of ideological confrontation, revolutions, resistance andJehad of the Cold War wounds never healed. Its ingenuous, simple populacesquirmed into a fragmented society of warlordism, conservatism, tribalism,individualism, lawlessness, conflict and hatred.

With preplanned mechanisation,the brain-drain of the secularist, liberal, populist, pluralist, nationalistand democratic elite of Afghanistan was rather encouraged by the West.As a corollary, Afghanistan of the Mujahideen and Taliban has replaceda new breed of the Afghans with a backward, rural myopic world view.

Is it possible that the Afghansstart living for themselves rather than dying for others? The Afghan conflictis a creation of Cold War era. It should not be treated as a Cold War agenda.Those priorities have changed and so has the world. The new geo-economicworld order has emerged spreading its wings to various parts with new economicopportunities totally different from the bygone era. With the country besetby internal strife and economic apocalypse, with the geo-political situationundergoing rapid changes, it is necessary for the Afghans and their friendsto open serious dialogue under UN auspices for permanent peace and stability.The flames of ethnicity, intolerance and conflict could easily engulf theentire region with irreversible and disastrous consequences. Will the policymanagers on Afghanistan wake up before it is too late?

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