Mid Day (India), January 19, 2004
WSF: 'No photographs, please!'
By: Mayank Shekhar
“I request you to please not carry my picture in the newspapers. I am under threat and may get identified if I go back to Afghanistan,” appeals prominent Afghani social activist Saher Saba.
For participants of the World Social Forum, who’re sitting comfortable in the notion that Afghanistan has at last inched back to normalcy, Saba’s speech yesterday was an eye-opener.
Saba (26) perhaps the youngest speaker at the WSF, still lives in exile in Islamabad, fearing arrest if she goes back. As she said, “New government, old government, no difference.”
Saba heads the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an NGO that rehabilitates Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Here are excerpts from an interview.
You mentioned in your speech that the Northern Alliance (the most important element of the present coalition government in Kabul) is similar in its ideologies and actions to the Taliban. Explain.
There are many in the world who believe that the Taliban are the only ones who are fundamentalists, which is not true. There are many more ‘jehadis’ and all have traditionally been supported by foreign governments. In Afghanistan, they enjoy no local support.
As for the Northern Alliance, you need to go back in history to look at what they’ve done. The fact that the Taliban closed down schools was publicised, but it was the Northern Alliance that destroyed the schools. They were the first ones to throw acid at women who did not wear ‘burqas’. They posed democracy as a concept for ‘infidels’ (anti-Islamics) and said women were not part of general civil society.
We recently heard the Grand Assembly state that the women must not consider themselves equal to men. There is absolutely no difference between the fundamentalism of the Taliban and that of the Northern Alliance.
You also mentioned that the New Constitution drafted with American approval for the people of Afghanistan still remains anti-women.
Just for the record, there is actually no ‘new’ constitution. It is the same old constitution. Women are still not given any constitutional guarantees. The constitution mentions general points on human rights, but there are no specifics detailed. And this is not a document based on secular and democratic values.
That apart, even if we assume upon ourselves the world’s best constitution, who will implement it, its prime violators? We need the world to know this.
Despite the change in government, why do you face direct threat of arrest if you land in Afghanistan? Surely there must be international bodies you can address your complaint to...
They will not arrest me openly. But the government will find a way to harass and arrest me if they know I belong to RAWA. I am aware of that threat and cannot afford to be identified by the authorities if I do go back.