Eyewitness report of a RAWA activist from Kabul

Kabul, the city where even the sunrise and sunset have been upset for a long time

By Sajida Hayat a RAWA activist who has recently visited Kabul,
January 2000

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Having been away from my country for a long time, I recently took a trip to Kabul City, the heart of injured Afghanistan. I was a child when we had immigrated to Pakistan as refugees. I don’t remember much of anything from my country. The only memories I have, are of a few places such as my house, school and our dear neighbors’ houses.

But did the reports and the pictures I had seen prepare me to understand how damaged the country is, or how miserable the people are? I had only heard stories, but had not seen the reality of it. The stories changed to reality when I traveled to Kabul.

From the first moment of having crossed into Afghanistan at Torkham (the eastern border between Afghanistan and Pakistan), I had to wear a head to toe covering called the burqa. A three-inch square opening covered with mesh provided the only means for vision. This bag which covers from head to toe is so gloomy that you feel like throwing it away.

The Taliban themselves are absorbed in moral corruption. They have forced the burqa on women so that women do not witness their evil doings and savage actions. They say that people should not so much as set their eyes on women, but they, themselves, do not abstain from doing anything they want. A woman who defies Taliban orders reaps a whipping, insults, abuse and many more adjectives like these. I saw the real faces of the Taliban. They had long clothes, long hair with a turban on their head, eyeliner on, and a whip in their hand. When I saw the whip, I was filled with horror. I was not thinking of myself, but of the mothers and sisters who are whipped for revealing their ankles or a part of their hair. The physical pain of being whipped lasts for a while, but the emotional pain of the insults and hatred is fatal As I saw more and more Taliban, I said to myself, that apart from their savage and inimical actions, that just by their strange appearances alone, they seem as if they have come from another planet.

A huge part of Kabul is in a state of tragic destruction. I have seen many pictures of Bosnia, Kashmir and many more war-destroyed places, but they do not compare with mournful Afghanistan, the forgotten tragedy of the world. The scenes of burqa, turban and beard are not only very strange, but also very unpleasant and painful. It seems like you are walking in an open-air living museum. It is quite hard to find any difference between a literate and an illiterate person, but the difference between a Talib and an ordinary person is very clear and visible. The fatigue from 20 years of imposed war is apparent in the people's faces by their indignation and aversion to the Taliban.

Shopkeepers, drivers, passers-by and all the people express their indignation in different forms. "We are driven to extremities in our day by day searching for necessities of life. They [the Taliban] create problems, violence and fear. We are very careful that women do not get into our taxis without their kinsmen. Otherwise, there is the danger of insult, contempt and a whipping for both of us," a taxi driver said.

When my friend and I wanted to take a taxi, the driver would not take us, because there was no mahram (a close relative) with us. Is the world aware of these insults and contemptible things, which have been created by a puppet minority? During my excursion, I saw some buildings that attracted my attention. Most of them were destroyed by rockets and bullets. Some looked okay, but were locked up. I asked my friend what those buildings were used for? She said that they were ministries of education, information and culture, embassies, and schools. I thought to myself that in a country where there is no economy, education, hygiene and basic facilities, there is no need for embassies or other administrations. Destroyed houses and buildings can be seen everywhere. Bombs, artillery, and the blind rockets of the fundamentalists have collapsed them. Hundreds of public buses have been plundered and stolen by the fundamental miscreants and then driven to Pakistan to be sold. Seeing these scenes makes you wonder and makes you sad. If they impose their rules and laws on our innocent people, why the hostility also against inanimate objects? Their hostility against civilization is evidenced everywhere. The Taliban, themselves, are arrogantly driving around in the best and most modern cars.

We passed by a ruined building. I asked my friend what it was in the past. "Khoshal Khan High School," she said. I did not believe it, because I remembered it very well. If not for it's bullet perforated signboard I would have thought she was mistaken. It really was the same school I had seen years ago. But it was so damaged by rockets that it was hard to believe that it was the same place. That school used to be a place of learning and knowledge. Afghan children were trained there and it was there that they learned about science and technology. Unfortunately, the majority of those children are now in the deplorable state of being refugees. Some of them beg for a loaf of bread to stay alive, while others are suffering from mental disorders -- the gift of continual war. I have heard that most of our youngsters in the western provinces use opium, heroin and other narcotics to try to forget the sorrow of the rampant barbarism. University and school students (especially girls who have been ostracized) have a profound rancor against the Taliban and the fundamentalists which can only be relieved by the removal of these traitors.

I met a young girl on the bus. "I was a second year student at Kabul Medical Institute, but a long time ago the doors of knowledge were closed. This is a big disaster. I don't know about my future. Where can I go? I damn the Taliban and fundamentalists," she said. I went to one of my friend's houses. When her 12 year old daughter knew that I had come from Pakistan, she embraced me and wanted me to take her to Pakistan and get her into a school. Her mother burst into tears and said, "Although my daughter is too small to leave me, nevertheless her education is very important. Take her with you."

When I entered Merriam High School (a high school for girls), there were about 30 families now living in the classrooms. It was the third year since they had been displaced from their houses, due to protracted fighting in the northern provinces. Almost all of the women had become beggars. They were begging from people who themselves had nothing to eat. Their best income came from washing clothes, but is not easy. "Our children collect sticks, wood and papers from the streets to warm the water," they said. 20,000 Afghani (20 American cents) is paid for the washing of too many pieces of clothes (it requires washing from morning to evening). A loaf of bread costs 20,000 Afghani. Therefore, working from sunup to sundown is not even sufficient to provide bread, never mind other things. "Some girls who were students in this school before it had become living quarters for the 30 families, come to look at their old school. They find comfort in seeing the classrooms, school campus and they reflect on the wonderful memories of time spent at school. "We feel ashamed when we see them, but there is no other way and it is not our fault. Where do we go? Our houses and properties have been plundered or burned up. There is no place to go and take refuge there. We are helpless. We had never planned to become beggars." the other women said. A middle aged woman came and said, "We experience death every day. I wish we were not alive. I wish we died instead of enduring this gradual death. If it were not prohibited by our religion, I would commit suicide."

The children of these refugees were begging or collecting sticks, wood and papers just to be able to afford at least a loaf of bread to stay alive. Knowledge and education do not have any importance for them. They are the children of war. They were born in poverty and misery. Most of them are not familiar with peace and comfort.

There are thousands and thousands of women who have been banned from social activities and from working outside their houses. Only a small number of women have the right to work outside. They are doctors and the Taliban need them for their work. This serious state of affairs has pulled women into begging and prostitution. Famine, poverty and starvation are found throughout Afghanistan. Meat is not available for the majority of people. Fruit is rarely accessible. Children do not smile and are not cheerful. The dust of war and poverty has covered their nice faces.

I visited some beggars. When I asked them about their previous life, I found that some of them were teachers and government employees. "Fundamentalists killed my husband. Our house and properties have been plundered. I have three small children. I was a teacher. If not for my children, I would kill myself," a woman who is now a beggar said. Most of the shopkeepers and vendors have masters degrees from the university or are people with a high level of experience in professional work. I talked with a clothing vendor. He said," If I do not do this, I must beg, steal or commit suicide. I was a teacher at Kabul University. I could not envision this unfair situation. As a teacher of many years, it was my dream to train the generation that would build the future of our country. Nevertheless, this generation is drowning in starvation, poverty and misery. This unfortunate generation is only familiar with guns, blood and savagery. They feel death every moment. For them life is meaningless. All traitors deserve to be executed publicly."

When there was fighting between the Taliban and the northern alliances, I was in Kabul. The result of that fighting was the displacement of thousands of people to other places, especially to Kabul City. I talked with some families just arrving from the northern provinces. They said, "We left our houses and properties and escaped with only the clothing on our bodies." Some of those families were coming with a pot, cow, donkey or some other personal property. Some of them were crying because they did not know where the rest of their family members were or how they were doing. There are a huge number of unexploded mines still in Afghanistan. According to a report of the United Nations, ten million mines have been planted in Afghanistan during the recent two decades. The continual danger of these explosives threatens the lives of everyone. They have already killed or maimed more than one million people.

I talked with a cobbler. He was about 65. His feet and some of his fingers had been cut off. I thought he was the victim of a land mine. When I asked him, he started telling me his tragic story. "My misery and sorrow are not just limited to my disability. A rocket exploded in our house a few years ago. It killed my younger son and left me in this condition. My wife and daughter were not in the house at the time. When they returned to the house and saw the scene, they could not endure it. They went into a terrible shock from which they have not yet recovered." He became overwhelmed with tears and could not talk any more.

One day my friend and I went to a bazaar to buy something. I was not used to wearing the burqa, since it was so very gloomy. So, I was wearing it so that my face was revealed, when suddenly a woman came toward me and shouted that a Talib was coming. "Please cover your face!" she said. I saw the reaction of the Talib from behind the burqa. He walked close beside me and his horrible and dreadful appearance made me shudder with fright. I thought he would whip me, but he contented himself with saying some bad words. It was the first time that I experienced a Talib's anger and it was very frightening. The other women in the bazaar later came and said to me,"You are very lucky that he was not a member of Amr-e-bil marof and nahi an monkar (the highly critical police of the Taliban)."

That was my view from behind the narrow window of the burqa during my short stay in Kabul. The pen is inadequate to describe the felonies and crimes which are beyond imagination. It is regrettable that the press are banned from publicizing the atrocities which occur in Afghanistan which the world has never seen before.

I wanted to stand on a mountain peak and shout about the ignorance of the world for our country. My mother told me about Kabul City before the war. She always told about the nice sunrise and sunset of this beautiful city. And now when the poor and helpless people come outside from their houses before sunrise and look for a loaf of bread until night, the sunrise and sunset have lost their beauty and meaning. Although the scenes of violence and savagery pressed my heart, the poem of an Iranian poet strengthened me.

Though the night is dark,
Keep your heart brave,
Dawn is close.

The anger of the woman who is whipped,
The aversion of the girl who is raped,
The disgust of the man who is insulted for not having a proper beard,
The crying of the woman who is begging and pulled to prostitution,
The educated who are expelled from their respectful jobs with insult and contempt,
The pain of the mother and father who sell their child,
The child who begs for a loaf of bread,
And finally the rancor of the people who are witness to the destruction of their beloved country,
Will explode the palace of oppression one day.

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g