SBS DATELINE, March 27, 2002

Tahmeena Faryal Interview

Hamid Karzai, the leader of Afghanistan's interim government, has won many friends in foreign capitals for his cool management of a country in desperate need. His appointment followed the defeat of the Taliban by the coalition-backed Northern Alliance. Their victory was to mark the end of fundamentalist excesses. Women, especially, would be liberated from the all-covering garment known as the `burqa`. This was the hope. But, according to one group of Afghan women, it was no more than a pipedream. RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, claims that life for Afghan women today is no better than it was. Fear still dominates their existence. Tahmeena Faryal is a 23-year-old Afghan, who, as RAWA's international representative, has addressed the United Nations and the US congress about conditions in her country. Tahmeena Faryal is currently visiting Australia.

JANA WENDT: Thank you very much for agreeing to speak with Dateline. You've asked us to conceal your identity. Why?

TAHMEENA FARYAL, RAWA: RAWA, throughout its struggle and work and existence, has had security problem. Our member, our leader, Meena, was killed in 1987 by KGB with the help of one of the Afghan fundamentalist parties and that can happen to any other RAWA member. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, for about 25 years, we have always carried our struggle and activities, including humanitarian projects, in secret. And, because I am a member who is based in Afghanistan or in Pakistan and one day I will go back to my country, I cannot show my face and have to be very careful as any other RAWA member.

JANA WENDT: So what information are you getting? For instance, what are living conditions like now for women in Afghanistan?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: We get information that often are not reflected by the mainstream media. For example, currently, under the Northern Alliance or the interim government, what is really happening in Afghanistan...the people often think in other countries that women of Afghanistan have been liberated, that they have taken off their burqas, that now they can have a job, they can get an education and the situation has changed a lot than how it was under the Taliban, which is not true. We don't see any difference between that time and now. Women are still preferred to remain under their burqas and not to go to school or continue their jobs.

JANA WENDT: Well, is this a question of an interim government under Hamid Karzai, who's only been there for a very short space of time - is it a question of his not being able to move on issues like this or, or what? How does RAWA see it?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: From our point of view, the main question or the main problem is simply the Northern Alliance as another form of fundamentalism that we had from '92 to '96 and it doesn't matter that some of their elements might have been replaced by others, but they represent the same ideology, the same mentality, which is anti-women and anti-democracy, culture, civilisation, education.

JANA WENDT: But we have a leader, Hamid Karzai, who talks convincingly about democracy and who talks convincingly about wanting women to have equal rights in the new Afghanistan. Do you not accept what he's saying?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Democracy and equality for men and women or, simply, safety and security in Afghanistan cannot be possible with any brand of fundamentalism in power, and Hamid Karzai must realise that what he says cannot be put into practice when he has been strongly surrounded by the Northern Alliance commanders and leaders.

JANA WENDT: You are saying that he cannot do much of anything?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: He cannot do it and no-one as an individual can do it. We believe that the question of Afghanistan, first of all, is a political question that needs to be solved and we need the help and support of the international community. We are aware that Afghanistan has been brought to this point thanks to the different countries, including United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and maybe some other countries directly or indirectly and, in the same way, they are responsible to get rid of them. Still, Northern Alliance is supported by Iran, India, Russia. They have to stop their support. United Nations, from our point of view, should send more of its peacekeeping force, and not just in Kabul, but in other parts of Afghanistan as well in start disarming the soldiers and commanders of the Northern Alliance. We believe that, as long as these two main steps are not taken, there cannot be safety, security, let alone democracy or rights for women.

JANA WENDT: Let me get a reading from you. As far as many people were concerned, the Taliban were the people who were most responsible for travesties against women and women's rights. Is that the way you saw it?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Well, we believe the Taliban have been very much responsible for the atrocities and brutalities towards women of Afghanistan. We should not forget that the other brand of fundamentalists, called jihadis, and the current Northern Alliance, have been responsible to the same extent. They were the first ones who imposed burqa or the veil on women. The major destruction of Afghanistan happened from '92 to '96 under the Northern Alliance, for example, the 70-80% of the capital city being totally destroyed - ground zero; hospitals, schools, museums being destroyed and looted, more than 50,000 people being killed in their internal fightings and for Taliban, nothing was left to destroy.

JANA WENDT: So, today, we look at the urbane style of Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Northern Alliance - what do you say about him?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Dr Abdullah may appear on TV with a Western suit and a tie, or speaking the language well, but he is not any better than the other fundamentalists and the world simply must not be deceived by that, because he represents such mentality, such system and ideology.

JANA WENDT: So where, as far as you're concerned, where is the hope for Afghanistan?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: We're hopeful that the international community, especially countries such as United States and the allies that are currently in the war against terrorism have learned enough lessons after September 11, that fundamentalists must not be supported and nurtured any more.

JANA WENDT: So your organisation, RAWA, wants to see a democratic Afghanistan and a secular Afghanistan?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Yes, we believe that democracy without secularism is incomplete and it is just in a secular state that a religion can be protected the best.

JANA WENDT: Are you saying that equal rights for women are impossible under a Muslim state?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: No, we, we don't believe that, but we strongly believe that, as long as any religion, not just Islam, is being used, or rather misused, as a tool, it would become a violent tool, and the people of Afghanistan, at this point, would say that they do not want the same type of Islamic government that they have had under the Taliban, that they have had under the Northern Alliance from '92 to '96, because they experienced what happened to them under the name of God and Islam.

JANA WENDT: Thank you very much.


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