The Times of India, October 29, 2001
Courage under Fire
If the Gulf war saw CNN emerging as a mighty force in the world media, the terrible war in Afghanistan has seen a new media star emerge.
Qatar’s Al-Jazeera channel, the only independent channel in the Arab world, has left all its heavyweight competitors in the dust with its sensational scoops post-September 11.
From Osama bin Laden’s videotaped addresses to the pictures of devastation and suffering, Al-Jazeera has actually sent the US administration running for cover with the national security adviser cautioning the American media against using its footage.
But, away from the limelight, an even more remarkable exercise in investigative journalism has been going on for years to document the unbelievable brutalities and terror that the Afghan people have suffered through successive regimes.
The exemplary courage displayed by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in undertaking such documentation has no parallel in recent history.
Armed with hidden cameras, these women have done more to expose the murderous excesses of the Taliban regime than all the international human rights agencies put together.
They have undertaken daring assignments in a land where women are put to death for so much as accidentally revealing an ankle.
Many have fallen in the course of duty, the most prominent being RAWA’s founder Meena who was assassinated in Quetta in 1987, ten years after the organisation was founded.
The pictures and documentation are not for the faint-hearted, they tell the story of the savagery visited on a helpless people by sadists under the guise of religion.
From public executions to scenes of starvation, RAWA’s documentation serves to remind an apathetic world of a once free and vibrant culture which has now been forced to disappear behind an oppressive veil.
The gradual process by which the Taliban has executed this was ignored by the world media, Al-Jazeera being no exception. RAWA does not stop at mere documentation — it runs schools and hospitals for women in the face of the Taliban’s diktat banning women’s access to such institutions.
One of the most heart-rending pictures recorded by RAWA is that of Taliban soldiers beating up a doctor for the crime of treating a sick woman.
Yet, despite such extraordinary courage in the face of violence and death, RAWA today finds that it is short of funds with no international NGOs or donors willing to contribute to it.
If the US government is serious in its proclaimed goal of isolating the Taliban while protecting Afghanistan’s desperately poor people, it could well look at propping up organisations like RAWA.
Dropping food packets is a dodgy strategy at best, institutions like RAWA have actually built up and operated infrastructure in the most trying of times.
It is in strengthening civil society and its representative groups like RAWA that Afghanistan can be truly liberated from the medievalism of the sort inflicted by the Taliban.
The Afghans have always been credited with an indomitable spirit which has enabled them to withstand the rapacity of successive invaders. RAWA is living testimony to this.
A visit to its website www.rawa.org is an eye-opener for those who have never heard the voice of Afghanistan’s women.