Tehelka.com Nov.16, 2001
'Afghan women don't trust the NA either'
Alicia Luckstead of the US Support Network for the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan tells Rinku Pegu that the Northern Alliance has the same abysmal human rights record that the Taliban is accused of
The worst sufferers in Afghanistan in recent years have been the women. And it was not the Taliban alone that was the perpetrator of barbaric acts like rape, forced marriage, and the banishment of women to the four walls of the house. The Northern Alliance, which the world alliance against terrorism is actively propping up, has the same abysmal human rights record. It is in the backdrop of such developments that the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) is demanding that the alliance against terrorism should see that besmirched individuals and factions among the Northern Alliance are prevented from coming to power. Explaining RAWA's position, Alicia Luckstead, Research Psychologist in Maryland University and one of the organisers of the US Support Network for RAWA, says that if the international alliance has a conscience, it will have to pay heed to RAWA's demand.
How feasible is RAWA's demand that individuals and factions of the Northern Alliance be first absolved of human right atrocities before they are allowed to participate in government-formation in Afghanistan?
Given the track record of Northern Alliance with regard to women between 1992 and 1996, the international coalition can ignore the just demands of RAWA only at their own peril. If such anti-human rights elements come to power, will it be capable of ensuring a stable government in strife-torn Afghanistan?
Even today, amidst reports of jubilation on the streets of Kabul at the fall of the Taliban, news is coming in of women in Kabul feeling scared and nervous as their memories of 1992-96 get revived. Many women are considering leaving for the countryside in order to escape the spectre of past atrocities. In the countryside, however, only hunger awaits them because of the famine. In desperation, there are reports of some women leaving for the borders.
What framework does RAWA have in mind when asking for the culprits to be brought to book?
One does not have to work under the specific condition of bringing perpetrators of crime against humanity and tried in the Hague alone. There have been several instances when local tribunals under the supervision of the international community have worked successfully to bring such criminals to justice. This apart, the international community will have to ensure the establishment of an international Peace Keeping Force in Afghanistan so that elements within the Northern Alliance do not go berserk as they did during the 1992-96 period.
Going back to the 1992-96 period in Afghanistan, when appalling crimes were committed against women and children, which incident stands out most in your memory?
Lots of human rights violations were committed, like forced marriages and rape, which often led to suicides. But what really struck me was the knowledge that fathers were killing off their daughters in order to spare them the ordeal of being raped and married off, thereby saving the honour of the family.
How is RAWA working in the prevailing war situation?
RAWA activists have undoubtedly been restrained by the mess in Afghanistan. But wherever they can, RAWA members are trying to help out war ravaged families and roping in others. RAWA activists have become special targets for both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance as the organisation has documentary evidence about their heinous crimes.
How are you mobilising support for women's rights at the ground level?
Although one does not get to hear about it, there is a sizeable support for RAWA among the men in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many have, in fact, become converts to the cause after being exposed to the brutality of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance against women.
The media is portraying as if the people of Afghanistan are sandwiched between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, as if there is no other option. But in reality, there are a number of people and civil organisations that support neither. These groups are working towards the formation of a civilian government in Afghanistan. Unfortunately these groups are being ignored and neglected by the global alliance against terrorism.
The international community will not just have to consider the plight of Afghan women by drawing up a programme but ensure the participation of women in any broad-based interim government. This is because unless women are given their due, no government in Afghanistan will carry the stamp of legitimacy nor be seen as complete.
Do you expect the US to take the initiative when it comes to issue of Afghan women?
Let me be frank. If such an initiative is left to the US it will be a non- starter because it cannot be relied upon with such responsibility. US records show its foreign policy in most parts of the world is extremely shortsighted. And in particular reference to Afghanistan, the US involvement has been next to nothing. Barring of course the fact that it propped up several jehadi groups to flush out the Soviets. International organisations like the United Nations (UN) will have to take the initiative.