Red Cross aids and interview with widows in Kabul

By RAWA reporter from Kabul,
September 2000

According to the information of the central board of statistics, before the assault of the fundamentalist bandits in Kabul, the numbers of registered widows were about 7,900. This included those who worked in hospitals or carried out duties as a clerk, teacher, and a servant in government offices.

During the years of war between fundamentalist factions, with the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban and their onwards advance towards the districts of Qara Bagh, Bagram, Saray Khoja, center of Parwan and Jabal Siraj this figure escalated.

At present, in all the sixteen districts of Kabul, there are around 17,700 widows with children, aged between 30 to 60. Some of them are assisted by the Red Cross and Care.

To assist widows that were surveyed three years ago, the Red Cross has prepared special charts. In which their full identification, age, number of children, permanent and temporary addresses, and the identity card of widowhood, which is the most important one, are included.

The Red Cross, with the cooperation of the directorates of all districts of Kabul and the help of local counselors, carried out a survey according to the following criteria: the widow's age should not exceed 40, they should have children below the age of sixteen, they should have been a resident of the area for more than a year and in the future must remain living in the same area.

The first priority was given to those women who were originally residents of that area. The immigrants and renters maintained in the third position. Care supports the widows of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth district.

In the survey, the Red Cross had the authority of decision while the counselor of an area just guided them. Besides the real and deserving widows, a substantial number of families belonging to the survey teams, were unjustly included in the chart.

Shajahudeen, who left his job two months ago, was responsible for the distribution and arrangements of the Red Cross aids. By using his power and giving a number of food cards to his friends' families he gained possession of a large sum of money. According to the information we obtained, he had illegitimate sexual relationships with some of the widows, which was discovered by the Intelligence Bureau and was reported to the Red Cross. By giving bribes he succeeded in extricating himself from that situation but was dismissed from his duty.

Hashmi and Farooqi, who were close colleague of Shajahudeen, also ruined the right of widows and both had leased a few big general stores in Kabul.

At present there are about 15,400 widows, who are below the age of 40 and the sole breadwinner of their families who are supported by the Red Cross and Care. This figure does not include the sub-provinces surrounding Kabul, if included in the figure then the number of Kabul widows will exceed 50,000.

Till 1997, once every two months, one sack of 24 kg flour, 21 kg rice, 21 kg beans, 6 soaps, one tin of 14 kg cooking oil are distributed for one deserving person and in winter some additional aids are also given, but in the last two years the amount of aid has decreased and the duration of distribution has change from two to three months. Instead of beans they are given 14 kg smashed peas, and instead of flour they are given wheat. The quality of the rice has also become worse. This action of the Red Cross has caused numerous difficulties for the women. Besides these problems, time and again surveys have taken place and under different pretexts a number of widows have been deprived from help and assistance.

Those widows, who are unable to attend on the day of distribution for some reason or another, cannot get their supplies on any other day. The card must be shown by the widow herself, otherwise it is removed and no apology is acceptable. Worse than this however, during 1996, 1997 and 1998 personnel of the Red Cross, mostly Afghans, got orders from their officer, Shajahudeen. They were ordered to camp in the distribution area and take some widows inside their tents and check their breasts, in order to discover whether they had married or not. They then, with unnecessary and nonsense questions, created trouble and gave some new forms which caused anxiety to the widows and in this way developed relationships with some of them.

Conversations with a few widows that are assisted by the Red Cross are presented as the tip of the iceberg:


"I am Torabegum, daughter of Nazar Muhammad. I am 32 years old. I am from Panjshir and at the present I am living in the fourth district of Kabul in my father's house which has been rented for a couple of years.

It has been more than five years since my husband married another woman and kicked me out of the house and also took my son. At present he lives in Panjshir and has not divorced me officially yet. Thus I can't marry again. My father is an old man. I had a brother who was killed last year in the war of Panjshir and for the time being my father is the main source of income for us. We endure the cold nights of winter without a fire. My father collects plastics and papers from the roads and brings home the remaining food from the mosque's mullah.

When I was with my husband our lives looked comparatively better. My husband was a laborer. But with the passing of time his attitude changed and without any logical reason another woman entered into our lives and as a result I left our home. The difficult condition of my life forced me to take shelter in my father's house. In my father's house our financial condition is so bad that we even go to bed at night hungry. Yet I was unable, for the purpose of getting work to go into others homes because I was afraid of becoming spoiled. My brother was working when he was alive, but after the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban, they imprisoned him for some months on the excuse of being Punjshiri and after his release the Punjshir fighters deceived him and he was killed.

I was informed that the Red Cross supports the widows and having the identity card of widowhood is one of its important conditions. By selling some things and with great difficulty I was able to get the identity card and I waited for the survey. The Red Cross delegation came to our home; they saw at first hand the reality of our lives and gave us a card for assistance. I get some supplies, which I have to share with my father, mother and sister in law. We also do embroidery and spinning for the carpet weavers which is the hardest work of all.

The Taliban has made life unbearable for poor people and they especially bother the women and take work and other things from them. They have made us confined to home and have trampled our lives under foot. There is no authority to which we can complain in order to get our due rights.

I have studied till class nine and have the desire to work, like men, but the Taliban has covered women with burqa. We hope for a day to come, sooner or later, when people, including the women, will stand against the Taliban and release themselves from this oppression."

When I asked her about the quality of the supplies, she replied:

"The supplies consist of forty nine kilos of wheat, seventeen and half kilos of rice and less than fourteen kilos of smashed peas and three tins of cooking oil and three soaps. They control this and buy them from the markets of Kabul and give the worse items to the widows once every three months. The rice tastes bitter and the smashed peas are expired and decayed. They distribute Pakistani soap which is not of good quality. If we complain about it, there is a danger that they will cut it too. We have to accept whatever they give us in the name of aid and not complain. Actually there is no one to listen to our voice and come to our rescue."


"My name is Sadiqa. My father's name is Muhammad Ismail. We are from Herat province and belong to the tribe of Mujadidi. However, it must be said that I am not a relative of the Subgat Ullah Mujadidi and his family nor are they acceptable to me.

I am literate. My husband was a teacher but died last year due to sickness. I have no child. I had two daughters who got married and now I am living with my brother who has lost his eyes. My brother himself has no house and lives in a rented house. I am a big burden on them. Sometimes my sons in law take me to their homes."

With tears in her eyes she added:

"My life has passed without any happiness. My husband was a teacher and through his salary and a part time job, he made enough for our life to be a little bit bearable. He longed for a son but god didn't give us one. Then due to sickness he became paralyzed and died. After his death, my life got worse, his retirement salary is insignificant and not paid monthly and I have to try everything |I can for months to get it. With the help of one of my husband's friends I was introduced to the committee of Red Cross and they gave me a form to fill in. When I filled in the form, they told me to wait for the survey. After one year they didn't accept me because I was more than 50 years old. Then with great difficulty and after giving 5 hundred thousands Afghani in bribe I succeeded in having the card for getting supplies but the quality and the quantity of these are not good, but I have to accept this."

When asked about the general conditions she said: "The conditions in Kabul are the worst. The Taliban have clamped down on knowledge and ignorance is ruling instead. Under the name of Sharia they practise different types of oppression 'lawfully' on innocent people: beating everyone of this or that name and searching peoples' houses in the name of arresting Punjshiris and Northern people, or finding weapons and in this way disrupt people's lives and show their enmity towards women and school girls openly. They have closed the schools down."


"I am Shokria and my father's name is Abdul Jalilee. I am 35 years old. Originally I was a resident of Bagram sub-province and from the village of Rustam Khan. With the arrival of the Jehadis and their bloody war, Gulbuddin men destroyed our house. My husband Faqir Muhammad, who had duty in the Ministry of Finance, was martyred. In 1995 we set off from that place and since then have been living with one of our friends in Deh Afghanan. I have three sons, of which the eldest, is a student of mechanics and earns 50 thousands Afghanis in a month and my two other sons are younger and are still at home. I had a job as a worker in the weaving department of Bagrami Textile, which was near our house. My salary together with the salary and coupon of my husband kept us day to day to some extent. But time and again we were in economic difficulties, because we lived together with of my husband's father and mother and his three brothers and two small sisters. Then, due to the fighting between Rabbani and Gulbuddin forces, whatever we had was buried under the debris as our houses were destroyed. We were able to escape ourselves, with a few household items. The only one who died in our family was my husband who was martyred.

My husband's family with my father, who was a construction worker, decided to leave together for Pakistan and Iran. But then my father opposed this and said: " My daughter is too young and should not go so far away from the country. There is no one to rely upon and if wishes she should marry another of your sons." So in this they didn't agree, and annoyance and frustration built up between us. They went towards Iran and I, with my son, was separated from them, which I now regret. After some months my brother in law turned against me and there was always fighting and quarrels between us every day."

Where did you get any income from?

"We managed to live on the retirement salary of my husband and my own salary which was given to us in Kabul by the Ministry of Natural Resources till the Taliban arrived."

About the death of her husband and the razing of their house to the ground she said: "I was a worker in Bagrami Textiles and like me hundred of other women were working in the department of weaving, spinning, dyeing etc. We were called "workers". A number of us were listed in the organization of the party during Najib's era. Our organization secretary described the parties of Gulbuddin and Rabbani as rebels and slaves of Pakistan and Iran. According to them, they were murderers, and were destroying the country and cutting off the supply of electricity. We didn't believe it; and were of the view that they were Mujahid and were fighting against the Russians. The Russians invaded our country and we were made captives. We, could only look on as, the Russian advisors were abusing our rights and even assaulting on the chastity of some of our people; that's why we couldn't agree with what they were saying. But it was after the collapse of Najib's government and the coming of the Mujahideen to Kabul that I realized that a more disgusting disaster was awaiting us --the disaster of the Jehadis.

"Actually the Mujahideen were more acceptable to me and I hated the Russians, but sadly I was mistaken: because, whilst the Russians were invaders and a foreign force the Jehadis, I mean Gulbuddin, Rabbani and others, were truly the lackeys of foreigners and with their action they proved that they are assassinators and plunders. They razed the people's houses to the ground, like ours and left thousands of women widowed and thousands of children orphaned. Alas their sons become like other people's, so they could feel the pain of our bereaved mothers.

They were not Mujahideen but looters of our factories, properties and heritages. For example, Gulbuddin destroyed the Bagrami Textile, which at one time had more than 3,000 workers and produced the clothes the country needed and its machines were sold in pieces to Pakistanis. So in this way, they committed the biggest national crime.

I never finished the tenth class because I got sick and couldn't continue my studies, so I learned to type, and worked in one of the government offices as a typist. But after my marriage I was employed in the factory, which was nearby our village. My husband gave me magazines, which I read. I also read some Iranian magazines. Alas! Everything was lost, when my husband was martyred and I have became a widow and a vagrant person.

With the arrival of the Taliban, schools were closed and my children, like other children, remained illiterate and I can do nothing about it.

My financial problems overwhelm me. When I heard that the Red Cross were distributing the food cards, straight away, I went to meet the area's counselor Abdul Satar and explained to him briefly the state of my life and begged him to include me in the list.

I was accepted by the survey delegation and they gave me the food card. I must say that it is three years since the Taliban stopped to paying my salary as a worker of the Bagrami Textile. Also, they don't give the pension from my husband.

The supplies they give us are not enough. So I get burqas from shops for pleating and embroideries, and at night I do that and I also take cloths from the stores for bead sewing. Trying to keep all of these jobs is very exhausting and is wearing me out. If the destiny of my children were known for sure, I would have got married and saved myself from this loneliness."

About the Taliban and the Jehadis she said:

"They are the chips off the same block and the obstinate enemy of women, the enemy of knowledge and school. In short, the Jehadis burnt Kabul and the Taliban burnt Shamali.

Bibi Gul

My name is Bibi Gul and my father's name is Pachamir. We are from Muhamod Aga, Logar province. My husband, Toryalay was working as a tailor and was killed by the Russians on the way from Logar to Kabul.

I am 38 years old and have three children, one daughter and two sons. My daughter is young and has married. The boys are working and some days ago they returned from Qandahar, where they were working in the poppy fields. One of them has got backache and a nerve problem from handling the poppies and now he is sick.

Daily they earn about one hundred thousands Afghani in the poppy fields, some of which they spend and the remainder they send to us.

We live in sector three of Kartay Parwan in a rented house, and as well as paying the rent I have to sweep the house and wash the clothes of the owner of the house. The charges for electricity and the rent of the house are about ten hundreds thousands Afghani and we are not in a position to earn even half of it.

When my husband was alive, my sons were very young and by tailoring they earned money and also we had a small piece of land in our hands. But when the Mujahideen came to Muhamod Aga, they asked Toryalay, who at the time had a tailoring shop in Kartay Naw, to cooperate with them. But Toryalay didn't accept their request. We shifted to Kabul and the Mujahideen snatched our land. The day When my father in law asked him to come to Logar, he was killed on his way to Logar from Kabul. Widowhood is very terrible. A woman needs a man here and especially when she has no home, her landlord and neighbors look at her with doubt and suspicion.

No one can live in peace at the moment as there is always the danger of eviction from your house. The news spread that the Red Cross was distributing cards for widows, so I went to the directorate of the district fourth and gave my name for the survey.

But their personnel did not accept me and told me that I am too old and I have two young sons. I cried and wailed and told them that these boys are not mine and also promised that I will give one part of the supplies to them. So they accepted me on condition that I will give them cooking oil each time and deliver it at their home. Several times, I delivered the cooking oil to their home in Taimany, and several times I noticed that some widows like me were taking a share of flour or cooking oil to the houses of the Red Cross staff as a bribe. This lasted for more than a year but now they are not giving any thing to anyone.


"I am Rabia, daughter of Abdullah from Chardahee, Kabul. It is four years since we were living in our house in the third district of Kabul city. I am 35 years old and have four children. One of them is a boy and the rest are girls. All of them are at home and jobless. My husband, who worked as a worker in the Jangalak Factory, was killed four years ago in the fighting between Gulbuddin and Rabbani forces. From that day till now, I haven't seen happiness in my life.

In Wasil Abad we had a home, but due to the firing of bullets and shelling from the two warring sides and the looting of its windows and doors by the Hazb-i-Isami men, it was damaged and we became homeless. After the death of my husband we got into debt and my son got badly ill. We had no money for food and treatment. I asked my brother in-laws for help but they are also poor and needy and can do nothing. So I told them to sell my ruined house. At first, they didn't agree but when they realized my problems they agreed. But up until now we haven't found anyone to buy it nor the permission order from the related authority for selling.

My son Khal Muhammad is twelve years old and the apprentice of a cycle mechanic. My elder daughter is at home. We have no source of income and are in need of every morsel of our food. At night we eat food in darkness and in the winters we sleep under one blanket. All of my children have had influenza. I was begging for money from the shops, stores and merchants. But when my brother saw me in that condition he again tried to sell the house but still no one bought it and the bribe to find a way of selling it was so high that we were unable to pay.

I get wool from people for carpet weaving and wash it on the Kabul River, whether in winter or summer, and earn negligible money from this. I do not pay for the house in which we are living and just take care of it, and my small daughter goes out to beg in far away areas. My husband's family are very worried about this situation but they are unable to help us and we can have no expectation of help from them either. My father in law is a very kind person and always keeps in touch with us.

Despite all the difficulties I have faced, I managed to get my name included in the list of widows and after the survey got the card. I have a card for food but its not enough, except bread and Shola (A kind of Aghani food) and we have nothing else to eat. The consumption of bread is very high and fifty-eight kg of wheat is insufficient for three months. On the other hand, the terms of distribution are so strict that you even have to leave the dead and collect your supplies on the given date otherwise it is not available. In the beginning, we didn't even know when the distribution time would be, because the Red Cross was planning to distribute the supplies weekly. If the Red Cross decision was implemented, caused problems for the widows of Kabul. For this reason I was not able to be present on the specified day. When I explained the reason it was not accepted and the supplies were not given to me which shocked me and I am still confused about what I should do. We then got in contact with the district directorate and Ministry Of Plan, but it was futile and all of them adhered to the ruling of the Red Cross committee."


"My name is Zarghona and my father's name is Abdul Wahab. I am about thirty years old. My life has been full of accidents and adventures. I was the daughter of a wealthy family, I belong to Kapisa and my father, besides land, had three vehicles, which worked in the line of Kabul and Kohistan. I have studied school till class eleven, became acquainted with a young and educated man by the name of Farooq who had finished at the faculty of literature. He was not a rich person like my father and gave duty as a teacher, I had great affection for him and in some respects we had a family relationship too. However, my father was not in favour of our engagement as Farooq was a poor teacher. At last as a result of the mediation of friends I became engaged to him and after that my father objected to my education. Farooq and I urged him a lot to change his mind, but it was useless and this was the first blow that my father inflicted on my life

When I left my family after the marriage, Farooq got separated from his elder brothers and we decided to live independently, but bad destiny changed my whole life. Najeeb's government collapsed and the Jehadis, the butchers and enemies of our people, came into power. Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin had the control of Kohistan area and collected "toll" from my father and he had no way but to pay it.

At the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995, I requested Farooq to go to Kohistan and spend a night in the homes of our friends. Whatever were the circumstances, he agreed and we, still without any child, left for Kohistan.

At the main road that goes towards Gulbahar and Najrab, our vehicle was stopped by a number of armed men and they searched some of us. They asked my husband to introduce himself. My husband introduced himself. They buzzed something. The only thing which I heard about my husband was that perhaps he might be a spy of Hizb-e-Islami. They, by force, got us off the vehicle. At last, while pointing at me they said, "let that woman go." I immediately begged their pardon and wept and moaned but they struck Farooq with the butt of the rifle in front of my eyes and after some repeated blows he fell on the ground, blood gushed on his head and face. They dragged him off with themselves. The thugs belonged to the mullah Ieshan, governor of Kapisa. Night ended, on the morning I headed for my village. I told the story to my father who was living with my mother in Kohistan, but he was not in any position to help me as he was considered the man of Hizb-e-Islami. At last he send some old men to mullah Ieshan who was living in Mahmood Raqee, and they brought back the dead body of my husband. Due to the blows of the butt, he was murdered on the first night. I was with my father for one year and except my son I have nothing as a souvenir from my husband. After one year I went back to Kabul. At home my brother was having a very terrible life. My brothers in law were always quarrelling with me. Two of my brothers have gone to Pakistan and now I am living with my elder brother and always doing their house work.

One day my brother told me: "Zargona you are young and must marry." He proposed the previous driver of my father as my match. In this we quarreled and in the end I went to my aunt's home in Qul Abchakan."

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