Afghanistan has again become a country forgotten by the world. We must make it obvious that the killings and human rights violations in Iraq now are a repetition of what has happened and is happening in Afghanistan. Ms. Amena Shams, a delegate from Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) who attended a session of the International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq (ICTI) in Tokyo on March 5, speaks to Weekly MDS. (March 14, 2005, in Tokyo)
-- How did you find the ICTI session and the following speaking tour around Japan?
First of all, we welcome every court for the killers of the innocent people, if it be in Iraq, in Afghanistan or in Japan. We mostly welcome such a kind of actions by the peace-loving people of the world. The people of Afghanistan and RAWA still want the presence of those criminals in the court. RAWA always wants a trial of the warlords. They have to answer for the crimes they committed against the people.
RAWA has denounced the military attack on Iraq in different rallies in Pakistan. We believe that the Saddam Hussein's regime was a fascist regime, but the people of Iraq themselves should decide their future, not another force from foreign countries like America. If we see Iraq, the United States committed lots of crimes. The US should come to the court, and the people would decide what punishment should be imposed. History of the world will never forget the US attitude on Iraqi prisoners and also on women of Iraq.
Regarding the speaking tour, it was my first trip abroad and I am happy to have had a "tough" schedule. It was a good opportunity for me to let the people of Japan be aware about what is going on in Afghanistan today. Because, the media show different images of Afghanistan. They say that there was an election in Afghanistan, the women do not wear burka any more and the Karzai government has women ministers. But they don't know the reality of the life of the people. Still, the people of Afghanistan suffer from the crimes committed against them by the warlords from north to south. Still, the religious fundamentalists are in power. The media don't show the reality. So it was a great occasion for me to go all around Japan in different cities, have conferences and tell the people about the real situation of the people of Afghanistan.
After the conferences, the participants came to me and asked questions, saying "We didn't know. We have seen women removing their burka and going to school." Since the fall of the Taliban regime, we have witnessed some changes. But these are apparent changes, the inner side is still very gloomy. Harsh rules which were once imposed by Taliban are still being practiced by the warlords. Hundreds of young girls and women have committed suicide to remain safe from being raped and humiliated by criminal Jehadis who have high positions in the Karzai government.
-- What is your view on the current political situation in Afghanistan? In particular, how do you evaluate the Karzai government that was established after the presidential election in October, 2004? Is it going to bring about a better future in terms of human rights and living conditions of the people and women of Afghanistan? Has the influence of fundamentalist forces been diminishing?
Unlike what some media present and political analysts say, we see the current situation of Afghanistan very fragile and instable in terms of increasing number of crimes against women, increase in poppy cultivation, failure of disarmament process, flourishing of corruption in government offices, very slow rate of reconstruction etc. The Islamic fundamentalists who destroyed Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996 are now back in power and hold key positions in the Karzai government. Karzai always prefer to make deal with them rather to ask for their trail. He promised in his election campaign that he would not make a government mixed with enemies of the people. However, he went against what he promised. He again let Ismail Khan to become a member of his cabinet, who was previously the governor of Herat and responsible for awful crimes against women. Tens of young girls burnt themselves in Herat when he was the governor because of the suffocated environment he created for them. Karzai made the notorious warlord Dostum as chief of army staff, whose men are known for their barbarism.. Karzai just switched one warlord from one post to another and maintained his warlord-dominated government as it was before. To make the world fool and portray a different image, he assigned some ministries to women, but the world doesn't know who these women are. They don't represent Afghan women but the warlord. Even these days we heard that Karzai is busy in making deals with Taliban and Gulbaddin party. This is a shame to the Karzai government.
Every single Afghan knows who Gulbaddin was and his Hezb-e-Islami party. He had his private prison in Peshawar during the Afghan-Russian war, where his party killed and tortured thousands of intellectuals and national personalities. The residents of Kabul remember the bombing, looting and raping of women by Gulbaddin men. It is a great treason if Karzai deals with Taliban and Gulbaddin. He wants to hide such betray in the name of "national unity", which is an insult to Afghan people. As long as there is a fundamentalist in power, as long as there are enemies of the people in power, as long as there are criminals in power, we can't hope for a bright future in Afghanistan.
Fundamentalist means anti-democracy, anti-freedom, anti-women and anti-progress, if it be in the name of Taliban or the "Northern Alliance". The most important point is their mind, what they want to do. They are the ones who were in power from 1992 to 1996 and said that democracy and women's right are against Islam. But after the September 11, they just changed their words. The US toppled one medieval fundamentalist regime and replaced it with another, by just changing their style, letting them put on their tie and shave themselves, and opening few girls' schools. If we see the rebuilding of Afghanistan, nothing has been done other than a main road from Kandahar to Kabul. The government has received billions of funds from foreign countries like Japan but the people will ask where this money was spent? It is an open secret that the lion share of this fund goes into dirty packets of warlords who have strong influence on NGOs and the government.
-- Do you support the Karzai government?
The answer is obviously NO and the reasons are very clear as I told earlier. Yes, this is true that we drew a line between Karzai and the fundamentalist bloc. Unlike the Jehadi leaders, his hands are not stained with the blood of people and that was the chief reason that we and the Afghan people preferred him over the fundamentalists and therefore voted for him in the presidential election. The situation gave us limited choices, either to vote for Karzai or the criminal Islamic fundamentalists. But now he is too much dissolved and influenced by the "Northern Alliance", and hence his shaky government is not worth supporting.
He is good at giving illusive promises and in this way cheats and deceives the people. The Afghan people know him very well as he showed his real face during the last three years.
-- What role do you think has been played by the US and other western governments so far in the process of "reconstruction and democratization" of Afghanistan? And what do you expect their role should be?
If we see the reality, the US and foreign countries have their own invested interests in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. We know that in Afghanistan they want to develop the pipeline, and in Iraq the only thing is oil. If they really want a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Iraq, they should first put the killers of the people to the trial, not letting them in power again. We are the witness. They have done nothing. They promised a lot. But these promises are betrayed.
-- How about the Japanese government?
We thank Japan and many other countries for their support to Afghanistan, who are not interfering in Afghanistan internal affairs, but it could have been extremely wonderful if the Japanese government could help us in other way as well. The Japanese government can pressure the involved entities to try the war criminals in Afghanistan, have a strong check over the fund utilization to make sure it does not go into wrong packets.
-- Could you introduce more concretely activities you have been doing to help the Afghan women and children?
RAWA is a political/social women organization that works in these two fields, aiming to help the women to struggle for their rights.
RAWA's political activities are revolving around one core issue: To take the side of people and expose and fight the enemy of people. During different political situations, we had different activities. We held rallies and demonstrations on different occasions like condemning the occupation of Afghanistan by Russia, the coming of Jehadi parties into power, gross human rights and women's rights violation by Taliban and the Jehadis. In addition we held functions, seminars and conferences to promote our ideas and let more people know about different political situations. We hold regular functions on March 8 to celebrate the International Women's Day and February 4 on the occasion of death anniversary of our founding leader, Meena. Fortunately this year we celebrated the International Women's Day in Kabul.
We have various types of publications which serve for the same purpose. Payam-e-Zan (Women's Message), which was initiated by our leader Meena, is our main periodical.
RAWA members had lots of speech tours to different parts of the world and attended conferences, seminars, forums etc which also help us to convey our message to the rest of the world.
Our website (www.rawa.org) is rich of documents about Afghanistan and crimes of the Islamic fundamentalists. Our members inside Afghanistan put their life in danger to document the atrocities of the criminals. Some of our films and photos are very unique that were shot during the Taliban regime.
For social activities, we have orphanages for Afghan children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Children and women are the first victims of the continued war. Meena believed that women of Afghanistan are like sleeping lions, and if they wake up, they can play a positive role to change the society. Education is power and if the women are equipped with this strong weapon, they can reach to their rights. So Meena set up schools to host boys and girls in refugee camps and hospitals. Currently we have nine orphanages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We provide shelters, education, basic life facilities and free involvement to the events. We have more than 50 literacy centers and income generating projects like carpet and handcrafting centers. We have hospitals and clinics. Recently Charityhelp.org, a Canadian based humanitarian organization in close collaboration with RAWA launched a child sponsorship program in the United States and Canada, which helps the interested people to sponsor children online from RAWA orphanages. I would kindly ask the Japanese people to participate in this program and help the suffering Afghan children. You many visit the website for more information at:
-- How significant is your having Women's Day celebration in Kabul?
Despite some apparent political changes, RAWA still feels to remain underground in Afghanistan, because we are the only organization that bares the truths about the "Northern Alliance" criminals, and are very bold and committed to this noble cause and hence we are the main target of these armed gangs. We have never given up but tried to be more active than any other organizations in Afghanistan. We carry out our political and social activities with different names and we seek to use every opportunity that permits us to act more openly. This function was the first move in this direction and hence bears great importance. This replied to those who believed that RAWA has no presence in Afghanistan and made baseless propaganda about it.
-- You have met with Ms. Layla Mohammed of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). What is your impression?
She was very impressive and I liked her boldness. I found her friendly because OWFI believed in secularism and democracy, which RAWA does as well. This is very important to be good friend if sharing the same belief. Her opinion about the US military presence in Iraq is exactly the same as RAWA's. We both believe that neither the US nor other countries have the rights to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq by force. Saddam was undoubtedly a criminal and must be put on people's court, but similarly the US is responsible for the current disaster in Iraq.
-- We believe that secularism is a very important issue particularly in countries that are seen to have Islamic or religious society, isn't it?
Very very much right. Secularism is the only remedy for the mortal wounds of Afghan people. Islam in Afghanistan has been a very strong tool in the hand of the ruling parties to legitimize their heinous deeds. The low literacy rate and backwardness of Afghan people provided golden opportunity for the Islamic fundamentalists to do anything they wanted in the name of Islam. Hence to end the ongoing tragedy, secularism is the best option that disarms the Islamic fundamentalism.
-- How did you find women's situation in Japan? And what did you feel when you visited Okinawa?
Well, when I compare the women in Japan with our suffering Afghan women, I think they are the luckiest people in the world. Frankly speaking I don't know much about Japanese women as I was less than two weeks here, but I can imagine to what extent women are free in Japan. Despite being a modern country and free from the germ of religious fundamentalism, I believe women in Japan still need to struggle for their rights. I heard and observed many examples that indicate women lack some of their rights. For example men feel that cooking and housework is the job of women only.
I was impressed by people of Okinawa, they are very kind and friendly. As I saw the museums, the people's experience is the same as in Afghanistan. They have suffered from war, they are the witness of crimes against them and still there are many US bases in Okinawa. I was shown a place where they suspect uranium weapons are stockpiled.
-- Thank you very much.