After seizing control of Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban rapidly became the
world’s most despised regime. In August of 1999, a United Nations investigation revealed that the Taliban’s war against women was “widespread, systematic and officially sanctioned”. Three months later, Afghanistan’s gross human rights violations, thriving opium industry, and a welcome mat for terrorists, led the United Nations to impose trade sanctions.
Despite this history, Asian, European and Australian media have recently conjured a new picture of Afghanistan’s Islamic fundamentalists. Most reports stem from the hijacking of the Delhi–bound Indian Airlines flight IC 814 on December 24, 1999. But others, notably those in the London Guardian (November 26 and December 21, 1999) and the Sydney Morning Herald (December 24, 1999), are illogical attempts to deny the obscenities inflicted on Afghan women as a result of the Taliban’s perverted interpretation of the Quran.
World media, while sceptical of Pakistan’s role in the December 24 hijacking, reiterated the Indian government’s praise for the Taliban’s “constructive Cupertino” while 154 passengers were held hostage in the Afghanistan city of Kandahar, and coincidentally, the headquarters of the Taliban militia. In the end, following a week of bargaining orchestrated by the Taliban, three militants held in Indian prisons were released in exchange for the freedom of flight IC 814’s passengers. Most analysts viewed the swap as a victory for terrorism, but many also saw the perceived diplomacy in Kandahar as a step towards improved relations between the Taliban and the outside world.
Presently, the Taliban’s authority in Afghanistan is recognised by only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; the rest of the world regards the Rabbani government, which controls only 10 per cent of Afghanistan, as the territory’s lawful authority. According to a spokesperson for the Taliban, India should consider renewing diplomatic ties with Kabul after the courtesies extended by the militia to resolve the hijacking crisis, but the international community is likely to be unforgiving of the Taliban’s complicity with the five hijackers of Flight 814, and the three militants released from Indian prisons in exchange for the hostages.
Within days, the Taliban’s role in granting all eight the luxury of ten hours in which to make their escape to Quetta in neighbouring, terrorist-friendly Pakistan sparked an outrage amongst British victims of one of the released militants. Also, a report from Afghanistan indicates that another of the released militants, Maulana Masood Azhar, after being welcomed home to Pakistan as a hero, has retreated back to Afghanistan to avoid US bounty hunters.
Just as claims that the Taliban has been unjustly cast as villains, suggestions that Afghan women have been miscast as helpless heroines holds no sway against the vast body of evidence confirming the Taliban’s obscene treatment of women. After interviewing Afghan women, tens of thousands of whom live in appalling conditions as refugees in Pakistan, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, concluded that discrimination against women was an official Taliban policy.
According to Coomara-swamy, armed militia patrol the streets of Kabul looking for women violating the Taliban edicts, which forbid women to venture outside their homes, even for employment, unless accompanied by a male relative. In the same vein, the Taliban bars girls from attending school after the age of twelve. Women violators are publicly beaten, sometimes with radio antennae torn from nearby vehicles, but usually with an instrument resembling a leather cricket bat.
According to the London Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald, women living in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul have learnt to navigate the sporadically enforced, rigid moral codes laid down by the Taliban’s ministry of vice and virtue. Supposedly, Taliban concessions permit women to collect salaries and qualify for promotion, but only if they were not previously employed as judges or other occupations which the Taliban’s version of Islam deems unsuitable for women. Critics of the Taliban see no virtue in these minimal concessions, and maintain condemnation on the Taliban’s dictates which deny thousands upon thousands of Afghan women access to dignified employment from which to feed and clothe their families.
In a climate where Afghan women have an unimaginable level of widowhood — 35,000 in Kabul alone, as a result of their country’s two decades of civil war — the Taliban’s taboos on their extra–residential employment has left many almost without options. As never before, women dominate the ranks of Kabul’s beggars. Driven to prostitution, some retain the guise of beggars, covering themselves from head to toe with tattered clothes to conceal clothing designed to attract the men frequenting Kabul’s thriving brothel industry. Unlike the beggar prostitutes at risk of the Taliban’s virtuous wrath, brothels are often protected by the Taliban, effectively endorsing the further abuse of Afghanistan’s poverty–stricken women by the regime’s self–righteous militiamen.
Prisons are home to thousands of Afghans, many women, and the vast majority innocent of any crime other than being ethnic Tajiks who are automatically deemed to have violated the Taliban’s religious code. Pol-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul boasts twenty blocks, two assigned to female prisoners, each block divided into 116 rooms, and each room crammed with 40 to 50 prisoners who are regularly raped, beaten, flogged, tortured, and humiliated by the Taliban’s armed guards seeking entertainment.
Each prisoner receives a subsistence daily ration of 180 grams of dried out bread, supplemented with 80 grams of boiled rice from Red Cross aid. Three prisoners die each week from malnutrition. Others often held for between one and three years without legal representation, and facing conviction for some “invented” political crime which brings an undefined prison term, suffer physical and mental illness, and strive to retain their sanity. The solitary Red Cross aid which reaches prisoners is the 80 gram daily ration of boiled rice. Other aid items such as medicines, beans, oil, sugar, tea, meat, vegetables, fruits, soap, carpet, jackets, glasses, and gasoline are divided amongst corrupt Red Cross employees and the prison administration, who falsify prisoner’s names to rationalise their books.
Living in exile, and contending with poverty in nearby Pakistan, the Revolutionary Association of Women from Afghanistan (RAWA), has refused to be intimidated by the Taliban’s vicious inhumanity towards women chiefly but also against women’s children, their partners and their parents. Regularly protesting against the regime’s ignorant misinterpretation of the Quran, RAWA’s courage has brought international attention to the Taliban’s war against women which does not stop at denying them dignified employment.
Featuring amongst the Taliban’s litany of obscenities imposed on women is the burqa, a garment which, except for a filigree strip across the eyes permitting vision, is all–concealing and symbolic of women’s enslavement under the Taliban. Countless Afghan women have been beaten and stoned in public for not wearing the “proper attire”; even in some instances where the offence amounted to nothing more than the revealing of eyes from behind the burqa’s mesh.
The London Guardian also proclaimed the Taliban’s mellowing with respect to girl’s education when the first government girls’ schools were opened in Kabul in November of 1999. But as RAWA was quick to point out, this amounts to nothing more than religious and domestic classes for the daughters of Taliban followers accepting of the vile code of virtuosity which has been imposed in Afghanistan. In other words, these are schools by the Taliban for the Taliban’s barbaric ends, but with the assistance of complicit journalists, a message evolves to create the impression that science subjects and even English are now available to Afghanistan’s girls. The truth, from the mouths of young girls attending such schools verifies that these are indoctrination houses to brainwash the next generation of fundamentalists, hanging like hungry crows on the naked trees of Afghanistan’s vast graveyard created by the murderous, and largely illiterate, Taliban.
The Taliban’s recent hostage negotiations in Kandahar sent a clear message to would–be hijackers that Afghanistan is a sanctuary for unlawful negotiations endorsing terrorism. Equally, daily atrocities send a clear message to the international community that Afghanistan is home to gross human rights violations, particularly those of women, while the Taliban remains in power.
There is absolutely no indication that the Taliban is about to change its tune. On the contrary, the January 8, 2000 issue of the Lancet medical journal warned of Taliban plans to purge Afghanistan’s health professions of staff educated in socialist countries between 1978 and 1992 when Afghanistan was under communist rule. The Taliban has made no secret of its intention to replace the purgees with “like-minded” sharing its version of Islam.
At the end of the day, no amount of sanitising the Taliban’s barbarisms can whitewash the fact that, at the opening of the year 2000, the Taliban is nothing less than an extremist fundamentalist regime; one which undermines global security with its training and sheltering of terrorists, all while implementing its own reign of terror against the women residing within Afghanistan’s borders. Or, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, the Taliban 2000, no matter how intense the sanitising, still reeks with the vile stench of fundamentalist indecency!
Archived from Communalism Combat, February 2000. Year 7 No, 56, Region