First their faces disappeared, then their voices, finally they silenced the sound of their footprints as if by this action the individuals themselves would be erased.
In September 1996, darkness fell upon Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Hardship and suffering is not new in this region of the world plagued with civil wars, and past Soviet occupation. Life was already difficult when the military entourage, known as the Taliban stormed in against the stern warnings of Pakistani intelligence, overtaking the capital and subsequently most of Afghanistan.
The Taliban, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, a self proclaimed religious zealot, has brought such horror and torment it is almost impossible to grasp. Mullah Omar claims to have had a dream in which the Holy Prophet Muhammad appeared to him and told him to bring peace to Afghanistan (US News And World Report, March 6, 1995). Omar lives with his two wives and children inside a compound protected by high walls. His dream to restore12th- century Islamic purity and fundamentalism is enforced by the Kornaic Police for the Prevention of Vice and the Propagation of Virtue otherwise known as the "religious police". The degree of dehumanization and suffering which has ensued his dictatorship is reminiscent of war crimes which poured forth from Kosovo.
Opposition forces argue Mullah Omar has made mistakes when it comes to carrying out Islamic law. Omar stated that the use of opium is "wrong", but the selling of it is not wrong, and does not violate Islamic law. Islam forbids both the use and selling of illegal drugs, including opium. Before the market opened for the sale of opium; a Newsweek investigation disclosed the secret alliance between Omar and one of the world's most sought after terrorists, Osma bin Laden. Laden is reported to have funded the Taliban when outside aid from Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan had all but dried up. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's the United States through a CIA covert operation based in Pakistan, sent in "hundreds of millions of dollars to arm, train, and supply the anti-Soviet resistance". When the Soviet occupation ended, these same CIA trained forces went home to find themselves fighting once again as militia forces under Mullah Omar.-(Newsweek, October, 13, 1997-Steve LeVine)
The human rights violations directed toward the female population, approximately 10 million women, reflect the brutality the Taliban has chosen to display their own version of the Islam faith. Women are required to wear a garment known as a burqa. This shroud like garment covers the entire body from head to toe. The face is concealed behind a thick mesh cloth, making it difficult to see and breath. This was the first action taken against women under the regime. Any woman who dares to challenge the mandated dress code is subject to beatings and even death. Many women are not able to afford the clothing required, consequently, these women are virtual prisoners in their homes.
Women are prohibited from working, attending universities, seeking health care, and speaking in public. Women who were once employed as physicians, teachers, attorneys, receptionists, etc., now find themselves stripped of every basic human right. A woman must have a male chaperon, a spouse, or a close male relative to venture out into the public forum.
460317 "A woman must have a male chaperon, a spouse, or a close male relative to venture out..."
If she is in need of medical attention, a male relative is the one allowed to speak, describing her symptoms. Doctors are forbidden to touch, or visually examine their female patients. This includes girls as well. The windows of homes with women and girls are ordered painted opaque to ensure they cannot be seen. Countless stories of atrocities committed against women and girls are consistently cruel.
Testimony by Ms. Zohra Rasekh, public health specialist, before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, March 9, 1999, disclosed the following: "The health consequences of such policies are dramatic. An alarming 71% of participants reported a decline in their health over the past two years." "An Afghan physician described declining nutrition in children, an increasing rate of tuberculosis, and a high prevalence of other infectious diseases among women." The rate of mental duress is alarming. Those interviewed by the Physicians for Human Rights showed signs of major depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, symptoms of anxiety disorders, and many of the women stated they had thought of suicide, some "quite often".
The hospitals are segregated. The few beds open for women have no clean water, or electricity available. Children are no longer given the freedom to play outdoors with toys, or to even fly a kite. Anyone seen playing with a bird is considered in direct violation of Islamic law. Any object with an association of the western culture is banned. Ironically, however, the Taliban religous police use Toyota trucks as a means to carry out their "duties".
The Taliban religious police are notorious in their treatment. They scour the streets looking for violators of the "religious law". "The Taliban's practice of summoning Kabul residents to witness carrying out of Sha'ria (Islamic law) punishment handed down by its kangaroo courts, including beheadings, floggings, amputation of limbs, stoning, collapsing walls, and hangings, further traumatizes the population, including the children." (Testimony of Zohra Rasekh and Holly Burkhalter, Physicians for Human Rights, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, March 9, 1999.)
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has called its policies against women and children "despicable".-("Afghanistan's relentless war on women", The Guardian, - Maggie O'Kane, December 17, 1997.)
Landmines left over from the various wars are an ongoing threat to children. Education classes given once by Save The Children were attended only by males. Save The Children has since shut down the program. Injuries and deaths incurred from landmines has increased. Humanitarian aid is almost impossible to get to those who desperately need it. The Taliban has demonstrated their intolerance for international assistance isolating the region further. The infrastructure itself is devastated from the wars.
In further testimony before Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of The U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, On Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, March 2, 1998, Mavis Leno, National Board Member of the Feminist Majority reported "women have been beaten, shot at, tortured, and even killed for violating these draconian decreesfor merely trying to go to work, leaving their homes alone..." "Countless Afghan women and girls are forced to beg for food because they have no male relatives to support them, and they are not allowed to support themselves. Many Afghan women, unable to bear the psychological and physical torture of their status, are committing suicide. Despite the horrific nature of these abuses against women, coverage by the United States media has been scant". Perhaps the reason for the scant coverage is in part due to international oil interests to build pipelines through Afghanistan providing a linkage of Caspian Sea oil and possibly gas reserves to Central and South Asia.
460299 "Countless Afghan women and girls are forced to beg for food
because they have no male relatives to support them..."
Events in Kosovo recently demonstrated once again to the world; what can and does occur when one individual or group takes control with selfish motives. Media pictures streaming out of Kosovo left haunting images imprinted upon the minds of those caring enough to see beyond the propaganda. This is quickly proving to be the case in Afghanistan.
The same religious beliefs used to torture women and girls, according to many scholars, is being misinterpreted by those in power. "Women in Islam are equal to men. Fundamental Rights were given to them over 1500 years ago". It is through the cultural practices, not Islam, which has given hold to this uneducated form of Islamic practices. It is not the "true nature of Islam".
Women, children, and even men are suffering tremendous oppression. War crimes against humanity are being dished out with very little backlash from the international community. Persecution and killing of individuals based on their gender, or religious beliefs is genocide. Burying individuals alive is not uncommon, nor is it uncommon to hear stories of fathers selling their daughters for food. Women who once enjoyed the rights every human being is entitled to, are now treated as non-entity's. Is it the job of the United Nations to "police" the world? The answer may seem simple; however, when one looks into the eyes of the children suffering and dying needlessly the answer is quite complex.
March 1999, July, 1999
Afghanistan's relentless war on women
The Guardian, December 17, 1997
By Maggie O'Kane
The Feminist Majority (Foundation Online)
Testimony of Mavis Leno, National Board Member,
Feminist Majority, Before Senator Dianne Feinstein,
A Member of The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
On Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan
March 2, 1998
Five Days in Afghanistan
The Frontier Post, July 28, 1999
By Tariq Jamal Khattak
Newsweek, October 13, 1997
By Steve LeVine
Taleban beat Afghan woman over bare ankles
Kabul, January 16, 1997, (Reuter)
By Sayed Salahuddin
Women's Health and Human Rights in Afghanistan
Testimony of Zohra Rasekh and Holly Burkhalter,
Physicians for Human Rights
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations
March 9, 1999
Women's Position, Role, And Rights In Islam
By Zieba Shorish-Shamley, Ph.D.
Farewell, good ol' Marjan... The lone king of Kabul zoo succumbs to his age at 48, after surviving years and years of deprivations and symbolizing to kabulis the spirit of resiliency itself Well.....that's sad news, indeed. To my eyes, Marjan symbolized hope. However, in thinking about that dear old lion's death I choose to believe that when he heard the swoosh of kites flying over Kabul, heard the roars from the football stadium, experienced the renewed sounds of music in the air and heard the click-click of chess pieces being moved around chessboards....well, the old guy knew that there was plenty of hope around and it was okay for him to let go and fly off, amid kite strings, to wherever it is the spirits of animals go.
Peace to you Marjan and peace to Afghanistan.
[Diana Smith, via the Internet]