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Fundamentalist Extremists of the Past and Future

During the late 1980s, well before the first Soviet troop withdrawal, the fundamentalists were gaining in power in Afghanistan, and their first targets were women. Handbills began to circulate warning women of reprisals if they left their homes. Acid was thrown on women who walked on the streets of Kabul in trousers, or skirts, or short-sleeved shirts.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia had funded and armed these fundamentalist groups, favoring them over the more moderate Mujahideen groups fighting against the Soviet occupation. This international support gave the extremists a vital edge over the moderates. The military hardware given to them was later used to target unarmed civilians, most of them women and children.

As the fundamentalists gradually gained power, among their first targets were women’s education and employment. The Soviet’s puppet government, the Najibullah regime, was anxious to accommodate the increasingly powerful fundamentalists, and under its National Reconciliation Policy, women’s rights were the first sacrifice.

The ministry of Islamic affairs began dismissing women on the pretext of abolition of posts. A strict code of dress was imposed — a scarf to cover the head, the traditional full sleeved long tunic, and pants. Lunch breaks, which enabled women to meet, discuss problems, and protest against unfair practices, were put to an end. Co-education, which had at that point existed up to the sixth grade, was prohibited. The scarcity of resources meant that girls’ schools received low priority.

The overthrow of the Najibullah government in 1992 led to fighting among warring fundamentalist groups for territorial control. Massive artillery attacks killed and wounded thousands of civilians, especially women and children. The Constitution was suspended by the Mujahideen groups who seized power in Kabul, and women’s rights were nullified.

The ruling warlords ignored the legal system, dismantled the judicial structure, and claimed judicial powers for themselves in some provinces, and for the Islamic clergy in others. Trials were arbitrary and punishments were barbaric like stoning to death and public lashings of everyone, including women. Amnesty International’s report for the period April 1992-February 1995 lists horrendous crimes against women.

The warlords condoned rape of women by their fighters and guards; it was viewed as a way of intimidating vanquished populations, and of rewarding soldiers. Fear of rape drove women to suicide, and fathers to kill their daughters to spare them the degradation.

Scores of women were abducted and detained, sexually abused, and sold into prostitution. Most of them were victimised and tortured — because they belonged to different religious and ethnic groups. In addition to physical abuse, women were stripped of their fundamental rights of association, freedom of speech, of employment, and movement.

The Supreme Court of the Islamic State issued an ordinance in 1994 which decreed that women should wear a veil to cover the whole body, forbidding them to leave their homes “not because they are women but for fear of sedition.” Their reign continued until the Taliban began taking control in 1995 over a large number of Afghanistan’s 30 provinces, and finally seized Kabul in 1996. Then a new reign of fundamentalist terror began.

This is the record of the Northern Alliance, which was amply represented in the recent Bonn conference to create a post-Taliban government of Afghanistan. Women’s groups such as RAWA were excluded from the conference.

source: “The rape of Afghanistan” by Rasil Basu, The Asian Age, December 31, 2001

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