AWM’s Sonali Kolhatkar Interviews a Member of RAWA
Ten years ago, when the terrorist attacks took place on September 11th, 2001, my colleagues and I in the Afghan Women’s Mission watched in shock and horror as thousands of innocent people lost their lives. We knew right away however, that retaliation would be aimed at Afghanistan and that all Afghans, including the women of the underground organization RAWA who we worked in solidarity with, would become targets of American bombs.
On September 14th, 2001, RAWA issued a statement entitled “The people of Afghanistan have nothing to do with Osama and his accomplices.” In it, they expressed their condolences, and warned that past U.S. policy had led to this day:
RAWA stands with the rest of the world in expressing our sorrow and condemnation for this barbaric act of violence and terror. RAWA had already warned that the United States should not support the most treacherous, most criminal, most anti-democracy and anti-women Islamic fundamentalist parties because after both the Jehadis and the Taliban have committed every possible type of heinous crimes against our people, they would feel no shame in committing such crimes against the American people whom they consider “infidel”. In order to gain and maintain their power, these barbaric criminals are ready to turn easily to any criminal force.
RAWA went on to urge the US against launching a war: “vast and indiscriminate military attacks on a country that has been facing …disasters for more than two decades will not be a matter of pride.”
On October 11th, four days after the bombs began dropping on Afghanistan, RAWA once more urged the US to do the right thing, predicting accurately the outcome of the war: “[t]he continuation of US attacks and the increase in the number of innocent civilian victims not only gives an excuse to the Taliban, but also will cause the empowering of the fundamentalist forces in the region and even in the world.”
A month later, when the Taliban were rapidly pushed out of Kabul, RAWA realized that the US was ready to replace the Taliban with their ideological brethren, the Northern Alliance (NA) warlords. They issued yet another international appeal, warning: “[t]he NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain in power.”
Sadly RAWA’s warnings were ignored and the last ten years have borne out their predictions. The Afghan war continues with no end in sight, and with an increasing empowered Taliban, corrupt central government dominated by members of the Northern Alliance, and ordinary people caught in the crossfire.
On this tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I interviewed a member of RAWA who goes by the name, Reena.
Sonali Kolhatkar: What was your reaction when you first heard about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington ten years ago? Did you have any idea that within a month, the U.S. would begin attacking Afghanistan?
Reena: Well, the first reaction of course, was the whole world was shocked. We were also shocked and of course sad for the innocent people who were killed in the World Trade Center. But what the U.S. then did was a pretty natural reaction for us, as you know with the history of the U.S. we know that invading in other countries is their policy. But, what we were most scared of and what we braced ourselves for was that they would install the old criminals and enemies of the Afghan people, that is the Northern Alliance under a nice cover as a democratic government. This was something we predicted, and we also predicted much worse conditions as compared to those under the Taliban.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Would you say that the same forces, the same ideology that manifested itself in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, is affecting and oppressing women inside Afghanistan?
Reena: Well, yes, in a different way. You see, fundamentalism is global, and it is just under different brands in every place. But, what it does to women, what it does to people, what it does if it comes to power, is the same everywhere. So, fundamentalism under the name of Taliban, fundamentalism under the name of jihadis, or Northern Alliance, or let’s just say under the name of the Iranian government, or some other terrorist group in some other part of the world, does the same thing, if they come to power, if they are empowered the way the U.S. has empowered the warlords.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Many Americans didn’t know the history of U.S. support for fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan as well as for the many Arab fighters that came to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. Here in the United States, Americans were surprised about the consequences on 9/11, but in Afghanistan, it seemed as though most people weren’t surprised.
Reena: Yes, absolutely. You just need to look at the history, and unfortunately, these very important things don’t get mainstream media attention in the U.S. But if you just look at the recent history, you can very clearly see that America’s policy has always been to use the fundamentalists for its own interest, as it did thirty years ago with the Mujahideen, as it presently does with some terrorist groups, as it has always been doing. If you just read a good history book, it’s just plain. They’ve always helped the Mujahideen and the warlords, as long as it was for a bit of trust in overthrowing the Soviets, and then coming to power, and today allowing U.S. to have its bases, and military presence in everything, so it’s good as long as it’s in its interest. They will support anything, including such brutal fundamentalists.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Now, RAWA was for years speaking out through your website internationally and via other means, about the oppression of women by the Taliban. How did you respond when President Bush began, and his wife Laura Bush began using women’s rights as one of the reasons to launch the war in Afghanistan?
Reena: Well, using women’s rights seemed very ridiculous from the very start. We have always said that Bush, that America itself brought back to power, the Northern Alliance warlords. They are never going to be doing something beneficial for women. The conditions of women are worse, as we have seen now. But, it wasn’t ever going to help them. So, you know, it was very ridiculous that Mr. Bush and Laura Bush wanted to help the Afghan women and people. If they did, they wouldn’t have installed these criminals. They wouldn’t have given them so much power. There are many democratic groups in Afghanistan; maybe they could have, you know, negotiated with them, talked to them. From the very start, it seemed like the most ridiculous thing to do to bring such fundamentalists back to power and using women as an excuse to invade a country. But, they were not really helping them with such fundamentalists in power, as proven after ten years of the occupation, and of the rule of these warlords.
Sonali Kolhatkar: So, in the past nearly ten years now under the U.S. and NATO occupation – I know it’s a very big question to ask – how have women’s rights been set back over ten years, specifically regarding the laws that the Afghan Parliament has passed that have been very misogynist, and the way in which the U.S.-backed government’s judicial system has attacked women? Are things today, legally and politically speaking, worse for women than under the Taliban, or are they about just as bad?
Reena: Well, the laws that you just mentioned are not getting enough attention – that is one of the things that affects women badly. But basically in Afghanistan there is no legal system, there is no judiciary. There is nothing to protect women if they’re being abused, or they’re being hurt, or need help. So there is no proper legal system to prosecute people and bring them to justice. If there is a legal system, it is used in the interest of the warlords who are in power. For example, the Parliament is using their power to pass such laws. The judiciary will pass very controversial sentences which according to them are in accordance with Sha’aria law. There is no law, and if there is, it’s in the hands of these warlords who twist and turn them for their own benefit, according to their own misogynist mentality, and use it against women. So there is no protection or justice whatsoever for the bereaved women of Afghanistan.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Ten years after the September 11th attacks happened, there’s still a lot of ignorance about Afghanistan. Even though we have been fighting a war there longer than any other war in U.S. history, there’s still so much ignorance. What do you recommend for Americans to do about the war, and to better educate themselves?
Reena: People should consult RAWA’s website, www.rawa.org, well as our news section on that site, for daily updates on Afghanistan and the horrible things that happen to women over there. As for what American people can do, as we’ve always said, I think they should first of all call for the withdrawal of the troops, as the military presence has not helped Afghan people in any way. That has been proven in the past ten years. And, as I said before, there are truly democratic groups in Afghanistan that can actually help the Afghan people. But the U.S. military bases and troops are not required for this. These warlords have to be disarmed, have to be removed from power, and then maybe we can talk about a better Afghanistan and women’s rights.
Reena is a member of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Sonali Kolhatkar is the Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and host of Uprising on KPFK Pacifica Radio.
This interview has been edited for clarity. The audio portion will be broadcast nationally on Sunday September 11th 2011 as part of Pacifica Radio’s 9/11 Anniversary Special. Special thanks to Sana Shuja for transcribing.