Afghan girl exposes the US
No veil, no dupatta, not even a scarf, Heela Faryal (not her real name), in her early twenties, came wearing a buttoned Purple long sleeved Kurta and straight black pants with silver slippers. Curious Karachi college girls went up to Heela- Afghanistan’s lone woman participant in a conference on women, but the latter swiftly turned, avoiding any selfies with the excited girls. It was not for her to exchange phone numbers or emails. She remained quiet even as her glowing face with a halo of dark curly hair on her shoulders failed to hide her youthful enthusiasm.
Heela, appeared stoic, as the only international speaker other than me from India, but her eyes were soft and smiling, choosing to get photographed only with speakers who had been informed to avoid any publication of her photograph owing to threat to her life.
Real time yardstick of a progressive nation comes from how their women are treated. The land of Heela’s forefathers in Afghanistan had been so unforgiving; it made her highly strung and secretive. Losing trust in human beings and simple humanity can be very, very shattering. This was Heela Faryal member of secret action group for women RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan).
“No, I can’t tell you my real name,” she pleaded even though I was an international speaker like her. “No, I cannot even give you my phone number, please”, she supplicated, when I asked her.
She traveled to Karachi from Kabul, Afghanistan for the “‘Hum Aurtaen’ – No more Violence” programme by Tehrik-E- Niswan, a woman’s cultural action group based in Pakistan, headed by its stunning danseuse, actor and director Sheema Kermani.
Heela, a Muslim, yet didn’t feel one with those in Pakistan- who had freely come to attend the conference. In her country Afghanistan women were ensconced in the home space, treated brutally and worse than any other nation.
On stage, UK-read Heela, delivered her written content in English, without flinching she stirred the youthful women audience, with the unfolding of instances of Afghan women laid silent by horrendous torture and heinous killings over minor aberrations.
She introduced herself as a member of RAWA- oldest organization in Afghanistan that fights for rights of women, social rights and freedom while taking a stand against the Afghan fundamentalists and their international backers.
Naturally she was on their hit-list!
Heela related to the audience about Afghanistan’s most horrific crime ever committed against a 26-year woman in 2015. – “It was not inside the darkness and closed doors of her husband or father’s home. It was in broad daylight, in central Kabul, under the nose of local policemen and government, when Farkhunda, a young Islamic studies student, was encircled and lynched by a mob who accused her of burning the Quran. Brutally kicked, her hair yanked, spitted upon, punched and stomped, veil ripped off her face, bludgeoned with stones outside the mosque, the mob then dragged her motionless body some 300 meters into a street and her corpse was run over with a car and set afire. Her bloodied clothes couldn’t catch fire and the men threw their own clothing topis and scarves to burn her. The hideous remains were thrown in the dry Kabul River. Farkhunda’s crime: She had argued with a mullah, who then falsely accused her of burning the Quran.”
The audience was deathly silent and attentive. It was a chilling account.
It was on record, that a number of prominent public officials turned to social networking site Facebook immediately after Farkhunda’s gruesome killing, to endorse the act. The Deputy Minister for Culture & Information Afghanistan -Simin Ghazal Hasanzada approved the execution, wrote- “Working for the infidels.” The official spokesman of Kabul police Hashmat Stanekzai wrote “Farkhunda- thought, like several other unbelievers, that this kind of action and insult will get them U.S. or European citizenship. But before reaching their target, they lost their life.” Zalmai Zabuli, chief of the complaints commission of upper house of parliament, posted a picture of Farkhunda with this message: “This is the horrible and hated person who was punished by our Muslim compatriots for her action. Thus, they proved to her masters that Afghans want only Islam and cannot tolerate imperialism, apostasy, and spies.”
Pausing and taking a deep breath, Heela took up for another 19-year- old Rukhshana, stoned to death in a mud pit by a Taliban kangaroo court in a Mullah-dominated western province of Afghanistan, for eloping last year. “Her screams echoed as an angry crowd of Taliban threw rocks at her, ending her in a stoned silence”.
“Treatment of women in Afghanistan would put even cannibals to shame”, some whispered in the audience.
She spoke out about women in Afghanistan crushed by several demonic forces including – the US and its allies, Jehadists, Taliban, and now the ISIS.” Coming down heavily on America she contended- “The US used women’s rights as an excuse to invade my country Afghanistan and continues to kill innocent women and children and conduct their terrifying drone attacks and chilling night raids in all parts of Afghanistan. The biggest crime the US has committed is the installation of fundamentalists in a puppet government.”
Without a blink, she pointed to the alleged black sheep in the government made with US support- “Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is headed by long-time CIA mercenaries-Ashraf Ghani (current President of Afghanistan) and Abdullah Abdullah (CE of Afghanistan), after US Secretary of state-John Kerry brokered a deal.” And added-“Abdullah Abdullah is one of the leaders of the most infamous fundamentalist parties of Afghanistan, Shoraye Nizar.”
She further accused–“Afghanistan’s current government, Parliament, and judiciary are all occupied at highest positions by criminals, heinous fundamentalists and warlords implicated in grave war crimes, and enjoy unconditional backing of western powers”. Adding more names to the alleged black list she pointed out – Mohammad Noor (Governor of Balkh Province ), Karim Khalil Dostum (former Vice President of Afghanistan), Mohammed Mohaqiq (a politician), Sarwar Danish (former Vice President of Afghanistan), Ustad Murad, Ahmad Khan, Alimi Balkhi (Minister of Refugees& Repatriation ), Taj M. Mujahid.”
The names except for Afghanistan’s present president Ashraf Ghani didn’t register with the Pakistani audience much, but most understood they were one of the top crème of the government in Afghanistan.
Taking a piercing dig at the Afghanistan Parliament, Heela lamented-“In 2009 Afghanistan Parliament attempted to legalize marital rape!”
The question in many minds arose –“How could they even ‘attempt’ such a law with the US looking over their shoulder?”
The audience was clearly reminded of a recent protest against the new Pakistani law called the ‘Punjab Protection of women against violence, Act’ that saw a coalition of 30 religious and political parties declaring the law un-Islamic and an attempt to secularize Pakistan- a country evolved on theological lines.
Heela meantime, quoting a UN report said -“According to United Nations, the Taliban’s reach is widest today since 2001. The suicide attacks by Taliban, and constant war with Afghan government has made life hell and civilian deaths in 2015 were highest, majority being women.
While public executions, stoning and amputation are widespread, the Taliban are welcomed with open arms to join the government instead of putting them on trial,” she trailed off in a stoic voice.
I am sure it was not hard in Pakistan to understand how their political dispensations segregation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban to further their agendas in many countries, had aggravated the situation beyond control in their own backyards. The Easter attack in Lahore killing 72 and injuring hundreds was recent incident hard to ignore.
Heela took on the ISIS with the same venom, and said –“If this was not enough, the branch of ISIS in Afghanistan has begun taking root and already started committing atrocities.” And asked “What was the conclusive result of US and its allies, long presence in Afghanistan?”
She only saw blank faces as no one knew the answer.
And continued –“Afghanistan is under the thumb of four brutal forces-The USA and allies; Jihadists; Taliban and now the ISIS. The prime victims are always women.” Castigating foreign funds for inhuman use, she vented –“Islamic fundamentalism comes in many brands and forms and killers are created by misogynists or women-haters, and almost always funded by foreign sponsors to further their interests in other countries.” Afghanistan’s with its $60 billion dollars in foreign aid, is 3rd most corrupt country and has devoured all its Aid and funds.
This was not far from the truth, as a well-documented fact had surfaced that US Pentagon auditors were perplexed over the missing US military equipment worth $420 million in year 2013. The report also stated that between 2006- 2010, equipment valued at nearly $240 million could not be accounted for.
Heela struck the USA’s warped policies, due to which an alarming rise was seen in narcoticproduction in Afghanistan –“Thanks to US invasion; Afghanistan has risen to become a narco-producing state of more than 90% of world’s opium. Women have not escaped the effects of this drug production and about 890,000 out of an unofficial figure of 3.5 million addicts are women including children, in Afghanistan.”
She also criticized the US for falsely and consistently trumpeting gains made by women of Afghanistan buttressing them with instances of presence of females in the Parliament and the relative freedom of women in a few urban cities. “What remains unsaid is that most of these female officials are tied to fundamentalist parties and share their misogynist mindset. These are mere cosmetic changes, only used for propaganda purposes to justify the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to the people of the world. It is merely to peddle the fact that supposed gains will be lost if foreign troops withdraw,” she boomed.
Her revelation about Afghanistan realpolitik was indeed stark and shocking. In India and many other countries, the US viewpoint was believed, however we were shaken out of our opinions with the facts put across by this young citizen of the beleaguered nation.
And Heela continued –“Despite US and allies presence, which accounts for medical help too, Afghanistan still has the highest maternal mortality rate with one out of nine deaths during childbirth. 57% afghan brides are under 16, about 87% women are illiterate and merely 5%girls attend secondary schools,” she held these counts as offhand and said the ground reality was much worse. ‘Afghanistan is rightfully called the ‘worst place to be a woman’.
Heela concluded with a call for an organized progressive grassroots movement for greater freedom to women in Afghanistan.
She got a resounding applause at the end of it. It was not about delivery of a written piece it was a solidarity gesture with the female sex that few men along with women in Pakistan had also watched and an acknowledgment of Heela’s bravery in exposing the wrongs in her society without fear.
The youngest member of RAWA was not only daring but possessed the wherewithal for survival and anonymity. She couldn’t have stopped many giggly young Pakistani girls from taking her picture during her stage address but with a single stroke she swiped all her pictures from my iPhone with function of ‘airdrop’ leaving me with no pictures of her and smoothly evaded to give me her contact number.
Her act did not fray me; rather it brought a smile and reminded me of a phrase- “Desperate times need desperate means”! And conversely compelled me to salute this heroic young woman of Afghanistan! Just a few days after this address, Heela’s friend request entered my Facebook inbox, naturally picture-less.
The Author can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON 17TH APRIL 2016