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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

Cry, Afghanistan | Apratim Mukarji

Friday 23 April 2021, by Apratim Mukarji

Who are the happiest people in today’s Afghanistan where the United States has just announced its determination to get out of its “longest war”? No prize for guessing correctly. Barring the Taliban who have only succeeded in tightening up their fearsome history and image, nobody else, nobody else including those Afghans who preside over the non-Taliban segments of Afghan society, including those in the civilian and elected government, is happy and looking forward to a peace deal to bring to an end the war against terror.

    It is for obvious reasons (mainly not to embarrass the American government) that President Ashraf Ghani spoke in general terms while responding to President Joe Biden’s announcement. He said, “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan respects the United States decision (to withdraw all troops by September 11, which will coincide approximately with the 20th. Anniversary of the combined American and NATO and European attack on the Taliban forces in 2001) and we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition. As we move into the next phase in our partnership, we will continue to work with our U.S./NATO partners, in the ongoing peace effort. Afghanistan’s proud security and defence forces are fully capable of defending its people and country which they have been doing all along, and for which the Afghan nation will forever remain grateful.”

     The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, on the contrary, injected a clear note of discordance, and he also issued an undisguised warning, “ The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (The Taliban have made it clear several times over that they will share power only after amending the present Constitution to convert the country into an Islamist fundamentalist state) seeks the withdrawal of all foreign forces from our homeland on the date specified in the Doha Agreement. If the agreement is adhered to, a pathway to addressing the remaining issues will also be found. If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who (fail) to comply with the agreement will be held liable.”

    Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the Afghanistan Government-led High Council on Peace Negotiations or, in short, “Diplomatic Official”, said, “Now that there is an announcement on foreign troops withdrawal within several months, we need to find a way to co-exist. We believe that there is no winer in Afghanistan conflicts and we hope that the Taliban realise that too.” Of all the statements made so far in the United States and Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah’s words sound closer to the actual reality than the others.

   However, the veneer of geniality that seeks to cover the authoritative statements vanishes when one listens to what the common people of Afghanistan speak up their minds which remain largely full of fear. This expression of fear rings with the foremost power when women speak up, for it is Afghan women who suffered the most under the 1996-2001 Taliban rule and there is no doubt whatsoever that once the Taliban widen their hold over the country after partnering in the new government, it is the women of all ages and persuasions who will once more be brutalised the most.

    Women who are out of home during the day in the pursuit of education at all levels from primary school to secondary and university levels and out in fields of work such as nursing, doctoring, media, policing, politics and electioneering, are all very endangered at every moment util the moment they are back within the safety of their homes. Sometimes, as have happened in real life, their own family members have turned against them and sought to take revenge for violating the strict Sharia law that governs the average Afghan’s life.

   Judging by the number of incidents, it is the women who are media professionals who are the most endangered and threatened people in Afghanistan today. Ever since women began to work fo media outlets, the Taliban started threatening them openly though after every incident involving the two sides in which the women are invariably the victims, the Taliban have routinely issued complete denials of their involvement. Still, the courage of these women, mostly in their early 20s, hs earned them unstinted admiration from home and abroad. Whn three employees of Anika TV were gunned down, the denial was there in its familiar slot but the country as a whole and women in particular only praised the women and took no notice of the brutality of the terrorists.

   Next in the degree of personal danger stand those who are in the medical and teaching professions. For natural reasons, they outnumber those in media, and they are therefore much more exposed to danger from the fundamentalists. But just as the media women do not care, those who are doctors, nurses, specialists, and teachers also keep working and keep adding new members to the professions.

   While these professions attract th most attention both from women and from thir adversaries like the Taliban, the Islamic State and other fundamentalists and traditional secors of mullahs, sports are receiving a special torture treatment from the Islamists. Interestingly, however, Afghan women also are giving the Islamists a step-by-step competition. They appear to be as much determined or perhaps more determined to excel in sorts like football, cricket and athletics while braving and beating numerous obstacles.

   It would be virtually impossible for any people in today’s world to imagine the plight of a girl who is permitted to compete in an Olympics vent like sprint or atheletics wearing a full hijab. But this has happened and is happening all the time. And yet, immediately after the end of the Taliban rule, the Olyppics Committee of Afghanistan began to send women to represent the country in the Olympics right from the next year. Of the five members of the first team to the 2002 Olympics, two were women. This speaks not only of the courage of the women athletes but also of the courage and pride of the national committee itself.

   Today, while the Afghan men’s cricket team is internationally recognised, the women’s team is also being trained so that in another few years’ time they will be ready to compete with other established national women’s teams. At this moment, 3 women are being trained for qualifying for this rare honour. In the kind of a special country that Afghanistan has become over the past decades of fighting with domestic and invading forces, it is but natural that Afghan women whether in the traditional professions or in sports are equally provig themselves to be hard-core fighters, not just against religious bigotry but also against social prejudice.
                          

*(Apratim Mukarji is an analyst of South and Central Asian affairs and has authored “Afghanistan From Terror to Freedom (2003).)

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