Thursday, August 14, 2008

RAWA interview

From Justin Podur of ZNet:

The NATO Occupation and Fundamentalism
An interview with Miriam of
By Justin Podur

ISLAMABAD - The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is a women's organization that runs underground schools and other projects, educates Afghan girls, runs a periodic journal, and agitates politically for women's rights, human rights, secularism, and social justice in Afghanistan. From the 1979 Soviet invasion through to the 2006 closings of the camps, millions of Afghan refugees lived in Pakistan and many still do. While RAWA's operations were always based primarily in Afghanistan, they have also had a strong presence in the Pakistan refugee community. I spoke to Mariam from RAWA in Islamabad when I was there in July 2008...

Q: [W]hat is the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan today?

RAWA: In general, Pakistan has been better to Afghan refugees compared to Iran or other neighboring countries... [W]e were running a refugee camp in suburbs of Peshawar for over two decades until it was finally forcibly evacuated by the Pakistan government some months ago. In 2001-2002, after the US invasion and occupation, large numbers of Afghans went back. The Peshawar refugee communities were basically emptied, but due to bad conditions, returning to Afghanistan is still an unattractive option for many refugees.

When the government decided to close some refugee camps in 2006, it had a huge effect. Most of the refugees were forced to leave, even though they had lost everything in Afghanistan: they had no jobs, no shelter, nothing to go back to. And in fact no one knows what happened to them. Those families who have returned to Afghanistan are very disappointed with the lack of any job and facilities in Afghanistan, and many came back to seek refuge to Pakistan for the second time.

Today according to the UNHCR, refugees are coming back to Pakistan and they are trying to find places in the cities...

Q: [Tell us] a bit of your analysis of the political and military situation in Afghanistan.

RAWA: It is a complicated situation. We have NATO's occupation and the interference of neighbors, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Russia etc. all of whom have supported different fundamentalist groups in recent years. The Taliban control some areas and in recent months even reached the borders of Kabul... The brothers-in-creed of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, are in power today and generously supported by the US government. Much of the northern part of Afghanistan is ruled by the local warlords of the northern alliance. The government of Hamid Karzai has no tangible control there. The Taliban and other Islamic movements are the enemy of the Afghan people. And their strength is supported by the US and the West. The support the fundamentalists get from outside makes it difficult for the Afghan people to resist them...

Q: You have described all of these Islamic political movements as enemies of the people, whether they are supported by the West or fighting NATO...

RAWA: [...] The fundamentalist groups have committed unprecedented crimes under the name of Islam over the past two decades. Today Afghans are so fed up with them that majority of Afghans support any voice raised against the fundamentalists. When Malalai Joya spoke against them for only 2 minutes in the Loya Jirga, her voice was soon echoed and supported by millions of Afghan across the country and she was called a heroine and voice of the voiceless. The fundamentalists impose their domination with the help of their weapons, foreign masters and money. Without these, they have no footing in Afghan society.

Q: Is the NATO occupation helping or harming Afghanistan? Can it be used somehow to strengthen progressive forces? Is it holding back a Taliban victory which would
be worse than the current situation?

RAWA: Seven years ago when the US invaded, the situation was different. Many Afghans appreciated their presence and were happy to get rid of the Taliban's oppressive rule. They thought - the Taliban had been eliminated, the international community worked, they were promised a better life, democracy and freedom and an end to the fundamentalist groups. Within months, it was clear that the US government still continues its wrong policy of supporting the fundamentalists in Afghanistan. We saw that the US rely on the fundamentalists of the Northern Alliance to fight another fundamentalist band - the Taliban. It doesn't matter if they fight the Taliban or "terrorism", they are supporting the Northern Alliance, and for Afghans both are the same - both are terrorists and fundamentalists, supported by foreign governments, whether by the West, or Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia or any other country. They violate human rights, they abuse women, they commit corruption and fraud and smuggling, as we have documented.

From the beginning, RAWA announced that the US and the West have their own reasons for being here and it is not for the freedom of the Afghan people. We said that what the US/NATO is doing under the name of democracy is in fact a mockery of democracy. It is clear for us. Today NATO bombings are increasing, more civilians are being killed, and other violations are being done by the US and NATO. And now even they are trying to share power with the Taliban and terrorist party of Gulbuddin Hekmatya. If this plot is realized, it will mean another tragedy for Afghanistan and its people, the unification of all enemies of Afghan people under one umbrella so they could jointly smash the Afghan people and freedom-loving individuals and forces.

Under the mafia system and the shadow of gun and warlordism, unfortunately there is no chance for progressive forces to come to the scene and work openly. Any serious and stanch anti-fundamentalist and anti-occupation force still needs to fight underground and they are not supported and encouraged. In fact the US is afraid to see emergence of a powerful progressive movement in Afghanistan. Those who openly criticize the government and warlords face threats, imprisonment and restrictions. We are facing the same problems and risks today which we were faced under the Taliban...

JP: What about the argument that if NATO left, Afghanistan would quickly fall to the Taliban, which would be worse?

RAWA: It is true that it might be worse under a Taliban regime. But at least we will not be occupied by a foreign power. Today we have two problems: our own local fundamentalists and a foreign occupier. If NATO left we would have one problem rather than two.

RAWA has announced a number of times that neither the US nor any other power wants to release Afghan people from the fetters of the fundamentalists. Afghanistan's freedom can be achieved by Afghan people themselves. Relying on one enemy to defeat another is a wrong policy which has just tightened the grip of the Northern Alliance and their masters on the neck of our nation.

Q: If NATO left the Taliban would also have a more difficult time portraying themselves as a national liberation movement, an argument they can make and a source of prestige for them so long as the occupation continues.

RAWA: Actually both parties depend on each other. If the US were to eliminate the Taliban somehow, they would find themselves with no pretext for being here. But the Taliban and terrorism are only a pretext. They are not honest. They are here for the strategic ends: the central location from which to control Iran, Russia and China, affect Pakistan's government and society, strengthen its grip on the Central Asian Republics and so on. That is why they keep increasing their military presence and building up bases. NATO will probably leave, but the US won't - they wanted a pretext for being here, and the US will not set aside the golden opportunity... (link)

Note that Miriam does not list oil or gas or a pipeline as an American strategic end. Many Westerners know little of Afghanistan's history as a buffer state and its strategic significance going back well before oil became a factor in international affairs. Many outsiders are thus quick to finger oil as an explanation for American interest in the area, though many Afghans are not so easily fooled.

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