Lion of the Panjsher, between East and West

An installment of a set of special reports by Ms. Nadjia Bouzeghrane for El-Watan, a leading French-language Algerian daily newspaper. This report was published during a visit by Women on the Road for Afghanistan to the Panjsher valley in early July 2000. Summarized translation by Omaid Weekly staff.

It was indeed a remarkable and strong moment, in the Valley of Five Lions (Panjsher), as I, two other journalists, a writer and five expatriate Afghan women met with Commander Ahmad Shah Masood. Hero of Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Union, Cmdr. Masood symbolizes the Afghan people's resistance against the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters.

During our visit to the Panjsher, his arrival was announced several times. However, a new summer offensive had just been launched by the Taliban, supported by Pakistani troops. He finally arrived on the fifth morning of our stay, that is, one hour before our group's return to Tajikistan.

It's the first time that an Algerian journalist representing an Algerian newspaper has set foot on Afghan soil. And this does not escape Cmdr. Masood, leader of the Afghan resistance, as he used the opportunity to directly address Algeria.

Cmdr. Masood, an open and tolerant Muslim, presented his vision for the future: elections; universal suffrage; democracy; and women's right to work and participate in the political arena. Everything, however, within the framework of Islam and national culture and tradition.

"Laws conceived in the West cannot altogether be transplanted into Afghanistan. But, that is not to say we support medieval-style rule. Nevertheless, one must not be as fleeting as the wind, by dissolving the cultural, regional and ethnic traditions of Afghanistan."

Speaking to the five Afghan women in our group, Cmdr. Masood expressed his hope that this was the beginning of a return home by Afghans abroad to see the suffering of their people and to take part in the rebuilding of their country.

"Our sisters abroad should help those who remained with their country, especially in the fields of health and education. Are there no doctors or teachers among them to come help? It's good to write about women's rights, but, to us, it's the action that's missing." The message could not have been more clear.

In a quick review of Afghanistan's contemporary military and political situation, Cmdr. Masood said, "Pakistan, since the Zia-ul Haq regime, has planned and prepared for the occupation of Afghanistan to gain a strategic position in Central Asia. Pakistan first attempted to seize power in Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat via Gulbudin Hekmatyar. [Gulbudin's] failure did not discourage Pakistan." That does not mean that there are no internal problems, Cmdr. Masood added.

"The Taliban are supported by Pakistan, so as long as there is no international pressure [to end Pakistani interference], the war will continue. I persist in saying that the problem of Afghanistan can be solved through political means on the international level, and through the [implementation of] democracy on the domestic level. That is, through the ballot box by which the people will choose their own government. We must move towards elections and democracy. If one prides oneself on having popular support, then one does not have to be afraid of elections. To the Taliban, who claim to represent the Pashtoons and control the country, I said that I agreed to elections."

For Cmdr. Masood, the solution to the Afghan conflict is not the soldier's rifle. Asked what role he would play once peace returns to Afghanistan, Cmdr. Masood asserted, "My role is to lead the Afghan people towards democracy."


A charter for Afghan Women's Rights

By Dr. Maliha Zulfacar

Summary of Dr. Zulfacar's article, submitted to Omaid Weekly.

It was a very unusual summer for me. I participated in a conference initiated by Women on the Road for Afghanistan (WORFA) to draft a charter for Afghan Women's Rights. WORFA is a worldwide movement created through the Beijing Conference initiative on Women for Afghanistan.

Mary Quin, organizer of the US chapter of WORFAThere were two parts to the trip: participation in a conference on the development of basic Afghan women's rights in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and a trip into Afghanistan. The initial part, to my surprise, went extremely well.

The group consisted of 45 women; six Afghan women (three from France and three from the U.S.), and the remaining mainly from France and countries such as Spain, Algeria and North America. Some of these women participated as independent individuals and some were representing different women's organizations.

In Dushanbe, we were welcomed by an estimated 200 Afghan women residing in the region. Most had fled from the country's northern provinces, along with their families, mainly during the past two to three years. Their horrific life, threatening conditions, and fears of becoming a target of violence have forced them to relocate themselves in a place that would make it possible for them to protect and educate their children. Most were widows who have become the sole provider for their families. To work is not a matter of choice for these women but a matter of survival.

Let's not forget that 1.5 million Afghans have died during the past 21 years. In war, men are the first fatalities or become physically incapacitated. Women now constitute the majority of the population and they have become the sole providers for their families and their crippled male family members. Women not only continue to perform their traditional domestic chores, but also now are left to carry out the functions and duties of the men. Thus, the backgrounds of the women who attended this conference were reflective of these realities. What was most astonishing was that these Afghan women dealt with the issue beyond tribal or ethnic alignment. Despite the differences, we managed to focus on the dilemma of Afghan women and succeeded in drafting a charter of basic Afghan Women's Rights.Pak, Arab & Chinese POWs

This charter was drafted based on various speeches, individual testimonies, and eyewitness accounts by women who either experienced or witnessed traumas and atrocities in Afghanistan. The charter was drafted in consideration of the following decrees: United Nations Human, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Beijing Declaration on Women's Rights, and Afghan Constitutions of 1964 and 1977.

Only Afghan women participants drafted the charter. These women included independent individuals, women representing various women's organizations in Tajikistan, and women with various professional backgrounds such as medical doctors, lawyers, administrators, teachers, and activists, as well as housewives. After hours of debate, discussion, and brainstorming the following rights were drafted:

Section III

The fundamental right of Afghan women, as for all human beings, is life with dignity, which includes the following rights:

  1. The right to equality between men and women and the right to the elimination of all forms of discrimination and segregation based on gender, race or religion.

  2. The right to personal safety and to freedom from torture or inhumane or degrading treatment.

  3. The right to physical and mental health for women and their children.

  4. The right to equal protection under the law.

  5. The right to institutional education in all the intellectual and physical disciplines.

  6. The right to just and favorable conditions of work.

  7. The right to move about freely and independently.

  8. The right to freedom of thought, speech, assembly and political participation.

  9. The right to wear or not to wear the veil or the scarf.

  10. The right to participate in cultural activities, including theatre, music and sports. (Within the framework of Afghan religious beliefs, norms and cultural traditions.)

The Charter was read to an audience of more than 400 Afghan women and some Afghan men and was received with a standing ovation.

It was stated repeatedly that this Charter is only a draft. We hope that with the participation of more Afghan women in the future, it will evolve, be amended and become more developed. 

Continued in our next issue.

Dr. Zulfacar is currently a professor of Sociology at the California Polytechnic State University

Copyright © Women on the road for Afghanistan 2001