Angered at the return of the Islamist rule of the Taliban, many Afghan women are refusing to keep quiet, covered and at home as they did in the 1990s.
The Afghan struggle against the Taliban's sectarian rule has begun, and does not look as if it will be deterred by threats from the "Islamic Emirate." After forming its provisional government — which shares a trait with the cabinet of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi for including ministers subject to sanctions and sought by international justice — the Taliban regime immediately banned all demonstrations. Protests, it declared, must seek permits 24 hours beforehand and even submit the slogans to be chanted to the interior and justice ministries for approval.
One woman who took part in recent anti-state protests in Kabul was Fahimeh Sadat, a rights activist who used to work with the Afghan government. Fahimeh Sadat tells Kayhan London by phone, "We won't be silenced with these threats, and will defend the rights we won in the past 20 years as far as we can."
We're not prepared to overlook our hard-earned rights.
She adds that women won't accept being confined at home like 25 years ago, having to do nothing but bear children, without any political or social rights: "We studied and worked, and we're not prepared to overlook our hard-earned rights because of the treachery of politicians and of international games, and because some bearded men from the Stone Age have regained power. We won't just switch off. That would be like combining death and hard labor."
Fereshteh Ra'fat, a journalist who managed to leave Kabul on one of the last flights out, says Afghanistan is "not the Afghanistan of 20 years ago," and the Taliban "are well aware of this change, which is why they are particularly afraid of women."
Ra'fat says they know that today, as was seen across Afghanistan in the past days, women are at the heart of protests against the government: "They're the ones who with their presence on the streets, brought the men onto the streets of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif."
Many women in Afghanistan fear their hard-won rights will be taken away — Photo: Demiroren Visual Media/Abaca/ZUMA
Fahimeh Sadat will not believe any of the Taliban's promises to safeguard women's rights in an "Islamic framework." She says, "Didn't we live in an Islamic country so far? Which of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's laws were against religious laws? Not that the Taliban recognize rights for men either. They arrest and strike with any pretext, as they did with journalists in recent days."
She cites their violations including the disappearance of ethnic Hazaras in Dasht-e Barchi (west of Kabul) and murders of civilians in the Panjshir valley. With such actions, she asks, "how are we going to believe that they will recognize women's rights, when the Taliban spokesman denies women constitute half of society."
Fahimeh Sadat says the city-countryside divide was a factor that aided the Taliban's return. The cultural and economic changes of the past 20 years "never reached the villages," she says, and rural life remained traditional. She said, "We mustn't pin our hopes on foreign governments. We must change Afghan society from inside," and bring it to "maturity." Her mother had "opted for silence and inaction to stay alive" in the last Taliban government, but for herself, "the incentive is to take part in protests. We're not seeing similar moves in villages, even if many people in the countryside are probably dismayed by the Taliban's return."
You can't blame America and the West for every sin.
She admits the sudden, disorderly departure of Western troops helped bring the Taliban to power, but Afghan society and politicians were not blameless. "If we had pressured our political leaders and didn't expect America and the West to decide for us like guardians, we might not be under the Taliban today. You can't blame America and the West for every sin. They created conditions 20 years ago so we could forge a new life for ourselves, and we are the ones who lost the opportunity."
She says protests in cities and fighting in the Panjshie Valley "are complementary." But reports from the valley in north-central Afghanistan are contradictory. The Taliban claim they have broken resistance led by Ahmad Mas'ud, after bombing and air and drone support given by Pakistan. Opposition fighters claim they have retreated to the mountains to prevent civilian deaths. In the last 150 years, no imperial power — from the British Empire to the Soviets to the Taliban themselves in 1996 — could fully penetrate and take over the Panjshir mountains, and this may again prove an unlikely feat today.
Fahimeh Sadat tells Kayhan London that as far she could make out from intermittent reports, the rebels in Panjshir were preparing for a guerrilla war, while "the Taliban could not have entered Panjshir and taken its towns without Pakistani military support." She says Afghans did not expect foreign states to help, as "they have their own interests," but hoped they would at least "refrain from direct interference and stop backing the Taliban."
Ahmad Mas'ud has said he would form an opposition government, for which former vice-president Yunus Qanuni is working to win support from notables and parties. Qanuni once collaborated with Mas'ud's legendary father, the late Ahmadshah Mas'ud. The opposition's aim, says Fahimeh Sadat, is to repeat the experience of the 1990s, when very few states recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's government.
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