by Brendan Maslauskas Dunn / Love and Rage Media
Mariam Rawi is a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). She recently spoke with Brendan Maslauskas Dunn about the current crisis that the people and women of Afghanistan face, and the continued resistance to war, violence, and patriarchy that RAWA has waged since its founding.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: Can you tell us about the current state of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) now that the Taliban are in power? And what role did RAWA play during the US occupation? What is the goal of RAWA right now given the rapid political shifts in Afghanistan.
Mariam Rawi: RAWA has always demanded for the withdrawal of the US and its allies’ troops from Afghanistan and to stop supporting the fundamentalists of all brands – jihadists, Taliban and ISIS-K.
We have always stated that the people of Afghanistan are suffering from three sides: foreign occupation and meddling; Taliban and ISIS; and the puppet Afghan government composed of jihadist warlords and technocrats. With the US and allied withdrawal, and the collapse of the Afghan puppet government even before the complete withdrawal, now our people are left to deal with the meddling of regional countries and their hand-sticks known as the brutal Taliban and ISIS. We don’t say that the adversities of Afghan people have ended or at least decreased, but now it is more likely that we may have a united front for freedom, democracy and social justice. Now the people of Afghanistan can easily comprehend that no foreign troops can deliver us humane values. It is for us to struggle for these values against the Taliban or any other bloodthirsty group.
The withdrawal of the US and its allied troops from Afghanistan was inevitable. Sooner or later, they had to leave Afghanistan – even the humiliating withdrawal wasn’t a surprise for us because history, and especially recent history, shows that most occupiers were forced to leave their colonies in a scandalous manner. The US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan isn’t so different. There is no doubt that the US faced a political defeat in Afghanistan; of course, not because of the Taliban’s so-called resistance, but due to internal problems in the US. The US empire is on the verge of decline, and the COVID-19 pandemic further escalated this process. US imperialism is under the pressure of domestic mass protestests. We all witnessed the gigantic movements in the US such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. The attack of Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill is a big blot of shame on the face of the rotten American system, which claims to be the most democratic country in the world. So the US government had to decrease its external invasions to deal with its internal problems, and the occupation of Afghanistan was one of them.
RAWA has always been the outspoken opponent of ruling powers and other religious and non-religious criminals in Afghanistan. Therefore, we have always been at risk. Our members and supporters have always been pressured and have faced threats under different regimes and fundamentalist bands. We continue to carry on with our work and activities in an underground manner inside Afghanistan. We will continue our social and political activities, but we cannot go into details for security reasons.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: RAWA has been one of the groups consistently critical, not just of the Taliban, but also of the (former) corrupt government, and the US/NATO occupation. Many people are asking what the best pathway to the self-emancipation of the Afghan people is, one that does not rely on foreign occupation. What is RAWA’s vision for this and your solutions to the current crisis?
Mariam Rawi: It is crystal clear that no occupier force builds another country. Values such as independence, freedom, democracy, social justice, and women’s rights aren’t gifted to a nation by an occupying force. People of that country have to struggle and give sacrifices to achieve these values. Even the very basic rights require sacrifice and blood in Afghanistan, and this can only be done by progressive and democratic forces.
In the past twenty years of US/NATO occupation, their huge military machine was backed by a powerful propaganda machine to promote neoliberal policies imposed on Afghan people. Nourishing of NGOism, pseudo-intellectuals and pseudo-feminists under the fake banner of “democracy” were big blows to a genuine progressive movement. The US government especially hurt the young generation by pouring money into the country. They systematically manipulated our economic system to promote widespread corruption, which resulted in an “addiction to the dollar” among the middle class and a portion of society which could otherwise drive our society towards changes at the roots. Helped by a powerful US-funded media, they used their huge resources to divert people’s attention from the root causes of their miseries. The US-sponsored so-called “civil society” was in fact a tool to depoliticize and de-radicalize our social life, which hindered the growth of a progressive mass movement in Afghanistan. When they withdrew the US/NATO forces, they also airlifted most of their major NGO players to Western countries.
Despite the harsh rules of the medieval Taliban, today on the ground prospects are suitable for the emergence of a true democratic mass movement. The Taliban and other fundamentalist groups have no footing among people; they only rely on guns and fascism. At least one of the most dangerous enemies of the Afghan people – the US empire and its neoliberal players – have little chance to deceive people and divert their attention from the struggle for justice and democracy. RAWA is trying to seize the opportunity to mobilize people, especially suppressed Afghan women inside Afghanistan.
We believe Afghan women should be in the centre of this struggle, and they should lead it. Why women? Afghanistan, with its patriarchal roots, has been ruled for almost three decades by the fundamentalists. Empowered women means the end of patriarchy and fundamentalism in the country. The people of Afghanistan have no other option but to give our hands to each other and come together around a progressive ideology against all local religious and non-religious reactionary forces and their foreign regional and imperialist supporters. Yes, it is a long path and needs every kind of sacrifice, but we are ready for it.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: What is your hope for what will come out of the international day of action your organization called for?
Mariam Rawi: RAWA, along with V-day and One Billion Rising, called for a global action of solidarity. We wrote in our message to the protestors:
“We sincerely request you not to forget the tormented people of Afghanistan, and be the voice of our plight abroad. We ask you all to put pressure on the Western governments to stop meddling in Afghanistan and stop supporting jihadists, Taliban, ISIS and other reactionary forces. Afghan people are facing very difficult days, and your assistance is highly required in these harsh times.”
We are hopeful that the world will know about the harsh realities of Afghanistan, because our war-torn country was depicted as a nice place in Western media by the US and NATO governments and their propaganda machines. Additionally, this global campaign is an act of solidarity against imperialism, militarism, fundamentalism and fascism.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: It appears more and more people are talking about the ongoing repression of Hazara people (as well as other minorities). Can you comment on this ongoing crisis, the inability of the former government to address it, and the current fears that people have in Afghanistan?
Mariam Rawi: Our Hazara minority have been under oppression and ethnic prejudice for many decades. However, we should note down that the discrimination comes from the oppressing class of other ethnic groups and not from all people of that specific ethnicity. For example, the adversities of a Hazara peasant from Bamyan is the same as those of a Pashtun peasant in Helmand or a Tajik peasant in Badakhshan. We should also remember that in recent years, many Hazara warlords such as Khalili and Mohaqiq were in high official posts but they committed the same crimes as others in the ruling class.
However, in recent years, Hazaras have been victims of many suicide bombings by the Taliban, in the guise of ISIS. The schools and religious centers and religious sites of the Hazaras have been bombed because a majority of Hazaras are Shia, a minority sect of Islam, and so are considered infidels by Islamic hardliners. One of the most tragic events was the bombing of Hazaras’ Junbesh Roshanai – Enlightenment Movement – by ISIS, which killed at least 400 people and injured many more. Later on it was revealed that Ashraf Ghani’s government was involved in this crime. The Taliban have also massacred Hazaras in Yakawalang District of Bamyan and Mazar during their first period of dark rule. Therefore, once again Hazaras are currently at more risk of oppression by the Taliban.
Our Hazara toiling women and men are always in the forefront of the fight for justice and social change; they are hard-working and active in every sector of life in the country. So, we are hopeful a true democratic and justice-loving movement will first of all rise from the ranks of our Hazara people.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: Can you comment on the ongoing resistance of Ahmad Massoud and his forces in the Panjshir Valley? Do you support this resistance?
Mariam Rawi: First of all, let’s be clear that we differentiate between the people of Panjshir and the warlords of that province. The lives of people of Panjshir and their miseries are the same as those of people in other provinces, but due to the rough terrain of the area, it is much worse. But, the warlords of Panjshir, like those in other provinces, have always taken advantage of the people in that area.
Twenty years back, when the US toppled its yesterday’s blue-eyed sons – the Taliban – and installed the war criminals of the Northern Alliance, which used to be led by Ahmad Shah Massoud [the young Massoud’s father]. Then, they further betrayed our bruised people by calling Massoud a national hero, the man who was involved in the civil war, and whose gunmen committed heinous crimes during the war. It is ironic to see that Western governments, especially France, compare Massoud with the great Ernesto Che Guevara, but on the other hand try to vilify communism. They are shameless enough to compare an Ikhwani (follower of Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen or The Muslim Brotherhood) stooge with a great leftist freedom fighter. Che fought against US imperialists and their local minions, while Massoud was in close collaboration with the CIA, and had connections with ISI (Pakistani intelligence agency), and VEVAK (Iranian military intelligence) at different times.
We don’t call this a war of resistance because, first of all, this war is led by Ahmad Massoud, Amrullah Saleh, the ex-vice president of Afghanistan, and other well-known warlords. They used the people of Panjshir as cannon fodder to reach their own fame, but they have already left them alone in war and bloodshed, and escaped to European countries or Tajikistan. Secondly, we don’t call every resistance as real resistance because the real resistance should be led by popular, democratic and progressive forces and figures, which is not true in this case. The majority of the so-called leaders of Panjshir were in high official posts in the last twenty years and they were the most corrupt figures, even though the US government tried to whitewash them as changed and democratic faces. Recently, a copy of a possible agreement suggested by these warlords and the Taliban was leaked to social media. We can see that they agree with the Taliban in every kind of governance, including the implementation of Islamic Sharia Law. There is no word of democracy, women’s rights, or human rights. Jihadist warlords and the Taliban are the two faces of a single coin.
One of the major reasons for the re-emergence of the Taliban in the past two decades was corruption, oppression, and the crimes of the warlords. People were fed up with their brutalities and lootings so they saw no difference between the Taliban and the warlords. This is the prime reason why the common people of Panjshir did not back their so-called “resistance” – so the Taliban defeated them easily despite having a very large cache of advanced weapons and ammunition.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: There has been a recent groundswell of organizing and actions engaged in by Afghan women in particular, including many of the protests held around the world. The ongoing protests against the Taliban, the arming of women in defiance of the Taliban over the summer, and now RAWA’s international day of action are all examples of this. What is the significance of women organizing – not just now, but also throughout the recent history of Afghanistan?
Mariam Rawi: Throughout history, like women in every country, Afghan women have played their progressive role as individuals or in collective forms. We have Malalai Maiwand and Meena in our history. We have the example of Belquis Roshan, the outspoken female MP, and also many unknown girls and women, who have fought for their basic rights to go to school or work outside the home, against the patriarchal society and fundamentalist factions and regimes.
Life for Afghan women did not only just start over the last twenty years, which is what is said of the Afghan women’s struggle in Western media. In 1919, after the first independence of Afghanistan from the British Empire, it was Soraya Tarzi, wife of the progressive King Amanullah Khan, who threw off her veil in public and worked hard for the education of women in the country. The struggle for the achievement of women’s rights continued in different forms, even during the bloodied years of jihadist power from 1992 to 1996, and then under the medieval rule of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. That struggle continues to this day.
The US and NATO forces were here for their dirty strategic geopolitical gains. For sure, they misused the attractive slogan of “women’s rights” to justify their presence. It was just a tool for them to implement their own sinister plans.
Recently, after the take over by the Taliban, women went to the streets in the different cities of the country, fighting for their basic rights of education and work. They chanted for freedom and democracy, even though the Taliban tried to suppress them, but they stood rigid and the rallies continued.
Despite cosmetic changes in the past twenty years, it has an effect on Afghan women and they can’t be enslaved like how they were when the Taliban were in power in the 90s. There will be more such protests and liberation movements from women, and RAWA will work hard to play a role in the mobilization of women against the misogynist rule of the Taliban.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: Speak about the state of the left and progressive forces in Afghanistan and the diaspora. It is atomized and up against so much at the moment but it appears that there is a newer and younger generation of Afghan activists – human rights activists, women’s rights activists, progressives, socialists and anarchists – who have become politically active. Do you see hope in the younger generation?
Mariam Rawi: As mentioned already, due to the neoliberal policies of the West, leftist Afghan groups had little chance to nourish. In fact, in the past four decades of war and conflict, thousands of their leaders and cadres were massacred, first by the Russian puppet regime, and later by the fundamentalists with direct support of the CIA and ISI. So the situation for progressive and left-wing groups is not ideal. However, it is the historical duty of the revolutionary forces to work and struggle in unfavourable conditions. Progressive and left-wing groups have to work in Afghanistan, of course, with new tactics.
Yes, the left and progressive forces will prevail, because they have a scientific ideology. We believe the state of the diaspora depends on the situation of left forces within Afghanistan. The left forces should be more practically active in Afghanistan in order to bring about change.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: What are the next steps for RAWA?
Mariam Rawi: RAWA is the oldest and sole political organization of the women of Afghanistan. When the Taliban took over the government in 1996, besides many restrictions which brought Afghanistan back to the medieval ages, they banned women from all outdoor activities, including education and work. RAWA revealed the atrocities the Taliban inflicted on the people of Afghanistan. We let the world know about the massacre committed by the Taliban in Yakawlang District of Bamyan Province, where they killed more than 300 civilians in a single day; we secretly filmed the public execution of Zarmina and many of their other public executions and punishments, including the amputation of the hands and feet of thieves; we reported about their other daily atrocities. This put us in the black list of Taliban. They openly called for the assassination of some of our members, whose names had appeared in the Western media; they arrested, imprisoned and tortured some of our supporters because the Taliban found Payam-e-Zan – The Message of Women, the official publication of RAWA – in their possessions. Taliban members and supporters also attacked two of our protests in Peshawar and Islamabad; they also kidnapped and tortured our members who were selling our publications.
Yes, the life of our members is at risk; however, no obstacle or threat can stop us from our struggle. We have the history and experience of struggling secretly during different fascist regimes in Afghanistan, so our fight and resistance will continue.
We have a long history of underground work under different oppressive regimes, and we will continue to carry on our activities and fight under the Taliban to raise awareness of women and mobilize them against fundamentalism and promote democratic values based on secularism.