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Situation of Women in Afghanistan: From Queen Soraya Tarzi to Rula Ghani

Hamidullah Bamik

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Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan

Today’s Afghan women bear the huge and heavy burden of four decades war and conflicts. Early at the beginning of the twentieth century, Afghan women, as a result of the first constitutional movement under the leadership of King Amanullah, Khan succeeded in gaining some of their human rights and freedoms. King Amanullah Khan’s democratic plans included the elimination of hijab of women, access to education and active participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural processes in the society. But unfortunately, after the fall of Soviet-backed governments of Kabul and their subsequent regimes – Mujahidin and Taliban, all those values were buried soon.

The First Steps for Afghan Women Liberation

In late 1927, King Amanullah Khan and his wife, Queen Soraya Tarzi, visited Europe. On this trip, they were honored and feted. This was an era when other Muslim nations, like Turkey and Egypt, were also on the path to modernization. Upon returning from his tour to Europe, King Amanullah Khan let his wife appear without a veil in public. He also prepared a progressive and democratic plan for modernizing his country. One of the key elements of this plan was the elimination of hijab of women, access to education and active participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural processes in the society. However, the time was not right, and his plan was more progressive than the context of Afghanistan of 1928. Soon after the declaration of his reformist move, religious and traditional local elders revolted against his modernization program. This demonstration effectuated into a tribal rebellion and forced King Amanullah Khan to abdicate. As a result, his reformist programs were defeated.

After the era of King Amanullah Khan, the kingdoms of Afghanistan slowly continued his reforms. But the era of socialist and communist governments in Afghanistan, which is especially important for women, seems to be the root of many political events in recent years. Because, although during this period, especially with regard to women, important advances have been made. But what happened during the Taliban era against women, can be an exact response to the previous governments’ policies regarding women issues. But it is argued that after the first bold step of King Amanullah Khan toward women liberation and giving them the basic human rights, various reforms have taken placed regarding the women issues in Afghanistan – such as the abolition of forced marriage practices, raising the maturity of girls up to 16 years of age, access to education, and women’s right to vote.

During the reformist period of Soviet-backed governments of Kabul, Afghanistan witnessed the massive immigration of those who did not want a forced revolution from top to down. Many families immigrated to Pakistan, Iran and other Islamic countries to escape from girls’ forced education because they considered it as a shame for themselves. Applying contingency and command policies, the Soviet-affiliated states faced with such resilience that in some cases obliged them to stop enforcing their reformist policies. For example, though co-education was compulsory to some extent, girls and boys were educated in separate schools.

We can argue that the Soviet-dependent regimes in Afghanistan wanted to impose their modernization projects through a group of government elites. It is estimated that out of a population of 17 million Afghans in this period, 85 percent were rural. The reformist programs were focused on large cities, while the villages were mostly governed by tribal practices. The central government was not able to compete with local sovereignty.

The reformist projects of the Leftist government in Afghanistan during the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan were largely limited to reforms that were enacted in three legislative enactments. These legislative enactments abolished girls’ sale by the peasants. Women’s freedom of marriage was also selected on the basis of these decrees. But these laws were met with severe traditionalist reactions.

To deal with the women issues, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan launched an organization called “Afghan Women’s Democratic Organization (AWDO)”. Its main activity was to fight with the illiteracy of women in cities and villages and women’s expulsion from home. As the literacy cadres of AWDO forced villagers, even with the use of physical violence, to satisfy the presence of girls in classes, the literacy program for community girls faced the most resistance by local villagers. Many of these literacy cadres were expelled from villages or killed by villagers. Since these projects were designed to bring a profound transformation in people’s lives in a short time, which was hard and challenging, they were faced with completely opposing reactions of the local communities.

Soviet Invasion; the beginning of Dark Era for Afghan Women

The Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan for a period of 10 years from 1979 to 1989 was followed by a massive civil war, which ultimately led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan at the beginning of 1989 due to the failure of the Russians to contain it. The most reactive to the reforms of the Leftist government of Kabul, especially in relation to women, was projected by the Islamist organization, gradually known as the “Mujahideen”. These groups were supported by a set of regional states and Western powers, each of whom did not tolerate leftist rule in an Islamic country for a variety of political reasons, including fear of Soviet influence.

The period of Soviet military presence in Afghanistan brought about a period of freedom for women in the context of Soviet patriarchal policies, and a period of relative liberties in which a small percentage of Afghan women benefited from it. But this period led not only to the widespread conflict between women in the country but also to the rise and mobilization of traditionalist responses. The consequences of this invasion were painful and bitter for all Afghans and particularly for women.

From left:Rula Ghani, the current First Lady of Afghanistan (BBC) and Soraya Tarzi, Queen of Afghanistan from 1919-1929 (Wikipedia)

With the fall of Najibullah’s government, the second phase of the internal wars began from 1992 to 1998. This time the war was between a set of Afghanistan’s political factions that ended only after the victory of the Taliban and the overthrow of most of Afghanistan’s soil. The Taliban came to power, many of whom were former members of the Mojahedin (Iacopino, 1998).

While many in the West and Islamic countries favored the Mojahedin, the situation of Afghan women was forgotten during this period. In the first stages of the war during the confrontation between the mujahideen and the Soviet forces, many women were denied access to education, classrooms were closed, and women’s organizations were shut down and some of their activists were killed, including Mina, who founded the Women’s Revolutionary Association of Afghanistan in 1977.

The emergence of extremist Islamic movements in the post-communist era, as well as the rise of the Taliban government, can be attributed largely to the policies applied during the occupation of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Indeed, much of the violence against women was in response to intimidation and threats that were introduced during the period of leftist rule. Somehow, Afghanistan experienced a very difficult period in the late 20th century. However, the experience of the Mujahideen and Taliban era in comparison with the experience of the communist regime for women was a far worse experience.

The current military presence of the United States in Afghanistan, like the Soviet policy, allows the women to experience a period of relative calm and security. Though the current government of Afghanistan, as a weak state, is virtually incapable of supporting women, there are not any legal restrictions for women’s political, social and economic activities as they experienced prior to King Amanullah Khan’s regime, Mujahedin and Taliban’s era.

Afghan Women and 2004 Constitutional Law of Afghanistan

The new constitution of Afghanistan, formulated in the last half and a decade, has recognized women’s rights in a fundamental and indelible way. As per the current Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, men and women have equal human rights and human dignity. Compared to the past constitutional laws, the current constitution law addresses the grounds for the provision of women’s citizenship rights at the level of men. It is said that the current constitutional law of Afghanistan is the best laws in the region. Article 33 states that “All the citizens of Afghanistan have the right to choose and be elected …” (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004, p. 10). And Article four holds that national sovereignty in Afghanistan belongs to the nation directly or through its agents, and the people of Afghanistan are all those who have the nationality of Afghanistan (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004).

In Article 22 of Afghanistan’s Constitution Law, the right to equality and gender and humanity are reflected in clearly and emphatically that any discrimination and privilege is prohibited between the citizens of Afghanistan. The citizens of Afghanistan, including men and women, are equated with the law with equal rights and obligations. Women as the fabric of families are protected by the Constitutional Law of Afghanistan amended in 2004.

Article 58 of Afghanistan’s Constitutional Law articulates that the government takes the necessary measures to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the family, especially the child and the mother. The government should eliminate any kinds of customs that are against women’s dignity and also contrary to the holy religion of Islam (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004).

Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitutional Law has a special focus on women’s education. As per article 44, the government is required to plan and implement effective programs to provide education for women. Moreover, as per Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitutional Law, women can be nominated and elected at the highest political-managerial level of the country, presidential. It clearly echoes that there is no legal ceiling against the promotion of women to high positions.

Despite taking substantial strides regarding women’s promotion, liberation, and rights by the kingdoms and governments of Afghanistan from King  Amanullah Khan to the current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, still, Afghan women face myriad challenges. For example, confronting with traditional patriarchal structures. And most importantly, struggling with the challenges on the path to tradition and modernity. So, to pave the way for Afghan women so that they can participate in the political, social, cultural, educational, and economic spheres equally with their male counterparts, this paper suggests that the government of Afghanistan and other related national and international organizations should take the following measures.

Recommendations for Policy Implications

First, a significant issue in political and social participation is political socialization. Political socialization is a continuous learning process in which individuals through acquainting themselves with the political system, learn from their rights and roles in society through information and experiences. This process helps women adapt to the accepted forms of organized social life, and teaches them the talents, essential social desires, and in particular the social roles that they must play in society. Ultimately, it helps women attend various social fields. So, the government of Afghanistan as the responsible political entity should pave the way for Afghan women to experience political socialization in the society.

Second, social education is the most important element of political and social participation and, ultimately, the development of a community. And, the most important element in the development of a community is the people of that society – men and women, who must have cultural and political awareness and knowledge. Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist argues that Education is a process in which a woman learns through practices that are functional in a community. So, the government of Afghanistan and other responsible institutions must carry out the necessary social education through K-12 education and higher education. Doing so, Afghan women learn the pre-requisites for social and political activities in their childhood and adolescence.

Third, the communities, government, and other social organizations should have a rational and reasonable approach toward the character of girls and women, and let them taste the importance of ownership, thought and creativity. If women are provided with opportunities to explore their talents, enhance their self-confidence, think about their own fate, the entire society will benefit from this process. Adapting a non-biased and non- patriarchal approach toward women by the society and men will provide better opportunities for women’s political and social participation in the society.

Last but not the least, creating suitable opportunities for female participation in various scientific and practical scenes, such as universities, research centers, factories and other social activities can provide the motivation for increasing women’s political and social participation. Hence, we can conclude that increasing the political and social participation of Afghan women means increasing their contribution to the development of society.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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South Asia

PTI Government in Pakistan: To full-fill its promise on curbing Corruption

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Big achievements of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf) Government in Pakistan. Corruption is an international phenomenon, especially among developing and underdeveloped countries. Corruption is a major hurdle in the fight against poverty and development. However, the beneficiary of corruption is still the developed world. The rulers from developing and underdeveloped world, transfer all their black money to developed countries and in the end, developed world enjoy out of their black money.

Pakistan, being a developing country, no exception to this curse. During the last few governments, it was very much visible. Either it was financial corruption of moral corruption, all are equally harmful to the country. Previous few governments, appointed corrupt and unqualified persons on key posts and used them as their front men in corruption.

Some of their front men were an evil genius and committed heinous crimes in such a technical manner that it is very difficult to find out evidence. Either it is fake accounts or various forms of money laundering or in the form of subsidies or government grants, commissions or kickbacks in projects or procurement, bribes or gift, all are the same but with different forms to harm the socio-economic of this country.

It was in the manifesto of PTI, and part of its slogan during the election campaign, to fight against corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech on several occasions has promised with the nation that, he will fix all corrupt, irrespective of their status in the society. It is logical to start from the big fish and later on to common corrupt officials at junior levels.

Pakistan’s judiciary and the military are also on the same page and extending full support to the PTI government’s mission to eliminate corruption from this society once for all. The recent arrests are just the beginning of accountability and have to go on a long journey. May it take one term or even next term, but the accountability process must keep on going till the eradication of corruption completely.

Pakistan is under the heavy foreign-debt, worth US Dollars 100 billion approximately. Who took this huge loan? Have they worked out, how to pay back? Have they spent all the loans on the development of Pakistan? Why this loan has not been trickled down impact? Why this heavy loan could not improve Pakistan’s economy? How useful was this loan to common man of Pakistan? Why IMF could not improve the governance of Pakistan? Why IMF failed to improve performance of Pakistan? Why IMF could not give positive advice to Government of Pakistan? The lenders also need to be blamed for lending without any feasibility and failure of IMF packages offered to Pakistan during last one decade or so long. Why few families (rulers) become more rich and country become poorer?

If the sitting governments of that times have been borrowing without any planning or homework or without considering how to pay back, all of them must be held responsible for this heinous crime against the nation. Whether they are inside Pakistan or left the country, they must be arrested and brought back to face justice.

If only a few corrupt families are arrested and asked for the return of looted money, Pakistan can get rid of its major part of foreign-debt. We may not need any bailout package from the IMF or any help from any friendly country. All the looted money must be returned, all the illegal assets must be confiscated and suctioned out. All the recovered money must be used to pay back our foreign-debt.

There is no need to impose additional taxes and duties on the common man. Electricity, Fuel, Gas and consumer products may be kept on the original position. It is illogical that the common man, who is not responsible for the debt and still suffers due to the corruption of rulers.  It is desired, the previous rulers, who have pushed the country into economic chaos, should be held responsible and all damages need to be compensated by them only. There is no need to punish the whole nation for few criminals. Recovery from previous corrupt rulers is very much do-able and very much possible, above all very much desired. There are examples available in the world, how they recovered looted money from their big shots.  Saudi Arabia has done it well. China is a role model to be followed in this regard.  The Chinese government is willing to share its experience and expertise in fighting against corruption.

Our internal resources may be utilized fully to control corruption and recover all black money. Even if there is a need to introduce new legislation, the Government should not hesitate. Masses in Pakistan stands with Government on this issue. The government should move smartly in this direction with full strength and confidence. Public support is already there.  However, if the Government fails to accomplish this task, it may lose popularity.

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South Asia

Gentlemen’s game or Propaganda? Cricket and the India-Pakistan Voices

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Can a sport be utilized as an effective propaganda tool? And if so, does it ideally mean that government intrusion is a necessity for its success? The answer to this question lies in the reflection of the cricket scenario in Asia. Although recognized as a gentlemen’s game, much can be said about its dichotomy as a weapon in the ever-growing war between India and Pakistan. Cricket propaganda has become a major trend over the past decade between the two countries as competition remains scarce with the political tensions and matches are seen as a great opportunity to reflect those political tensions. 

Recently, the tension between the two countries escalated with a suicide bombing attack sponsored by the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This grave attack resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, which in the opinion of the Indian government was an act of war leading them to raise the issue on the global platform. Surprising, one of the biggest acts of public response, with the usual backlash of the country’s rights over the Kashmir valley, was a call to abandon the upcoming match between the two countries following the start of the ICC cricket world cup. Although, the Modi government did conduct airstrikes against Pakistan, leading to a major confrontation between the two countries along the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border between the two countries), a large scale debate about whether India should abandon the game was a hotly debated topic in the country.

It is worth noticing that later the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), did hand over the matter to the Modi government, after which the decision was inclined towards the sportsmanship of the country, however, both the Indian cricket team and the BCCI were not ready to desert the will of the public that easily. Involved in an ODI series with Australia, the Indian team walked out wearing military caps as a sign of apparent solidarity with the troopers killed in the terrorist attack. Never before had Team India taken it upon themselves to spread such jingoistic propaganda on a global scale and make such overt statement. The rise of the protestors in Pakistan were met with official statements from the International body of Cricket (ICC), stating their approval as a means of “support” to the Indian team for a fund-raising effort for their fallen soldiers.  

Similarly, in an act of nationalistic fervor, the BCCI decided to get Pakistan banned from the upcoming world-cup prior to its commencement but was severely backlashed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to keep politics away from the sanctity of the game. Although BCCI was unsuccessful in passing an unrealistic degree of order, given their large scale influence on the International body, it was clear that cricket had become an additional weapon of mass destruction and means of propaganda between the two countries.

So has the situation become better now? Recently, an Ad-war following the start of the world cup has emerged between the two countries, given their highly anticipated upcoming clash on the 16th of June. Ahead of the Sunday clash-guaranteed to put both the nations at a standstill- Star Sport’s Mauka ad ( loosely translated to a chance of winning) has captured the attention of the Indian fans, as the video has garnered over 2.5 million views after it was published on 10th June 2019. This video currently stands as a reprise an extension of the “Patakhe kab podhenge” campaign (clumsily translated to “When will be get to burn crackers”), wherein a Pakistani fan never gets a chance to burn his crackers as Pakistan is always defeated by India on a world cup stage, as indicated by the records as well. However, the new Mauka ad seems to recognize the importance of June 16th as Father’s day and does not fail to interject the role of India as a father in comparison Pakistan, as a means of cheeky humor which received large scale reaction from the Pakistani fans.

As a means of response, a Pakistani news channel Jazz Tv published a video with a character impersonating Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian air force pilot who was captured, briefly held and then released under the pretense of the Geneva Convention. The character is seen sporting the pilot’s handlebar mustache with a fake South Indian accent and is dressed in the Indian team jersey, following which an interrogator asks him to give back the teacup he has been holding, as a means to denote how the cup belongs to Pakistan. This video was met with the usual support from the Pakistani fans and deemed ‘racist’ by the Indian fans, accounting to the portrayal of the esteemed pilot with a fake southern accent. Although, tension has been running high between the countries for some time now, both the nations have resorted to extending their tensions to the cricket pitch as well, ensuring large scale traction for their upcoming matches.

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Modi’s Operandi

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Same old Modi puts himself in throne again but with different mandate this time. This time he came with much force and appeared more vigilant. Sweeping an electoral win with more than 300 seats out of 543 and restricting Indian National Congress to mere 52 seats. This clearly shows that India gave priority to nationalism over any other set of idea. Prior to previous electoral year i.e. 2014,Modi lured with promises of social and economic reforms and upheaval. Which sunk badly as some of the predicaments are still in the society. From being miserable in improving the job sector that gave rise to unemployment rate to the inducing grieves to the farmers, Modi bagged some failures as well in his previous tenure.

Whereas this time bait was the Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which Mr. Modi and his members of the den enjoyed the feast by winning the election. By using hate mandate, Modi successfully maneuvered himself and his party in to the realms of Delhi. Before elections, his unfortunate adventurous voyage with its neighbor and rival Pakistan made a lucid chance to portray himself as heroic figure. Modi flaunted anger and hate towards its immediate neighbor. It profited him in shape of getting a majority in the lower house of the Indian political saga. Hate sentiments were provoked and inducted in common minds. Question herby rises that how Hindu nationalism can or will transform India?

During previous reign of Mr. Modi, clear social and religious divisions were drawn onto the Indian society. This was mechanized in recent elections as well by promoting nationalism or more likely Hinduism. One of the tactics that was opted by BJP and Modi is persuasion of fears of Indian society and Hindu ideology and presenting himself as the only savior. Modi portrayed himself as the only option for Hindu caste to save Hindu ideology from external threats.

Modi has always been fond of shifting Indian secular discourse towards a Hindu nationalist sermon. His previous tenure and the plight minorities faced during that time testifies his aims. Now he has been elected for another five years. This time he has secured almost 56% of the lower house that clearly means that Mr. Modi will have to face no hurdle in his way towards passing a legislation.

Media and Modi has always been close aides to each other. This nexus was also prominent in the recent elections as Social and Electronic media, both were eminent in glaring Modi-ism. It ultimately cultivated his ideology in the minds of a common viewer hence reflecting it in the election results. His election campaign was given more coverage than any other thing on TV. The election soap series continued feeding the people of the India. Without any doubt, there have been immense flow of monetary funds in the veins on Indian media during the election time.

Modi’s Bharatya Jantya Party or BJP’s Modi have already drawn a plan to be executed in the society. Selection of candidates that were given tickets and won were some of the most extremist in nature. Shakshi Mahraj, a newly elected member of parliament on BJP’s seat already has more than 30 criminal cases against him. Another newly elected BJP’s Member of Parliament, Pragya Singh Thakur remarked Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as “a patriot”. Not only this, selections for new cabinet members clearly indicated where Mr. Modi would be leading Indian society. Amit Shah who is also a president of BJP has ironically been selected as India’s Home Minister. There is a clear chance thatnew reforms might be religion centric rather than being focused on governance. BJP will clearly exhibit the Hindu ideology in governance that would further raise concerns for the minorities in India.

The Indian future and the question of Indian minorities seems bleak. Modi created a narrative on abhorrence and nationalism, he won elections on this mandate but now he has to defend it and every word of hatred that came out of his mouth may be realized through his actions. It puts Indian society in a dismal situation.

It is arduous to analyze that how large populous has voted in favor of hate mandate prompted by Modi. But there is a chance that Indian society might be falling prey to reverse psychology. It indulged itself so deep and intense in criticizing and accusing its neighbor, Pakistan, for being extremist and conservative society that it itself is becoming one.

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