Friday, 29 July 2011

Loss of human rights in Afghanistan

The Taliban (Students of Islamic Knowledge Movement) ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. They came to power during Afghanistan's long civil war. Although they managed to hold 90% of the country's territory, their policies—including their treatment of women and support of terrorists—ostracized them from the world community. The Taliban was ousted from power in December 2001 by the U.S. military and Afghani opposition forces in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States.

The Taliban are one of the mujahideen (holy warriors or freedom fighters) groups that were formed during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89). After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Soviet-backed government lost ground to the mujahideen.

In 1992, Kabul (capital of Afghanistan) was captured and an alliance of mujahideen set up a new government with Burhanuddin Rabbani as interim president. Later in 1996, the Taliban castrated and then hanged the former communist president and his brother. They left their bloodied bodies dangling from lampposts in busy downtown Kabul for three days. Photographs of the corpses appeared in news magazines and newspapers around the world.

However, the various factions were unable to cooperate and fell to fighting each other. Afghanistan was then reduced to a collection of territories held by competing warlords.

The Taliban, under the direction of Mullah Muhammad Omar, brought about order through the institution of a very strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. Public executions and punishments (such as floggings) became regular events at Afghan soccer stadiums. Frivolous activities, like kite-flying, were outlawed. In order to root out ‘non-Islamic’ influence, television, music, and the Internet were banned. Men were required to wear beards, and subjected to beatings if they didn't.

In contrast to their strict beliefs, the Taliban profited from smuggling operations (primarily electronics) and opium cultivation. Eventually they bowed to international pressure and cracked down on the cultivation of opium and by July 2000 were able to claim that they had cut world opium production by two-thirds. Unfortunately, the crackdown on opium also abruptly deprived thousands of Afghans of their only source of income since they hadn’t planted other foodstuffs.

Although the Taliban managed to re-unite most of Afghanistan, they were unable to end the civil war. Nor did they improve the conditions in cities, where access to food, clean water, and employment actually declined during their rule. A continuing drought and a very harsh winter (2000–2001) brought famine and increased the flow of refugees to Pakistan.

Afghanistan's civil war continued until the end of 2001. The Taliban's strongest opposition came from the Northern Alliance, which held the Northeast corner of the country (about 10% of Afghanistan). The Northern Alliance comprised of numerous anti-Taliban factions and was nominally led by exiled president Burhanuddin Rabbani. Generally, the factions were created according to religion and ethnicity. While the Taliban is made up mostly Sunni Muslim Pashtuns, the Northern Alliance includes Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, and Turkmen. The Hazara and some other smaller ethnic groups are Shiites. The Ismaili community, which suffered in Taliban-occupied areas, also supported the Northern Alliance.

Although the Taliban called for a negotiated end to the civil war, they continued to mount new offensives. In September 2001, the leader of the Northern Alliance, Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, died from wounds suffered in a suicide bombing, allegedly carried out by al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization with close ties to the Taliban.

The Taliban recognized the need for international ties but wavered between cooperation—they claimed to have drastically cut opium production in July 2000—and defiance—they pointedly ignored international pleas not to destroy the 2000-year-old Buddhist statues of Bamian. Further, they made no effort to curb terrorist activity within Afghanistan, a policy that ultimately led to their undoing when the United States ousted them from the grip they had in Afghanistan.

Most shocking to the West was the Taliban's treatment of women. When the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996, they instituted the Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to deal with women the Taliban believed disobeyed the Islamic law (as they interpretated it) with respect to how women in Afghanistan were to behave. The Taliban issued an edict that stripped women and girls of their rights, holding the Afghan people hostage under a brutal system of gender apartheid.

The edicts included;

1- Complete ban on women's work outside the home, which also applied to female teachers, engineers and most professionals. Before the Taliban ban on female employment, 70 percent of the teachers in Kabul were women, as were 50 percent of the civil servants and university students, and 40 percent of the doctors. When the Taliban came into power, only a few female doctors and nurses were allowed to work in some hospitals in Kabul.

2- Complete ban on women's activity outside the home unless accompanied by a mahram (close male relative such as a father, brother or husband).

3- Ban on women dealing with male shopkeepers.

4- Ban on women being treated by male doctors.

5- Ban on women studying at schools, universities or any other educational institution. (Taliban had converted girls' schools into religious seminaries.)

6- Requirement that women wear a long veil (Burqa), which covered them from head to toe.

7- Whipping, beating and verbal abuse of women not clothed in accordance with Taliban rules, or of women unaccompanied by a mahram.

8- Whipping of women in public for having non-covered ankles.
9- Public stoning of women accused of having sex outside marriage. (A number of lovers of both sexes were stoned to death under this rule).

10- Ban on the use of cosmetics. (Many women with painted nails had fingers cut off).

11- Ban on women talking or shaking hands with non-mahram males.

12- Ban on women laughing loudly. (No stranger should hear a woman's voice).

13- Ban on women wearing high heel shoes, which would produce sound while walking.
(A man must not hear a woman's footsteps.)

14- Ban on women riding in a taxi without a mahram.

15- Ban on women's presence in radio, television or public gatherings of any kind.

16- Ban on women playing sports or entering a sport center or club.

17- Ban on women riding bicycles or motorcycles, even with their mahrams.

18- Ban on women's wearing brightly colored clothes. In Taliban terms, these are ‘sexually attracting colors.’

19- Ban on women gathering for festive occasions such as the Eids, or for any recreational purpose.

20- Ban on women washing clothes next to rivers or in a public place.

21- Modification of all place names including the word "women." For example, "women's garden" has been renamed "spring garden".

22- Ban on women appearing on the balconies of their apartments or houses.

23- Compulsory painting of all windows, so women can not be seen from outside their homes.

24- Ban on male tailors taking women's measurements or sewing women's clothes.

25- Ban on female public baths.

26- Ban on males and females traveling on the same bus. Public buses had been designated "males only" (or "females only").

27- Ban on flared (wide) pant-legs, even under a burqa.

28- Ban on the photographing or filming of women.

29- Ban on women's pictures printed in newspapers and books, or hung on the walls of houses and shops.

Apart from the above restrictions on women, the Taliban had:

- Banned listening to music, not only for women but men as well.
- Banned the watching of movies, television and videos, for everyone.
- Banned celebrating the traditional new year (Nowroz) on March 21. The Taliban had proclaimed the holiday un-Islamic.
- Disavowed Labor Day (May 1st), because it is deemed a communist holiday.
- Ordered that all people with non-Islamic names change them to Islamic ones.
- Forced haircuts upon Afghan youth.
- Ordered that men wear Islamic clothes and a cap.
- Ordered that men not shave or trim their beards, which should grow long enough to protrude from a fist clasped at the point of the chin.
- Ordered that all people attend prayers in mosques five times daily.
- Banned the keeping of pigeons and playing with the birds, describing it as un-Islamic. The violators were imprisoned and the birds were killed. Kite flying had also been stopped.
- Ordered all onlookers, while encouraging the sportsmen, to chant Allah-o-Akbar (God is great) and refrain from clapping.
- Anyone who carried objectionable literature was to be executed.
- Anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion was to be executed.
- All boy students had to wear turbans. "No turban, no education".
- Non-Muslim minorities had to show distinct badge or stitch a yellow cloth onto their dress to be differentiated from the majority Muslim population. Just like what did Nazis with Jews.
- Banned use of the internet by both ordinary Afghans and foreigners.

Not surprisingly, the rates of depression for women and teenage girls began to skyrocket under such oppressive conditions. Many women committed suicide. Others fled the country, braving the dangers and uncertainties of refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan. Many Afghan women had stopped to begging to survive.

On February 27, 1998, thirty thousand men and boys poured into the dilapidated Olympic sports stadium in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. Street hawkers peddled nuts, biscuits and tea to the waiting crowd. They were there to see a young woman, (named) Sohaila) receive 100 lashes. Sohaila had been arrested walking with a man who was not a relative, a sufficient crime for her to be found guilty of adultery. Since she was single, it was punishable by flogging. Had she been married, she would have been publicly stoned to death. As Sohaila, completely covered in the shroud like burqa veil, was forced to kneel and then flogged, Taliban cheerleaders had the stadium ringing with the chants of onlookers. Among those present there were just three women: the young victim, and two female relatives who had accompanied her.

The spectators were also going to watch two thieves have their right hands amputated. The reason why their right hands were to be amputated and not their left hands is because they would no longer be able to eat from the communal bowl on the table in their homes where all the food was placed since their left hands served another purpose that was unclean if you follow my meaning. The crowd fell silent only when the luckless thieves were driven into the arena and pushed to the ground. Physicians using surgical scalpels promptly carried out the amputations without the victims being given any anesthesia. Holding the severed hands aloft by the index fingers, a grinning Taliban fighter warned the huge crowd, "These are the chopped off hands of thieves, the punishment for any of you caught stealing." Then, to restore the party atmosphere, the thieves were driven in a jeep once around the stadium, a flourish that brought the crowd to their feet, as was intended.

Earlier that same week, three men accused participating in a homosexual act had been sentenced to death by being partially buried in the ground and then having a wall of dirt pushed over on them by a bulldozer; a bizarre and labor-intensive form of execution dreamed up by the supreme leader of the Taliban, the 36-year-old Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The regime's radio station, the only one permitted to operate, broadcasted to the nation that a young woman caught trying to flee Afghanistan with a man who was not her relative had been stoned to death. On another occasion, it was announced over the airwaves that 225 women had been rounded up and sentenced to a lashing for violating the dress code. One woman had the top of her thumb amputated for the crime of wearing nail polish.

Until the Taliban came to power, Saudi Arabia was the most oppressive country on earth for women, and many of the Taliban's restrictions were rooted in that hardline Gulf state's gender apartheid. Saudi Arabia had also been financially supportive of the Taliban and the religious schools in which they were indoctrinated. "We have long regarded the Saudi kingdom as our right hand," said the head of the Taliban governing council.

The pariah regime had expunged all leisure activities. Their list of what was considered illegal grew daily: music, movies and television, picnics, wedding parties, New Year celebrations, any kind of mixed sex gathering. They've also banned children's toys, including dolls and kites; card and board games, cameras, photographs and paintings of people and animals, pet parakeets, cigarettes and alcohol, magazines and newspapers, and most books. The Taliban regime had even outlawed paper bags. Despite the terrible toll mines are taking, the Taliban have interfered with programs to teach women and children how to locate and stay clear of mines. Board games used by foreign humanitarian agencies to instruct a mostly illiterate population in mine awareness have been disallowed because they use now banned pictures of humans or animals coming too close to a mine; an alternative, flash cards, has also been outlawed as gambling. They've had even forbidden any form of applause. That was a moot point, since there was nothing left to applaud. Like many of their edicts, these edicts would be laughable if the penalties for infractions weren't so severe.

Taliban's then 36-year-old deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs explained why his regime had banned virtually all forms of entertainment by saying, "Time should be spent serving the country and praying to God. Nothing else. Everything else is a waste of time, and people are not allowed to waste their time." His statement was so ludicrous; it makes me wonder if the cavity in his brain was so large, everything he said came back to him as an echo.

A young mother, (Torpeka) was shot repeatedly by a Taliban guard while rushing her seriously ill toddler to a doctor. Veiled as the law requires, she was spotted by a teenage Taliban guard, who tried to stop her because (according to the law) she shouldn't have left her home. Afraid her child might die if she were delayed, Torpeka kept heading towards the hospital. The young guard aimed his Kalashnikov machinegun and fired several rounds directly at her. She was hit, but didn't die on the spot, as she could have. Instead, Afghans watching the incident in the crowded marketplace intervened and Torpeka and her child received prompt medical attention. When her family later complained to the Taliban authorities, they were informed that it was the injured woman's fault. She had no right being out in public in the first place.

Often teenage boys armed with automatic weapons would also carry broken-off car aerials or electrical cabling to whip women they decided were not properly observing the law.

Despite its disastrous and very public record on human rights, when the Taliban was petitioning the United Nations for a seat in the General Assembly in May of 1996, its then Taliban representative to the U.N., Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, claimed his government was "protecting human rights and liberties in Afghanistan." One thing I can say with certainty is that his understanding of human rights and his ridiculous statement was given in such a manner, it would make the babbling of a one-year-old come across as being fluent and articulate. Mujahid omitted to mention a personal detail how he circumvented the ban for his own daughter by sending her to an English language school in Pakistan. But this kind of hypocrisy was common in Afghanistan then. Under the regime, cigarette smoking was severely punished and yet, in every Taliban office there were ashtrays on the desks.

It was hardly surprising, then, that the U.N. has not seated the Taliban delegation; or, indeed, that the credentials committee has refused even to meet with the regime's representative in New York and most officials preferred to duck his phone calls.

The end of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001,] as the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom, and the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance), launched Operation Enduring Freedom in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States, with the stated goal of dismantling the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state which it did except of course the Taliban insurgents who have been trying to regain Afghanistan fro themselves.

Women have got their rights back and for the most part, human rights have returned to that war-stricken country.

The Americans want to get out of Afghanistan as being there is a heavy drain on its enormous debt but my concern for the people of Afghanistan is that if the Americans do leave, the Taliban will return and all those lives lost will have been in vain.

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