Contrary to the dreams of US President George W. Bush and his allies, Operation Enduring Freedom is unlikely to be remembered by the world’s women as a successful strategy to either eliminate terrorism or liberate the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.
In the first three weeks of extracting "infinite justice" from the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden, chief suspect for the terrorist atrocities of September 11, Anglo-American forces have rained more than a billion dollars worth of sophisticated missiles on meager al-Qaeda training camps, airfields, anti-aircraft batteries, and military command centres across Afghanistan. The Bush-led alliance’s chief weapons are cluster bombs which scatter some 150 small ‘bomblets’ over several kilometres, and cruise missiles which detonate a 1000-pound warhead on landing.
Statistics and experience reveal that these sorts of explosives spare neither civilian lives nor public property; one in every ten, supposedly target specific, cruise missiles fails to hit its mark, a shortcoming shared by six out of every ten cluster bombs dropped by NATO forces in Kosova in 1999.
Unexploded cluster bomblets effectively turn into landmines, detonated on contact to bring death and injury, more often to children attracted by their bright yellow colour and resemblance to soft drink cans. Some 200 Kosovas were killed or injured by unexploded NATO cluster bombs in the first 12 months after that war. Witness, terror in the name of freedom!
Faced with the choice of being defended from the US-led alliance’s missiles by the Taliban’s comparatively antiquated pop guns, 1.5 million Afghan civilians fled to Pakistan and Iran before Operation Enduring Freedom began.
Those left behind, the poorest of the poor, the infirm, and the elderly, have faced daily bombings which by accident or design have destroyed their humble homes and their sparse infrastructure of medical services, communications, and transport. Countless thousands lie traumatized and/or bleeding.
More than one thousand are now confirmed dead by the UN and various aid agencies, and after initial denials from the US State Department, finally get to be numbered as collateral damage. Most were women, children and the elderly, their last living memory Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, or their small villages like Karam, lit up against the night or dawn sky like a Christmas tree. Witness death [and involuntary displacement] in the name of freedom!
In playing up the humanitarian aspect of Operation Enduring Freedom, there are promises to drop two million food and medical supply parcels for the almost eight million Afghans presently facing starvation as a result of the country’s worst drought for more than a century. In the first days following the smart bombs, came 37,500 parcels of food and medical supplies. For the dead, hunger and sickness no longer register.
For the bomb-traumatized living, all two million "gifts from the United States of America" mean but a single day’s nourishment for one in every four Afghans. Those odds fade as the yellow parcels land in inaccessible or landmined locations, or are gathered up by Afghanistan’s opposing factions, to be sold for profit to the "better off" by the Northern Alliance, taxed by the Taliban, or vandalized in last ditch expressions of grief and anger by Afghanistan’s despairing. Witness, hunger in the name of freedom!
Like all wars, Operation Enduring Freedom was destined to claim more civilian than military lives. But Afghanistan’s past 23 years of armed conflict which sees the country’s women significantly outnumber men, foreshadowed that the military retaliation for the terrorism of September 11 would manifest as Afghan women’s eyes for US eyes. Kabul alone is home to some 70,000 of Afghanistan’s estimated one million war widows. With rare exception, all live in abject poverty due to the Taliban’s version of Islam which bars them from working.
Nor is there a single war on record where women and girls have escaped rape and sexual abuse. With the US-led efforts preempting the takeover of Kabul by the Northern Alliance, an outfit infamous for its human rights violations, Operation Enduring Freedom promises to be no different.
RAWA, a courageous group of women who at risk of death have defied the Taliban’s obscene repressions, reminds the world of their equally dark days under the Burhanuddin Rabbani-headed Northern Alliance faction in the early 1990s; "seventy-year-old grandmothers were raped; in their thousands, young girls were raped, forced into marriages and their families killed and tortured". Witness, misogyny in the name of freedom!
Afghan women also have a high fertility rate. According to UNFPA estimates, 1,140,000 are presently pregnant, 20,000 of whom even before the bombings would require medical treatment in the next 12 months for miscarriage and other serious obstetric and gynecological problems.
As with recent Anglo-US military operations in Iraq and Yugoslavia, the smart bombs hitting Afghan soil are likely laced with depleted uranium and plutonium, an environmental disaster of devastating proportions and a peril which is linked with adult and childhood cancer and with miscarriages and birth deformities.
On this background, and without food, water for drinking or sanitation, and shelter, and less mobile because of their pregnancy and responsibilities for their children, Afghan mothers are the face of their country’s genocide. Witness genocide in the name of freedom!
As Afghans deal with terror, death, hunger, misogyny, and genocide in the name of freedom, external governments, yet again, plan their future. Oh yes, there are promises aplenty to rebuild the rubble into the Afghanistan they once knew, as too there are pledges galore of a future democracy. Yet amidst all of the new misery for Afghans, the voices of women cry out but remain unheard.
RAWA prophetically warned that a witch hunt for Osama bin Laden in their country would bring further trauma and misery for innocent Afghans and would not in any way decrease the grief of the Americans, and that by rendering Afghanistan’s deprived and poor and as its victims, a military Holocaust risked spreading terrorism of an even larger scale. Witness anthrax!
The UN envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi has come to the fore with a degree of sanity, stressing that a future government in Kabul has no chance if it is not ‘made-in-Afghanistan’. But there exists another patently obvious option within the UN’s own resolutions.
Barely a year ago, on October 31, 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325, which calls on "all actors involved in negotiating and implementing peace agreements to adopt a gender perspective, including, inter alia: 8 (a) The special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction; and 8 (b) Measures that support local women’s peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution, and that involve women in all of the implementation mechanisms of the peace agreements.
Women’s opinions, unlike those of the plethora of men with vested interests in Afghanistan, are globally united; The bombings must stop. Not today, not tomorrow, nor in 10 year’s time, but right now before the world is plunged one step further towards a conflict which brings terror, not freedom, to all; and women, most especially Afghan women such as RAWA, have a rightful place at the table where the future of Afghanistan is set to be planned.
[Dr Lynette Dumble, medical scientist and international co-ordinator of the Global Sisterhood Network, is a former senior research fellow in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Melbourne, and visiting professor of surgery at the University of Texas in Houston.