President Elect Barack Obama wants to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan. But the US/NATO occupation is less popular than ever. Eman, an Afghan woman’s rights activist with RAWA tells Uprising host, Sonali Kolhatkar, that Obama must end the occupation. RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, is the oldest women’s political organization in Afghanistan, struggling non-violently against foreign occupations and religious fundamentalism for more than 30 years.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Many on the American left are celebrating the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the US. But while he has pledged to end the Iraq war, he has also promised to increase troops in Afghanistan. What is your opinion of Barack Obama and his stated policy on Afghanistan?
Eman: We can easily judge Obama from what he said in one of his recent interviews that he does not feel the need to apologize to the Afghan people. We do not consider this [the result of] a lack of information. But didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the wrong policies of the US government for the past three decades in our country? Didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the fundamentalist-fostering policies of the US government in creating, arming, and supporting these brutal, misogynist groups like the Northern Alliance and other fascist groups during the past three decades? Didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the occupation of our country under the banner of democracy, the so-called "war on terror," and women’s rights, but then compromise with terrorists like the Northern Alliance, who cannot be distinguished from the Taliban in the history of their criminal acts? In fact these murderers were the first to destroy our nation. And even after seven years of a very long and very costly "war on terror," terrorism has not been uprooted in Afghanistan but has become stronger and the Taliban are becoming more powerful. Plus recently [the US is] talking about negotiating with the most wanted terrorist, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and with the Taliban, which is in contradiction with what they claimed and what their main objective was in occupying Afghanistan.
From his statements during his election campaign, we don’t think that Obama’s position is different from the Bush administration; it is the continuation of Bush’s foreign policy. As Obama’s first message to our country was that of war, we cannot be hopeful about him.
Kolhatkar: Do you think the troops should be withdrawn and if so, what will happen in Afghanistan if US/NATO forces leave Afghanistan?
Eman: RAWA strongly believes that whatever happens, a withdrawal of foreign troops should be the first step, because today, with the presence of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, with the presence of many foreign countries in our nation, for the majority of our people particularly poor people in the other provinces of Afghanistan outside Kabul, the situation is so bad that it cannot get any worse. Today they are also suffering from insecurity, killing, kidnapping, rape, acid throwing on school girls (as happened just last week), hunger, lawlessness, lack of freedom of speech (with journalist Parwiz Kambakhsh being imprisoned), After seven years of occupation [the US] failed to bring peace, security, democracy, and women’s rights that they claimed. I think seven years is quite enough time to prove that democracy and peace cannot be brought by foreigners. It can only be achieved by our own people by democratic organizations and individuals. It’s our responsibility to become united as an alternative against the occupation, to rise up, to resist and to organize our people.
Obviously it is very difficult. No one can predict how long it will take, how much blood, how much sacrifice, and what price should be paid. But this is the only solution, as RAWA has always emphasized.
Right now our people are under attack from different sides. From one side we have the Taliban, from the other side are the US air strikes, and from another side are the Northern Alliance warlords in different provinces. We are in a political confusion. With the withdrawal [of troops] our people will at least get rid of one of these enemies.
We believe that even with the withdrawal of the troops they have a moral duty towards Afghanistan as they have empowered these dangerous fundamentalist groups economically; and given them arms which were a big threat to the security of our country. If the US and its allies are kind enough to try to help us and they are honest in their claim of helping our people then they can prove it in other ways. They can prove it by the disarmament of armed groups. They can prove it by stopping any kind of support, help and compromise with any fundamentalist groups by helping our people to prosecute our war criminals of three decades. They can do this by supporting democratic voices. So they have other alternatives to help us if they really want to.
Kolhatkar: Hamid Karzai’s tenure is up next year and there are to be new elections. What do you think needs to happen before the elections, and is there any chance the elections could bring some positive change inside Afghanistan?
Eman: We have two kinds of elections ahead of us: parliamentary and presidential. About the presidential election, everyone knows that the White House determines who is going to be the next president. Our public’s votes are just used as a formality. But what we are sure of is that the next president will not be independent or a real democrat. So our people are not so hopeful about those elections.
About the parliamentary elections, it is important to state that this election, like the last one, will be conducted under the shadow of guns, airpower and money. So we cannot call it a fair and free election. For a fair and free election to be held we think that disarmament of the powerful warlords which have private armies in different provinces, is a necessary factor. Otherwise it will be a repeat of the last election. For example, according to a law made by the Election Commission, warlords cannot take part in the elections. The last time, our people appealed to the election commission against criminal candidates and drug lords with evidence but nobody paid attention to them and these most-wanted murderers found their way to parliament. There were just a very few exceptions who were really elected by the people. The majority were well-known murderers, criminals, and rapists.
Kolhatkar: In RAWA’s recent statement on the 7th anniversary of the US war on October 7th, you say "Our freedom is only achievable at the hands of our people." How strong are democratic grassroots forces in Afghanistan, and are they capable of rising up and leading the country?
Eman: Unfortunately the democratic forces are very weak due to many reasons. The two main reasons are, firstly, financial problems because there is no government support at all, and powerful international forces like the United Nations have never been interested in supporting democratic groups, individuals, and voices. Secondly they are weak for security reasons, which have always suppressed these groups. We believe that the main source of power lies with our people. Today they have become hopeless with false promises from the West of establishing democracy. And moreover people are fed-up of the fundamentalism of the Taliban, Northern Alliance, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, etc. So today if we witness demonstrations organized by our suffering and tired people, tomorrow they will be much more organized under the leadership of democratic movements. So we should not lose our hope. The groups are weak but they exist. I think it’s the duty of democratic forces all over the world to support democratic movements in Afghanistan and they should show their practical solidarity with them.
Kolhatkar: When we started our conversation, you weren’t very optimistic about Barack Obama’s stated policy on Afghanistan. What advice would you give President Elect Barack Obama, when he takes office in January?
Eman: We believe that if the American government does not have any bad, expansionist, hidden intentions regarding our country then they have to accept and change their long-term mistakes and wrong policies in our country. In the early 1990s they supported the anti-democratic, anti-women forces and they still have not learned a lesson and still they rely on and compromise with the different fundamentalist groups, which makes the situation of our country even worse. So from one side they are still nourishing and working with those drug lords and warlords of the Northern Alliance. And from the other side they complain about drugs, corruption and insecurity which is a painful game with the destiny of our people, who do not want more troops and war. Our people want justice, peace, and democracy.
As the US failed with spending billions of dollars on the presence of thousands of troops for the past seven years, I’m sure that they will fail even if they bring millions more troops as long as the American government does not change its policies in Afghanistan.
Kolhatkar: Finally, what advice would you give the American anti-war movement on what Afghanistan needs from them?
Eman: Since the US government has always supported fundamentalist groups and ignored democratic voices in our country, I think that the US government does not represent all American people. But there are great American people and great peace movements who have always raised their voice against war and defended peace with justice. History shows that these movements have always affected government policies, for example on the Vietnam war. So I think that they have a great responsibility to put pressure on their government and especially its foreign policy, to change the policy and to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. And they have to show their solidarity with the democratic movements in Afghanistan. It’s very very important for us and we need their voices. But I just read an article that some parts of the US peace movements are supporting the Iranian government. We condemn this position because we consider the Iranian government a fundamentalist, fascist government. But as long as the peace movement is concerned, we need their solidarity and we are very happy to have their support.
Find out more about RAWA at www.rawa.org. Sonali Kolhatkar is host and producer of Uprising, at KPFK, Pacifica Radio, www.uprisingradio.org.