Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979. The USSR was forced to withdraw 10 years later by anti-communist Mujahidin forces supplied and trained by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others.
Fighting subsequently continued among the various Mujahidin factions, but the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement has been able to seize most of the country which is slightly smaller in size than Texas. In addition to the continuing civil strife, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread live mines. Streams of refugees have fled into southern Asia, Pakistan, Iran, China and Tajikistan and Turkmenistan which are all neighbouring countries and even as far as Europe and America.
Although rich in natural resources of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semi-precious stones, extreme poverty prevails and the contiuing civil strife has stalled development. This has been even further curtailed by the self-proclaimed Taliban government which refers to the country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which comprises 30 provinces Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Bamian, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Ghowr, Helmand, Herat, Jowzjan, Kabol, Kandahar, Kapisa, Konar, Kondoz, Laghman, Lowgar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Oruzgan, Paktia, Paktika, Parvan, Samangan, Sar-e-Pol, Takhar, Vardak, Zabol and two new provinces of Nurestan and Khowst. On 27 September 1996, the ruling members of the Afghan Government were displaced by members of the Islamic Taliban movement and the Islamic State of Afghanistan has no functioning government at this time, and the country remains divided among fighting factions.
Political pressure groups and Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Australia, US, and elsewhere have organized themselves into one voice to get international recognition but apart from Pakistan, no other country has recognised the government of the ruling Taliban.
During the conflict one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering a combined peak of more than 6 million refugees. In early 1999, 1.2 million Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan and about 1.4 million in Iran. International aid can deal with only a fraction of the humanitarian problems faced by these traumatised refugees, particularly women and children who are living in appalling conditions in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. Pakistan, too, is a comparatively poor country and as President, General Pervez Musharraf said recently “we can only engage the Taliban in talks, we cannot interfere in an independent and sovereign country and lay down the law to them.”
RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, was established in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1977 as an independent political organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and for social justice in Afghanistan.
The founders were a number of Afghan women intellectuals under the leadership of Meena who in 1987 was assassinated in Quetta, Pakistan, RAWA’s objective was to involve an increasing number of Afghan women in social and political activities aimed at acquiring women’s human rights and contributing to the struggle for the establishment of a government based on democratic and secular values in Afghanistan. Despite the suffocation political atmosphere, RAWA very soon became involved in widespread activities in different socio-political arenas including education, health and income generation as well as political agitation. Before the Moscow-directed coup d’etat of April 1978 in Afghanistan, RAWA’s activities were confined to agitation for women’s rights and democracy, but after the coup and particularly after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979, RAWA became directly involved in the war of resistance. In contradistinction to the absolute majority of the vaunted Islamic fundamentalist “freedom fighters” of the anti-Soviet war of resistance, RAWA from the outset advocated democracy and secularism. Despite the horrors and the political oppression, RAWA’s appeal and influence grew in the years of the Soviet occupation and a growing number of RAWA activists were sent to work among refugee women in Pakistan. For the purpose of addressing the immediate needs of refugee women and children, RAWA established schools with hostels for boys and girls, a hospital for refugee Afghan women and children in Quetta, Pakistan with mobile teams. In addition, it conducted nursing courses, literacy courses and vocational training courses for women. It was in consequence of its anti-Soviet struggle that RAWA was marked for annihilation. The Islamic fundamentalists vented their wrath on the organisation for their pro-democracy, pro-secularist and anti-fundamentalist stance. The uncompromising attitude cost them dear. A large number of key activists, to give Afghan women social and political awareness in regard to their rights and potentialities were persecuted.
RAWA launched a bilingual (Persian/Pashtu) magazine, Payam-e-Zan (Woman’s Message) in 1981. Publication of this magazine is on-going and by-issues in Urdu and English for non-Persian/Pashtu speakers is also published. relief work amongst unimaginably traumatised women and children continues. However, difficulties of access within the country, restrictions on foreign aid and meagre resources, the organisation is hampered on all fronts including funding and recognition internationally.
This is a problem that many aid agencies, NGO’s and other organisations face when trying to ameliorate the conditions of the displaced Afghanis. As the President, General Musharraf says, it is a human tragedy that Pakistan is trying to cope with the best it can. The recent incident involving the destruction of the Buddhist monuments dating back almost three thousand years, did nothing to enhance the image of the Taliban as Muslim fanatics and the fact that they continue to shelter the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden does not endear them to Americans or the international community. So Pakistan, is effectively, the only friend or channel of communication that they have to communicate officially with the outside world.
The media, too, has become muted about the human plight facing the Afghan people. A similar situation of hardship faced by the Iraqi people, the Kurds, the Bosnians, the Chechens and others around the globe has displaced the prominence of the Afghani disaster. Whatever aid trickles through is merely enough to sustain the most basic necessities and that, too, available to a pathetic number of lucky few and attempts to provide aid within the country itself is beset with enormous political and logistical problems.
For the present, Pakistan is doing all it can to assist in engaging the Taliban in dialogue and leave the channels of communication open so that the international community is kept informed about the great human disaster that has overtaken this once proud and impregnable nation who in their heyday kept the British at bay and repulsed one invader after another until it was betrayed by an enemy not from without but from within when their destructive civil war began.