Khatoon is 32, a widow with three children under the age of 10. Her children are all girls and go to school in Kabul. In the absence of other support (her parents are dead and her siblings unable to help financially), Khatoon supports her children and herself by working in an office. Her life, tough as it is, was progressing smoothly until word of ‘peace’ talks between America and the Taliban in Qatar, became public knowledge.
Now, along with every other woman in Afghanistan and the majority of men too, Khatoon is petrified of the possibility of the Taliban returning to power.
The much-vaulted peace talks — the first round recently ended without any definite progress according to reports — have angered the Afghan population as a whole. No one, least of all women, relish the thought of a return to the abominable conditions they endured when the Taliban ruled the roost from 1996 to 2001. During those terrible years, women bore the brunt of the Taliban’s own interpretation of Islamic law and they were barred from receiving education and from working. A brutal religious police, wielding whips and batons, enforced an unbearable dress code under which women were shrouded in either blue or white burqas. Females were not allowed to use makeup or wear shoes with heels and even inside their own homes, they were subjected to unthinkable rules and regulations unless, they lived in enlightened households whose males were prepared to take risks in full knowledge that religious police, or other Taliban cadre, could force their way inside at any time of day or night. Public executions (in Kabul these took place in the infamous Gaddafi Stadium after the Friday prayers) were common and the brutalised populace were almost paralysed by fear — ‘almost’ because some Afghans did fight back in their own way.
“Underground schools for girls were organised in some areas” says Khatoon. “The venues had to be moved regularly to keep them safe, but it was extremely dangerous for us all. If I hadn’t taken lessons during those years, then I would not have been able to find work now. If the Taliban are allowed to come back in to any position of control then my employment will come to an end as will my daughters’ education. What will happen to us then?”
Khatoon is quite right to be frightened. Having survived Taliban rule once, she knows the potential hazards of fighting to survive in a world controlled by rapists, bullies and murderers — as do all other Afghan women of these times. “I completely fail to comprehend why America is having these talks with those they previously called ‘enemies’. America used the excuse of al Qaeda and the Taliban to invade Afghanistan and try to give us normality but now, 10 years on, they are going to walk away and leave us to it. I can understand that they have had enough of fighting, but to let the Taliban come back when they pull out is sheer lunacy. It means that perhaps, it would have been better for the US to have never come here at all, as in the end nothing will have changed other than that they allowed us to develop hope and are now dashing that self same hope on the rocks of their own face-saving ploy. They are throwing us back to the wolves and the world is letting them get away with it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.