The following is Co-Director of Afghan Women’s Mission Sonali Kolhatkar’s statement regarding an ongoing debate among progressives over the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, and appearing below it the transcript of a recent interview by Kolhatkar with independent candidate for Afghan president Ramazan Bashardost.
Recently prominent liberal voices in the United States have expressed the view that the US war in Afghanistan is being waged to help secure the rights of Afghan women. The Feminist Majority, a prominent women’s organization in the US responded today to my critique of their pro-war position, co-authored with Mariam Rawi, a member of RAWA. The FM response was originally published under the title, "Why the Feminist Majority Foundation Supports Engagement in Afghanistan," and later changed to "Why Is the Feminist Majority Foundation Refusing to Abandon the Women and Girls of Afghanistan?"
In it, Eleanor Smeal and Helen Cho assert that "As long-time peace activists, we did not support the bombing of Afghanistan after 9/11." But the FM also never came out against the war in Afghanistan as they did against the war in Iraq. Instead they called for full inclusion of women in any post-war government. That silence meant tacit support of the war. Today that support for war continues by equating the security craved by all Afghans with the war being waged by US troops. While I fully agree with the FM that the US must stop supporting warlords, and pour resources into development and aid I disagree that dropping bombs, fighting ground offensives, imprisoning Afghans, and all the byproducts of war are somehow making women safer.
Similarly, Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and one-time Presidential candidate on a liberal platform, in an interview on Democracy Now on Friday July 17th, pronounced his support for the US war in Afghanistan based on protecting women’s rights. In the interview, Dean repeated the logic that the US is waging war for Afghan women’s liberation. And on the flip side, according to Dean, "if we leave, women will experience the most extraordinary depredations of any population on the face of the earth." By this logic, Dean implies that the US has for the past 8 years been a bulwark against a the deterioration of women’s rights.
But even cursory examination of the actual situation on the ground reveals that aside from theoretical changes embodied in the constitution, women’s rights have actually deteriorated as a direct consequence of deliberate US policy. This policy has included empowering anti-woman warlords who have committed rape and thrown out female members of parliament, appointing a fundamentalist judiciary that has imprisoned women for adultery and being victims of rape, etc. Additionally, the US war has fueled an misogynist insurgency that has only gotten stronger and worsened anti-woman sentiment.
I spoke very recently with independent candidate for president Ramazan Bashardost about his view of the US war. He put it bluntly: "This is not a war for women’s rights in Afghanistan. It is not a war for human rights in Afghanistan." He added, "the problem is that the analysis of the Afghan situation by the US is wrong."
The Feminist Majority, Howard Dean, and other American liberals in support of this war need to re-analyze the situation in Afghanistan and examine the real consequences of the US war over the past 8 years that have done more harm than good to women’s rights.
Additionally liberals need to honestly assess that whether there has been some sort of about-turn in US policy since January 2009 save for a stated desire to reduce civilian casualties. In fact, the US has not suddenly changed its mandate from war-fighting to providing security under President Obama, and no such policy shift is on the horizon. The Democrats and Republicans, led by President Obama are waging a war, not winning a peace. And war is a force for destruction, not liberation.
Interview with Ramazan Bashardost
Introduction: Despite his unpopularity, Afghanistan’s incumbent President Hamid Karzai faces few challenges to re-election on August 20th. But one of his most vocal critics and rivals commands the respect of a large number of Afghans looking for a change in the summer Presidential elections.
Dr. Ramazan Bashardost is a former member of Karzai’s own cabinet and currently a popular Member of Parliament. Armed with a plethora of degrees in political science from Pakistan and France, Bashardost resigned in disgust as Planning Minister in protest of the vast amounts of corruption he witnessed at the highest levels of government.
In 2006, he won a seat in Parliament as a representative of Kabul with one of the highest number of votes of any candidate in the country. Today, he operates his presidential campaign from a large yellow tent near the Parliament – it is a symbol of protest called the Tent of Nations – his testament to the inaccessibility of government. Bashardost is eager to speak with anyone who will listen about his disdain for the warlords, fundamentalists, and US puppets that have overrun the nation. Unlike the other candidates, the eccentric candidate shuns security guards, fancy cars, and runs his campaign on small donations from his supporters. But many Afghans take him seriously because he is proudly independent of all parties and tribes, and echoes an agenda supported by the country’s silenced majority.
His 52-point program spells out ideas for change in Afghanistan, from embracing ethnic and national unity and women’s equality, to economic and political independence from the West, and a war crimes tribunal for Mujahadeen and Taliban leaders. Bashardost is also openly opposed to the US war.
Sonali Kolhatkar, host of Uprising Radio, recently interviewed Ramazan Bashardost about his candidacy and the US war.
Kolhatkar: What sets you apart from the other candidates running?
Bashardost: First, I am the only candidate of all 41 candidates to have a higher education: I have a PhD in political science from France. Second, I am the only candidate who (when I was the Minister of Planning in 2004) fought corruption. Third, I am the only candidate to believe in new values in the Afghan political system: I chose my colleagues as my deputy ministers from among those Afghan people with high education and good experiences with the consideration of ethnic, religious, political party. I give equal opportunities to women and men in Afghanistan: one deputy minister is a man and the other is a woman. And fourth, Afghan people from all ethnic groups trust me and believe in what I say because I am a man of action.
Kolhatkar: What do you think of the job that President Karzai has done over the past seven years?
Bashardost: I visited about 12 provinces in Afghanistan and I started my campaign in the Pashtun provinces. The large majority of ordinary Afghan people hate Mr Karzai because they say he is not a man of state because he has a tribal vision. He works for his own family. And they say Mr Karzai gave a new chance to war criminals, to murderers, and to serial killers when he chose Mr. Fahim as his Vice President [NOTE: Fahim is a known warlord and one-time leader of the Northern Alliance]. So the corruption, the insecurity, and the poverty in Afghanistan, are the three disasters that Afghan people say Mr. Karzai is responsible for.
Kolhatkar: You mentioned General Fahim - who are some of the other men in government that are responsible for corruption and some of the other problems?
Bashardost: The first problem of the Afghan political system today is Mr. Karzai because he doesn’t believe in good government. He doesn’t want to really fight corruption because he has a tribal vision of state. The Director of the Independent Commission Against Corruption each year gives me a copy of [of the annual report] and he says, ’I was in Mr. Karzai’s office to give him the official report and I said to Mr. Karzai, your Minister, your Deputy Minister, your Governors, they are all corrupt, we have a lot of proof.’ But Mr. Karzai never attempted to organize a court to try them. So the basic problem is that Mr. Karzai doesn’t believe in human rights values, doesn’t believe in good governance, doesn’t really want to fight drug trafficking and corrupt men in Afghanistan.
Kolhatkar: What do you think of another colleague of yours, Ms. Malalai Joya, who spoke out against the members of Parliament, called them warlords and was kicked out of Parliament two years ago. What do you think of her?
Bashardost: After the Parliamentary election, the UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] published a communication, a declaration, and said that 20% of the MPs are involved in drug trafficking, and about 30% are involved in civil war, that they are warlords. And the rest, the large majority of the members of this Parliament, are corrupt, are war criminals. I believe that this declaration of UNAMA was correct and it is time to do something against war criminals in Afghanistan so I support Ms. Joya and I believe that she is right.
Kolhatkar: What do you think about the US and NATO war in Afghanistan, which even Mr. Karzai has criticized? Currently the US is sending thousands of troops in Helmand province. What is your opinion of how the US is conducting this war?
Bashardost: I am absolutely sure that the war in Afghanistan today is not a war for human rights, for democracy, because for the past seven years the international community has openly supported war criminals and financed them in Afghanistan. It is incredible to me that American tax payers are paying the salaries of the bodyguards of war criminals. It is incredible to me that the international community’s tax payers pay for a very luxurious life for the four wives of a war criminal in power in Afghanistan. Today in the Afghan government and the cabinet we have war criminals, in our provinces we have corrupt governors or war criminals. It is time to deeply change the American strategy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people’s interests and the American people’s interests are the same. But the US’s way in Afghanistan is the wrong way, it is a way against American interests, it is a way against Afghan people’s interests. So it is time to change.
Kolhatkar: What about the fact that a lot of people are justifying the war for women’s rights? Here in the US, American politicians are saying, ’if we don’t fight this war, Afghan women’s rights will be lost.’
Bashardost: Today in Afghanistan we have sexual aggression in each of our provinces everyday by men in power. For example, two months ago the son of an MP had a sexual relationship by force with a small girl in Takhar, Sar-e-Pul, and the son was never judged by a court because the Afghan government supports war criminals, and also support the men that have sexual relationships by force. This is not a war for women’s rights in Afghanistan. This is not a war for human rights in Afghanistan. How can we fight the war criminals or criminals against women’s rights when the war criminals are Ministers, are Governors, are the Chief of Police? It is not possible to support Afghan women’s rights in Afghanistan with the war criminals in power.
Kolhatkar: So what advice would you give the US and NATO? As an Afghan, what would you tell them to do? Should they just all leave Afghanistan?
Bashardost: Our problem is not a problem of American troops in Afghanistan. Our problem is that the analysis of the American state about the Afghan situation is wrong. Our problem is that America’s high authorities such as the President or Minister of Foreign Affairs [Secretary of State], receive wrong information about Afghanistan. I don’t want the American people’s tax money to be used by a narco-state in Afghanistan. So it is time to change the information about Afghanistan. It is time to change the analysis about Afghanistan. It is time to change the system of decisions in Afghanistan. We cannot build a new system with old women or old men. We cannot build a system of democracy with war criminals. It is time to change this kind of analysis, this kind of information, this kind of decision.
Kolhatkar: Going back to the election, you have said that you appeal to all the different ethnicities in Afghanistan. But you are from a minority group called the Hazara group. And traditionally in Afghanistan, the president has always been Pashtun. Do you think that enough Afghans could look beyond these sorts of ethnic divisions to support someone like you?
Bashardost: First of all, a year ago if we said to American people that you will have a black president it would not have been seen as credible - it was like a joke for the American people and for the world. I am absolutely sure that each society changes. When I was a candidate in the parliamentary elections four years ago in Kabul, people told me ’Mr. Bashardost you could never win in Kabul. Your fellow ethnic Hazaras would vote for Mr. Mohaqiq [a major Hazara warlord] so you cannot be an MP representing Kabul - It is not possible for you.’ So I was in a tough position [Mr. Bashardost went on to win his seat in Parliament with the third highest vote count of all the candidates.]
I am the only politician that Afghans from all ethnic groups, all religions, and all polticial parties support. And today I am the only candidate who received popular financing from each ethnic group. So the Pashtun ethnic group supports me in this campaign more than the Hazara or other ethnicities in Afghanistan [Pashtuns comprise the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan]. My only chance is that I am seen not as Hazara or Pashtun or Uzbek or Tajik - I am an Afghan. Even the Afghan Hindus support me as their best candidate for this election.
Kolhatkar: How legitimate do you think this election will be given that most of the resources for candidates are going to Mr. Karzai and people like him? Some of the other major candidates running have a lot more money, power, and security and are able to travel around the country. Do you think it’s going to be a fair election?
Bashardost: First of all, the fact that Mr. Karzai and other candidates use a lot of money ends up with negative results. For example, Mr. Karzai, Mr. Abdullah, and Mr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai [the top three candidates in the running for President], have very big posters and photographs. The Afghan people say: ’this election is not an exam of fashion. It is time that the candidates arrive among the people and explain what he or she wants. Instead they just send us their big posters.’
The second point is that the Afghan people know very well who Mr. Karzai is, who Mr. Abdullah is - because Mr. Abdullah was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan - and who Mr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is - he was Minister of Finance in Afghanistan. So the Afghan people say, ’when these men were in power, what did they do for Afghan people?’ This is the reason that Afghan people don’t believe in promises. The Afghan people say we would like action, not speeches and promises.
The third point is that Mr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadazai., Mr. Karzai, and Mr. Abdullah, never go into Afghan provinces among their people. In Kabul they travel between their office and house with twenty bodyguards and two or three special cars. So I am the only candidate to go among ordinary people in the streets, in the market, in the university, and meet Afghans from very far-off provinces like Kunar for example. In the Bariki Barak district of Logar I am the only candidate to go have visited. The other candidates only send their big posters.
Kolhatkar: If you were president, what would you do to change Afghanistan, both internally and with respect to relations with Pakistan and the problem of the Taliban?
Bashardost: I am the only candidate to have a 52 point program. The other candidates have two or three general slogans like ’National Unity’ for example. But I came up with a program of 52 points. I am absolutely sure that the security element in Pakistan closely follows the economic and the political elements. We must make some big changes at the same time. For example, we must build a clean state without corruption, without war criminals, without drug trafficking. We must at the same time deeply change the politics of our economy - I am absolutely sure that the Tokyo conference in 2002 was a wrong conference. Our priority must be to build some big dams and not big roads in Afghanistan. And we must have a very clean relationship with Pakistan. I am absolutely sure that the Pakistani government believes that Afghanistan is a good friend of India. And India’s government uses Afghanistan against Pakistan’s interest in the region because Mr. Karzai studied in India and Mr. Abdullah has a close relationship with India - his family lives there. If Pakistan’s government sees that the Afghan president is really independent of Iran, India, or Russia - I am absolutely sure that Pakistan will have no interest in Afghan affairs.
Kolhatkar: So you think that the Pakistani government would be able to control the Taliban if it didn’t feel threatened by India?
Bashardost: I think the Taliban problem is not just an external problem. It is also an internal problem. I am sure that the Taliban doesn’t fight American troops or British troops in Afghanistan. When the Taliban started the war in Afghanistan in 1994 there was not one American or Russian soldier here. The Taliban started the war against the leaders of the Mujahadeen [now known as the Northern Alliance]. After two years of fighting the Taliban took over the political government in Afghanistan. The Mujahadeen leaders left Afghanistan and went to Iran, Pakistan and other countries. Unfortunately in 2001, the same Mujahadeen leaders returned with American troops in Afghanistan and are in the same position. Today for example, the enemy of the Taliban in Afghanistan is not American troops. The enemy is Dostum, Khalili, Qanooni, or Sayyaf. And they say to me ’we do not fight American soldiers - our enemy is not the American soldier.’ So I asked ’why do you kill American soldiers?’ They told me, ’Mr. Bashardost, it is because the American soldier is behind the government and the government is the killer of Taliban.’ So the fight of the Taliban is a fight against the Mujahadeen leaders. If we organize a court for the war criminals and the Chief of Mujahadeen or the Chief of the Taliban or the Chief of the communists in Afghanistan I am sure that a large majority of Taliban would refuse to continue to fight the Afghan state.
Kolhatkar: Any last message that you would like to convey to the American people?
Bashardost: Thank you very much. I would like to say to the American people: your young soldiers give their blood in Afghanistan. Your tax money pays for Afghan reconstruction. Because we have the same interests for a long time. But now your tax money and the blood of your soldiers is used in Afghanistan by a minority in power who are war criminals, they are part of the narco-state. They don’t believe in human rights values, in women’s rights. So it is time that you support a real, good governance in Afghanistan, and human rights values in Afghanistan, and give a chance to a new generation in Afghanistan to have higher education and good experiences, and that believe in good governance and human rights. I am absolutely sure that the way of the American government is the wrong way in Afghanistan. It is time to change for American people’s interests and also for Afghan people’s interests. We have the same interests. We can decide together.