Taliban's abuse of women's rights is not 'peace'
Nakasha Ahmad, "So what's my point?"
For those of you who don't follow current events, or who don't care, or who happen to be library rats who never see the light of day and therefore wouldn't have a clue if the outside world was taken over by aliens, there was a coup in the small country of Pakistan about a month ago. The military coup overthrew a democratically elected government that was stealing, looting, and pretty much cheating its citizens. A general is now in charge of the country.
About two weeks ago, there was a panel discussion held in the Hesburgh Center on the coup. One of the participants was Dr. Ashutosh Varshney, an associate professor of government and international studies, and a fellow of both the Kroc and Kellogg Institutes. The other participant was Dr. Moonis Ahmar, a visiting fellow at the Kroc Institute, connected with the University of Karachi in Pakistan. Since my parents are from Pakistan, and I still have some family there, I thought the panel might be interesting. After the talk, there were a number of questions from the audience, and a few people asked what effect this coup would have on the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Taliban is an EXTREMELY right-wing religious group that calls itself Muslim. According to news reports, this group has forced women to leave their jobs and quit their educations. Almost no women are allowed to work. The government does not allow male doctors to treat female patients — and since very few of the women doctors are allowed to work, women are not getting any type of adequate medical care. Women are not allowed to leave their homes unless they wear a heavy veil and are in the presence of a male relative. Any buildings in which women live have to have the windows blacked out, so they aren't getting any type of sunshine. The suicide rate is reported to be growing.
If you are a normal human being, you will pretty much find these conditions horrible. The Taliban has violated human rights in any and every sense of the word. Since Afghanistan shares a border with Pakistan, there were rumors flying about that the former government, under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, might be sympathetic to the Taliban. So naturally, one of the questions to be asked is how the Taliban might react, and the implications of the coup on that facet.
When asked that question, Dr. Ahmar responded to the effect that people had been making too much of a deal about the Taliban, and that Afghanistan had been more peaceful than it had been for a long time under the rule of the Taliban.
There were only a few women in that room, and all of us gasped audibly.
Peaceful? Yes, Dr. Ahmar, any country will be more "peaceful" when you deny half of the population any basic human rights and lock them in their homes. These women are completely dependent on male providers. They can't get medical care. Hell, they can't even get sunshine. Certainly, it is true that American media has a bias against Muslim groups-I would be the first to admit that. However, it is equally true that the Taliban has violated women's rights in some essential and pretty terrible ways.
To say that such conditions are excusable or expedient because they bring peace is plain wrong. To use the word peace in the narrow sense of "not war," or "not fighting" is to hold human rights and women's rights as not as important. If half of the population of a country was being shut up on the basis of race or nationality or some other quality, there would be a hue and cry from the international community. What if the U.S. decided that it was going to shut up half of the population in their homes? It certainly might be more peaceful, but it also destroys people's civil rights. Dr. Ahmar exhibits a rash disregard for the rights of women that I find, quite frankly, dangerous. Locking people up in their homes is not excusable on the basis of "peace." Real peace comes when all people have the freedom to work, to go out in the world. Denying these rights to half the population does not bring true peace.
The real question is, what price will we pay for "peace?"
Nakasha Ahmad is a junior at Saint Mary's College. Her column runs every other Thursday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, November 12, 1999