UK: Lobbying paper for government officials

Shirkat Gah
The American and British military action in Afghanistan: Grave implications for regional democratic and developmental processes - presented to UK government officials in October 2001.
If these consequences continue to be overlooked, the military action will simply strengthen those forces it seeks to combat and undermine the development process. In the long-term, any military success will prove to be Phyrric. Women are directly affected by the fallout of the September 11 events and the war in Afghanistan. The concerns expressed here are based on their eye-witness reports and the monitoring of news media.
In Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province and Tribal Agencies that border Afghanistan, NGO offices have been burnt to the ground, their equipment, furniture and vehicles destroyed or looted; activists’ homes have been attacked, their crops destroyed; life-threatening attacks have been made on individuals.

On 8 October 2001, some 5,000 people gathered in a Takhtbhai area village. Incited by activists from an extremist politico-religious party strong in the area, their protest march turns into a mob calling for revenge for the military attacks. But against whom? The US-led military coalition is out of reach, the protesters unwilling to take on the Pakistan administration. They turn on small, local NGOs working for years for the community’s welfare. In planned attacks, a maternal and child care centre, a community library, a self-help social welfare organisation’s office and a women’s skills development centre are destroyed. In just one village. These attacks are being replicated across the border region.  All development work has come to a halt.

On 24 October in Lahore, hundreds of miles away from the border, 250 men, some armed with batons, carrying an effigy and chanting slogans ‘All friends of America are traitors’ march towards the gates of a national women’s resource centre. Nothing happens this time, but the centre’s staff comment that it is difficult to continue regular work when so much time is spent responding to various aspects of the crisis and the relief effort. Elsewhere, mosques have been using short-wave radio to mobilise crowds incited to attack those who speak of secularism and democracy. There are calls to close all NGOs, denounced as “western agents”.

The issue is not religious sentiment. The attacks are being instigated by those who fear a challenge to their local supremacyfrom the poor, women and minorities. This includes extremist politico-religious parties and local elite who have always opposed the democracy and development processes. In Muslim countries and communities as diverse as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Nigeria, and the Gambia as well as among migrant communities in the UK, the military action in Afghanistan has eroded space for alternative visions, is leading to a hardening of positions and a strengthening of extremism.


Governments across the world have displayed opportunism in the face of tragedy, repressing political opposition and refugees and asylum-seekers in the name of anti-terrorism. In Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, and Turkey state repression against all political opposition has been instensified. While the injustices of US foreign policy are a mobilising factor in the growth of extremism, the domestic policies of states with a Muslim population also frustrate and stifle democratic political  processes, breeding extremism.
In Pakistan, civil society groups fear a repeat of the Gen. Zia military regime of the 1980s. Protected by his support for American involvement against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the military dictator was able to subvert the democratic process for 11 years. As long as the US needs the current military regime’s support it will be impossible to demand a return to democracy, to have anti-women legislation repealed and to push for denuclearisation. This will strengthen political extremism.


Afghan women are not victims. They are determined survivors in the face of great odds. However, the military action in Afghanistan has considerably worsened these odds.

Even what little women’s development work could take place inside Afghanistan under the Taliban has had to stop. Relief access to refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran has been barred. Millions face starvation. Resources earmarked for education, health and income-generating facilities for existing refugees has had to go into food and shelter for the hundreds of thousands of new refugees. Even if Afghan women make it to the relative safety of the refugee camps, women do not find peace. Within the camps they face double control: by the Pakistan authorities and also by the extremist groups that control the camps. Relief work is impossible as long as the bombing and the unrest it has caused along the border continues. The Afghan people will be left feeling that only the Taliban and its extremist Pakistani allies care about them.


There is now talk of the ‘will of the Afghan people’. This must include Afghan women. Women’s rights must be on the agenda of the US and its allies if the country is to become a source of stability in the region. All major Afghan parties to previous negotiations around Afghanistan’s future have had a terrible human rights record, particularly on the subject of women. Afghan women must be included and represented in any negotiations around their country’s future.