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MY MEMORABLE VISIT TO AFGHANISTAN

From the time I received the invitation  for a week’s visit to Afghanistan from Mawlawi Ataurrehman Saleem Sahab’s Afghanistan Academic and Islamic Research Centre (AAIRC) a leading organization of Afghanistan on Islamic issues, there was a deep sense of exhilaration and a little hesitation about the visit. As a world traveler I never had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan. Yet there was an element of apprehension due to the situation. However, the week long invitation from a renowned organization with laudable objectives where I was invited to address  issues relating to the rights of women in Islam, was a compelling factor in accepting the invitation . The dates finally fixed for the visit were 18-25th. September.

 

 The Islamic Research Centre in Kabul , headed by the liberal Mawlawi Ataurrehman Saleem  , enjoys the support of hundreds of Ulema The key intention of his organization is to increase the moderate and enlightened  understanding of Islam. Hence one of its principal aims is to organize programs to invite eminent scholars from diverse countries to interact with the Ulema from Afghanistan and also Honorable Members of Parliament and Government Officials. . Mawlana Ataurrehman  Sahab , the President AAIRC is an exceptional, dynamic person with  a vision, mission and determination to broaden the perspective and practice of moderate Islam.

 

Initially, like several other people, I carried a baggage of misconceptions regarding Afghanistan and its people. It was only after an interface accompanied by a deep interaction and communication with its people,( along with  my own observations of the milieu  ) that made me change my mind .  It was admirable that despite the turbulence, problems and predicaments, that faced the Nation, I saw the gentleness, genuineness and kindness , not to mention the courtesy, hospitality of the Afghans . In spite of the fact that Afghanistan has gone through  the grind of trials and tribulations of foreign invasions and domination since several decades, particularly the late seventies , and still countenances formidable challenges, the people of Afghanistan retain their tender human element and I salute them for that.  Media reports add to  misapprehensions telling us that whole of Afghanistan is under the grip of violence and there is no peace or governance beyond Kabul.

 

Although my family has always encouraged my international travel for education especially pertaining to the rights of women in Islam, they were discouraging and even adamant about my visit  . It took a great deal to convince them . Friends earnestly beseeched me not to travel in view of the fact that it could be  hazardous and advised  me to take safeguards.  But during the course of my visit there was not a single moment when I felt at risk. Later I found that withith the exception of borders close to Pakistan it was safe .

 

Sunday 18 September

 

After reaching  Kabul via Delhi on the evening of Sunday 18th , I was received by Mr. Afzal Afzali at the airport and invited the same evening, to meet , AAIRC President Mawlawi Ataurrhman Saleem Sahab,  at his office. His welcome and kindness with those of his colleagues at once made me comfortable and put me at ease. Mawlana Sahab conversed with me in Urdu. His Public Relations Officer , Mr. Afzal Afzali, a bright young Buisness Management graduate spoke in fluent English. He expressed his wish to continue with his post – graduation studies in India. Despite several linguistic groups existing in Afghanistan, it is basically a  country where Pashtu and Dari (Persian) are official languages. Persian is the language of erudite and cultured people and most of the Ulema speak Persian fluently.

 

The conversation revolved around the situation in Afghanistan, its  religious facets and the situation concerning women. He did not mince his words when he gave me to understand that Pakistan was the enemy and troublemaker , its main objective being dominance and control of certain areas of Afghanistan. His passionate disapproval of the country and its people were clearly stated. On the other hand  he said, Afghans had an overwhelming confidence and regard for India and Indians. They looked at India as an old friend and ally and said India was its confidant.

 

For those who claim that politically and religiously Muslims transnationaly unite to threaten the rest of the world this is certainly an eye-opener! The inherent fact that it is “ interest”, economic or otherwise , and not “religion” that it the polarizing factor. I found a clear line of distinction between perception and reality

 

Mawlana Sahab was of the opinion that Taliban control was existed in certain border regions skirting Pakistan, and the Talibans had no control in Afghanistan and even in the districts they assaulted ,  they vanished. However they looked for power sharing. The Taliban problem was principally due to Pakistan where they were trained and sent to Afghanistan and did not actually control governance in those areas where they were sent . In a way the Talibans were more a media projection than a reality. This view was confirmed and supported by many other Afghans.

 It was also interesting when Mawlana Sahab mentioned that although  Sunnis and Shias groups existed consisting of different linguistic groups, tribes and other differences they were  united and co-existed peacefully.

 

 On the subject the status of women he spoke at length . Generally the situation was dismal. There was a volume of work to be done on that front. The Afghans were a traditional society, education levels were low, poverty levels were high, constant wars depleted opportunities, there was much pressure from the Muslim conservatives  who held a restrictive perspective. Women had to be made aware of the rights given to them by Islam. This was very significant as  Shariah laws were practiced.

 

Mawlana Ataurruhman Sahab had arranged a series of meetings with  the Ulema, Dignitaries, Honorable Members of Parliament , Vice Chancellors, Human Right Activists and several others.

 

On the eve of my arrival, after a meeting with the Mawlana and his Officials, a meeting  had been arranged with HE , the Honorable Ambassador to India in Kabul, Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhya who previously been informed of my visit.

After passing through strict security we were warmly greeted by Mr. Abdul Ghafoor Algur, Councellor, Embassy of Kabul. He was instrumental in kindly arranging the meeting.

 

He guided us to the living room where we met the  distinguished Ambassador  Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhya. He greeted us warmly and cordially. His graciousness and affability and made me feel as if I was back home in India. I presented  him with a copy of my book “ Winning The Peace : A Quest”.  Wlile flipping through the pages , he remarked that he was familiar with several contributors from India.

 

As this was Mawlana Sahab’s first meeting with the Honorable Ambassador , there was a a  lengthy , significant discussion revolving around Mawlana Sahabs efforts towards presenting the liberal understanding of Islam, my lecture series, a meeting with Dignitaries and Parliamentarians, problems relating to security, and other   thoughts and issues discussed. There was an important discussion regarding a program  inviting renowned , enlightened Mawlanas from India to visit and lecture in Afghanistan. There was also program to be arranged to invite Mawlanas from Afghanistan to India. Both Mawlana Sahab and the Honorable Ambassador asked me to recommend names and be an active part of  this exchange program. We are working on that.

 

On the occasion , the Ambassador thoughtfully proposed to host a dinner party in my honor to meet some Women Parliamentarians’ and eminent persons in Afghanistan.

 

The hospitality of the Afghans is proverbial and I witnessed the same when ( after my meeting with the Ambassador ) I was driven to the Five Star Hotel called the Safi Landmark . It was a luxurious , modern, well-designed  place . The Manager of the Hotel happened an Indian by the name of  Mr. Krishnan and his right hand man was Mr. Shafi also an Indian. ! Warm hospitality,  care and concern  was extended by them during my stay. It  had been a full day for me and I enjoyed a good nights rest.

 

The next morning my appointments began at 10 am. After that there was looking back.

 

Monday 19 September

 

The day began with a  visit  the University of Education and interaction with the prominent scholar , the Vice Chancellor of the University , Mr. Mir Harun Ahmadi.  Some  university Professors were present at the meeting.  Mr. Mir Harun Ahmadi , an academician and  well known Geographer and Cartographer ,  gracefully led me to the auditorium where a lecture on the subject of education and the rights of women in Islam was arranged.  Both young men and women attended the class  although they sat separately. Both participated in the debate the discussion that followed.

 

 There was a range of subjects addressed  from politics  to economics to matters relating to the rights of women. These subjects were debated and discussed. On the question of womens status , several matters arose relating to their dignity, equality in the spiritual, legal and economic spheres. Regarding equality, the usual question regarding  the  testimony of women was brought up . When a male student read a selective quotation on the subject,  he had to be informed by me that there are 9 verses in the Quran relating to the subject of testimony in the Quran. However , there was only one verse always selectively quoted in this matter ? And why then were the other  8 verses not brought up in the context ? Misconceptions had to removed not created ! I suggested that my book “The Empowerment of Women in Islam” be translated and read by students.

 

Several boys and girls wanted to learn more . The girls surrounded me after the lecture . Later I was later informed that the lecture was well received.

 

Soon after , a Meeting had been arranged with the Commissioner of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Mr Hamidi, a person was  grounded in the human rights problems. He was very impressive. I handed a copy of my book “Winning The Peace A Quest”  to him.

 

During the course of the meeting we discussed several issues relating to the human rights problem in Afghanistan regarding violence in the family. In this connection my forthcoming visit to Herat  Province ( one of the 34 Provinces of Afghanistan )  was discussed  as such a practice was prevalent there. He spoke in detail of this region and some problems relating to violence against  women. Although, he said, the people living in Herat were educated and cultured people, violence against women and triple divorce were frequently practiced. This he said could be  due to very large families living together  ( sometimes comprising over 50 people )  Disputes over small matters sometimes turned serious. For instance,  In a situation, he said, where a woman while fasting had to cook  a large lunch for children and then go on to cook the evening meal for Iftar,  she was tired and would be angry. Often there was violence even among women themselves.

 

Mr. Hamidi was preparing for a meeting on Human Rights in Istanbul  this December and kindly inquired if  I would be interested in attending it. He also requested the names of academicians and scholars. I will send those across soon.

 

The purpose of my visit to Herat was to address this issue and explain how such practices were not only alien to Islam but also against the tenets of the Quran. I had come prepared for that purpose. However due to the sudden and tragic death of death of the great Peacemaker , Professor  Burhanuddin Rabbani,  the  subsequent visit  meeting had to be cancelled. That was a disappointment .

 

After departing from Mr. Hamidi’s office  I attended a meeting  with the Head of Afghanistan Human Rights organization, Mr. Lal Gol “Lal”. Well versed in the subject, he spoke poignantly of the human rights violation against women in Afghanistan.  Due to constant attacks and a warlike situation , there was much violence against women.  In every war women and children suffer bear the major burden of agony and pain: they lose their lives, lose their children, women and girls are  raped, widowed ( I met young women and older ones who lost their husbands during violent attacks ), left destitute, often lost their limbs specially during air raids and physically abused. It was heartbreaking and depressing to  hear and learn of their problems. How can any nation speak of the preservation of  “rights” or “human rights” when they are constantly under attack for one reason or the other? When will we acquire the wisdom to understand the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said “Force can be all conquering but its victories are short lived”. This could be the situation in any part of the world.

 

Later  the same evening Mawlana Sahab ushered me to  a dinner   hosted at the Indian Embassy  by the Honorable Ambassador Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhya  to meet with  influential Honorable Women  Members of Parliament. I was  introduced to smart, dignified, good looking, confident, fluent English speaking ladies who were far from the stereotypes projected by media. M/s Shukria Barekzai , a lady in Commander of the Military in Afghanistan,( she shook hands with Mawlanas ) and even covered her hands when they were hesitant ; Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, Member of the Afghan National Assembly ( Wolsei Jigra );Fawziya Koofi , Member of Parliament , M/s Fawziya Koofi, Head of Womens Commission in Parliament and several other ladies; and others.

 

 Afghanistan insists on 25% Women Representatives in their Parliament! I was informed that if , for instance, the last woman  (i. e. the 25th.) Candidate received as little as a few votes as against a margin of even a hundred votes for a male candidate, she would still win a Seat in Parliament by virtue of the law.I was elated !

 

Their warm and enthusiastic greeting at meeting a scholar from India and author or “The Empowerment of Women in Islam” and “Winning The Peace : A Quest”  was overwhelming. Both were important subjects where a great deal of misconception prevailed. We had an animated discussion on  issues relating to legal aspects surrounding the question of the Rights of Muslim women, violence against women , age of engagement of the girl-child and other subjects.

 

My observation has been that women are unaware of the rights the Quran gives them. This level of the actual awareness and knowledge the Quranic law needs to be raised . Such knowledge and information must be taken as a priority. One cannot stand ground on the basis of  a lack of knowledge. Shukria Barekzai was self-assured and affirmative  and very impressive. Her demeanor and manners could be the envy even of women of international standing. Shinkhai Zahine Karokhail  was very notable as well. She greeted me very warmly and clearly stated that the rights of Muslim women in Afghanistan had to be looked ahead.   She raised several issues of importance. Fawziya Koofi , Head of the Womens Commission, quite extraordinary. Poised and positive  she unequivocally  expressed her concern on the subjugation of women and stated they must move beyond patriarchy. We discussed some problems over dinner.

 

 The honorable ladies graciously invited me to Parliament the following Saturday to further elaborate on women’s issue with other lady members of Parliament. This, unfortunately, was not possible due to the sudden and sad demise of Professor Rabbani. But I hope that is possible in the future as that could be significant in establishing rights of women in Afghanistan.

 

I found the ladies, particularly Fawzia Koofi,  very committed to Womens’ cause as she heads Womens Commission  in Parliament. We discussed the situation of women in Afghanistan that is  troublesome. She spoke on the narrow views projected by some  Maulavis. A degree of vulnerability exists as they exercise a large influence on the  people of Afghanistan. The Government’s commitment to improve the situation is riddled with the outlook of the clergy. As my book mentioned above deals with the marriage, divorce and the Shariah, she expressed a keen desire to translate my book into Persion. Mawlana Sahab has Xeroxed a copy and promised to have it translated.

It is rather sad and disillusioning that there is little knowledge  of the legal system in  Shariah laws where a number of legal devices like Ijtehad ( creative reinterpretation) , “Maslaha Mursala” ( public interest) or “Istihsan” (application of discretion) or  “Siyasa-i-Shariya” ( or a States legal policy while requiring the government to based on Shariah , leaves room for regulatory measures for public good ) On the basis of these, most Muslim Countries have broadened its support base for of enfranchising women.

Some measures to improve  the situation  the situation of women can be the following  can be : one to create an environment where women demand knowledge and information, empowering themselves to change their lives. Two, to inculcate in women the confidence that change is possible, if women work collectively. Three  , spread the message that education of women is a pre-condition for fighting against their oppression. Four, highlight the plight of the girl child and stress the need for the need of elementary education as a way of addressing the issue.

At this meeting several male Dignitaries, University Professors and renowned Ulema were present.  Mawlana Sahab,  Mir Maez Maez, Mawlana Shamsulhaq Hashmzai,  Mawllana Maqdoom Khalili, Mir Haroon Ahmadi . I was pleasantly surprised that he was the son of Mir Maez Maez ! There were several others.

 

I that the Honorable Ambassador for the memorable evening and the lavish dinner.

 

 

Tuesday 20-September

 

Interesting meetings were also lined up for this day.  It began with the  Meeting with Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Martyrs and the Disabled,  Ms. Ameena Safi Afzali. She received me with a note of welcome (“Khusamadi”) and was very kind to give me time despite her very busy schedule . When I expressed my pleasure at visiting her beautiful country, her reaction was that Kabul ( and Afghanistan generally ) was a once “beautiful” country and that after constant attacks and bombings was  devastated. She had lost her husband in one such situation. We had an interesting discussion on various aspects, concentrating on womens concerns. She was originally from the Herat Province and spoke affectionately of it. She kindly said had she known of my visit to Herat earlier, she would certainly have come ! So much for the proverbial Afghan hospitality!

 

 

Next was  Meeting with the board of Afghan Women Network (50 women NGO Leaders) . Amina Mustaqim  the Director, of this “Women Social Deployment Agency (WSADA) drew me in for an interesting where I addressed the issues relating to Womens Empowerment . Rights of women in Islam as well as issues relating to marriage and divorce were discussed.  Issues relating to polygamy and divorce were generally misunderstood and needed wider  clarification. I discussed how triple divorce , irrevocable ( bain) was non Quranic and discussed Talak i Ahsan, the permmisable, revocable (rajai) form as stated in the Quran. The issue is a difficult one  requiring more time. The lecture received an overwhelming response with many questions raised. Thereafter  I was invited to stay on for lunch but unfortunately could accept the kind offer  due to other engagements.

 

My next meeting was  with  the Head and of Women’s Affairs Commission of Parliament, Ms. Fawzia Koofi .  I was taken to the prestigious Parliament House. The building was old and strikingly Majestic. The House of Parliament was strikingly beautiful with old traditional furnishing. M/s Koofi and I sat alongside on the majestic table and had an intense conversation  regarding laws relating to women and violence. She was keen that address this issue before Parliament the following Saturday. I was keen to do the same. But as my schedule plans were  fixed ( and also due to the  sudden catastrophic death of Professor. Rabbani the same evening) we could not have that meeting . I hope that would be possible in the future.

 

Although security in Parliament was tight, she took me around the building and important Halls where meetings were held. There were interesting photographs  of Members of Parliament hung on the walls. She explained  the difference in dress adopted by the Members of Parliament earlier and today  pointing to the mindset .

 

Professor Buhanuddin Rabbani’s tragic and cruel death hit the nation and filled its people with sorrow and anguish.  He was a  respected man and his death shocked one and all. Fearing violence,  security in the country was beefed up at all levels. Though small spates of violence did occur in some parts of Afghanistan, the situation was well in control . There was , however, an angry mood among the people and a demand to find and severely punish the perpetrators. They inquired how a terrorist with a bomb concealed in his turban could pass security and reach Mr. Rabbani ? Mr. Karzai who at the UNO at the time cut his visit short and returned home.

 

High level delegations from different parts of the world came to express their condolences.  Our Prime Minister, Honorable Mr. Manmohan Singh while condemning the death and offering his heartfelt condolences said that such an act was meant to disrupt the Peace process. He said , those terrorists who committed this heinous act must be brought to books and  the peace process must go on.  Honorable Mr. Salman Khurshid, Union Minister For law and Justice attended the funeral with a high powered delegation  from India . Condemning the death of  Prof. Rabbani , he said the loss was irreparable and the peace process must continue.

 

A three day State holiday was declared for mourning.

 

Mr. Abdul Gafoor Algur, Counsellor, Embassy of Kabul, called to inquire regarding my welfare. Assuring him of my safety , we had a brief talk. He  did not consider travel to Herat safe and  the Honorable Ambassador Mr. Gautam Mukhopadiya would like to hear from me. I immediately made the call and the Honorable Ambassador and  had a long conversation with him revolving around my experiences and program in Kabul.  I express my gratitude to him for concern and was impressed how well the Embassy takes care of visitors from India.

 

Wednesday  22 September 

 

This was a sad day. The mood of gloom and anger at the assassination of Professor Rabbani  prevailed not only in Kabul but throughout Afghanistan. The whole world was appalled.  Our trip to Herat had to be cancelled. There was also much disappointment regarding that. Despite an important program fixed in Herat where I was to address the question of women and violence, a Press Conference arranged and air flight tickets confirmed,  hotel bookings made,  Mawalna Sahab had to cancel the trip to Herat due to the security situation.

 

This day , however, was one of great significance in my life. Mawlana Sahab had arranged for my interaction with renowned Ulema from Afghanistan at the Office of AAIRC to address the questions relating to the Rights of Women in Islam. He said this was historic meeting with since it was the first of its kind in the history of Afghanistan where  Ulema and a Muslim woman scholar sat across the table. I was indeed honored.

 

 The meeting was attended by some of the following distinguished Ulema : Mawlawi Nesar Ahmad; Mawlawi Abdur Razaq ; Mawlawi Faizi;  Mawlawi Salahuddin;  Mir Ainuddin; Gisoyee Saheb;  Abdul Samad Rashha; Ms. Tooba Mirzayee from Kabul. Also collegues of the AAIRC , Mawlawi Shamsulhaq Hashemzai(came from outside of Kabul)2. Mir Waez Waez and Burhanuddin Khalili.

 

After a brief introduction by Mawlana Attaurrahman Sahab I addressed the august gathering on the Rights of Women in Islam pertaining to issues on equality of status granted by the Quran in all respectable spheres of activities including politics, economics, social fields, military, banking and so forth quoting relevant examples. There was no evaluative distinction in status . Hawa (Eve) did not tempt Adam out of Paradise. The Quran mentions “they both ate” were both punished and both forgiven. A position of responsibility can be enjoyed by either man or woman according to each ones intelligence or aptitude. Women are not less rational or emotional than men. A lady Hazrat Khadija was the first human being to accept Islam and Bibi Summaiyya the first Matyr. Polygamy is a restrictive not permissive ordinance. The lecture continued on the same lines.

 

The  Mawlanas heard me carefully. The discourse was followed by deliberations and a discussion. The session lasted almost two hours and  was strong. Mawlana Sahab later informed me that the session went very well and the Mawlanas were impressed.I was amazed, astonished and most impressed by the Mawlanas myself. Their acceptance of me as a woman scholar, their  courtesy, soft spoken words even on certain points of differences , challenged the stereotypical notion  of the Afghan Ulema.

 

The meeting was followed by a lunch hosted by Mawlana Sahab at the Office. The women activists were invited to join us. They were very appreciative of the talk and expressed a keen desire to learn more. I mentioned that I lectured very often on the subject, gave them some my articles. The question of translating my book “ The Empowerment of Women in Islam” into Persian arose. Mawlana Sahab said he would translate it as it was an important book. I also suggested  English classes ,where spoken and written English classes  be conducted for women activists, courtesy the American Center. The ladies were very happy to hear that and requested for the same.

 

             

Thursday 22nd. August

 

 We visited Babur’s tomb which is known as Bagh-e-Babar  Mir Waez Waez , a person of great standing, reputation and recognized scholarship. We had our translator , M/s Tahira , as he spoke only in Persian.  Sitting under the shade of the green trees, surrounded by the fragrance of the turf, fruit and rose plants, Mir Waez Waez began talking of Babur. Well researched his heart poured out history like a poet reciting poetry.

 

Babar’s remains were brought to Kabul several years after his death in Agra. Though its grandeur is unmatched with Moghul buildings in India, it is handsome place to visit. One has to walk almost a km. from entrance to the tomb that is on a hill top . Shahjahan on his visit to the tomb also built a mosque of marble near the tomb. The mausoleum was in an appalling condition but Agha Khan Foundation renovate it restoring it to its original design. It is popular as a recreation park on holidays.

 

Mir Sahab and I went into the mausoleum and offered a Fatiha, prayed at the mosque, visited the exhibition organized by the Merdian International C, Washington D. C. with US Department of State . I thank Mir Sahab for his time and patience.

 

The same evening I was invited to a splendid dinner at the home of Mawlana Sahab where I witnessed great Afghan hospitality and met his lovely family. His wife is a fine lady with great affection and greeted me with open arms as did his children. One of his sons is studying to in Delhi. His aim is to become an Engineer while his second son, young Atiq, his  is still studying in Kabul and valiantly following his father’s footsteps. He is a very pleasant, intelligent boy , speaks English fluently and more than once translated from Persian to English for me. Despite his youth he keenly participated in the conversation. Mawlana Sahab lives close to the American Center. I could get a glimpse from his window in the balcony of the place. 

 

His charming daughters were all studying in school. Two of them expressed the desire to become doctors while one said she would like to be a teacher. Though Afghan girls are traditional and  many outside Kabul especially, strictly use the veil, they can as seen in Mawlana Sahab.s house,   with the help of their parents, educate themselves. Although the percentage of literacy for women is far lower than that of men, there is a great desire among the  young girls I met , to educate themselves. 

 

During the course of the dinner several issues were raised and discussed. One of them was the issue of security with special reference to Pakistan. Generally the assassination of Professor Rabbani was attributed to Pakistan. Their efforts to subvert the Peace process were clear. However , Mawlana Sahab said efforts towards peace should not be thwarted . Mr. Afzal Afzali mother and Mawlana Sahabs wife are sisters. He also joined us for the dinner.

 

The meal at the Mawlana Sahabs house was sumptuous. There was a table spread with all Afghani delicacies. Mawlana Sahabs family took so much trouble and pain. We also had an animated discussion on education and the necessity to promote it. I expressed my thoughts on Mr. Karzai’s frail and rather weak Government had modernized certain patterns in Afghanistan. In showroom windows Western dresses were displayed; soft drinks were trendy and popular yet rights  of the girl child lagged behind.

 

On the question on the consumption of drugs , Mawlana Sahab informed me that sadly even women and children, by way of touch in the process of plucking the poppy flowers ,sometimes touched it to their lips and consequently got  addicted to the drug. The drug cartel is one of the most profitable businesses in the world  . . As buying, selling and consummation of narcotics is  forbidden in Islam and since Shariah law prevails in Afghanistan,  the Ulema concentrate the ban on drugs..

 

 

Friday 23rd. September

 

This day was spent with Mir Waez Waez ( an AAIRC Member) and his family. Mir Sahabs home was close to the Babur Gardens. It was a beautiful , traditional mansion surrounded by fruit and vegetable gardens that he , himself took great pains to nurture.

 

His family received me with great hospitality. His lovely wife , his sons, one of them the Vice Chancellor of the Kabul University of Education, Professor Mir Haroon Ahmadi whom I met earlier, the others all very well qualified professionals having acquired degrees from the United States , served in responsible position in Security, Business and other fields of endeavor  in Afghanistan. I was delighted to learn that his daughters and daughters in law were equally qualified and  had been employed . Most of them spoke  fluent English. His daughter was a Professor in the Kabul University of Education.

 

I was elated to learn that the family lunch was thrown in my honor where they all gathered to meet me that Friday, a holiday in Kabul. Several myths were shattered that day. All of Mir Sahab’s family ( sons, daughters, daughters in law and grand children )  spoke fluent English . We  conversed of various topics of mutual interest. One of his sons  serving in a leading Management Concern wrote poetry and owned a  “Harmonium” purchased  from India! (This musical instrument popularly used in India for musical recitals.) In his melodious voice he sang a song for  in Persian and later translated it. The experience was both pleasing and astonishing.

 

They showered me not only with respect and affection but with gifts! All the ladies of the household wore the traditional Afghan dress when they were outside the home. This, however ,did not deter them from working outside the home. Mir Sahab himself with his daughter, helped several hundreds of ladies wounded, orphaned and hurt during the war.

 

Saturday 24 September.

 

This was my last day in Kabul. In the morning a meeting with the head  and the orphan girls of was arranged. They requested for a talk for the importance of education as stated by Islam. The Head stated she would like the girls to travel to India and enjoy the learning process and experience. It would be a good idea if the Government could undertake such a sponsorship. The girls at the orphanage were overwhelmed and expressed great affection for me. My great grandfather built an orphanage  in Pune that is presently run by the Anjuman I Islam where I am on the Board. That orphanage houses 169 orphan girls. I left the orphanage with a heavy heart.

 

Later in the day I visited and addressed almost 300 girls and ladies at a Madrassah that is adjunct to the mosque, on the rights of women in Islam. Examples of the women participation in social, economic, literary, spiritual activities were quoted and discussed. Names of ladies in early Islam involved in political activism were brought to the fore. Nowhere did the Quran restrict women from following an honorable profession. The ladies listened carefully, raised several pertinent questions followed by a healthy interaction . The lecture was well received as the ladies surrounded me and were reluctant to leave me after the talk.

After the recitation of the Asr prayers we left for the Hotel and later visited the Office for a final “adieu”.

 

Later in the evening I met two persons of great distinction : The distinguished Nasir Khan Ziyaee  and distinguished  Dr. Taj Mohammad from Kabul University. We had an animated discussion on various aspects. I was honored to meet them.

 

Later the same evening Mawlana Sahab made it possible for me pay a visit to the bereaved daughters of the late Professor Rabbani, M/s Mehbooba (his first daughter) M/Shukkiya (his second daughter) ans M/s Farida (his fourth). I also met Ammena , M/s Shukiya;s daughter who had earlier attended  my talk held by WSADA. It was a privilege to meet rthem.

 

They were in a state of shock and greatly bereaved at the sudden death of their beloved Father . Thousands had come for a condolence visit. They realized what a well loved and respected person he was in Afghanistan  and the world over. People demanded justice and punishment for the perpetrators. M/s Mehbooba Rabbani was active on the social front and said expressed that she hoped  the Peace process would continue. I requested them to send translations of Professor Rabbanis Speeches and writings so my Foundation in its forthcoming publish them if possible.

 

 On my return to Mumbai, I had a meeting with the good Mr. Salangi, Honorable Consul General of Afghanistan who was leaving for Kabul shortly and requested him to send them a copy of my book “Winning The Peace: A Quest”

 

Lessons-learned were shared at a  meeting with AAIRC President and its staff .

 

1.Several myths float around the situation  in Afghanistan and its people. These myths must be exploded. For one , the whole of Afghanistan is considered to be infested with the Taliban and therefore unsafe. This is false. When I landed in Afghanistan I believed this to be true. After spending a week in Kabul I changed my mind. I learnt Talibans came from the borders of Pakistan like , for instance, Jallalabad.

 

As regards safety : although I had been warned not to step out of the Hotel, I took the risk of doing so. I walked on the pavements for almost half an hour. All seemed well. Surprisingly, I did not encounter sinister or hostile gazes. They may have been a bit curious but went about conducting their work quite normally.

 

2. One feels that Afghans with their attire and long flowing beards are violent and anti women. Media myths had given me that impression. On the contrary , I found the Afghan men gentle, courteous and gentlemanly. As a woman scholar I was not only treated with utmost respect but well taken care of. My smallest needs were attend to, enjoyed great Afghan hospitality and treated like a Queen. Mr. Afzali took care of all details to ensure I was comfortable. Being in charge of the programming he gave me a courtesy call every morning apprising me of my daily activity. M/s Tahira was my official translator and did well; she along with  Mr. Masood took me shopping ;Young Shariff spent hours conversing on his admiration of India, Indian music, Shah Rukh Khan ,his education and desire to serve his country. Young Atiq displayed great interest in his education and his fathers work and showed every consideration. All office personal including our car chauffeur  showed  thoughtfulness. I was always accompanied to and from the hotel.

 

3. Mawlawi Shamsulhaq Hashemzai came from outside of Kabul and was extremely courteous, spent time travelling to reach the office conversing and sharing views; Mir Waez Waez took me around the  Babur Garden and prayed with me at the mosque out there; Burhanuddin Khalili spared his time and took me to the Minister of labor and Social Affairs; Maullana Sahab’s nephew , Mr. Ghaffar Khan showed me his beautiful gardens where I offered my Maghrib prayers. Later he invited Mawalana Sahab and me for dinner to an exotic traditional restaurant. These were all Afghan men. Their families sent me beautiful gifts. All kind, all gentlemanly, all respectful and  civil.

 

4. If 50% of God’s creation is unproductive how can a nation progress? Although there has been much support for education of girls from the Aga Khan Foundation , Canada the American State Department and others , yet there is a dire need to further the cause of girls education. The English language must be taught along with Persian and Dari.  Hygiene must be taught . Death of children needs examination.

 

It would require another visit to create a platform and form a policy on the empowerment of women. Media should help get rid the world of misconceptions and speak of the problems of the Afghanis

 

However the glass is not empty. Affixed to this report is a recent history of some of the achievements of women of Afghanistan.

 

Conclusion

 

The story of Afghanistan is in so many ways a very tragic one. Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished nations of the world. It is one of the most war-torn, most ravaged, and most beleaguered of nations. It is a nation that has been beset by invasion, external pressure and internal upheaval since before the time of Alexander the Great. Its people are a people who have endured more than most of us can ever imagine. In fact, for many Afghanis, all that has changed in the last one thousand years are the weapons which have been used against so many of them. It is therefore with great sadness and respect that I tell the story of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has historically been the link between Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. It is therefore a nation made up of many different nationalities – the result of innumerable invasions and migrations. Within its current borders there are at least a dozen major ethnic groups – Baluch, Chahar Aimak, Turkmen, Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Nuristani, Arab, Kirghiz, Pashai and Persian.

Historically the Pashtun nationality has been the most dominant. The royal families of the country were Pashtun, and today the Pashtun represent about 50% of the total population. Tajiks come in second with 25%, and the rest make up considerably smaller percentages.

 

 

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to a senior American government official. (U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan , Tyler Hicks , The New York Times , “A bleak Ghazni Province seems to offer little, but a Pentagon study says it may have among the world’s largest deposits of lithium.”  by James Risen, Reprints “Winner Sundance” published June 13, 2010 )

 

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

For years the Afghans have been striving for their independence and freedom. I sincerely hope they can win their independence and the peace.

 

Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali,

Prof. Islamic Studies, St. Xaviers College

Director General Wisdom Foundation Foundation ( World Institute of Islamic Studies for Dialogue, Mediation, Gender and Peace )

 

 

 
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