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The Afghan girl is back

The Afghan girl is back

While Sharbat Gul’s eyes powerfully transfixed the world from the cover of National Geographic in 1985, Aisha’s ordeal depicted on the cover of Time this week fixates our attention on where her nose would be. The metaphoric pain in the eyes has given way to the figurative – in this case, the disfigurative.

The visceral cringe at Aisha’s mutilated face is surpassed by the painful cerebral spasm at the congruent headline: “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.”

The connective logic is that gruesome violence against women would occur were the US to leave Afghanistan. Like it isn’t now. 

The story shows what the Taliban are capable of doing. Yet the US policy includes negotiating the ‘good’ Taliban. In the early phase of the War on Terror almost a decade ago, the desire to liberate Afghan women framed the attacks on Afghanistan as a ‘just war,’ sidetracking the revenge for 9/11 into philanthropic bombing for justice and rights of women.  Afghan women were positioned as the voiceless subalterns of the Taliban Islamist order, and magnified voices from across American government, media and civil society called for occupation for liberation.
 
When the presence of coalition forces didn’t dissolve the blue burqas or give women economic opportunities and in fact, added to the list of women headed households without means of survival, the world muttered ‘culture’ and got on with the rest of it. Afghan women receded into the background again, to crop up again only now, when the US’s justification of its presence is under strong attack, support for its troop presence in Afghanistan at an all-time low.

Except that Afghan women did not quite disappear in the middle. The Revolutionary Afghan Women’s Association (RAWA) declared US and its stooges as the main human rights violators in the country, and if there is any ambiguity where RAWA’s loyalties lie, there slogan is, ‘Neither the US nor Jihadis nor Taliban, Long Live the Struggle of Independent and Democratic Forces of Afghanistan’. Founded in 1977, RAWA is the oldest political and social organisation of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy, and women’s rights in an Afghanistan, and are as opposed to the Northern Alliance, who the US allies with, as the Taliban. They also question where the $38 billion allocated for Afghanistan since the invasion has gone.

Nor is it a matter of RAWA versus the rest. As someone who has considerable experience of working with women survivors of violence, I have evaluated women’s shelters in Afghanistan and monitored women’s rights programs for donors. I have seen horrendously scarred women, even grotesque amputations and burns, all of whom acquired their injuries while under the protection of US occupation. While the US cannot be directly held responsible for domestic violence, they patronise provincial governors and officials who allow such practices to continue, adjudicate them in instances, in addition to cluster bombing and aerial attacks on civilians that pass through sanitized semantics to appear as tangential collateral damage. There are no verified counts of Afghan civilian casualties by US assaults, and political analysts have been of the opinion that this is deliberate, while every coalition casualty is well-documented.  Countless women approach shelters simply because they have nowhere else to go to, once their male family members and children are wiped out in such attacks.

The Time magazine cover has started a controversy that has already drawn hundreds of comments. The attention, however, has been not on the tagline but on Aisha’s photograph, whether it was exploitative or shockingly violent or desensitising. How about asking these very questions about the occupation?

I remember seeing a strange discussion on an American daytime TV talk show, on whether date rape was worse or stranger rape, with women who had experienced either one trying to prove theirs was a more painful experience. Domestic mutilation or international bombing seems to offer Afghan women the same choice.

While Aisha’s picture conjectures what happens if they leave, in effect, emotional blackmail for supporting the war offensive, another photograph of a woman torn apart by bomb shrapnel, bleeding to death while in her wedding dress could be captioned: “What Happens if They Stay.”

In the transition from Sharbat Gula’s haunting eyes to Aisha’s ghost nose, the world has had to lower its gaze.

nazish_80x80(2)

Nazish Brohi is a writer and researcher and has extensive experience of working in the development sector.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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81 Responses to “The Afghan girl is back”

  1. Aqbal says:

    Aisha, you poor child.

  2. arjoshi says:

    maybe someone should ask Aisha if she enjoyed an Afghan Muslim male cutting off her nose and that would she be interested in Western safety net or medical support to rebuild it? Is there no sense of right or wrong that every issue of a human can be re written to fit the political issue of Muslim lands to be freed first Before such atrocities shall stop? That such issues are Ok but key issue is NOT Aisha but the NATO troops in Afghanistan? Will some of the bloggers please stop to think – this was a human who was disfigured by a barbarian husband, irrespective to whichever enlightened religion he may have belonged to, and that the girl probably DOES deserve sympathy and support, and not be made a football for scoring Islam/Muslim lands freedom goals against the immoral West for a change?

    • gayatri devi says:

      i agree. scoreing points against the horrid west is more important.
      it should be possible to fight for women rights, without getting involved
      in hate against west.

  3. Helen says:

    I think the whole premise of your article is wrong.
    When Time Magazine asks “what if we leave?”, with the picture of a mutilated Afghan woman on the cover, they are not implying that women are protected there now (obviously that is not the case). They are asking what hope for freedom and stablity will the Afghan people have (particularly women) if the world gives up and the Taliban regain control of the country.

    What perplexes me is why Muslims throughout the world support the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle against Israeli oppression but when the Muslims in Afghanistan were oppressed by their own people, somehow a response to that is wrong.
    Here’s a thought; when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan to topple the regime that gave refuge to Al-Qaeda, its neighbors should have said “You want to get rid of those guys. How can we help”

    • Frank says:

      Helen
      Its so happened Afghan people is the center of attenation becasue of the war, but if you check newspaper around the world you will find women every were is targeted. There are Family drama in every country. So lets not target Religion here, becasue I dont think religion make you do these things People does.

  4. Kabeer says:

    Ms. Nazish Brohi,

    Today’s news published in Dawn isn’t enough to mute the voice of taliban appologist? please read in detail:-

    “HERAT: The Taliban publicly flogged and then executed a pregnant Afghan widow by emptying three shots into her head for alleged adultery, police said on Monday.”

  5. Amit Ray says:

    The cost of a Taliban victory and US withdrawal can be gauged from the recent article by Irfan Husain (Dawn: Wednesday, 28 July 2010: The High cost of defeat), and I quote the following relevant paragraph:

    “The entire region will become a hotbed of extremist violence. The Taliban – and Al Qaeda – will have greater credibility and appeal than ever before. Girls will be sent home from their schools, and women will be relegated to the second-class status they had endured in the earlier bout of Taliban rule. And the fallout from this allied defeat will spread over Pakistan and cross the border into India, apart from enveloping the Central Asian republics. …. Unfortunately, far too many of my countrymen, both on the left and the right, are convinced that for things to become normal, Western forces must leave Afghanistan. They are naïve in thinking that the extremist genie can ever be put back in the bottle.

    And only today I have read this piece of news from Dawn: “Taliban execute pregnant woman in Afghanistan” ! I don’t think that all the straight thinking readers would have any difficulty in wishing the right outcome for this war on terror !

  6. Shine N.P. says:

    Nazish Brohi,

    You missed the entire point. The American troops commit crimes and kills many and it should be condemned. No doubt about that. All Afghans, both men and women are at the receiving end of these indiscriminate attacks. But, the ponit here is the cruelty towards the women by the taliban for the CRIMES they’re doing. Nobody in the world carry out these type of barbaric acts. How can a normal human being can do these things to his sisters from his own country ? And, YOU being a woman never bothered to villify it, but find it suitabe to comment on some other things. You should be ASHAMED as a women by writing this piece. Whatever honourbale work you’ve done to uplift the women won’t justify what you’ve written.

  7. nha3 says:

    Dear Ms Brohi,

    A superbly articulated piece. Spot on! Please write more on this nauseating issue. The conflation b/w protection of Afghan women’s rights and US legitimation of its imperial agendas is a crucial issue often overlooked in public debates both here in Pakistan and in the USA.

  8. Naseem Musahib USA says:

    I am ashmed of this barbaric act. I am also very angry. Pakistan needs only two words – Tolerance, and Organization. Probably very simplistic but it is a good start.

    • BeeZee says:

      What has Pakistan got to do with this?? Its an Afghan girl mutilated by the Talibans! Why has everything to come back to Pakistan??

  9. Nazish Brohi says:

    To clarify, it seems from the comments that this needs reiteration, I do not suggest overlooking violence against women and neither am I an apologist for the Taliban and nor do I prescribe to ambiguities of cultural relativism. My problem here is simply the US stating that violence against women will happen if they leave Afghanistan.
    Nazish

    • Amir Khan says:

      I have yet to see a place where the Americans have gone and have left or stayed which has resulted in improvement of livelihood, culture and customs of the local people.

      The Americans have lost the war and now to gain public support they are playing the womens rights card.

      The sooner they realize that they have lost this war the sooner we can get on to building a prosperous Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    • S. Nasir Mehdi says:

      You are more worried about Afghan women similar atrocities took place in Pakistan.

  10. sabin agha says:

    In 1993, The New York Times published the haunting photo of a vulture stalking a Sudanese girl child who collapsed on her way to a UN feeding station in the femine hit Sudan. The picture was clear that vulture was waiting for child to die so that it could feed on it. The photograph was taken by freelance photojournalist Kevin Carter that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Carter also become notorious for sticking to the journalistic principle of being an observor and not getting involved i.e. he left after taking his photo and neither he, nor the New York Times, knew what happened to her. That photograph generated both acclaim and controversy across the world. while Carter left the scene without helping her reach the feeding station, the flip side was that help started pouring in aswell from around the world. That picture was an eye opener. By taking that picture and making it available to the world, Carter actually helped save hundreds of thousnads of children “from becoming vultures feed” becuase it drew the attention of international community towards disasterous femine in Sudan. It’s very thin line that we tread on while maintaining balance. There are always two sides to every story. Its how you percieve things. Picture of ayesha might be grusome, but its also a stark reminder of negetive aspects of Afghan society.

    • Obaid says:

      Although this is not the main story here but like to comment on this notorious picture. This is how it happened – The sound of soft, high-pitched whimpering near the village of Ayod attracted Carter to an emaciated Sudanese toddler. The girl had stopped to rest while struggling to a feeding center, whereupon a vulture had landed nearby. He said that he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn’t. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away – Wikipedia.

      The man waited 20 minutes. This is how one newspaper reported this event. “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”

      He could have taken the picture and helped her as well. This journalistic principle is overridden by human values.

    • vineet garg says:

      Sabin, I can’t agree more than this.
      Wonderful sum up of article.

      • Qasim says:

        yes true

      • Shahzeb says:

        Sabeen…well written piece..i just want to add that Kevin Carter commited suicide afterwards and as per his last few writings, he never got rid of the feelings of leaving that child to die there…conscience??

  11. very well written, the comparisons are well founded and very true!

  12. sm roofi says:

    actually, it seems regrettable that one incident can cause a whole country in trouble. america’s invasion in afghanistan was not valid. all afghanistan’s localities are paying for an ambigious attack of past (9/11). i think when the american forces were not present in afghanistan then why media and jounalists did not criticize these issues related to women in afghanistan?

    western countries have thier own traditions, customs and civilizations but the afghan and others have their own. i also feel abashment and it is a very shamefull act. instead of critising these brutal activities we and media should try to give the solutiong of these henious crimes in muslim localities.

    americans will have to leave the afghanistan if they are sincere to afghan people and nation. otherwise, this war will bring a huge devastation of humanity and soil.

  13. emm says:

    no comments for the girl..have no idea why and how that have happened so no use making blanket assumptions

  14. emm says:

    US attacked Muslim lands
    first they destroy it and then promise to build it

    they invade with the reason ” where is Osama” than they ask where is Osama

    US is wrong..if they attack Muslim lands, Muslims have a total justified right to attack them
    that is self defence

    than people say Islam doesn’t permit killing of women and children..no one denies that

    but for example, if robbers hold a child as a hostage and father tries to save the child by killing the robber, in that instance child can get hurt too or die

  15. Rehman says:

    The Afghan girl is back but who cares ?!

  16. Saleem Kirla says:

    Wow, that’s five minutes wasted. Fence-sitting article par extraordinaire.

  17. ashrel says:

    there is a difference between accidental–ie wedding dress killed and deliberate cutting of nose and ears by the taliban. I do not think that bombing weddings is a strategic objective of the american army, while oppressing women is definitely a stated objective of the taliban, demonstrated since their establishment in power.anyway i frankly think the Americans should not waste time and money trying to civilize a country, that is so medieval , better get out and cut their losses. Frankly i can care too hoots about what muslims are doing to their women, as long as they do it in their own borders.

    peace

    • gayatri devi says:

      i am concerned for afghan women,and women and men everywhere.

      however it is not possible to impose civilised behaviour on countries
      with a medieval and brutal mindset.

      usa should leave afghanistan, iraq, pakistan and whereever they are.

      it may not be moral. however it is practical. there is no alternative to this.

      • S. A. M. says:

        Dear Devi Ji,

        You should first have a look at the plight of the kasmiri women. Whilst making the decision to leave coutries like Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan you should have mentioned about those forces that are adding greatly to the woes of kashmiri women. So many have been raped and so many are reported missing but ofcourse that would go completely unnoticed. You could also not take account of Satti Ma that ritual where women burn themslves alive alongwith the deadbody of the husband.

        • Pradeeep says:

          S.A.M – Then on the same lines should not even an article of this sort in a Pakistani newspaper. This is happening in Afghanistan and you do not have any right to talk about their internal issues. Get real. If you say that Afghanistan is a neighbor and you are concerned because of that, then the same concern holds good for us too.

          • Sawliha says:

            Completely agreed! Mutilation of women happen all across the subcontinent-whether it’s Afghanistan, Pakistan or India. @ S.A.M: doesn’t Pakistan have the “chola pathna” episodes? don’t we have feudal lords gang raping women? Come on, before slinging mud at India, why do we forget that OUR MUSLIM women live through violence in OUR MUSLIM country amongst other MUSLIMS?

  18. abc says:

    the underlying factor is not weather America stays or not, but how the woman can its due standing in the society or to help them get rid of “the voiceless subalterns of the Taliban order” status. The only way to empower them is tro make them economically strong, which is possible only when they learn skills over and above household skills. NGO’s of thw world need to reach to such deprived woman and help them gain the desired status on economic front.

  19. Haroon Bux says:

    good article.

    The interference of the US(and western allies) are the main source of chaos in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. The public opinion is against the foreign forces and the US is seen as occupiers rather than liberators. Some say its about the resources, some say its about stopping the Islamic revival in the Muslim lands, one thing is for sure that no one can stop the Muslims from uniting under the flag of Islam.

  20. Auranazeb says:

    Nose cutting

    Any human being would agree taht what ever the crime comitted by a woman, she does not need this punishment. This is asking our country to go back to mediviel age. our girls and women should be educated and respected. Until such time we will have this barbaric practices and suported by men who wish to keep their women as slaves.

    Regarding the yansk in Afganistan / Pakistan / Irag etc is another matter – POLITICAL

  21. Shams says:

    Well Written Ms. Brohi.

  22. Zulfi says:

    Coalition and US forces have committed the worst human rights violations in Afghanistan and Iraq, God know when or if there will be any accountability for that.
    I was just reading an account of three soldiers who raped a 14 year old girl repeatedly while keeping rest of the family captive and on their way out shot everyone even a 6 month old and then set them on fire.
    Does that ever make the news?

    • Steve says:

      It doesn’t make the news because it was proven to be a lie. It was proven to be propaganda from the enemy.

      Look if that did occur we would want the soldiers punished, if only for the selfish reasons that we wouldn’t want them to come back into our society where they could commit such acts. But also it doesn’t serve America’s interests for that stuff to go on.

  23. Ahmad Raja says:

    Time Magazine is a progressive publication and has expressed reservations about war both in Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times. It is absurd to suggest that there is some kind of conspiracy. The decision is already made to send additional troops and nothing would change that. However, it is barbaric to cut off the nose and ears of a child and I see very few people condemning it. Have we all become so callous and cruel as a society? How does it show us in bad light—Actually, it doesn’t. The only bad thing we can do is to bypass talking about the cruel, inhuman nature of the crime and find an excuse to ignore it. This is as bad as cutting off the nose and ears.

  24. Ali Khawaja says:

    excellent perspective

  25. Asim Rashid says:

    No society can be changed by outside forces. It is only evolution that changes our cultures and societies. So forget if USA can change anything in Afghanistan. British ruled sub-continent for 200 years and see have we become like British?? So let the Afghans do what they think or believe, then they will learn and change themselves.

  26. Arshad ali says:

    Taliban’s treatment of women is most of the times not fair as the stories are told. Women are maltreated in almost every human society more or less. Neither Islam nor modern human civil codes approve unfair treatment of women. The Western media have energy and resources to expose the ill done in the East especially in the Muslim countries but there are hundreds of cases of rapes, burning and killing of women in the West, which nobody talks about. Watch any local TV channel or TV serials about facts based crime stories and you will learn how much pain women suffer in the Western societies. Not to mention exposing woman’s private body parts on televisions and magazines.
    Religion, especially Islam provides women dignity and protection. But if the people don’t follow it that is not to blame the faith it is the followers.

  27. Aamir Ali says:

    why doesn’t Pakistani media have courage to show Taliban crimes against the women of Pakistan ? There have been hundreds of girls schools burned, girls who were dancers at weddings murdered in cold blood, and acid thrown in faces of Pakistani women which is then justified by mullahs. Your response to all these crimes is to point fingers to USA and talk about Afghanistan ?

  28. scott says:

    The world is not perfect. But to argue that the US is worse than Taliban is ludicrous. If you don’t agree, perhaps you ought to go and live in a Taliban controlled area. This tendency to hold the west to a higher standard reeks of hypocrisy. If the US strikes lead to civilian deaths there is an outcry. Yet, the Pakistani army uses artillery and bombs against its own people leading to massive civilian casualties, and there isn’t a peep from you.

    American troops even face court martial if they break the rules of conduct. There have been several trials.

  29. Mohammad A Dar says:

    Nothing but a propaganda tool for the west against Muslims and Islam even though it has nothing to do with Islam or Taliban..

  30. Akhan says:

    “another photograph of a woman torn apart by bomb shrapnel, bleeding to death while in her wedding dress could be captioned: “What Happens if They Stay.” – The question is how many of such photographs can exist and how many the other kind? Writing in other way, what is the probability of the “shrapnel” incident occurring under USA and the nose cutting under Taliban? There is no prize for the guess. The point which is astonishing me most is the shear lack of empathy for the Afghan people shown by this article and the people finding brilliance in the point made here. Why most of the (Pakistani) readers in this forum supported the Pakistan army’s action against Taliban in Swat and other areas? There were certainly collateral damages which can be asserted from several letters send by local people from these region to this newspaper. Innocents getting killed unintentionally. But why nobody at that time put two pictures, side-by-side, one of that girl’s picture of being beaten by the Taliban and another of the “shrapnel” kind, and arguing the Taliban still beats but Pak army kills… Well the answer is you don’t care if the Taliban is somebody elses problem. You are arguing that Taliban rule is actually not that bad for the Afghans (although it is not good for the Pakistanis). You justify your army has a legitimate right to have influence on Afghanistan, not through boring means e.g. supporting development there, but by sending Taliban.


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