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Former Member of Afghan Parliament Says U.S. War Ushered in “Another Dark Age” for Women

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The Taliban are already restricting women’s rights in Afghanistan — just a month since they overran the capital of Kabul — by blocking female students from returning to schools and universities, and telling many women workers to stay home. The new Taliban government has closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs that was established soon after the Taliban were toppled in 2001, and replaced it with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, ​​charged with enforcing strict Islamic law. Former Afghan Member of Parliament Belquis Roshan calls for international solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and an end to imperial interventions in the country. “International solidarity, we can initiate … by creating harmony and unity and working together — not with governments, but the people,” says Roshan in an exclusive interview with V, the award-winning playwright formerly known as Eve Ensler. V joins us along with Madinah Wardak, a mental health social worker of Afghan descent and founder of the digital platform Burqas & Beer, ahead of a global day of action in support of Afghan women.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Afghanistan, where the new Taliban government has closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, that was established soon after the Taliban were toppled in 2001, and replaced it with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The Taliban are already restricting women’s rights, just a month since they overran the capital of Kabul, by blocking female students from returning to schools and universities, and telling many women workers to stay home. Videos have shown Taliban enforcers flogging women on the streets.

Here in the United States, the One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women has called for mass actions Saturday to roar and rage for the women in Afghanistan, with activists planning to take to the streets from New York to Los Angeles.

For more, we’re joined in New York by V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, the playwright and founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising. And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by Madinah Wardak, a mental health social worker of Afghan descent, founder of Burqas & Beer.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! V, why don’t you start off by describing the plans for this weekend?

V: Good morning, Amy. And good morning, Madinah. I’m very happy to be here.

Our plans are, basically, it’s a global rising for and with the women of Afghanistan. It was really called for by the women on the ground. We met with them a month ago by Zoom. All of our activists around the world had a long, long three-hour discussion with them. And we just asked, “What can women and men around the world do to support what is going on and support resistance inside the country?” And what they said is, the most powerful thing we could do is express and show solidarity, rise with the women, who are powerful, who need the backing of the world, not through bombs, not through interventions, but through solidarity. And they gave us a list of demands, which are the demands that we are rising for with them.

And what’s really thrilling to see is that this has taken off, and there will be risings all over the world, from Bangladesh to the Philippines, all over Africa, in Guatemala, in Madrid, in Italy. So, this is really — I really do believe that one of the powers we have right now is to express our global solidarity with the women and with the people of Afghanistan, who have a right to self-determination. And they have had that right for many years and have never been given it.

AMY GOODMAN: V, I wanted to turn to an exclusive interview you did with Belquis Roshan, who has served in the Afghan Parliament. Can you tell us about her, before we hear a bit of this interview?

V: Yes. And I’m so happy you’re showing this interview, because, for me, she is a model of a powerful, grassroots woman leader. She is brave. She is outspoken.

She was a member of Parliament, until recently, in Afghanistan. She was one of the only — I think she may be the only representative who stood up to say no to the U.S. occupation. She stood up to say no to corruption. She has said no to releasing the Taliban prisoners. And she has really been fighting, fighting for years for women suffering in her country. She’s from the province of Farah, where she opened and worked in a mental health center, working with the poor and lifting up women.

And I have to say, like, she’s been a very powerful figure to me. I remember the first time I ever saw her. She was speaking out in the Loya Jirga, the Parliament, where she was literally beaten up in the Parliament, and she didn’t stop talking. Same thing when she went on television. She was beaten up there.

She is a fierce defender of democracy, of women’s rights. And she is an anti-imperialist. She has said from the very beginning that the U.S. occupation would lead exactly where it’s led. So I feel very honored and privileged that she spoke to me and did this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you tell us where you spoke to her?

V: I cannot. At this point, her whereabouts are unknown because the security is very high.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Belquis Roshan, who served in the Afghan Parliament, in the Loya Jirga.

BELQUIS ROSHAN: [translated] The current conditions in Afghanistan, as the world is witnessing, have once again proven our statements were right. The people of Afghanistan have been drowned in yet more misery by the West, led by the U.S. and NATO. They have brought our country to another dark age.

Our youth, and especially our women, who make up half of our population, they aren’t even considered to be human. They are being eliminated from the society by the Taliban.

Apparently, it’s true that the sound of war and bullets and suicide explosions is rather silent, V, but they have enslaved the people in hunger and poverty in a cage named Afghanistan. All the people are living in wretchedness.

All of these are consequences of the invasion and operations of the United States. With the mask of democracy and false slogans and promises of freedom for the people and for the women of Afghanistan, they have practically proved to the whole world that they have done nothing except create miseries. They have fulfilled their own imperialistic and capitalist demands by making Afghanistan a war zone to reach its own purposes and to get closer to its competitive aims with Russia and China.

V: We are rising on September 25th for and with the women of Afghanistan. What do women and men inside Afghanistan need the most from those of us outside?

BELQUIS ROSHAN: [translated] Our proposition is that these demonstrations and gatherings must not be just for some days but be constant to force their governments to never recognize the Taliban, and especially not to facilitate the growth of terrorism in Afghanistan more than this. And from those who have sacrificed in any way, our proposition is to not forget the children, women and the oppressed, afflicted people of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been victimized during these 20 years, and now we have been released to the razor blades of the Taliban. We wouldn’t say that the foreigners were supposed to protect Afghanistan. It makes me wish they had never come, and, if they left, they hadn’t brought back the savage Taliban to rule on us.

V: What are your deepest fears?

BELQUIS ROSHAN: [translated] The biggest fear for me or any Afghan is probably the possibility of civil wars and the possibility that Afghanistan disintegrate and become the official center for the nourishment of terrorism while the Taliban are in absolute power.

V: Do you believe there is a resistance growing inside the country?

BELQUIS ROSHAN: [translated] Indisputably, we believe where there is oppression, there is resistance that will begin and grow against it. The resistance has been initiated by women. Fortunately, this time women took the lead. And we are hopeful that Afghan women will resist and press ’til the end and unite for achieving the rights of all, but especially our half of the Afghan population.

As we saw, they killed two people in Herat during protests. Even when 20, 30, 50 people protest and demonstrate, this is not tolerated by the Taliban. Of course, for the people of Afghanistan, as we have stated during these 20 years, there is no other alternative but to rise against the various enemies of Afghanistan themselves. No other country ever brings freedom and prosperity and peace to another country, but there is distinction in every resistance. The resistance that has begun by Ahmad Massoud with a huge number of warlords on top is purely for personal and sectarian gains and interests.

V: How can we build world solidarity?

BELQUIS ROSHAN: [translated] International solidarity, we can initiate, just like this right now, by creating harmony and unity and working together, not with governments but the people. Especially the victims of 9/11, we request their families to cooperate with us. From the soldiers and all of the people of the countries whose troops were present in Afghanistan, we request them to collaborate with us, not to forget the women, work with them and be their voice, protest against their own states, and especially speak against the lie that for the war and situation in Afghanistan, Biden or Trump or Bush is to be blamed. No, it’s the system that is to blame. It’s the system which is erroneous, the imperialist system that requires the masses be kept in poverty, misery and war so that they could become bigger capitalists and reach their bigger objectives.

As we know, the arms industry was very active during this period. More than $2 trillion was spent on the Afghan War. At least $2 trillion went to these corporations. Therefore, we need to establish a foundation or a movement of the victims of this 20-year war inclusive of both sides, so the countries whose people were victims of this war shall learn from their soldiers and others so that they could prevent the future attacks that U.S. is planning with its allies and NATO; otherwise, I believe they will attack another country and make their people miserable, just as we witnessed and experienced in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and dozens of other countries that they are intervening in different ways and igniting wars in them, not allowing them to remain in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Belquis Roshan. She served in the Afghan Parliament, speaking to V, the former Eve Ensler, in an undisclosed location. In fact, V sent the questions, and she then answered them.

Madinah Wardak is also with us, mental health social worker of Afghan descent, founder of Burqas & Beer, a digital platform, speaking to us from Los Angeles. Madinah, if you can wrap up here by talking about what’s happening to the women in Afghanistan and also those who have made it into the United States, because you’re helping to resettle people who get to the United States?

MADINAH WARDAK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, what’s happened in Afghanistan reverberates across the world. You know, as a mental health social worker, what I have found, especially amongst the Afghan diaspora, is that war will come and find you wherever you are. You know, I was talking to V about this yesterday, my parents watching the television and kind of just seeing everything that’s been happening. The mental health impacts of the past not just 20 years of U.S. occupation but 40 years of intervention in Afghanistan have created not just a human rights crisis, where you see refugees fleeing their country, but also a spiritual and a mental crisis.

And what we’re seeing is the impacts of war, the pervasive impacts of how it impacts your daily life. And it’s just really, really unsettling to see that this could happen. And just kind of as a social worker of Afghan descent, the resources that we have are so limited, the ability we have to really serve these people and help these folks live a life that is full and happy and joyful — I mean, it’s really just devastating.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, V, I wanted to ask you about the criticism leveled at Western feminists that their argument for protecting Afghan women was used as a justification for the war and occupation.

V: Well, I think there were many of us who were very outspoken against the war. And I think I was — I know that, because they were gathered in my living room. And I think, Madinah, you have a very good answer to this question that you said to me yesterday, so I want to give this to you to answer. I will —

AMY GOODMAN: Madinah Wardak?

MADINAH WARDAK: Repeat the question?

AMY GOODMAN: The question of Western feminists’ demand for the protection of Afghan women was used as a justification for the war and occupation.

MADINAH WARDAK: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I was having a conversation with V yesterday about my mom’s generation. My mom, in Afghanistan, was a successful woman who fought really, really hard to be one of the first female accountants in Afghanistan, to be multilingual, to travel the world. And she did that before any foreign invasion, before any foreign intervention. And the stories of Afghan women that I grew up with, about Afghan women being lionesses who don’t need anyone, who don’t need saving, who never asked for it. And so, you know, growing up in a post-9/11 world and seeing Afghan women painted as such weak, docile people that need saving, I didn’t identify with that, because that was not the women of my family, and that’s not a lot of Afghan women that I know.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Madinah Wardak, I want to thank you for being with us, a mental health social worker of Afghan descent, founder of Burqas & Beer, speaking to us from Los Angeles, and V, a playwright and founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising. The event that they’ve organized around the world is taking place tomorrow.

Next up, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti has resigned in protest over the Biden administration’s mass deportation of Haitian asylum seekers, days after Border Patrol agents were seen whipping refugees. We’ll speak with Congressmember Maxine Waters, longtime advocate for the people of Haiti. Stay with us.

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