- Zahra NaderToronto-based Afghan journalist and editor-in-chief of the new women-led outlet Zan Times, formerly a reporter for The New York Times in Kabul.
One year ago today, the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, promising to bring stability after two decades of war and U.S. occupation. But the country now faces a grave humanitarian crisis and a severe rollback of women’s rights. We speak with Afghan journalist Zahra Nader, editor-in-chief of Zan Times, a new women-led outlet documenting human rights issues in Afghanistan. “The people of Afghanistan did not make this decision, and they did not choose the Taliban,” says Nader, who explains how imperial occupations of her home country led to the political instability today. Nader also describes the hunger crisis as 95% of Afghans face hunger, and calls for more international attention on Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Today, August 15th, marks the first anniversary of the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. The Taliban government promised peace and stability to a country racked by two decades of war and U.S. occupation. But Afghanistan is now instead facing a grave humanitarian crisis, perhaps the worst in the world. According to the United Nations, nearly 95% of Afghans are going hungry. This is the mother of a 10-month-old child suffering severe malnutrition.
ABEDA: [translated] We feel depressed. Myself, his father, his sisters, we all feel very sad. My husband even said he wants to go to Iran to look for work, because he feels ashamed that he can’t afford to buy him medicine or milk. He said, “My son is dying in front of my eyes, but I am not capable of doing anything.”
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as women now reportedly face harsher restrictions in Afghanistan than anywhere else in the world. A piece published in the Zan Times, a new women-led news outlet documenting human rights issues in Afghanistan, reflects on one year since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan: quote, “As we write this, an estimated 20 million girls and women have lost their human rights under a 'mullahcracy' that believes in the inherent superiority of one sex over all others, determined to institutionalize rabid, violent sexism. In their second week in power, they ordered women to stay home. In their second month in power, they banned teenage girls from schools, dismantled all systems of support for women and girls, forbade their protests and denied their rights to social and political participation. In their fourth month, they denounced the autonomy of all women and girls, including the right to travel unless accompanied by a close male relative. Eight months into their rule, women and girls lost the right to choose their clothes and were ordered to cover their faces in public,” unquote.
Despite the repression and violence, Afghan women have continued to protest for their rights. This is an Afghan women’s rights advocate.
MONESA MUBAREZ: [translated] We will raise our voices against every injustice until our last breath. We will stand against all the tyranny imposed by the Taliban on the people of Afghanistan, especially on women of Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Under the Taliban’s rule, most Afghan girls can no longer attend secondary school. This is an Afghan university student.
MEENA AHMADZAI: [translated] The big difference we see in our life is that all the girls’ schools are banned. We have not studied for one year, and this is hard. We demand the Taliban to allow us to continue our education and resume our studies next year. And the other change I see is the weaker economy of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as LGBTQ people in Afghanistan have also faced growing violence and targeting since the Taliban took over the country. Human Rights Watch documented some of their stories in a report published in January.
NARRATOR: Taliban officers called 20-year-old Ramiz S. an anti-gay slur as he passed through a Taliban checkpoint. He was taken away by men who raped and beat him for hours. They told him:
TALIBAN OFFICER: From now on, anytime we want to be able to find you, we will. And we will do whatever we want with you.
NARRATOR: Brushna’s parents protected her from the extended family when they learned she was a lesbian. But when the Afghan government fell, her uncle and cousins joined the Taliban and said they would kill her if her father wouldn’t.
BRUSHNA’S RELATIVE: If you’re not going to do this, we will do it. We have the authority.
NARRATOR: The family forced Brushna to marry a man. He beats her regularly and will not let her leave the house because she is a lesbian.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in Toronto, Canada, by Zahra Nader, a freelance Afghan journalist who was formerly a reporter for The New York Times in Kabul, now based in Toronto. She’s the now editor-in-chief of Zan Times, a new women-led outlet documenting human rights issues in Afghanistan.
Zahra, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your reflections on this first anniversary of the Taliban taking — regaining power in Afghanistan after two [sic] years of U.S. war and occupation?
ZAHRA NADER: Thank you, Amy, for having me, giving me this opportunity to be here and talk about the anniversary.
Now, you know that this is 365 days that women and girls in Afghanistan have lost their rights to basically be human, live as human and participate in a society and have their basic human rights. And this is not only the situation of women, because mostly when we think about the Taliban, we ignore that this situation is not only the situation of the hardship and the restriction the Taliban are bringing on the whole population of the country. That’s why we did a story. We went to the all sort of — started talking to different people in different walks of life, asking them, “How was your year? How did the past year pass?” And we felt that everybody is desperate, and men and women are feeling hopeless, feeling desperate, and see no hope for the future if the Taliban is going to stay in power. And that is because the Taliban are very narrow-minded, a very — as we call it, they are ruling as a “mullahcracy.” They believe that mullahs are basically the representative of God on the Earth. And they are — they choose how the people should work, should dress, should basically run their life, and even wear their clothes as they wish they should do it.
And as you said in your report, more than half of the Afghanistan population are facing hunger. And this is directly driven from the actions of the Taliban. You know, when women are not — women are half of the population. When they cannot function in the economy, when they cannot take their role, they cannot participate, half of the economy, half of society is, by itself, paralyzed. And how the other half can really function? For example, we talked to a woman. She said when the Taliban asking women to do not go out without a mahram, they are also asking men to do not go to work and have their — and accompany their wives or their sister or mothers outside. And how the economy can function like this, when there is no jobs, when there is no ability, when people cannot earn their living?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the U.S. war and occupation and how that relates to what we’re seeing today with the Taliban crackdown?
ZAHRA NADER: I think that’s a very good question, because when we talk about the U.S., it seems that it’s being framed that we are asking the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan or to support the human rights of women in Afghanistan. But we have to look back at history, that we did not get here alone, that what we are living is not the making of our own. We did not make the decision to live under the Taliban. We did not make it.
It was the U.S. and its allies that sort of bring us to here we are today. If you look back in the 1980s, when we had the Russian occupation — or, the Soviet, sorry — the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, at that time we know there was Cold War, and the U.S. and its allies were supporting the fundamentalist Islamists in power and giving them weapons and money. And when the Russia left Afghanistan, and the U.S. and its allies also left Afghanistan, and the extremist Islamist and fundamentalist forces that they brought to power, that they gave weapons, that they gave money, they came and dominated our society, and they became the one ruling over the society for the past four decades.
And what we are seeing today is the remaining of that history. We are living that history. And once again, we are repeatedly — the history is being repeated for Afghan people, once in time. And the problem is that, unfortunately, we were not the one making this decision all the past years. And this situation we are seeing is not of our own making. We did not — the people of Afghanistan did not make this decision, and they did not choose the Taliban.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up in Canada, Zahra? And how is your family doing, if you want to address that?
ZAHRA NADER: I think — when I came here earlier, it was earlier. Like five years ago, I came to Canada. I have a son. And when I grew up, I grew up in Afghanistan. The first time Taliban were around, I was a child, and I was a refugee in Iran. And that experience was very harsh on me, because I wasn’t able to go to school. And I still carry that trauma with myself when I remember how I was deprived of the right to education. And that’s why I am burning from inside to see millions of girls in Afghanistan are not allowed to be able to get an education, the very basic human rights.
I came to Canada to give my son that chance, and also because Afghanistan was becoming more insecure by days. And I was doing a Ph.D. in women and gender studies, and I was trying to look into Afghan women’s political history. And as I looked that Afghanistan fall to the Taliban, I was not able to sort of pull myself together. We were all in shock, because that was — I was planning for my home. I was planning to return to Afghanistan and be able to teach in Kabul University. That was my plan for the future. But now I see that plan is gone, like millions of other people in Afghanistan whose hope, whose aspiration for future is gone under the Taliban. And this is not the situation that we chose.
And my family and everybody in Afghanistan and everybody that has roots in Afghanistan are affected by this situation, and they are very desperate. And the reason that when you are a journalist, when you speak out against the Taliban’s atrocities, there are always the fear that the Taliban is on your back. And I know that people, journalists who are speaking up, the activists and the women protesters, the women activists, all of them, their family and everybody is in danger. But we have to try our best. We have to try to at least speak our truth, to be able to say what we envision, what we want, and that is right for everybody else. We want a future that we also can live humanly in our society, be able to have all the human rights that we deserve. And this is not the situation that we deserve. People of Afghanistan do not deserve the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to an excerpt from a newly released undercover investigation into the Taliban crackdown on women by a British Iranian documentary producer and PBS Frontline correspondent, Ramita Navai. She went to Afghanistan, spoke to women who said they were being punished by the Taliban regime for, quote, “moral crimes” or traveling while not accompanied by male chaperones. Ramita Navai also questioned the deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government, Bilal Karimi.
RAMITA NAVAI: I’ve spoken to young women who told me that when they were arrested, Taliban officers used Tasers to electrocute them.
BILAL KARIMI: [translated] Many people may make such a claim. However, they may have other motives. These are baseless claims.
RAMITA NAVAI: I’ve also spoken to former female prisoners who have said that some prisoners were told if they married Talibs, they would be released. Will you investigate that?
BILAL KARIMI: [translated] I won’t comment on that. It’s completely baseless.
RAMITA NAVAI: I’ve spoken to some families who have told me that Talibs are forcefully marrying women and girls. Why is this happening?
BILAL KARIMI: [translated] We tell everyone that you must follow Islamic standards. We will never allow our people to commit such indecent acts. Other countries should not impose on us what is good for them. We have our own culture, interests and values. The international community must allow us to build our own government.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the deputy spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Taliban government, Bilal Karimi, speaking in a PBS documentary called Afghanistan Undercover. Zahra Nader, your response?
ZAHRA NADER: As you say, the Taliban, they, from the time that they — you know, they never accept the truth. We have — for the past year, there are several, several dozens of reports from international organizations, like U.N., like Human Rights Watch. The Taliban response to them were, like, “This is all baseless claims. This is all not true.” The only thing that they want to say is that they want the whole world to believe that the Taliban are telling the truth, and everybody else is trying to lie. And I want to very much emphasize that whatever the Taliban are saying is not acceptable. We know. This has been documented for very long.
And if we continue to air the Taliban, and if we continue to give platform to Taliban to speak, we are sort of taking part in the oppression of women in Afghanistan, because we know the Taliban are actively, systematically erasing women from society, and if we give them platform, it means that we are ignoring the voices of the women who are telling that the Taliban are suppressing them, the Taliban are forcefully disappearing, the Taliban are killing them, and there is so many atrocities that’s happening in the country. But since the media and the news, the journalists are under suppression, it is very, very hard to document most of those criminal, terrorist activities.
And also, as we can see in the video, in the documentary that Ramita Navai produced for PBS, it has documented very rare scenes that we have never really seen. As you say, the Taliban claim that these are not true, because that is the face the Taliban do not want anybody to see. But we know. Even when the Taliban, last early February, when the Taliban abducted — in January, when the Taliban abducted women protesters from their home, when they released their video and said that the Taliban are behind, and were told the Taliban are abducting, as the Taliban spokesmen — all of their spokesmen came on the air, in the BBC and other places, and claimed that those are lies, that “we did not abduct those women.” But later the same Taliban issued their false confession. And we see that the Taliban, they always lie. So, I think —
AMY GOODMAN: Zahra, before we end, I wanted to ask you about this astonishing figure of 95% of the Afghan population is hungry right now, and what you think needs to be done.
ZAHRA NADER: I think what we need to be done is more put pressure on the Taliban, because what is causing the situation, the Taliban, their policies, is the real cause of what we are seeing in Afghanistan. They basically do not allow the economy, the society to function. When you do not allow women to take part in society, when you minimize what men also can do — like, for example, music, film industry, all of them are closed. How society can function when part of the society — when half of the society, half of the population, can’t function at all, and the rest of the society and economy is sanctioned by what the Taliban believe the society should be and how society and how people should act? I think that is the real cause. And we need more international attention. We need more international sanction on the Taliban to force them to accept to reverse these inhuman laws. Otherwise, people of Afghanistan continue to suffer under the Taliban.
AMY GOODMAN: Zahra Nader, I want to thank you for being with us, freelance Afghan journalist, editor-in-chief of Zan Times, a new women-led news outlet documenting human rights issues in Afghanistan.