With the women stripped of their burkas, it was a simple task for the Taliban invaders to cull the young beauties. Nafiza was one of them. Green-eyed, with raven-black hair that grazed her waist, Nafiza had rushed to help Shah Jan get her three kids out of the burning house. A Taliban fighter spotted the woman with the emerald eyes. She was his prize. With the butt of his AK-47 rifle, he slammed Nafiza into the dust and dragged her, crying and pleading, to the highway. There, Arabs and Pakistanis of al-Qaeda joined the Taliban to sort out the young women from the other villagers. One girl preferred suicide to slavery; she threw herself down a well. Nafiza and women from surrounding villages, numbering in the hundreds, were herded into trucks and buses. They were never seen again.
Photo by Seamus Murphy: A young girl of the Shomali Plains north of Kabul.
That passage was taken from an investigation into the Taliban’s practise of sex slavery and human trafficking by Time Magazine. The article goes on to describe what happened to these girls at the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda: rape, forced marriage (rape for life), sex slavery in Pakistani brothels (other sources point to Gulf Arab brothels as well), domestic slavery in Pakistan, suicide, disownment by families, etc…
The trail of the missing Shomali women leads to Jalalabad, not far from the Pakistan border. There, according to eyewitnesses, the women were penned up inside Sar Shahi camp in the desert. The more desirable among them were selected and taken away. Some were trucked to Peshawar with the apparent complicity of Pakistani border guards. Others were taken to Khost, where bin Laden had several training camps. The al-Qaeda Arabs had a hard time finding voluntary brides among the Afghan women, but they did have money. One Arab in Khost spent $10,000 on a teenage Afghan beauty, says Ahmad Jan, but abandoned her a week later, when the U.S. air strikes began.
The article also describes the rare exception among the Taliban of those fighters who fought the kidnappers and freed some of the girls. The article doesn’t specify it but I would guess that it would have been local Pashtuns fighting the Pakistani Taliban and foreign al Qaeda fighters.
Photo by Po Lo: Girls abducted were about this age.
Most of the popular media focus was on the Taliban’s restrictions on female education and women’s (even widow’s) right to work outside the house. But the sheer brutality of Taliban offensives seem to have been not noticed or at least forgotten by some people who now like to talk of the Taliban as having brought peace and stability to Afghanistan. That’s true only for Kandahar. I won’t get into that though. You can read about the revisionism and false history of the Taliban era here: “The Persistent Myth of Pre-Taliban Anarchy” at Afghanistanica. That article has all the academics citations, caveats and supporting arguments (plus a link to a report on the many human rights abuses that preceded the Taliban era) .
And how are things for girls in Afghanistan these days? On average, bad.
UNICEF photo of the year: That’s his new bride, not his granddaughter.
There is plenty of blame to spread around for these problems. All sides and parties play a role. And I believe that you should be free to critique both the feeble US-led reconstruction effort and aspects of Afghan society that have been warped by decades of war and poverty (nobody wants to sell/marry off their 11-year old daughter). Those who have tried to stifle the debate on women’s rights in Afghanistan are a shameless bunch, far more shameless than those who have used the issue for other agendas (i.e., Hawks who discovered women’s rights in September 2001). It’s hard to talk about women in Afghanistan without being accused of being a neo-colonial racist or an enabler for the neocons. Rafia Zakaria has a response to that.
Sources and further reading:
On women, girls and human rights in Afghanistan: page 65-72 of The Afghanistan Analyst bibliography (pdf) .
International Organization for Migration. 2004. ‘Trafficking in Persons: An Analysis of Afghanistan’, January 2004. Download PDF.
Human Rights Watch. 2005. ‘Blood-stained hands: past atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s legacy of impunity’, Human Rights Watch Report, (July 2005). Download PDF.
Afghanistan Justice Project. 2005. ‘Casting shadows: war crimes and crimes against humanity 1978-2001’, The Afghanistan Justice Project, July 2005. Download PDF.