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Women, War and Islamic Radicalisation

Chapter Four


The immediate impact of war in Afghanistan has been the radicalisation of Afghanistani society. The Democratic Peoples’ Party of Afghanistan, a Marxist-oriented political party, staged a coup in 1978 with social and institutional reform as its aim. However, the new regime’s reforms, especially with regard to the position of women, provoked resistance from the country’s citizens, particularly in rural areas. Some people left Afghanistan and settled in neighbouring countries. The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 heightened resistance further. The Islamist movement regrouped and took up leadership of the opposition.1 With extensive political, financial and military aid from Western and Islamic countries, especially the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, the Islamist movement became so powerful that it controlled the refugee camps in neighbouring countries and also managed to seize some parts of Afghanistan. Jihadist volunteers from abroad, particularly from the Middle East, joined their Afghanistani brothers in attempting to liberate dar-ul Islam or the land of Islam.2 These jihadists had a tremendous influence on the political and religious views of the local mujahideen.3

Between 1978 and 1992, Afghanistan was divided into two parts. In the area under government control, the reforms brought about many social changes, especially in relation to women. As discussed in chapter one, as a result of the reforms, 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women. In addition, 70% of all schoolteachers, 50% of civilian government workers, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women (see Skaine 2002:27; Nawid 2007:65).4 The other part of Afghanistani society was under mujahideen rule, whether in rural Afghanistan or in the refugee camps of Pakistan and Iran. In these areas, there were even more restrictions imposed on women than had existed prior to the war.5 They had no opportunity for employment or education and their movements were severely restricted. They were obliged to wear the hijāb whenever they left home.

War and radicalism in Afghanistani society

In Women and the War Story, Miriam Cooke suggest that ‘there is no one history, no one story about war, that has greater claim to truth’. Instead, she argues, ‘history is made up of multiple stories, many of them herstories, which emanate from and then reconstruct events’ (1996:4). She identifies an increasing determination among female survivors of war to resist ‘the ways in which patriarchy seizes and then articulates women’s experiences so that they will seem to be marginal and apolitical’ (1996:4–5). Mahboob, in writing about women who lived and suffered during the war, may be seen as part of this resistance. According to Elaine Scarry, the ‘record of war survives in the bodies [… of the people] who were hurt there’ (1985:113).

War had a tremendous impact—though in conflicting ways— on women. In the words of Sima Wali, jihad was ‘waged against women’s mobility, freedom and human rights’ (1995:178). It has been estimated that there were 3 million Afghanistani refugees living in refugee camps in Pakistan alone. Afghanistani women who migrated to Pakistan either secluded themselves or were subjected to punishment or even death.6 These women suffered the most during the war. Women, especially widows, had to provide security, food, education and healthcare for themselves and their children in an atmosphere of extreme physical and sexual violence. In the refugee camps, they often faced discrimination in terms of access to food, shelter, education and training (Wali 1995:177).7 The camps served as laboratories for the Islamic fundamentalists, allowing them to practise the control and segregation of women that they would later implement in full when they took control of the country in the early 1990s. Educated and uneducated women alike were removed from the public arena and confined to the home and a life of enforced domesticity.8 Nuria, a former schoolteacher, who fled to Pakistan in 1981, explains the differences between her living conditions in Afghanistan and in Quetta refugee camp:

Not only did I flee my homeland, but a way of life as well. In Lashkar Gah [Helmand Province] I had a profession and was able to travel freely between my home and the school. I wore Western clothes; never did I wear the chadar. I felt no constraints. Even the fact that I was not married, generally a stigma in our society for one my age, was not a problem. Here in Quetta, however, I felt pinched in everyway…. Here we have no space. Not only was the living area small, the women were confined to their quarters. Suddenly, my freedom of movement was taken from me. I was not allowed to work or go outside without at least wearing the chadar…. Always I was accompanied by a male. I become very depressed. (Tamang 2009:7–8)

Moghadam, who visited Peshawar, Pakistan, in the late 1980s, confirms that under the mujahideen, gender segregation became the official way of life. Moghadam compares life in Kabul and Peshawar in 1989 (the year Russian troops withdrew from Afghanistan) and the contrast is startling. While women were a visible presence everywhere in Kabul, including in government offices and social organisations, in Peshawar women were publicly invisible (Moghadam 1989; 2004).

In urban areas, and even in some rural areas, Afghanistan women had played an important role in the family economy; in the refugee camps, they were forced into seclusion and denied the possibility of paid work. Only a tiny group of them succeeded in securing employment, mostly in healthcare and with international aid agencies. Fatwās or religious decrees read out during Friday prayers were used to provoke public violence against women who disobeyed or did not completely observe the mujahideen’s codes of conduct regarding modesty.9 When the mujahideen took power in Kabul in 1992, the first decree they issued involved the banning of female television announcers and the prescription of an Islamic dress code for women (Malikyar 1997:395).10

Throughout the 1980s, aid to Afghanistani refugees was highly politicised, with Western aid often been characterised as aiming to ‘undermine and destroy the Afghan Communist regime’ (Tamang 2009:7). Certainly, international aid workers and organisations cooperated with the mujahideen groups in the refugee camps. According to Mathew Fieldman, refugee status was granted and a ration card provided only to those individuals who could produce a certificate showing them to be a member of one of the mujahideen parties. International aid workers and non-government organisations (NGOs) who were responsible for development work during the mujahideen and Taliban eras inside Pakistan (1992–2001) worked, to varying degrees, in cooperation with them (Fieldman 1998:467; see also Khattak 2003:202–203 and Weinbaum 1991:77).11 Most of these aid workers accepted the mujahideen’s, and later the Taliban’s, views on women (Moghadam 1994a:859–75). As a result, most development programs targeted men, with little regard for how such projects would impact upon women and their lives.12

In 1992, the leftist government lost power and was replaced by the mujahideen. But this led the various mujahideen factions to fight a bloody civil war between 1992 and 1996.13 The Taliban, which emerged in 1996, finally took almost the entire country. The Taliban enforced measures against women that had no precedent in Afghanistan. Under their rule, Islamic observances were in sharp contrast to the moderate form of Islamic practice that had existed for centuries prior to this period. For ‘the first time in Afghanistan’s history the unifying factor of Islam has become a lethal weapon in the hands of extremists, a force for division, fragmentation and enormous bloodletting’ (Rashid 2000:83). Afghanistani society underwent rapid radicalisation.14 Women were the first to go through this process. The mandatory covering of women’s bodies from head to toe belonged to this political strategy of domination; it had nothing to do with tradition or Islam. Rema Hammami describes such acts as ‘fundamentally an instrument of oppression, a direct disciplining of women’s bodies for political ends’, which she argues was also the case in the imposition of the hijāb during the late 1980s intifada in Palestine (1990:25). It is clear, she says, that ‘the “intifada hijab” was not about modesty, respect, nationalism or the imperatives of activism, but about the power of religious groups to impose themselves by attacking secularism and nationalism at their most vulnerable points: over issues of women’s liberation’ (1990:26). In addition to forced veiling, women under the Taliban also had to submit to bans that prevented them from working, pursuing education, and leaving the home without being accompanied by an immediate male relative.15

During the war, Afghanistani women experienced two types of violence: first, the violence that men and women endured alike; second, the violence that women alone endured, because they were women. Sexual violence has been described as ‘one of the most extreme and effective forms of patriarchal control’ and an act that ‘simultaneously damages and constrains women’s lives’ (Kelly 2000:45). During the war, violence against women was two-pronged: humiliating individual women reasserted male power in a general sense; and it demoralised the enemy by striking them at their weakest point, symbolically damaging the honour of the family, clan and tribe:

The sexual violence against women is shocking not only for its savagery, but for what it tells us about women as objects in male constructions of their own honour. Women’s sexuality symbolises ‘manhood’; its desecration is a matter of such shame and dishonour that it had to be avenged. Yet, with the cruel logic of all such violence, it is women ultimately who are most violently dealt with as a consequence. (Menon & Bhasin 1998:43)

Sexual violence was a common tactic during the period of 1992 to 1996 when various mujahideen groups were fighting for supremacy, mostly along ethno-religious lines.

Mahboob and women’s suffering

According to David Morris, ‘suffering encompasses an irreducible nonverbal dimension that we cannot know—not at least in any normal mode of knowing—because it happens in a realm beyond language’ (1997:27). Suffering tends to make people inarticulate; silence points to something ungraspable and resistant to description (Morris 1997:28). It is this suffering of Afghanistani women and the way they lived during the war that many of the narrative works of Mahboob seek to capture. She is among the early Afghanistani writers who wrote about the war, the radicalisation of Afghanistani society and the mistreatment of women at the hands of the mujahideen (both local and Arab) and the Taliban. The involvement in the Afghanistan war of foreign fighters, especially Arab fighters, is a topic rarely discussed by local or international observers, but it is an issue that Mahboob explores in her stories.

Commenting on post-war Lebanese writing, Makdisi observes that ‘history and pain are inextricable from one another’ (2006:209). The pain inflicted by the restrictions and violence imposed on women in the name of Islam was perhaps the most damaging to a country whose history is marked by pain and suffering, both physical and mental. For Mahboob, Islam is one of the main forces that condition socio-cultural and political attitudes, especially towards women.16

While patriarchal custom and tradition are generally considered the main causes of women’s oppression in Afghanistan, men of religious status and those who claim to champion the establishment of a pure Islamic state use Islam as a means of suppressing women’s rights and status in order to fulfil their own political and personal interests. Mahboob is the first author who asserts that Islam also made some contribution to women’s oppression.

Mahboob’s stories depict the misery and suffering of women during the war, the radicalisation of society and its impact on women’s lives and the role Islamism played in these developments. They also depict women’s resistance to these various forms of oppression and their achievements in the face of such difficulties.

War and Islamic radicalisation and women’s invisibility

With the empowerment of the mujahideen and then the Taliban, the very look, smell and air of the cities changed. So did the appearance of its men and women. The windows of homes had to be painted black and remain shut at all times. Entertainment of any kind, including playing or listening to music, even inside the house, was strictly forbidden, because music was deemed un-Islamic. Those listening were subject to punishment. Women were confined to wearing the chādari when outside the house and within the four walls of their homes. Basic rights became dreams. In Mahboob’s ‘Maleka khwāb medeed’ (‘Maleka was dreaming’), glimpses of these developments are given:

The top floor room was as bright as the daylight. It was filled with the smell of the flowers. It excited Maleka. She was standing in the middle of the room. Surprised and perplexed she was staring around. She looked out and said:

—What a bright day! What weather! It smells like paradise!

In her view the world had been changed, but she did not know the secrets. Wazirabad district was filled with joyful noise and sunlight. There was no sign of black paint on the windows. There was no noise of explosions and rockets. The strong smell of blood and explosives was no longer suffocating Wazirabad. There was no sound of mourning people walking in the streets. A happy feeling moved Maleka towards the window. She turned her excited gaze to the bottom of the street. She saw the street was calm and empty. No one had red eyes and sore chests carrying a corpse. What had happened? Was this a dream of a young woman?

Maleka could not believe that the weather was so clear; the sun was shining and the space was calm. She had not seen such weather, sun and atmosphere in her whole life. She had become a stranger to the blue sky. The naked beauty of the sun seemed unbelievable to her. In her eyes, life had been restarted …

She stepped onto the balcony. She felt the warmth of the sun touching her body. She opened her arms to hug the sun. The sun moved inside her. Her face lost its dejected look. She felt a sense of life inside her …

Maleka could see everything now. Down in the corner of the courtyard her mother was baking bread in the oven… She saw activity in the street. She saw a group of women accompanying a bride to the public bath. The bride wore a bright blue dress. Walking a few steps ahead of the group, an unveiled woman was playing music and singing songs. Maleka felt she was the bride and women were singing for her; and she was heading to the public bath.

Maleka’s mother was bringing the bread to the living room. The smell of the fresh bread compelled Maleka to follow her mother. Her mother said:

—Aren’t you going to school today? …

Maleka was dreaming. (Mahboob 1999:96–102)

What has happened to a society when the sun does not shine, the sky loses its blueness, the streets are virtually empty, bride and groom are never seen in the streets, playing music becomes a crime and the smell of fresh bread can only be imagined?

Maleka khwāb medeed’ is the story of all Afghanistani women, young and old, whose wishes and desires can only be fulfilled in their dreams. They have little say in their destiny and little freedom in their choices and desires; no matter how small or big, how basic or sophisticated, they can only happen in dreams. It is about the shortcomings, limitations and subordination of Afghanistan women. Fifteen-year-old Maleka dreams of simple things such as hearing a piece of music, smelling hot bread, looking at the blue sky and feeling the sunshine.

In ‘Maleka khwāb medeed’ no violence against women is explicitly taking place. There is no mention of a fatwā or decree to condemn them, there are no armed men rounding them up, no flogging and beating in the street, or confiscation of musical instruments, radio-cassettes and TV sets. And yet all the threat of punishment is present.

The mujahideen and violence against women

In ‘Do chashm khasata-i qosh’ (‘The falcon’s two tired eyes’) a widow, Ajay, is unable to protect her sons. Her eldest, Zamen, is killed by the Russians and she eventually convinces her other son, Salar, who has been injured fighting the Russians, to leave the country. They pay for a trafficker to take them by caravan to Pakistan. On the way, they stop in a deserted caravanserai near the border for a final rest, only to be surrounded and questioned by a group of mujahideen.

When the mujahideen approached, Ajay was sitting near Salar. She was puzzled. “What do they do in this desert?” she whispered to herself.

—What do you want? Don’t touch him, he is sick. Whatever you want ask the caravan leader. We don’t have anything with us.

The man who had searched Salar asked Ajay:

—What is your relationship with him?

—He is my son. He is the only one that is left to me.

—He is wounded, where was he wounded?

—He is not wounded; he has a lump in his leg. During the long journey the lump swelled and now is bleeding, can’t you see? Can’t you distinguish a wound from a lump? (1999:50–51)

Because Salar is wounded and feverish, he can do and say very little and Ajay must represent them both. She does not expect support from the mujahideen, but certainly not harm either. For the mujahideen, a man who is wounded in fighting the Russians should be treated as a hero, not an enemy. But Ajay smells danger and knows that if they discover the truth it might be a disaster. She knows the complications of the war. She knows that most of the mujahideen are not fighting for the freedom of the homeland, but for self-interest. The first thing they may want from a wounded person is his gun. For the mujahideen, fighting was their monopoly and only they had the right to fight. In other words, for most of them, war was synonymous with power and financial interests. Moreover, Ajay also knows that they hate members of the educated class.

The mujahideen find Salar’s identity card, which shows he is a teacher. To the mujahideen, this makes Salar an infidel:

—Where have you come from?

Ajay stared at the man and asked:

—Who are you? You asked once and I answered, and now you are asking me again?

—It is none of your business who we are. I asked you a question.

Ajay gripped the wall. Fear was written all over her face.

—We’ve come from Kabul and are going to Peshawar.

—From which part of Kabul?

—From Kabul itself.

—You are lying, old woman. We know you’ve come from Dasht-i Barchi. That is okay, but you didn’t say what your son was doing.17

—What he was doing? He was a shopkeeper. He worked for himself.

Commander Nasim looked sharply at her and just a moment later his shout shook Ajay:

—You are lying.

Ajay was scared and stepped back:

—What am I lying about? If I am lying you tell me the truth.

—Lying about everything. Your son was a teacher.

—What does it matter to you if he was or wasn’t a teacher?

The commander said firmly:

—Teachers are infidels, understand?

—My son is a Muslim…

Ajay’s voice broke and she felt her head became heavy. She opened and closed her eyes:

—Am I dreaming? No, I am not. You call us infidel. Who has stolen your minds? A genie has entered under your skin. (Mahboob 1999:64–65)

Ajay has never thought of the mujahideen as the enemy, but is faced with the stark reality that they now pose a more serious threat to her and her son than the Russians. The climax of the confrontation between the commander and Ajay—between a powerful man and a powerless woman—occurs when Ajay goes to the fire to make tea for Salar, who is burning with fever, but is stopped by the commander, who tells his aide, Ghulam, to put the fire out.

Ajay looked at the fire, surprised and astonished, and then at Ghulam, who kicked wet dust around the fire with his boot and put it out. With the barrel of his gun, he mixed the dust and coals. Ajay’s breath was taken away. Her eyes filled with tears and she thought someone was pressing her throat with his hands:

—Your hearts are made of stone. I am powerless against your stony hearts. (Mahboob 1999:65)

The mujahideen question every move of Ajay for reasons she does not understand. She may admit her powerlessness to soften the confrontation between her and the group, but it is also a protest. Her accusation that her interrogators possess a ‘stony heart’ shows her courage in defying those who only use the language of violence. The mujahideen mistreat an elderly woman who could have been their own mother, and who could be considered symbolically as the mother of the nation. She has raised sons to defend their homeland and she is risking her life to save her only living child.

Ajay does not lose her capacity for resistance and hope. And not even for a moment does she try to ensure her own survival. But despite her efforts, the mujahideen take Salar away with them. The caravan also leaves, and Ajay is left to die in the middle of the desert:

Ajay is still sitting in the middle of the road. Her hands have dried out in the air. Her flesh and skin are gone, as are her face and hair. However, Ajay’s stone skeleton is still there. If you go there, close to the Shamshad Mountain, there is Ajay’s stone skeleton from which the wind spreads these words: “My brothers, have you seen Salar?” (Mahboob 1999:69)

Ajay’s question is for all the men who are responsible for the violence, directly or indirectly. To witness violence committed against innocent people and react with silence and indifference is as bad as committing the violence: the outcome is the same.

In the story we are confronted with three characters: the commander, Salar and Ajay. What features distinguish Ajay from the commander? There are the obvious differences of age and gender. Then, Ajay has borne a son and is more concerned with his life than her own. The commander has no children and no concern for the safety or wellbeing of others. Ajay and her son’s relationship is based on the love between a mother and her child, while the commander’s relationships, even with members of his own group, are a means of furthering his own interests. Love has brought Ajay to this very rough part of the country; hatred and self-interest have brought the commander to it. Ajay is a passenger in the desert, while the commander is the lord of it. Strikingly, the space reflects the hostile nature of its inhabitants—the commander and his group—and it is in this space that Ajay dies.

What are the differences between Salar and the commander, the two young men who are ostensibly fighting on the same side? The commander is illiterate and Salar is educated. The commander has a gun and Salar does not. The commander is accompanied by a group of armed men who obey him and support his behaviour, while Salar travels only with his mother. The commander’s ‘holy war’ is fought against his own people, while Salar has fought for the liberation of his homeland against the Russian soldiers. The commander’s power is his gun, not knowledge or love. Crucially, Mahboob undermines any claims that the mujahideen group might make to genuinely fighting in the interest of Islam. The commander and his group smoke hashish, a sexual element to the men’s relationship is implied (both behaviours that are forbidden by Islam and by custom) and no traditional respect is shown to Ajay as a mother or as an old woman. Their commitment to Islam is nominal.

Do chashm khasata-i qosh’ also presents a different image of the war and the mujahideen. The mujahideen, who were fighting the leftist regime and the Russian troops, also considered members of the educated class as their enemy. For them all three groups were foreign, anti-Islam and against local traditions. It was the ideology of Islamism that guided the mujahideen’s conduct rather than national interest.

When the caravan stopped in the deserted caravanserai, Ajay found time to consider where she had travelled from and where she was heading, as if she was glancing at her entire life from the past to the future. She was sensing that the last chapter of her destiny was unfolding here in this rough place.

In the eyes of Ajay the path, which was made of soft sand, was hard and looked further away from where she was heading. It led to the slopes of the mountain. And the high mountain, whose sight made her vision dim, was Shamshad Mountain. Its summit was connected with the black clouds. Apart from that there was the desert expanding everywhere, covered with thorns coming out of the hard ground. (Mahboob 1999:50)

Ajay’s body, turned to stone in the middle of the desert, stands as one with Shamshad Mountain: two silent witnesses to the atrocities committed against innocent people. They are monuments to death, as well as to patience and hope. Shamshad Mountain has no choice but to be a witness, while Ajay is a conscious witness to her own death and that of her son. Ajay’s dried body represents the hope and great endeavour of a woman who fought for the salvation of others.

Afghanistani women and the Arab fighters

If a mother cannot protect her son in the face of violent mujahideen, how can she save her daughter? In ‘Hajji wa Arab’ (‘The Hajji and the Arab’), the Hajji, which is an honorific title given to pilgrims who have been to Mecca, is also an enslaver of girls and women. Two of his victims are the widow Zulaykha and her 11-year-old daughter, Guldasta (Mahboob 1999:7–32). Here the confrontation is between a disempowered woman who stands up for the rights of her daughter, and a Hajji, who has economic, political and religious power behind him. Zulaykha’s revolt shakes all three bases of the Hajji’s power. When the Hajji informs Zulaykha that he has decided to marry off her daughter (he has in fact sold her to an Arab), she asks who the husband is to be and why she is not aware of his suit. The Hajji’s response is one of authority: ‘Who are you to know about the suit? I am the one who has the right to decide’, but Zulaykha will not back down.

Zulaykha stood up and confronted the Hajji. She stood chest to chest with him, and blocked his way. Like an eagle who opens its wings, she opened her hands and hung onto the two sides of the door. She planted her feet firmly on the ground. She stood the way a wrestler stands on the ground to fight another wrestler. Fear had disappeared from her … The anger which was bubbling inside Zulaykha entered her veins … Excited and motivated by the power she had gained from every part of her body, she felt her fear of the Hajji disappearing … In her anger, Zulaykha’s eyes sparkled like swords. She looked directly into the Hajji’s eyes and boldly told him: “Be aware Hajji! I am not going to give my daughter to an Arab”. (Mahboob 1999:24–25)

However, Zulaykha’s anger is not enough to change the situation. If the Hajji, who represents all power, were defeated by Zulaykha, his failure would be at the hands of a woman and it would call into question the whole socio-political and cultural structure of society. When the Hajji slaps her, Zulaykha realises her situation and her resistance suddenly melts away. She receives no support from anyone, not even from the other women of the house:

Zulaykha begged the Hajji’s wives for help, and approached the Hajji’s friends who were in a position to help her, but all of them remained cold and unmoved, and rejected her saying: “the Hajji has authority over you and Guldasta. It is none of our business”. (Mahboob 1999:13)

In fact, the Hajji’s wives participate in readying Guldasta for her marriage to the Arab. They forcibly dress her up, put make-up on her face and take her to the Hajji. They occupy Guldasta fully and separate her from her mother in order to make sure nothing will get in the way of the Arab taking her. When Zulaykha begs the Hajji’s first wife for help, she is told:

—Don’t worry, your daughter will be better off.

Zulaykha explodes. She grabs the collar of her dress and tears it, as if the flame of the fire inside her wants to get out. She cries:

—How can she be better off! Guldasta is a child. She has not reached puberty. Hajji does not care about her comfort. He only cares about his own business. Hajji is selling my daughter to the Arab. (1999:31)

Zulaykha’s resistance ends in failure, because in this struggle she is alone. Even though the Hajji’s wives live in relative comfort, they experience a similar mistreatment. They are enslaved and are objects of the Hajji’s sexual pleasure. His third wife is the same age as his daughter. By rejecting Zulaykha’s pleas for help, these women accept their own destiny. Being a wife is shown to be a position of both power and powerlessness. It supposedly represents the core of womanhood and is the source of a woman’s dignity, respect and social status. Yet, she is completely dependent upon her husband for these privileges. In the end, it is a state preferable only to the situation Zulaykha finds herself in.

Zulaykha knew nobody was listening to her wailing and groans, so she might as well be silent. The people who surrounded her were strangers to her and her pain. If sometimes they noticed she was crying, they reckoned it was her habit and said that Zulaykha always cries. (Mahboob 1999:11)18

Zulaykha’s silence is an example of what Cathy Caruth terms the ‘voice of the wound’ (1996:2). It speaks for her.

The Hajji represents himself as a religious man. He not only bears the religious title of Hajji, he also performs the five prayers daily. His appearance, which changes according to the occasion, clearly portrays the deeds of the Hajji: he wears ‘the long Arab dress which touched his ankles’, a Peshawari scarf to cover his head and his beard is ‘long and huge’ (Mahboob 1999:15–16). The Hajji serves the mujahideen who are fighting against the Russian soldiers and the leftist regime. But behind the outwardly religious appearance is a man who misuses religion for his own self-interest. By marrying women and girls in his household to Arabs, the Hajji pretends he is performing his Islamic duty and ‘sharing’ in the jihad. In reality, he acts to consolidate his position in society and to profit economically.

While engaged in the conversation, the Arab man moved his hand under his cloak and took out a bundle of money and gave it to the Hajji. He said something in Arabic which made the Hajji laugh. The Hajji took the money, bowed and said:

—She does not deserve you. She is only 11. With the grace of God I will organise someone a bit more mature in the future. (Mahboob 1999:28)

For Zulaykha, the Arab is a stranger, but the Hajji argues that this is not the case: ‘There is no difference between an Arab and an Ajam [non-Arab]. They are all Muslims.’ The divide between their two viewpoints is rooted in their ideological views. The Hajji has come to Peshawar to make jihad against the leftist regime, and to profit personally from it. Anyone who is in line with the jihad is his Muslim brother. For Zulaykha, who was brought to Peshawar by force after the death of her husband and who has no stake in the jihad, religion is not the defining element in determining friend or foe.

Zulaykha’s viewpoint also reflects a general mistrust of Arabs that was common among the refugee community. According to David B Edwards, who conducted anthropological research in Peshawar in the 1980s, Arabs were perceived by the refugee community as promoting unwelcome fanaticism and attempting to impose ‘foreign’ and rigid forms of Islam on the local traditions of the people (2002:270).

Guldasta resists going with the Arab. When the Hajji takes her hand and enters the room to present her to him, Guldasta ‘screamed, released her hand from the Hajji and escaped, as when a bird does from a trap’. Guldasta’s resistance is really because she does not want to be separated from her mother. As a child, she does not understand what is awaiting her. When she baulks at going with the Arab, one of the other men ‘tied her hands and legs, put her over his shoulder and left the room’ (Mahboob 1999:32).

Hajji wa Arab’ depicts a new situation that arose in relation to widows as a result of the war. Widows in Afghanistan are supposed to marry one of the members of the husband’s family after his death. However, kin structures were drastically reconfigured due to the human and material losses that occurred during the war and displacement of Afghanistanis. In perilous economic situations it became common for a widow to be turned away by the family of her dead husband. Although the author does not explicitly say so, it would seem that this was Zulaykha’s fate.

With astonished eyes Zulaykha sees herself as a lonely woman. Mosa is not there any more. She realises that after the death of Mosa she and Guldasta lost everything; they became homeless, became nothing, just nothing. They became moving ghosts … When she and Guldasta were taken to Peshawar, Hajji had bought them from those who had captured them and brought them to Peshawar. From that moment on Zulaykha became Hajji’s virtual slave (Mahboob 1999:12).19

Zulaykha is indeed a slave in Hajji’s house: she works from dawn to dust and she has no rights. She is so concerned with the fate of her daughter that she barely finds time or opportunity to mourn for what she has lost—her home and husband—and what she has become. Trauma ‘is caused when we are unable to release blocked energies, to fully move through the physical/emotional reaction to hurtful experience’, argues Peter Levine. ‘Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness’ (2010:xii). Zulaykha’s traumatic memories have become a continuing presence. She also endures an enormous amount of anguish at the way she is treated in the Hajji’s house. Without any support from the Hajji’s three wives, Zulaykha has to endure all the pressures, anxieties and fears alone: she ‘not only keeps her tears to herself, but also the pain and anguish she feels every moment’ (Mahboob 1999:12). ‘Hajji wa Arab’ depicts a harsh reality suffered by many displaced women during the Afghan war.

Hajji wa Arab’ also describes what was happening to displaced women during the Afghan war. Zulaykha and her daughter are what De Alwis calls ‘bodies out of place’ (2009:377–78), who have been dispersed into an unfamiliar landscape. They are not related to anyone and know no one. They are cut off from everything and everyone they called home and family. But the cut-off is not temporary; it appears permanent. It seems their bodies are not only out of place but also out of time; they are disappeared into the unknown. Void of agency, Zulaykha is powerless; she not only cannot represent herself, but indeed has little say in her destiny and that of her daughter. During the war, while some Afghanistani women, especially those without male relatives, ended up in refugee camps, others became virtual slaves in private homes or under the control of warlords. Here the women were subjected to double victimisation.

Radicalism and the destiny of women

Rajim’ (‘Stoned’) portrays another aspect of the radicalisation of Afghanistani tradition. ‘Rajim’ is the story of Mahtab (literally ‘the moon’), a young woman who is condemned to death by stoning because she is believed to be guilty of adultery, though her real crime is refusing to submit to a man’s sexual advances (Mahboob 1999:71–83).

On a day when Sihabad (a black storm) is passing through the village, covering everything and everyone with dust, Mahtab is put on the back of a donkey with her hands tied behind her back and taken away to be stoned to death. The village crier invites the local men to part in her public execution.

Covered in dust, Gundigan village was listening to the voice of the crier. The voice was broken by the wind. Like a sweeper’s dust, the noise of the wind, which started from the deserted gardens, was rising from the earth, hitting the walls and houses and moving to the village field where Mahtab, the crier and the people were coming together. (1999:73)

Sihabad is the seasonal windstorm of the Kandahar region, but here it is a metaphor for the religious extremism that swept through Afghanistan in 1992. Its peak was the emergence and empowerment of the Taliban, first in Kandahar and then in most of the country until 2001. Among their main targets were women, who lost everything during their rule.

Mahtab was not an ill-famed woman. It was the black storm that wanted her to be disgraced. Men had attacked her by surprise in her home. In the attack they broke the house locks, … grabbed her and dragged her to the street … Men plundered her. (Mahboob 1999:77)

The black storm stirs anger in the people and the anger of the people drives forward the narrative in the same way it drives the mob who follow Mahtab. Their anger at the black storm is multiplied by the suggestion of an adulterous crime committed by a young woman. The effect is dehumanising.

People with anger in their faces because of the black storm, their hearts dark with what was imposed upon them, their looks tired of the cruelty they suffered from, confused and without purpose, were following the crier. Their eyes did not see other eyes. One man did not recognise another man. As human beings they were unrecognisable. The dust had metamorphosed their faces, and the noise and dust of the black storm moved the people and pushed them confusedly in different directions. (Mahboob 1999:74)

No one bothers to question the identity of the other adulterer involved in the alleged liaison. They ignore the explicit Koranic injunction that both parties involved must be punished with the same severity, which is also traditional custom. This suggests that the new code of conduct the Taliban has imposed on the people is not strictly Islamic or traditional in origin, but is based on the Taliban’s particular interpretation of what is sanctioned by the Koran.

The mob’s anger and the influence of the black storm leave little room for logical inquiry: ‘The noise comes from the running of people, the unpleasant voice of the crier and the hubbub of the black storm above the rooftops. In these noises the streets and the square seem to be boiling’ (1999:74). In the midst of the noises that engulf the entire village, the truth is lost.

To prove adultery and subject a woman to punishment, the Koran and Islamic law or sharia demand there should be hard evidence including the witnessing of the actual intercourse by four adult men. The Koran also advices: ‘those who accuse free [chaste] women and bring not four witnesses, flog them (with) eighty stripes and never accept their evidence, [for] these are the transgressors’ (24:4). In addition, if a woman is convicted of adultery, she should be sentenced to one hundred lashes and not to death by stoning.20 According to these verses, if there are less than four witnesses, then those who are ‘making the charge are themselves punished for slander’. The ‘punishment for slander is almost as bad as the Koranic punishment for zina itself—both are lashing’ (Quraishi 2008:168). However, with the radicalisation of Afghanistani society such measures were no longer required. Mahtab is not married and thus should not have been sentenced to stoning, even if she was proved to have committed adultery. In such a society women are at the mercy of men.

The public nature of Mahtab’s murder is another notable deviation from traditional practices of punishment for adultery. According to Haleh Afshar, the concept of honour killing is seen in many Middle Eastern and South Asian countries as ‘the national duty of men’ (1998:173). However, in Afghanistan, the onus of punishment was always on the family, because ‘women have traditionally been the appointed site of familial honour and shame’ (Afshar 1994:129; see also Kurkiala 2003:7; Anwar 1988:287). The punishment of women who committed zina or adultery,21 or in some other way brought dishonour to their family, was the private responsibility of the woman’s family.22 When honour killing was committed, it occurred as a private matter carried out by male members of the family, be they husband, father, brothers or even uncles. The public stoning of women was not practised in Afghanistan prior to the empowerment of the mujahideen and the Taliban, and is not sanctioned by the Koran. Honour killings were transformed into public events in accordance with the Arab-influenced interpretation of Islam favoured by the mujahideen and the Taliban, even though this went against the traditional social codes of the country. As Amrita Chhachhi argues, ‘state-supported fundamentalism reinforces and shifts the right of control over women from kinsmen to any man of the community’ (1991:167).

Mahtab is the only child of a widow, Keshwar, who has to work for every family in the village. She and her mother are helpless against her accuser, a man who has public power. A woman who says no to the advances of such a man and tries to protect her honour, indeed the honour of the whole community in a traditional society, courts destruction. Women’s lives and destinies, their bodies and souls, are at the mercy of men in a society based on men’s interests and pleasure. They can be victimised by men who are close to them, like their husbands, and they are vulnerable to other men of power and authority, especially those in possession of the deadly weapon of a fatwā or Islamic decree. Women have no opportunity to fight back or expose men’s brutality, particularly if they lack family protection. While in other of Mahboob’s stories women are victimised by their husbands or powerful men in private, in ‘Rajim’ Mahtab is victimised by the entire male population of the village.

When the men break into Mahtab’s home, they first try to tie her hands, but she still has her voice and she shouts for help.

One of the men who was struggling to tie her hands, angrily spat on the ground and shouted:

—Close her mouth.

Mahtab did not have a chance to shout any more. The man’s rough hands covered her mouth with a dirty handkerchief. With his fingers he pressed on her throat; he punched her in the head:

—Are you going to keep silent or do you want me to kill you right here, you whore?

Mahtab did not have a voice anymore. (Mahboob 1999:77)

Before being taken to the place where she is to be stoned to death, Mahtab is stripped of the power of her voice and hands, her two means of defence against the aggressors. She is prevented from saying anything or doing anything. After being placed on the back of the donkey, Mahtab gradually realised her situation:

She had a calm face. She did not even blink. She was sitting straight on the back of the donkey and did not move at all. She had dried up because of the fear and the black storm. All her being had been ground away under the pressure of fear. She fainted, then with the slap of the wind she became conscious again. She did not weep. Her tears had no way to come out. Her tears had become thin inside her and there in the cells of her body they were mixed with her urine and toxins spread under her skin. (Mahboob 1999:76)

What else does Mahtab possess, except her body and soul? During the humiliation and terror of being put onto the back of the donkey and being called an adulterer by the crier, with people following her carrying stones, Mahtab soul leaves her body before even reaching the stoning ground. Torture entails a loss of ‘trust in the world’ (Laub and Auerhahn 1989:377), but it also makes her feels she no longer belongs to it. According to Holocaust survivor Jean Amery, under torture the metaphysical self splits from the all-too-present body in pain, and experiences death firsthand (1980:34). Mahtab’s body hastens towards death too:

Mahtab’s legs and body slowly lost movement … Her skin gradually loosened … Fear took control … Water came out of her body … Wild voices were ringing in her head and biting her veins. Mahtab felt her flesh falling off. She imagined her bones were separating and piece by piece were falling down. Her body was empty … Her eyes lost their sight … Mahtab had no teeth anymore. Her shoulders were hanging by her skin. Her eyes were empty and her insides were emptied of her heart, stomach and intestines. Fear entered into every single cell of her body and squashed every drop of her life. Mahtab’s hair turned white; large and small wrinkles covered her young face. Her neck loosened … her eyebrows fell down. Mahtab turned old. (Mahboob 1999:81–82)

What do the men feel or understand about Mahtab’s pain as they follow her to the place she will die and then stone her? Are they happy that they are stoning a woman, or angry because they are obeying an order? Veena Das suggests that we may think of pain as ‘asking for acknowledgment and recognition … In the register of the imaginer, the pain of the other not only asks for a home in language but also seeks a home in the body’. When observers do not recognise or acknowledge it, Das argues, it ‘is not about the failing of the intellect but the failing of spirit’ (quoted in Asad 2003:82). The story gives us little clue as to their feelings, but the only witness to outwardly show sympathy for Mahtab is the donkey that carries her through the village.

The donkey was alone with Mahtab on its back and it was going to drop her on the ground. The countless wounds tormented her body. The donkey sat down calmly and put down its load. The donkey’s big eyes were crying … Nobody knew that Mahtab had become old. Nobody knew that the donkey was crying. (Mahboob 1999:82–83)

Something has happened to the people of this village that they can cooperate in the punishing of an innocent and unprotected woman. In this atmosphere the only creature that can react with natural compassion is the donkey. The distortion of the people’s humanity is emphasised by their inability to account for time:

Although it was midday and the sun was standing in the middle of sky like a copper plate, time was lost. People within the waves of the black storm and black dust had lost their sense of time. People were wandering in the whirlpool of the black storm. The black storm was going to overturn the wheel of life unendingly. The day, struggling with the black storm, had fallen into a black dungeon. (Mahboob 1999:74)

The radicalisation of the country has caused its people to lose the sense of meaning of their lives.

Women and resistance

In ‘Hājji wa Arab’ we are not told Guldasta’s fate at the hands of the Arab, but in ‘Telesmāt’ (‘Talisman’) a similarly shocking and tragic picture is presented more fully. ‘Telesmāt’ is a story about the enslavement of women for the sexual pleasure of the jihadists or holy warriors. Nazebu, after being exchanged several times by jihadi commanders as ‘war booty’, ends up in the house of an Arab fighter:

For a while an Arab man had taken her to his home and given her the name Shahd [Honey]. He himself had recited the nekāh [the marriage contract], but after a few months he divorced her.23 After a few months, a Yemeni man had taken her into his house and given her the name Homaira. This man was speaking a strange language, perhaps jinni’s language, as she had not heard it until then … One day when everybody was busy praying, Homaira jumped from the roof of the house, but she was caught … and her master, who did not want to see her any more, ordered her hands and legs to be tied and put her in the basement. (Mahboob 2003:142–43)

A name conveys identity, and as Kathryn Woodward notes, identity is ‘invoked in the summoning of and binding of individual agents into groups, as social actors’ (1997:315). The renaming of Nazebu by the Arab and the Yemeni is suggestive of their lack of regard for her as an individual. The Arab names her Honey, something to sweeten his sexual life. Likewise the Yemeni calls her Homaira, or red, which may be taken as a symbol of sex. For them she stands only for colour and taste, only for sexual pleasure.

When the area is taken over by a rival commander—Khanshereen— Nazebu falls into his hands. However, she continues to resist him, despite being confined to a room with all its windows covered, and being subjected to beatings.

Nazebu, while covering her face with her hands out of fear, made sure she was ready to fight back if Khanshereen attacked her with his whip … The only way she could fight back was to escape from his whip and run around the room. (Mahboob 2003:139)

Recalling Elaine Scarry’s observation that ‘in torture, the world is reduced to a single room or set of rooms’ (1985:40), Nazebu’s world becomes the basement of Khanshereen’s fiefdom. Here she lives between what Cathy Caruth identifies as the ‘crisis of death’ and ‘the correlative crisis of life’. She is ‘between the story of the unbearable nature of an event and the story of the unbearable nature of its survival’ (1996:7). Nazebu is in this limbo many times, but each time she manages to survive. Despite her suffering, Nazebu never questions the value of living in the world. Indeed, she tries everything to cling onto it.

After enduring abuse after abuse and encountering Khanshereen, yet another captor, Nazebu reaches the point of saying no to him from the very beginning.

—I am not going to be your wife.

—Then whose wife do you want to be?

—Anyone’s but not yours.

—I was the one who saved you from the streets.

—You did not save me from the streets but kidnapped me. You stole me, as you do with others. Put the gun to my neck. You brought me to your home with my hands and legs tied. (Mahboob 2003:140)

In reality these kidnappings and abuses by the mujahideen were a common occurrence:

Women and girls were not safe. Girls were abducted by commanders and forced into marriage, that is[,] raped. Commanders were reported to have as many as ten ‘wives’. If the girls and their families objected or resisted they were often killed. (Zulfacar 2006:58)

Once Khanshereen realises that Nazebu will not submit,

he hurls her against the wall with all his strength and then throws her into a room. In order to stop the rays of the sun from entering the room, he completely covers the window with wood. He leaves her a jar of water and a bucket for her waste, and locks the door. (Mahboob 2003:141–42)

It is an accumulation of anger and determination that leads to Nazebu’s boldest resistance. ‘A moment arrives when one can no longer feel anything but anger, an absolute anger’ (Nancy 1993:5). This is the anger Nazebu feels when she decides to escape from the Arab and the Yemeni and when she refuses Khanshereen. She knows the consequences, but her anger is so overwhelming that she resists to the end.

The half-mad Nazebu imagines she is followed everywhere by a creature that is half-spider and half-old-woman, who advises and encourages her to submit to Khanshereen and reproaches her when she rejects him. Nazebu is unwavering in her determination and resistance: cursing the creature, she refuses its advice. Nazebu’s resistance eventually pays off. When Khanshereen’s base is blown up and he and his companions are killed, Nazebu is free. While Nazebu has nothing to do with the explosion, on a personal level, by resisting and not submitting to his will, she challenges and destroys his authority. She achieves what Herman calls ‘the empowerment of the victim’ (1992:133).

Khanshereen, a mujahideen commander and a man in a position to have whatever he wants, represents the harshest type of patriarchy in a society ruled by tradition and struggling with war. But as a commander of a mujahideen group he is defeated by rival groups; as an individual he loses the battle against Nazebu. His personal power and authority come to an end when Nazebu rejects him.

Nazebu’s life is marked by captivity. She has been a captive since her childhood and remembers no other reality. Judith Lewis Herman describes prolonged captivity as producing ‘profound alterations in the victim’s identity. All the psychological structures of the self—the image of the body, the internalized image of others, and the values and ideals that lend a person a sense of coherence and purpose—have been invaded and systematically broken down’ (Herman 1992:93). In Nazebu’s eyes all men are captors and she is a captive. Time begins to lose its meaning. As there is no difference between men, there is no difference between day and night. The ‘disruption of how we experience time’ is another symptom of trauma (Eagleston 2014:17).

In this story, mental illness serves as a resonant metaphor for the disruption and alienation caused by the gendered radicalisation of a society. The civil war of 1992–96 was fought between different mujahideen groups along ethno-religious lines, but it was also marked by what Barbara Harlow describes as the ‘sexualized and gendered tension between a nation’s honor and its people’s dishonor’ (2002:123). In such a conflict, female bodies provide a ‘space over which the competitive games of men [… are] played out’ (Das 1991:69). Thus, to humiliate their rivals, women from opposing ethnic groups were targeted sexually. In armed conflicts in the modern world, ‘women’s sexuality became a weapon in the hands of men with authority, a tool with which to humiliate and control them’ (Jolluck 2006:194). This was exactly what happened in Afghanistan, particularly during the period between 1992 and 1996.

In ‘Telesmāt’ the mujahideen commanders show no real respect or sympathy for women, even when they belong to the same ethnic group, as do Nazebu and Khanshereen. When Khanshereen seizes Nazebu and her village, the old spider woman asks Nazebu why she resists when she and Khanshereen have the same ethnic background:

—Where are you escaping to? You are lucky. Khanshereen is the best man amongst them.

—Death is better than submitting to this best of them. How do you know he is the best amongst them?

—At least he belongs to your own ethnic group, he speaks your language, he is not a stranger.

—He is like the others, haven’t you heard he is a murderer? Haven’t you heard how many people has he killed?

—Who is not a murderer? Wherever you escape, one of them will appear in front of you.

—Then I will escape again. (Mahboob 2003:141)

Telesmāt’ is a story that does not follow a conventional line in relation to time, events and characters. Here, nothing is in its place and everything is mixed up. Men, women and animals are mixed up with each other. The dust, sun and explosions cause confusion. Fear and death seem to have changed the appearance and the very nature of the city and its inhabitants:

Nazebu observes that she sees a cursed city whose sun is grey. With their sunken eyes and deformed faces, the men and women of the city are grey-skinned. They make monotonous repetitive noises and sink further into the grey-coloured ground. With each sound their faces become uglier and more frightening … Around her, Nazebu sees men and women who are cold and numb. With their eyes bulging from their sockets, they barely breathe, they are lifelessly trapped in spiders’ webs like insects. (Mahboob 2003:138)

The explosions, which are heard and seen everywhere, seem particularly linked with the city’s transformation, both on a physical and metaphorical level. The story begins with an explosion and they punctuate the rest of the story, seeming to throw people unpredictably from one place to another; every explosion, for instance, pushes Nazebu into the hands of another cruel man. And of course the story ends with the explosion that kills Khanshereen and destroys the fiefdom in which Nazebu is imprisoned. But this is not the end of her miseries: as long as the war continues there will be another Khanshereen who will imprison and rape Nazebu.

1     The leaders and activists of the Islamic Party had been living in exile in Pakistan since 1975, as a result of a failed uprising to topple the government.

2     According to Olivier Roy, the main reason for sending these volunteers was ‘to turn potentially anti-Western fundamentalism against the communist camp’. Roy noted that the Saudis had the additional motivation of ‘trying to undermine Iranian prestige among the Islamists by promoting their own brand of fundamentalism close to the Wahhabi school of thought’ (2004:291).

3     For a good discussion of these jihadists and their impact on local mujahideen, see Gerges 2005:80–150 and Van Linschoten & Kuehn 2012:41–110.

4     Government reforms resulted in literacy increasing by up to 30% by the end of the 1980s (Keshtmand 2002:859). This was a substantial change in a country that, prior to the 1978 coup, had only 2% literacy rate.

5     On the impact of the Afghan jihad on women’s rights, see Human Rights Watch 1991 and Amnesty International 1995.

6     One of these victims was Meena Keshwar, the founder of RAWA or Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. She was assassinated along with her sister in Quetta, Pakistan, in 1987 (for an account of the life and philosophy of Keshwar, see Chavis 2003 and Fluri 2008).

7     Pamela Collett (1996:399) reports that, in 1996, up to one-third of women refugees were widows who could neither support their families in the refugee camps, nor return to Afghanistan, where there were even tighter restrictions on employment and movement (1996:399).

8     The mujahideen did not allow women to leave the refugee camps. Beatrice Koekoek, a member of the French medical organisation that services a refugee cam, describes her experience with women visiting their hospital: ‘We have to fight with the men to take women to a hospital when necessary. They sit around and chat … to go to the doctor is their only chance to get out of the house’ (Emadi 1991:240).

9     ‘A fatwā is a non-binding legal opinion issued in response to a legal problem’ (El Fadl 2002:70). In Islamic legal parlance, fatwā refers to a ‘clarification of an ambiguous judicial point or an opinion by a mufti, a jurist trained in Islamic law, in response to a query posed by a judge (qāḍī) or a private inquirer (mustaftī)’ (Joseph & Naǧmābādī 2003:171). Before the Taliban came into power, Afghanistan did not have a national institution for fatwās, unlike Islamic countries such as Egypt.

10   Via the Supreme Court on 27 August 1993, the mujahideen government issued the decree ‘Fatwā-i shari satr wa hijāb’ (a sharia fatwā on women’s covering and hijāb), which clearly drew the boundaries for the role and obligations of women. Among other things, the decree obliged women to completely obey their husbands; not to leave home alone at night; not to laugh or talk to strangers; not to walk with pride; and not to wear colourful, attractive and tight clothing.

11   One of the NGOs, the Afghan Support Team, claimed that ‘it educated Afghan refugees about guerrilla warfare’ (Fieldman 1998:469).

12   Moghadam notes that Western scholarship on Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s exclusively emphasised ‘geopolitics’ and was ‘ideologically charged’:

Many of the of the published accounts were explicitly partisan; they favoured the Islamist Mujahidin, cast them as heroic guerrillas, and denounced the leftwing government in Kabul as a Soviet puppet regime espousing alien ideas (such as women’s rights!). Geopolitical and partisan perspectives precluded an understanding of the class, gender, and cultural dynamics of the battle within Afghanistan. In particular they obscured the importance of the struggle over women’s rights, a question that has long confronted Afghan modernizing elites but whose resolution has been consistently thwarted. (2003:228)

13   Kolhatkar notes that, after ousting the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, the mujahideen ‘instituted laws banning alcohol and requiring that women be veiled. Both of these new crimes were punished by flogging, amputations and public executions’ (2002:16). On the civil war, see Sayed 2009 and Sinno 2008.

14   Radicalisation or Islamisation of a society takes place when political Islamic activists ‘advocate total adherence to the sharī‘ā … as formulated in the medieval period and see in Islam a monolithic religio-political construct to countervail competing Western ideologies’ (Afsaruddin 1999:4).

15   Indeed the first announcement of the Taliban after capturing Kabul was about women: ‘All of those sisters who are working in government offices are herby informed to stay at home until further notice … Since satar [covering] is of great importance in Islam, all sisters are seriously asked … to cover their faces and the whole of their body when going out’ (Griffin 2001:5–6). A few weeks later the new regime introduced a number of regulations that would be enforced by its religious police, some of which targeted women. For the mistreatment of women during the Taliban era, see Dupree 1998:45–66 and Cole 2008:118–54.

16   Spozhmai Zaryab, who is another prominent female author in Afghanistan, has in her recent work of fiction ‘Khuros-i man’ (‘My Rooster’) dealt with the impact of Islam on women’s lives.

17   Dashti-Barchi is an area in Kabul inhabited by Shiite Hazara. The commander, who is a Sunni, does not like Hazaras. Amazingly he forgives Salar this ‘crime’ of being a Shiite, but punishes him for his education.

18   Compared to the circumstances of women in refugee camps, perhaps Zulaykha and Guldasta were not altogether unlucky. Many women and girls were forced into prostitution, especially during the civil war:

Beside professional prostitutes, some Afghan women were forced by circumstances to sell their bodies to make both ends meet. Their power-hungry leaders and commanders are responsible for pushing them into the flesh trade because of continued fighting in Kabul and elsewhere in the war- ravaged country has killed their breadwinners and destroyed their homes. Women who lived in Purdah had to come out to beg or prostitute their bodies to feed themselves and their children. (Quoted in Zulfacar 2006:59)

19   There is little data about human trafficking by the mujahideen and the Taliban. In 2002, Time Magazine reported on the kidnapping and enslavement of women during Taliban rule. The report states that ‘600 women vanished in the 1999 Taliban offensive’ in Shamali, north of Kabul. The women were transported mostly to Peshawar and were forced into marriage with militants, including Arabs (McGirk 2002).

20   According to the Koran (24:2) ‘The adulteress and the adulterer, flog each of them (with) a hundred stripes’. There is no mention of stoning. According to this verse the punishment should be applied both to the man and the woman. Considering this verse, stoning to death is not mentioned as punishment for adulterer and adulteress. However, some Muslim scholars claim that according to sharia, if a woman is convicted of adultery, she should be sentenced to one hundred lashes if unmarried and death by stoning if married (see Khan 2003:100; Quraishi 2008: 167; Mir-Hosseini 2011:23).

21   Zina is sex outside of marriage.

22   If there is any suspicion that a woman may have had a sexual affair, it is likely that she will be put to death by a male member of her family.

In the Muhmand region of eastern Afghanistan, a woman was accused of having illicit sexual affairs and became pregnant while the husband was away from home. Her husbands’ family … returned her to her father’s house, expecting that he kill her to preserve his family’s name and honor. In accordance with tribal customs, the father killed his daughter without any hesitation, and soon afterward, people from neighbouring towns and villages came to congratulate him for the deed he performed that was necessary to restore his family’s honor. Even the local government administrative officer came to offer his congratulations, instead of issuing an arrest warrant and trying him in a court of law for his actions. (Emadi 2005:171)

23   A husband can dissolve a marriage verbally and unilaterally simply by saying: ‘you are repudiated’.

Women, War and Islamic Radicalisation

   by Faridullah Bezhan