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Rockin' the Boat: Interview with Sahar Saba

We speak to Sahar Saba about the work of RAWA and get an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Born in Kabul, her family left in 1979, to escape the Soviet invasion, and she was educated at one of RAWA’s underground schools, in Pakistan. Shar Saba is on RAWA’s foreign affairs committee.

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RTB_sahar_saba_RAWA.mp3 (8192 k)
RAWA is an all volunteer, independent, non-violent organization that calls for multi lateral disarmament and a secular democracy in Afganistan where women may once again participate fully in public life. Founded in 1977 by Meena, a 20 year old college student, the women of RAWA have stood up to all foreign and native oppressors with courage and principle. They opposed the Russian occupation of the 1980's and today they oppose all Islamic fundamental forces including both the Taliban and even those in the Northern Alliance.... RAWA condemned the 9-11 attacks as a barbaric act of violence and terrror, opposed a US military attack which killed 1000's of innocent Afghans and expressed its sincere hope that the American people can differentiate between the civilians and a handful of fundamental terrorists.

While the Taliban have outlawed eduaction for women beyond the 2nd grade and deny them the few social services that exist in Afghanistan, RAWA secretly and under the threat of death provide schooling for girls and boys as well as medical care and adult education for women. In neighboring Pakistan RAWA provides Afghan refugees with aid, sponsers orphanages and runs income generating projects. Meanwhile, as the world is justifiably focussed on Iraq, Afghan president Karzai barely able to control the city of Kabul. A resurgant Taliban is gaining ground across much of the country and their al-Qa'ida allies are also on the rise. With each new attack the Afghan death toll increases. Tonight on RTB we'll talk with Sahar Saba about the important work of RAWA and get an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Shar Saba sits on RAWA’s foreign affairs committee. Born in Kabul, her family left in 1979, to escape the Soviet invasion, and she was educated at one of RAWA’s underground schools, in Pakistan.

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Re: Rockin' the Boat: Interview with Sahar Saba

RAWA backs former King Mohammed Zahir Shah. The U.S. has also played with the idea of Zahir Shah being a good potential puppet in imposing U.S. interests on Afghanistan. After a concession to former King Zahir Shah from U.S. puppet president Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai King Zahir Shah decided that he would back Hamid Karzai for president. The concession? That former King Zahir Shah could move back into his palace.

Zahir Shah was deposed in 1973. He ruled Afghanistan from 1947-1973. During Zahir Shah's rule he carried out ethnic cleansing against Tajiks and Hazaras, and suppressed all political parties, free speech, and free press.

In carrying out ethnic cleansing Zahir Shah was following in the footsteps of his father and of British Imperialism who drew the borders of Afghanistan. The British pushed the idea that the Pashtun nationality was the superior pure race in Afghanistan as part of getting the Pashtuns to do British bidding against other national groups. Later Zahir Shah's father echoed the same kind of Pashtun national racism when he seized power from the Tajiks in 1929. His Monarchy praised fascist Germany and worked closely with fascist Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan.

The massive U.S. intervention in Afghanistan that started in 1979 was in opposition to a revolutionary government led by the PDPA that came to power in 1978 on issues of promoting women's rights and land reform. Literacy campaigns began teaching the poor and women how to read and write. As early as 1979 the CIA was involved in trying to topple this progressive left nationalist government. Religious fanatics and wealthy defenders of the old feudal system came together in a terrorist organization called the Mujahideen (whose direct offspring are now called the Taliban and the so-called “Northern Alliance?).

With billions in assistance from the CIA these fanatical Mujahideen cutthroats waged a holy war against literacy and women that included murdering women for teaching little girls how to read and write and throwing acid into the faces of women who had become liberated from the veil. Also included in this holy war against women and literacy were up to 100,000 religious fanatics from other countries recruited to the Mujahideen by the CIA.

At the invitation of the Afghani government Soviet troops moved in to try to stop the Mujahideen. U.S. intervention devastated Afghanistan with war and put the worst possible elements in power. The Red Army was fighting a just cause in Afghanistan while the CIA was giving billions of dollars in military aid to misogynist killers.

Today the pundits of capitalism want to justify U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in the context of the cold war as the U.S. carries out it's next set of atrocities in the country.

A comparison between Afghanistan and neighboring Soviet Central Asia is helpful in seeing the potential modernizing influence of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In 1980 Afghanistan had an illiteracy rate of 90% while Soviet Uzbekistan had a literacy rate on par with the United States. The average life expectancy was 40 in Afghanistan while Uzbekistan's was 70. Afghanistan had one doctor for every 20,000 people while Uzbekistan had one doctor per 380 people. The status of women in Soviet Central Asia was better than anywhere in the Islamic world. This was reflected in government with 18 percent of all judges and 45 percent of legislative members from the village level being women in Uzbekistan.

The role of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan had great potential in helping advance the country. Instead the victory of CIA financed counter-revolution has plunged the country backwards. While the Soviet model did not live up to the potential of a socialist society with real workers democracy the Soviet Union did, however, make advances that would have been impossible under their capitalist-feudalist system before the 1917 revolution.

Today as a result of Yeltsin's capitalist counter-revolution Uzbekistan is falling to the level of Afghanistan. We should not adopt the mistakes of the Soviet Union in the fight against capitalism, but it is also important to reassess what was reality in Afghanistan and what was cold war propaganda. In doing so we should be careful about what a pro-monarchy organization like RAWA really represents.

Ronald Reagan posed in a portrait with the Mujahideen calling them the moral equivalents of the founding fathers. The pundits of capitalism want to simply dismiss this as justified in the fight against communism, but we should never forget the cold war holocaust that was perpetrated in our names. In the 1980's alone U.S. support, from both the Democrats and Republicans alike, to the death squad governments of El Salvador and Guatemala; to the contras of Nicaragua, Angola, and Afghanistan; to the racist governments of South Africa and Israel; to the genocidal governments of Indonesia in East Timor and Iraq and Turkey in Kurdistan; to U.S. invasions of Granada and Panama, the U.S. murdered millions and created misery throughout the world.

Unfortunately the billions of dollars provided by the U.S. government succeeded in putting the Taliban in power and now the other fanatics of the Mujahideen are back. The Taliban counter-revolution put women back under the veil and stripped women of the right to work, education, and movement in public without a male relative for escort. Women are beaten in public. Women have been stoned to death for adultery and other so-called crimes against Islam. Starving widows are buried alive. Whole villages with people of differing ethnicities and Islamic beliefs have been rounded up and murdered. Homosexuals are executed for being homosexual. Hindus are forced to wear insignia showing they are not Muslim. Atheists are executed for being atheists. Foreign aid workers are being tried for spreading Christianity. Dancing is not allowed and irreplaceable ancient art has been destroyed. Today the U.S. backed Northern Alliance is no better because they carry out many similar policies.

Instead of seeing that the biggest threat to Afghan women were the Mujahideen, RAWA instead fought on the same side as the CIA and Mujahideen against the PDPA and the Soviet Union. In addition they have made themselves irrelevant by backing a hated former King that is embraced by imperialism and has put his stamp of approval on the puppet Karzai government.

U.S. Troops Out Of Afghanistan Now!

No to the religious fanatics of the Northern Alliance Mujahideen and the Taliban!

No to the U.S. puppet government of Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai!

No to ethnic cleanser King Zahir Shah!

For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Interview with Sahar Saba

Someone who justifies Soviet imperialism to the extent that this writer does has lost the right to call anyone irrelevant. Just as Hitchins cheerleading for US empire are dismissed, so should apologists for Soviet brutality. Given that, here's a couple of points.

RAWA is not a monarchist organization. "Support" of Zahir Shah was limited to the role of a possible stepping stone to democracy, something which was completely hopeless under the Taliban and the so called Northern Alliance. Such is the tragedy of Afghanistan that people look back to the time of Shah as being infinitely preferable to anything that followed in it's wake. From an article on Znet regarding the first post Bonn Loys Jirga:

"Just prior to the meeting, a group of delegates put together a "wish list" that "emphasized access to food, education, and health services in neglected rural areas" but above all else the delegates were united in "the urgency of reducing the power of warlords and establishing a truly representative government." Delegates Omar Zakhilwal and Adeena Niazi wrote, "The sentiment quickly grew into a grassroots movement supporting the former king, Zahir Shah, as head of state. The vast majority of us viewed him as the only leader with enough popular support and independence to stand up to the warlords." Upon arrival in Kabul, more than 800 loya jirga delegates (out of 1500) signed a petition supporting the nomination of the former king as head of state (Starr & Strmecki, NYT 14 Jun 02). But even allowing Zahir Shah to be nominated wasn't on the US agenda.

Soon after the start of the meetings it became apparent that the only true purpose of the Loya Jirga was to legitimize Hamid Karzai's interim government, and confirm him as President of Afghanistan. This was engineered by eliminating the former king as a possible competitor for head of state. According to a NYT op-ed piece by Frederick Starr and Martin Strmecki (14 Jun), "America's envoys pressed the king to withdraw himself from consideration, in effect pre-empting the loya jirga from selecting the nation's leader by itself." Then, before Zahir Shah could even make his own announcement, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy to Afghanistan told the press: "The former king is not a candidate for a position in the transitional authority. He endorses Chairman Karzai."1

In the Berkeley talk Ms. Saba spoke about what an undesirable character Zahir Shah was in response to a question from a pro-monarchist. It is easy for people in our safe California homes to critique this position of Zahir Shah being preferable to the Taliban et al onlyas a first step to try to get the ball rolling towards democracy, but people on the ground need more than just rhetoric.

Just as leftists and other pro - democracy forces agitated against the Shah of Iran, there were leftist and pro democracy forces involved in the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (People rising up against a foriegn occupying force, imagine that..) Sadly, unlike various factions of the Mujahideen (financed by the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) these forces had no outside funding.

As far as the "progressive" PDPA (with a bit of background, although reading the entire article is recommended):

"In July 1973, the king's cousin, Daoud Khan, with the help of the Parchamis, staged a nearly bloodless coup, ousting King Zaher Shah. Having no more need of the Parchamis after gaining power, Daoud removed them from his government and began to distance himself from the Soviet Union. Under pressure from the Soviets, the Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA reunited in 1977. The assassination of a Parchami leader on April 17, 1978 provoked widespread protests to which Daoud responded by arresting the PDPA leadership. PDPA officers in the military then launched a coup, killing Daoud and seizing power.

Days later, Nur Mohammad Taraki became president of the newly proclaimed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and Babrak Karmal and Hafizullah Amin became deputy prime ministers. Prominent former political leaders were immediately arrested and executed. Within months, conflict again broke out between Khalq and Parcham, resulting in a purge of Parchamis from the government. Some, including Babrak Karmal, were exiled abroad as ambassadors, and others were arrested. Under Amin's direction, the government then launched a campaign of radical agrarian reform and mass repression that resulted in the arrest and execution of tens of thousands. Those targeted included former political figures, religious leaders, students and teachers, lawyers and other professionals, members of various ethnic groups, particularly the Hazaras, and members of Islamic political organizations. Subsequent governments have acknowledged that some 12,000 people were executed just in Pol-e Charkhi Prison in Kabul during this period; as many as 100,000 people may have been killed in the countryside.

The government's unprecedented and badly planned attempt to intervene in rural society by decree and terror, and the executions of Islamic leaders and members of key ethnic groups, provoked a number of uprisings across the country, to which the government responded with greater repression. The army, racked by mutinies and desertions, rapidly disintegrated. Alarmed by Amin's strong-armed tactics and the disintegration of the Afghan army, the Soviet Union apparently plotted in September 1979 to have Amin removed, but the plot failed and instead an embittered Amin assassinated Taraki and made himself president. Finally, on December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union airlifted thousands of troops into Kabul, and three days later a crack Soviet force assassinated Amin and installed Babrak Karmal as president.

The Soviet presence soon grew to some 115,000 troops, and all aspects of government quickly came under the supervision of Soviet advisers, including the state security agency, which was reorganized andplaced under the control of Dr. Najibullah. The invasion greatly expanded the resistance, which organized around the mujahidin parties based in Pakistan and Iran. Foreign support for the resistance increased after the Soviet invasion, with Pakistan, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, China and Iran playing leading roles. Massive aerial bombardments by Soviet forces in the countryside and repression in the cities swelled the flow of refugees, with some three million fleeing to Pakistan and another two million to Iran."


"Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians by Afghan Government Forces

In the years following the Soviet invasion in December 1979, the shelling and aerial bombardment of rural villages and cities by government and Soviet forces32 was almost constant. The mass destruction caused by these bombing raids has been the primary cause of over one million civilian deaths during the course of the war and for the exodus of five million refugees from Afghanistan into Pakistan and Iran." 2

If that's progressive, save us from progressive politics.

notes: 1)Afghanistan: The First Puppet Regime in the Post Sept 11 World by James Ingalls

2)Human Rights Watch: Afghanistan
The Forgotten War: Human Rights Abuses and Violations of the Laws Of War Since the Soviet Withdrawal

King Zahir Shah a stepping-stone for democracy?

Steve Tobin, you say, "RAWA is not a monarchist organization. "Support" of Zahir Shah was limited to the role of a possible stepping stone to democracy."

Zahir Shah a stepping-stone for democracy? Like he was from 1947 to 1973 suppressing all political parties, free speech, and free press while carrying out ethnic cleansing against Tajiks and Hazaras?

No, not a stepping-stone for democracy, but he was seen as a possible stepping-stone for a U.S. puppet government. The Tajik and Hazara forces among the warring factions of the "Northern Alliance" Mujahideen that the U.S. just put in power made bringing back King Zahir Shah impossible, so U.S. imperialism backed down and put a relative of his in power instead.

U.S. imperialism started this war in Afghanistan in 1979, supporting the religious fanatics of the Mujahideen and their political offspring, the Taliban, to the tune of billions of dollars. Was it Soviet imperialism that tried to prevent these misogynist fanatical cutthroats of the CIA from seizing power right on their border? Was it wrong for them to send troops in to support a progressive government, advancing women’s rights and literacy, that invited the Soviets in to defend them from a CIA created and financed insurrection that included 100,000 foreign mercenaries?

Not everything the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan was right, but their biggest crime was pulling out. Pulling out not only left the people of Afghanistan to suffer under the Mujahideen and Taliban, it also played a role in the destruction of the Soviet Union itself. The destruction of the Soviet Union as a counter-balance to U.S. imperialism is the number one reason why the U.S. imperialists were able to move into Iraq.

The world was much safer when there was a Soviet Union. Today the U.S. occupation of Iraq slaughters civilians, censors the press, massacres demonstrators, denies elections, destroys women’s rights, and holds 10,000 to 20,000 Iraqis without charges all in a massive attempt to impose a puppet government and seize Iraqi resources for U.S. imperialist interests.

Meanwhile capitalist counter-revolution has drastically reduced the standard of living and life expectancy in the former Soviet Union and has also devastated Afghanistan.

Do I apologize for the Soviet Union? No, but I defend what they did right. Likewise I defend Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and China from U.S. imperialism and internal counter-revolution as part of defending the real gains those revolutions have made in overthrowing capitalism and advancing women’s rights.

In addition, I recognize that these revolutions are being misled by a dictatorial and privileged Stalinist bureaucracy that should be overthrown in a worker’s political revolution (not capitalist counter-revolution) that defends the gains of the revolution while opening the society up to worker’s democracy. That is why I supported the demands and goals of the Tianaman uprising.

Yet the difference between the Tianaman uprising of Chinese students and workers demanding democracy and opposing moves towards capitalism, as compared to the CIA organized, armed, and financed counter-revolution led by misogynist religious fanatics and fought by mercenaries in Afghanistan is very different.

U.S. imperialist hands off Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and China!

U.S. Out Of Afghanistan and Iraq!

No to the Undemocratic Loya Jirga!

No to the pro-capitalist religious fanatics of the Northern Alliance Mujahideen and the Taliban!

No to the U.S. puppet government of Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai!

No to ethnic cleanser King Zahir Shah!

For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Liberation News

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Interview with Sahar Saba

So carpet bombing is a legitimate political tool? Sounds similar to Madeline "the price was worth it" Albright to me.

I did need to write back though, because I forget to ask one thing (having the flu can do that to you) and it was a very substantial question. That is, I am very interested in seeing any credible source of information you could provide to back up your claims of ethnic cleansing on the part of Zahir Shah. Of the Prime Ministers who were the primary decision makers in Afghanistan during the first 20 years of Zahir Shah's reign - which would be 1933 (not 1947) to 1963, it was Daoud (who with the help of the Parcham faction of the PDPA ousted Shah in 1973) who was perhaps the biggest Pashtun chauvinist of the era. He was so obsessed with the issue of "Pashtunistan" (the uniting of the Pashtun areas of Pakistan with Afghanistan) that ultimately in 1960 he sent troops across the border into Bajaur in an unsuccessful attempt to manipulate events in that area and to press the issue. Afghan military forces were routed by the Pakistan military.1 Upon his resignation in 1963 Muhammad Yousuf, a non Pashtun, was made prime minister.

For anyone interested in a real world solution to the crisis of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah or a relative might have to be included in the transition. The reasons for this being the Afghan people trust and support him more than any other leader (A survey conducted in 1987 by Afghan scholar Sayed Bahuddin Majrooh's Afghan Information Center, based in Peshawar, Pakistan, found that 70 percent of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan favored the king's return. Majrooh was assassinated in 1988, allegedly by an Islamist faction led by Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who strongly opposed a role for Zahir Shah.Pastuns make up 45% max of the Afghan Population so do the math), he has always been at odds with
the fundamentalists, and his reign was the most democratic in the history of the country. (It certainly wasn't the totalitarian Soviets/PDPA -No one should fall for the lie that Imperial occupation and control can be justified by its "potential modernizing influence". (How different is that from bushco's "bringing democracy to the middle east" nonsense?)


(also a good brief overview of the era, both shortcomings and advances)

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Interview with Sahar Saba

In the 1960s, Zahir Shah engaged in ethnic cleansing, forcefully relocating Tajiks and Hazaras and moving Pashtuns in to take over their lands. One source is Nicholas Cullather, professor of history at Indiana University. He discusses the issue in “The man who would be king, again, of Afghanistan?, San Francisco Chronicle Thursday, November 15, 2001.

On King Zahir Shah taking power after the assassination of his father in 1933 you are correct. Thanks for the correction. I’m not sure how I mixed it up, but the significance of the date 1947 is that was the year that Britain had created Pakistan. British imperialism had purposely divided the Pashtun nationality between what then had become Pakistan and Afghanistan. This played a large role in the conflicts to which you refer where a number of different Pastun leaders, including in Pakistan, and including King Zahir Shah, advocated and fought for a united Pashtunistan.

I do not hold the regional boundaries drawn by British imperialism as sacred. The fight for a united Pashtunistan does not necessarily imply national chauvinism. In fact a fight for a larger nation uniting the Pashtun nationality on both sides of the border in a fight against U.S. troops and the U.S. puppet governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not something I would oppose.

The role of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was not imperialist. The role of the U.S. is.

When I speak of the potential modernizing influence of the Soviet Union I am talking about the advantages they could have had under a PDPA government with good economic relations with the Soviet Union and the enlightened outlook they both had on women’s rights and education. Just as in Soviet Central Asia where the Soviet Union did more to advance the region economically than was gained for the rest of the Union, Afghanistan as poor country would have only benefited. Similar types of beneficial trade relations could be seen with the Soviet Union and Cuba, with the Soviet Union paying a fair price for Cuban sugar rather than the world capitalist price.

The role of the United States in underdeveloped countries has always been imperialist. The U.S. always extracts resources and labor for the cheapest possible price and uses every kind of force possible against the people of the world to enforce those economic relations. In Afghanistan that U.S. defense of its own imperialism included the CIA organizing, arming, financing, recruiting, and training a holy war of misogynist killers that that they eventually put in power.

King Zahir Shah was forced from power in 1973, not 1963.

Steven Tobin, in re-reading what you wrote I see you make an important mistake on the reign of King Zahir Shah as well. He was forced from power in 1973, not 1963.

Re: Rockin' the Boat: Interview with Sahar Saba

First of all, I'll start with "spot the error" in my last dispatch. I did not state that the coup against Shah took place in 1963, but i did type in the obvious error that 1933-1963 constituted the first 20 years of the reign as opposed to 30.

That aside, on with what looks to be the summary (unless something substantial is added to the discussion).

Here is a link to the Cullather article Mr. Argue mentioned:

I'll put aside my surprize that he would have submitted an article promoting US Imperialist and Anglocentric standpoints and deal with the issue at hand, the charge of ethnic cleansing.

As stated earlier, the first 30 years of Shah's reign the king was a figurehead, matters of state were left to the Prime Ministers. The first two, Muhammad Hashim and Shah Mahmud were his uncles, the last (Daoud) was his cousin. If you are talking about the era that Zahir Shah ruled the country, you are talking about the period of 1963 (beginning with Daoud's resignation) to 1973 (Daoud's coup).1

Everything that Cullather takes exception to occured before 1963. Although he doesn't mention it by name, the irrigation project being referred to is most likely the Helmand Valley Project, with which the american corporation Morrison-Knudsen became involved in 1945.2

I spent a lot of time checking other sources, given Cullather's lack of referencing his sources, but could find nothing to collaborate his claims that the project had served as an ethnic cleansing/relocation program as well (this despite the fact of the projects date in history). Sources such as the one referenced above mention a project of settling nomads into the region, but even with that "After several years of continued effort and enormous subsidies, a large number of nomads left the valley because, after many years of hard work, they could not make a living due to the poor quality of the soil which was not taken into account in the initial survey of the project."2 So much for Cullather's "use (of) these new settlers as a death squad"

Mentioning Daoud's obsession with the Pashtunistan issue was in no way intended to be a commentary in favor of the borders of Afghanistan, which of course are the result of Anglo and Tzarist Imperialism. Merely it was to illustrate that he was obsessed with the issue to the detriment of just about all other policy in the end, and showed little concern with the plight of non Pashtuns in the country.

As for documented ethnic cleansing, look back to the PDPA, even before the Soviet invasion. "Those targeted included.. members of various ethnic groups, particularly the Hazaras." 3 After the Soviet invasion of course it was an out and out bloodbath, carpet bombs make no distinction at all over who they murder.

In conclusion, is Zahir Shah an ideal figure? No. Given the mess that is Afghanistan, might he be a necessary figure to get things headed towards democracy (because of his popularity which, let's face it, is only because everything that followed was so much worse)? Perhaps so. This has always been RAWA's position, they are not a monarchist organization.4

For secular democracy (we could use one here as well).






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