WASHINGTON -- March 30 --
SAHAR SABA, http://www.rawa.org A member of the foreign affairs committee of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, Saba is in Pakistan working with Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan. She said today: "It's very sad that there is little discussion of Afghanistan except with events like this visit by Laura Bush. The last three years after the collapse of the Taliban have seen little change for most women in Afghanistan, especially outside of Kabul. [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai promised during the presidential election to get rid of the warlords, but they are in the cabinet. We are seeing rapes of girls, forced marriages, kidnappings and a dramatic increase in suicides among young women who see no way out. ... We continue to have very poor medical facilities, little electricity. Thousands of children died during the cold of the last winter."
SONALI KOLHATKAR, http://www.afghanwomensmission.org Kolhatkar, based in Los Angeles, is co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission and has recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan. She said today: "Mrs. Bush said yesterday that 'American women stand in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan.' But most Afghan women disapprove of U.S. policy. Women are overwhelmingly disappointed with the re-emergence of warlords, a direct result of U.S. policy. These warlords are ideologically similar to the Taliban and many have horrific war crimes in their past. Unfortunately the Bush administration and Mrs. Bush refuse to apply the same standards of women's rights to their warlord allies."
Kolhatkar added: "Laura Bush is taking $21.2 million in school grants to Afghanistan. Afghanistan's education was recently called the 'worst education system in the world' by the UN, and unfortunately Mrs. Bush's donation will barely make a dent in the needs -- the United Nations, the Asia Development Bank and the World Bank estimate the need in Afghanistan to be at about $15 billion over a period of 10 years. Afghan Finance Minister Hedayat Arsala predicts the needs to be around $22 billion for the first five years. Mrs. Bush's small donation (hugely outweighed by the U.S. military budget for Afghanistan) is clearly aimed at promoting a perception of U.S. generosity, rather than achieving real progress for Afghanistan. If Mrs. Bush was really interested in Afghan women's rights, she should back an immediate disarmament of warlords, disbarment from government positions, and a war crimes tribunal to demand justice for past crimes. The warlords hinder Afghan women's development, democratic freedoms and access to education."
The Associated Press reports that Laura Bush's trip "was timed to coincide with a meeting in Kabul of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council." Writing about the group in a recent paper, "Afghan Women Continue to Fend for Themselves," Kolhatkar commented: "Consistent with the Bush administration's main interest in stimulating [a] 'private sector economy' in Afghanistan, the UAWC's core mission is to 'develop and foster partnerships between the private and public sectors,' according to a U.S. State Department press release. So committed is the U.S. to Afghan women that the Council has no formal budget..." [See: <http://www.fpif.org/papers/2004afghanwom.html>]
LAURA FLANDERS, http://www.lauraflanders.com Flanders is author of the book "Bushwomen: How They Won the White House for Their Man," just out in paperback, which includes profiles of Laura Bush and Karen Hughes. Flanders said today: "The First Lady celebrates the ouster of the Taliban while she and her husband collaborate with misogynist theocrats in the USA. In Kabul, the U.S.-installed Karzai government works hand-in-glove with warlords who trail a long record of rape and human rights abuse. Laura Bush's trip, presumably choreographed by Karen Hughes, is intended to put a female-friendly face on an unpopular pro-corporate agenda being promoted by private U.S. companies. Hughes has said she wishes she could have done PR for Exxon after the Valdez spill. U.S. oil companies, Afghan warlords -- and heroin dealers -- have seen more gains from the U.S. role than the mass of Afghan women ever will."
CARMELA BARANOWSKA, http://www.talibancountry.com Currently in New York City, Baranowska is the award-winning filmmaker of "Taliban Country," made in the most remote and dangerous parts of Afghanistan last year. It shows U.S. Marines hunting Taliban and Al Qaeda. Extended portions of the documentary are available at the above web page. Baranowska said today: "We uncovered U.S. abuse of Afghans as well as collusion with local war/drug lords. The footage is a unique and unprecedented 'window' onto an extremely traditional way of life which is being totally destroyed by U.S. military operations, detention, abuse and torture. The U.S., in effect, is making more Taliban.
"The film has led to two U.S. military inquiries and the 'firing' of the U.S. Marines' battalion commander, a rising Pakistani-American called Lt. Col. Asad Khan. ... Who knows what really went on? Was Khan a scapegoat? Where did the chain of command end? None of the military documents have been released publicly. In the bigger picture, the U.S. military was supposed to have released its own internal military report back in June 2004. However, their constant delay has meant that the abuses are continuing."