30 January 2004, Volume 3, Number 4
'OSAMA' WINS GOLDEN GLOBE FOR BEST FOREIGN FILMBy Andrea Boyle
It was the talk of Montreal, London, and Cannes -- a name that usually induces feelings of fear and hatred: Osama.
Yet, at those cities' annual film festivals, "Osama," the title of a film by Afghan director Siddiq Barmak, was greeted with praise. And on 25 January it won a prestigious Golden Globe award for best foreign film at a ceremony in California. The Golden Globes are awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and are considered a good omen for the upcoming Academy Awards.
"I would like to dedicate this prize to the people who lost their trust in too much promises, to the people who lost the meaning of 'luck,' and to the people who gave me a wonderful film, 'Osama'," Barmak said in receiving the prize.
"Osama" is the story of an Afghan family of nearly all females who are left to fend for themselves during the Taliban era after the death of the father and an uncle. The mother and grandmother of the clan force the main character, a 12-year-old girl, to dress as a boy in order to get a job and make money for the family.
The title comes from the name the girl uses in her double life as a boy. The child is the only person addressed in the film by name. Barmak says this loss of identity is symbolic of Afghans losing their personal identities as well as their cultural and national ones under the repressive rule of the Taliban. "My film was about horror. The whole atmosphere of the film is [about being scared], so who is behind all of this? Who is behind [all this] loss -- Osama," Barmak said.
"Osama" is Barmak's first feature-length film. He gained experience directing short films and from 1992-96 headed the government agency in charge of cinema. With the arrival of the Taliban, Barmak lost his job and fled the country in 1998, seeking asylum in Pakistan. He returned home in 2002, assuming his old job and beginning work on "Osama."
For the film, Barmak cast nonprofessional actors from orphanages and refugee camps. Such people, he says, are better able to portray the feelings of the average Afghan. "They were very natural," he says. "They left me with a lot of impressions during the shooting and they made a lot of improvisation because they were real people that could feel this situation. Especially the little girl who played the main character -- she saw a lot of suffering, and she was a witness to a lot of tragedies."
The little girl he speaks of is Marina Golbahari, who Barmak found begging in the streets of Kabul. The Taliban arrested Golbahari's father numerous times, her sister was killed in a rocket attack, and her remaining 11 brothers and sisters were left destitute. At the time she was cast in "Osama," Golbahari had never seen a film before. Barmak says he believes she was able to play the role so well because her own experiences were so close to the movie's storyline. Golbahari is now attending school and has told Barmak she hopes to continue acting.
When Barmak screened the film in Afghanistan, audience members approached him to say how closely the bleak film mirrored their own experiences. "They told me a lot of things, that they saw their own [faces], that they saw their own history, and now they're feeling very deeply their own pain, because they never thought about it before."
The original ending to the film was a happy one. After the Taliban exposes Osama's true gender, her only way to avoid death by stoning is to become the fourth wife of an elderly mullah. Originally, Barmak showed the girl escaping. But then, he says, he decided the "happily ever after" ending was too naive. Out of respect for the audience, for whom such an escape was not an option, he drew the film to a bleaker end.
Barmak says he did not expect such a warm reception from an Afghan audience, considering the painfully familiar story. Afghan audiences, he says, tend to favor "Bollywood" musicals and more upbeat productions. But he says the enthusiastic response to "Osama" is one of many signs that Afghans may be growing more optimistic about their future.
The response from the West has been similarly rewarding. In addition to last night's Golden Globe, "Osama" won special mention at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2003, as well as the main prize at Montreal's New Movie and New Media Festival in October 2003. In November 2003, Barmak picked up the London Film Festival's Sutherland Trophy for the most original and imaginative movie at the event.
Nominations for the Academy Awards will be announced on 27 January. The ceremony itself will be held in Los Angeles on 29 February.
The American film company United Artists has picked up the film for distribution and it has begun to be screened across Europe and the U.S.
The message of the film, Barmak says, is universal: "This message is not only for Afghan audiences. This, the message was to the world because I thought that this was not only an Afghan tragedy. It was not a story that belongs to Afghans. It can happen anywhere, by extremism, by fundamentalism."
Barmak says he will not tackle such a weighty topic for his next project. This time around, he is working on a comedy because he wants to see laughter on the faces of his countrymen.
Andrea Boyle is an RFE/RL correspondent.
AFGHAN LEADER SIGNS NEW CONSTITUTION INTO LAW...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman (ATA) Hamid Karzai signed the recently approved Afghan Constitution into law on 26 January, RFE/RL reported. A Constitutional Loya Jirga adopted the 162-article document on 4 January. The constitution creates a democratic Islamic state under a strong presidency, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. The text also declares men and women equal under the law (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003 and 8 January 2004). Karzai has said that the new constitution offers a chance to salvage Afghanistan after almost 25 years of nearly continuous conflict. Some observers have warned that the constitution can only be implemented if accompanied by a rapid improvement in the country's literacy rate and extension of the authority of the central government throughout Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND SAYS POLITICAL PARTIES CANNOT HAVE MILITARY WINGS...ATA Chairman Karzai said on 24 January that the country's law on political parties clearly forbids the formation of political parties with military wings, Afghanistan Television reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). Karzai added that if there are political parties that have military wings, they should either dissolve their military forces or transfer such forces to the Afghan National Army. If a political party cannot follow the law, then it cannot register itself, Karzai added. If Karzai's plan to enforce legislation on political parties is successful, warlords who yield considerable political power may face the tough choice of either abandoning their military might in favor of joining the political arena or becoming an armed opposition to the central authority. Some warlords who also lead political parties hold official posts within the Afghan Transitional Administration. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS HE FAVORS NEW BONN-STYLE CONFERENCE.Karzai said on 24 January that he would like to see a second international conference on Afghanistan, Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai said increased international support is required in Afghanistan. The 2001 Bonn conference laid the groundwork for the Afghan Transitional Administration. The UN and some national leaders have called for another Bonn-style conference to address financial and political shortcomings and contribute to Afghanistan's long-term rehabilitation. (Amin Tarzi)
VOTER REGISTRATION IN AFGHANISTAN TOPS 500,000.More than half a million Afghans have registered to vote in June's general election, UN officials said on 22 January. According to a dpa report, UN spokesman Silva said that more than 112,515 women are among the 507,513 Afghans who have registered. Afghan officials say some 10 million Afghans will be eligible to register. But just half that number of people are expected to enter their names into the official voter registrar, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) said. So far, only Afghanistan's major cities offer voter registration, which is available to all Afghan citizens 18 and older. Further registration centers will open throughout the provinces, according to the JEMB, with sites chosen for their accessibility during winter and security situations, among other considerations such as projected attendance. Double registration remains a concern, Silva said. "It is considered as a very serious matter by the JEMB," said Silva, adding that the organization is talking with the government about imposing a fine or jail time for people caught registering more than once. (Marc Ricks)
AFGHAN LEADER APPROVES RECONSTRUCTION PLAN.ATA Chairman Karzai has approved a $160 million reconstruction project aimed at developing infrastructure throughout the country, AFP reported on 22 January. "The president signed the stability-strengthening project in which the centers of every district throughout the country will emerge as small cities," Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said. "This project will cover the construction of public institutions -- district buildings, banking systems, postal offices, telephones, telegraphs, mosques, libraries, and conference halls in every district." The two-year initiative was billed as the second-largest development project in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. The largest project remains reconstruction of the road linking Kabul and Kandahar. Several government agencies, led by the Interior Ministry, will be involved in the project, including the departments of Urban Development, Rural Development, Telecommunications, Public Works, and Finance. "Reconstruction projects which help widen the strengthening of stability are going to be implemented with the support of the international community, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), and government development programs," Jalali said. (Marc Ricks)
NATO WANTS MORE PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN...NATO hopes to organize up to five more PRTs for northern and western Afghanistan, dpa reported on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report, " 23 January 2004). The United States launched the so-called PRT program, which involves deploying small civil-affairs teams from the NATO-led peacekeeping force to far-flung areas in Afghanistan in an effort to help reconstruction projects. NATO commander Gliemeroth said many Afghan communities still need help that PRTs can provide. Eight PRTs are presently at work in Bamiyan, Gardayz, Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Khost, Kunduz, and Mazar-e Sharif. Coalition forces expect 12 PRTs to be at work in the country by the end of February. Gliemeroth also said more PRTs will improve stability and extend government influence. UN officials and Afghan leader Karzai have urged coalition forces to increase their presence in remote areas of the country to enhance the authority of the central government in Kabul. (Marc Ricks)
...WHILE THE ALLIANCE'S COMMITMENT TO AFGHANISTAN IS QUESTIONED...NATO's new secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, came under criticism at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 23 January over the failure to expand ISAF beyond Kabul, AP reported the next day. De Hoop Scheffer countered that while it is impossible to "pacify the whole country," NATO's operations so far are "a start." Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans told de Hoop Scheffer that he must "come to grips with the fact that NATO's commitment in Afghanistan is a triumph of public relations over substance." Garth described the northern Afghan town of Konduz, where NATO also has a presence, as "the safest place in the country." Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, added that "security has basically been relegated to the warlords" everywhere but Kabul and Konduz. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER PROPOSES THAT EUROCORPS ASSUME COMMAND OF ISAF.Peter Struck has said that Eurocorps might assume command of ISAF sometime during 2004, "Hamburg Financial Times Deutschland" reported on 27 January. The German defense minister said he has already discussed the proposal with his French counterpart Michelle Alliot-Marie. He reportedly said that if the idea is approved by Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain, an offer will be made to NATO, which currently commands ISAF. Struck is planning to discuss his proposal with other Eurocorps member states during the Munich Security Conference in early February. "I do not doubt that the willingness, in principle, exists," Struck said. Germany and France established the Eurocorps in 1992 (for more on NATO's role in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
CANADIAN SOLDIER AND AFGHAN CIVILIAN KILLED, OTHERS INJURED IN KABUL SUICIDE ATTACK…Afghan and Canadian officials say one Canadian soldier and an Afghan civilian were killed and at least two other Canadian soldiers injured in an apparent attack by a suicide bomber in Kabul on 27 January, RFE/RL reported. Afghan officials said eight civilians were also injured in the attack. Officials reportedly said the bomber approached a vehicle carrying the Canadian patrol and detonated explosives attached to his body. Canada, with around 2,000 troops, is the single largest contributor to the 5,500-strong, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is based in Kabul. In October, two Canadian ISAF troops were killed when a mine exploded under their vehicle in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...A DAY LATER, A BRITISH SOLDIER KILLED, THREE INJURED IN ANOTHER KABUL BLAST...A British member of the ISAF was killed and three others were injured on 28 January in an apparent suicide attack in Kabul, international news agencies reported. According to Lieutenant General Baba Jan, security commander of Kabul Province, a driver rammed a taxi into an ISAF vehicle immediately before the explosion, the official Afghan Bakhtar Information Agency reported on 28 January. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND NEOTALIBAN CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY.Abdul Samad, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the fatal attack on British ISAF troops on 28 January, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 28 January. According to that report, the neo-Taliban has pledged to carry out similar attacks in other Afghan provinces. (Amin Tarzi)
WEAPONS BANNED IN MAZAR-E SHARIF.Afghan authorities banned the carrying of unauthorized weapons in Mazar-e Sharif, AFP reported on 22 January. The ban goes into effect on 24 January, according to Mohammad Akram, the police chief of Mazar-e Sharif. Any person found with an unauthorized weapon after that will face arrest and be disarmed, Akram said. The Afghan government has sought since December to increase its authority in northern Afghanistan, where rival warlords control large swaths of territory. "After 24 January, anyone we find in the city carrying arms without authorization will be arrested by the police and disarmed," Akram said. "They must carry an individual permit, which includes a photo, produced by the police. If they don't have this, police will confiscate their arms as well as their vehicle." A UN spokesman said the ban is a move by the security commission for northern Afghanistan, a group made up of the area's main militias, British peacekeeping forces, the United Nations, and the central government. Only police, some businesspeople, and bodyguards of select political figures will have authority to carry weapons in the city. (Marc Ricks)
DOSTUM DEFENDS DELAYS ON DISARMAMENT; PROPOSES NEW FORCE.General Dostum, the powerful northern Afghan militia commander and security adviser to ATA Chairman Karzai, says most of his private militia is ready to disarm under a United Nations-sponsored program.
Dostum is an ethnic Uzbek commander who heads the Junbish-e Milli-ye Islami political group. His private militia was part of the former Northern Alliance that helped U.S. forces oust the Taliban regime in late 2001.
But since then, some of Dostum's fighters have clashed repeatedly in the north with troops of a rival faction of the former Northern Alliance -- a mostly ethnic Tajik group called Jamiat-e Islami that includes Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
The clashes have raised concerns that field commanders under Dostum and Fahim may refuse to observe a major disarmament initiative aimed at easing the country in its transition to peacetime rule after decades of war.
Speaking at a press conference on 21 January in Mazar-e Sharif, Dostum stressed that much of his private militia is participating in a UN disarmament program that is aimed at bolstering the authority of the central government by helping to build a multiethnic Afghan National Army.
"I have never rejected disarmament and have, to the best of my ability, cooperated in this regard," he said. "We have surrendered more arms. The 19th and 70th regiments were both part of Junbish-e Milli-ye Islami, and I can tell you that we have surrendered about 150 pieces of heavy weaponry -- such as tanks and mortars -- to the National Army. We will continue to do so."
However, officials at a British-run Provincial Reconstruction Team near Mazar-e Sharif noted recently that the 50th Regiment of Dostum's militia continues to refuse to surrender its heavy artillery.
When asked about the British PRT's report on the 50th regiment, Dostum insisted that some of his militia forces have the right to retain their heavy weapons until rival militia disarm.
"We have made an agreement and told the Afghan government and the international community, as well as the [British-run] PRT, that there are other military troops in Afghanistan, in places such as Konduz, Kapisa, Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. When they surrender all their arms, we too will hand over every weapon in our possession to the National Army."
Altogether, some 100,000 militiamen across Afghanistan are supposed to surrender their weapons under the UN program. Some Western military observers in Afghanistan have expressed skepticism about disarmament, saying that militia commanders will not willingly surrender their modern arsenals.
But there has been progress during the past two months. Last week, in a program that is backed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghan militia commanders in Kabul turned in more than 100 armored vehicles and heavy artillery pieces to the central government. That handover was seen as an important initial step toward demilitarizing the Afghan capital.
Much of that equipment belonged to the military wing of Defense Minister Fahim's Jamiat-e Islami faction. It included a convoy of armored troop carriers, ground-to-ground missile launchers, antitank guided missiles, and multiple rocket launchers that can destroy an entire city block with a single salvo.
The weapons were given to the Afghan Transitional Administration and moved to a military camp about 10 miles outside of Kabul. ISAF's deputy commander, Canadian Major General Andrew Leslie, said disarmament in Kabul has been a tremendous success. He said it shows that rival commanders are beginning to trust each other on disarmament. More importantly, Leslie said the program shows that commanders who don't trust each other are at least ready to trust ISAF.
Militia commanders in Kabul are expected to hand over another 300 heavy weapons during the next month. If successful, the program would remove all of Jamiat-e Islami's heavy artillery from the Afghan capital.
Yesterday's press conference by Dostum also highlighted suggestions he has made to Karzai for balancing the military powers of his faction against rival militia forces under Fahim.
Dostum said he is qualified to either replace Fahim as defense minister or to serve as the chief of staff for Afghanistan's National Army. He also suggested other possibilities, such as creating an armed antiterrorist force that would be independent from the Afghan Defense Ministry.
"I have the ability, God willing, to perform if a military position -- such as defense minister or head of the National Army -- is offered to me. I have even submitted to Hamid Karzai a six-month plan to repress remnants of Al-Qaeda in the south as I did in northern Afghanistan. I even suggested a special commando force of 20,000 troops to be trained to tackle terrorism. My conditions were that they would act under the president's direct authority as commander-in-chief -- a force separate from the National Army."
Dostum also told journalists that he would personally intervene in cases where some members of his militia have been accused of hindering the return of refugees in northern Afghanistan by robbing them or confiscating their property. (Ron Synovitz)
NORTHERN AFGHAN MILITARY CORPS PLEDGES TO COMPLY WITH KABUL'S PLANS FOR DISARMAMENT.At a meeting held in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan on 25 January, a number of commanders of Afghanistan's 8th Army Corps expressed their readiness to abide by the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) plans put forth by the Afghan Transitional Administration, Jowjzan Television reported. According to the report, sections of the 8th Army Corps have already handed over 240 heavy weapons and armored weapons to the DDR commission. The 8th Army Corps is the armed wing of the Junbish-e Melli party led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum, who is nominally Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's security adviser, has reportedly been reluctant to hand over much of his heavy weaponry. An Afghan law on political parties forbids any political organization from having military units (see above). (Amin Tarzi)
AIDES TO AFGHAN WARLORD HEKMATYAR REPORTEDLY ARRESTED.Afghan police and international peacekeeping forces in Kabul have arrested a group of men thought to be top aides to renegade warlord and former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, AP reported on 21 January. Germany's Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, said at least three "main actors" in Hekmatyar's group were among those detained. Gliemeroth said at least one of the men arrested is believed to have been involved in a mine attack that killed two Canadian soldiers in October. Gliemeroth said all the men who were arrested have been handed over to U.S. military officials at Bagram, the main U.S. military base north of Kabul. Authorities in Kabul arrested a man identified as Abu Bakr five days after the mine killed the Canadians, and Gliemeroth said "very strong evidence" linked Bakr to the attack. Gliemeroth offered no other details about who was arrested or when, saying an investigation is continuing. (Marc Ricks)
HUNDREDS OF FORMER TALIBAN FIGHTERS SAID TO BE FREED IN AFGHANISTAN...Hundreds of prisoners who have been held for two years by Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum will probably be released next week if it is determined that they were "forced to fight for Al-Qaeda," a senior Afghan official said on 21 January. Enayatullah Kamel, who heads a judicial commission investigating Dostum's detentions in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan, expects to release that commission's findings next week and subsequently free prisoners, AFP reported. "We came here to survey the Taliban prisoners to find out who are the real Al-Qaeda and who were forced to work with Al-Qaeda," said Kamel, who visited a Sheberghan jail that holds 900 suspected militants. "During the inquiry, we found prisoners that were forced to fight for Al-Qaeda. They are ignorant and illiterate people that know nothing and are from the villages of Afghanistan," Kamel said. "Now we are checking. When we finish our inquiry, we will give the report to the Afghan High Court and [ATA] Hamid Karzai; then maybe we will release more than 400 Afghan prisoners next week." (Marc Ricks)
...BUT NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD REFUSES TO RELEASE THEM.Afghan warlord and leader of Junbish-e Melli party General Abdul Rashid Dostum has refused to obey an order from ATA Chairman Karzai to release some former Taliban prisoners from detention in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 25 January. A judicial commission investigating detentions in Sheberghan by Dostum forces recently said it expected many former Taliban to be released. Dostum is stubbornly resisting efforts by Kabul to impose central authority (see above). (Amin Tarzi)
EASTERN AFGHAN WARLORD LAUNCHES HUNGER STRIKE IN PAKISTANI PRISON.A rogue military commander in eastern Paktiya Province, Pacha Khan Zadran, launched a hunger strike on 23 January to protest the conditions of his detention at a prison in Pakistan, Hindukosh news agency reported on 25 January. Zadran was detained in the Pakistani town of Miran Shah while he was traveling there to visit his family, the agency said. Zadran reportedly has not been informed of the reason for his arrest and has been denied any visits while in custody. Zadran was a signatory of the 2001 Bonn agreement and an ally of both Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and the United States before he went into armed opposition to the government in Kabul the following year. Zadran recently pledged full cooperation with the Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
UNHCR HEARS ASYLUM APPEALS IN AFGHANISTAN.More than two dozen people, most of them nationals of Persian Gulf countries, have sought refugee status in Afghanistan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 21 January. "Right now there are about 30 asylum seekers who are living in two houses in Kabul," said Daniel Endres, deputy chief of the UNHCR's mission in Afghanistan, who was quoted in a Xinhua news agency report. "These people want to be recognized as refugees and live in peace and security either here or abroad." UNHCR officials in Afghanistan have received fewer than 50 political-asylum applications in the two years since the Taliban lost power in Afghanistan. Endres said 20 of the applications have been rejected. Endres declined to disclose the nationality of the asylum seekers living in Kabul, but Afghan sources cited by Xinhua said the refugees include individuals from Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan who fled their home countries for political reasons. (Marc Ricks)
AFGHAN, UN OFFICIALS PRESS FOR RETURN OF REFUGEES IN IRAN.Afghan officials and UN aid workers plan to visit Iran in an effort to encourage Afghan refugees to return home, a UN official is quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying in Kabul on 22 January. The governor of the Afghan province of Bamyan, Mohammad Rahim Aliyar, will lead a delegation bound for Iran on 23 January, the agency reported. Manoel de Almeida e Silva, of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the delegation "will hold talks with Afghan refugee communities as well as Iranian officials during its weeklong stay there." Roughly half of the 3 million Afghan refugees remaining outside the country are thought to be living in Iran. Most other refugees are in either Pakistan or Tajikistan. Some 2 million Afghan refugees came back to the country in 2002 with UN aid. Afghanistan's lagging economy and persistent security problems have left many Afghan refugees reluctant to return. (Marc Ricks)
ARSONISTS STRIKE GIRLS' SCHOOL IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN.Unidentified arsonists set fire to a primary school for girls in the Nari district of Konar Province on 26 January, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. No one has been arrested in connection to the case. AIP suggested the act was carried out by individuals loyal to the former Taliban regime, noting its policy of banning education for girls and women. (Amin Tarzi)
'BAD MARRIAGES' LIKELY TO CONTINUE DESPITE VIOLATIONS OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS.Twenty-four-year-old Hamida lives in Kabul's Third Microrayon district with her husband and his family. Like most girls from Pashtun tribes, Hamida was forced into an arranged marriage. But unlike most, hers is a "bad marriage" -- a union meant as compensation for the male victim of a conflict between her family and that of her husband's:
"The [families] had a conflict over some land, and my brother killed one of them. Then a jirga [tribal assembly] was called and the jirga decided that my family should give me [to the victim's family] for a bad marriage," Hamida said.
Ancient Pashtun tradition dictates that when a man is killed or severely injured in a conflict between two families or tribes, the local jirga -- an assembly of tribal elders and influential residents -- steps in to resolve the dispute. The jirga often orders the assailant's family to pay a "blood price," by forcing a female relative to wed a member of the victim's family. Sometimes girls as young as a few months old are named as a family's blood price, and are married once they grow up.
Abdul Wali Ahmadyar, an elderly member of a Pashtun tribe in central Wardak Province, explained the variations blood prices can take: "The price depends on the crime. If a man loses a hand, foot, or an ear during the fight, or if he is blinded, the other side would have to pay a penalty called 'chodar.' This means they have to give a baby girl as a bride. The victim's family will have to give one-fourth the regular dowry to the young bride's family. If a man was killed during the quarrel, then the killer's side will have to give an adult bride to the victim's family."
There are no statistics indicating how many Pashtun women in Afghanistan are now in bad marriages. But according to Shukriya Barakzai, the editor of an Afghan women's magazine and a member of the former Constitutional Review Commission, the number is significant.
Tribal member Abdul Wali Ahmadyar defends the tradition as a "good solution to tribal conflicts, which puts an end to rivalries and animosity between families and tribes." But Hamida, the 24-year-old wife in a bad marriage, says her forced union has not brought peace to the two families. Instead, her in-laws see her simply as the sister of the man who murdered their son, and the enmity between the two families remains. "My life is awful now," she said. "In my parents' house, I used to go to school; I completed the 10th grade. My new family does not allow me to go to school. I do housework all day. They do not allow me to visit my parents. The two families do not visit each other. The animosity still goes on."
Pashtun tribal culture puts strict limits on women's behavior. For example, a widow who wishes to remarry may do so only if she chooses as her groom a brother or close relative of her late husband. While men are free to have more than one wife, divorce is regarded as deeply shameful and is almost nonexistent.
Shukriya Barakzai says Afghanistan's civil laws are unlikely to take the place of tribal laws anytime soon. Even in the case of murder, tribal crimes are usually resolved by the local jirga -- not by the police or other civilian authorities. Barakzai says it may take years to eliminate those tribal traditions that represent a clear violation of human rights. "In Afghan society, it is impossible to officially abolish the bad-marriage tradition, a tradition that violates women's rights," she said. "I hope in the distant future we will be able to eliminate the tradition from people's minds, using religion and official propaganda. But I have to say that in the near future, [abolishing the tradition] is just a dream."
The new Afghan government has said respect for women's rights is a key element of its platform, and that it will provide Afghan women with opportunities to work and study. The country's new constitution requires that at least two women from each province should serve in parliament, and also paves the way for a woman to eventually serve as one of the country's two vice presidents (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003 and 8 January 2004).
In reality, however, it seems as thought traditional Afghan society has a long way to go before men and women are treated as equal citizens. (Farangis Najibullah)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY25 January 1968 -- Education commission organized to decide national policy for Afghanistan.
24 January 1984 -- President Babrak Karmal replaces top military advisers. Chief of Staff General Baba Jan is replaced by Lieutenant General Nazar Mohammad and Deputy Defense Minister Major General Khalilullah is replaced by Major General Mohammad Nabi Azimi.
25 January 1989 -- The United States closes its embassy in Kabul.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991).