Though I am not sure, it does appear to me that no major English-language newspaper in the capital has taken proper notice of the second wave of refugees from Afghanistan into Pakistan. This is a much smaller wave; the figure runs into thousands and not millions, as in the first case. But it is significant for another reason.
The new refugees numbering around 70,000 are not ordinary Afghans. They are the cream of the Afghan society. They include a large number of doctors, engineers, architects, bankers and businessmen. Around one hundred of them are university teachers, many of them trained in the West. This means that most of those who could help their country recover from the devastation of the last 14 years, if and when some kind of normalcy returns, have left.
Many of the new refugees have felt obliged to leave because life in Kabul has become far more insecure than it used to be under President Najibullah on account of the continuing struggle for control of the city between the predominantly Tajik-Uzbek coalition and the essential Pushtoon Hizbe Islam of Mr Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But the general insecurity is only one factor behind the exodus and by no means the most important. The results of a detailed investigation by the The Herald, Karachi, are as frightening as they are enlightening. The magazine quotes former professors of the Kabul University as saying that while they were called “agents of imperialism” under the Najib dispensation and obliged to lower standards of education, there was never any direct threat to their lives despite their liberal convictions and known opposition to Marxism. The Islamic fundamentalists turned out to be quite different. As soon as they arrived in Kabul they started attacking the homes of the liberal intelligentsia.
The Kabul University was the special target for the mujahideen. It has remained closed since the fall of Najib. The Iran-backed Shia group known as Hezb Wahdat currently occupies the campus and has stripped the buildings of even windows and doors perhaps to render reopening as difficult as possible.
The Herald quotes a professor who is willing to be identified: “I refused to leave even when I lost my job and my property to fundamentalists. But when they started to take away our women, I felt I had no other option”. Educated Afghan women refugees numbering around 6,000 are too terrorised to be willing to meet the press because, as one has put it, “there are so many among us who have been raped”. As in Punjab and Kashmir in our country, this assault on women throws an interesting light on the psychology of terrorists and guerrillas. Apparently, they see themselves entitled to grab all that takes their fancy not only from the “enemy” they fight but from the people in whose name they claim to fight.
Peshawar is preferable to Kabul for the refugees inasmuch as their lives are not in immediate danger. And that is not a small gain for people who have seen their homes attacked and their relations and friends shot dead or blown away in the name of some Islamic utopia. But there is no escape from harassment. Gulbuddin’s Hizbe Islam is well entrenched in Peshawar and has a powerful ally in Jamaat-e-Islam. The two have been particularly harsh on women.
They have been ordered to put on the burqa, and most of them are not used to it since they grew up in a liberal atmosphere. They have been asked to stay indoors, not seek jobs nor mingle with the local people. One woman who dared and found a job has had to give it up. But that is not good enough for Hizbe Islam and Jamaat. They have plastered the city with posters proclaiming that the Kabuli women are prostitutes; they are suffering from AIDS; and they have been especially sent to Pakistan to spread the disease.
All in all, Afghans have to cope with thousands of men who are deranged and out to rape and destroy. There is a difference between fanaticism, however undesirable in itself, and mental disorder. What a pity it does not receive the attention it deserves.
Economic Times, 16 April 1993