Report from Pakistan


Scottish Socialist Interviews Afghan Socialists

by Alan McCombes


[Scottish Socialist Voice editor, Alan McCombes, recently traveled to Pakistan. In this article, socialists of the underground Afghan Revolutionary Labor Organization describe their work. Further reports from Alan are featured in the current issue of Scottish Socialist Voice, newspaper of the Scottish Socialist Party.

[The Scottish Socialist Party is a labor-based group that opposes the pro-corporate “New Labour” of war lover Tony Blair. In elections this past June, the Scottish Socialist Party won 72,5000 votes. Together with its co-thinkers of the Socialist Alliance in England, it has made the strongest showing for the non–Labour Party left in Britain since World War II.]

ON THE day I met Mahsooda in her home, she and her comrades of the Afghan Revolutionary Labor Organization — an underground socialist party — had just received tragic news. Eight of their comrades and their seven children had been killed two nights before in U.S. bombing raids in and around the city of Kharkhana.

Mahsooda and her other comrades could not reveal to me their real names because they work secretly under dangerous conditions, but they told me the names and ages of their dead comrades. “They are now martyrs and cannot be killed twice,” I was told. Four of the dead socialists were female activists — Llallama (31), Marzia (25), Rabia (30) and Gulmaco (40). The men were Abdul Karin (21), Abdul Farouk (47), Abdul Rahman (51), and Abdullah (38).

At that stage, no one was sure of the names and ages of the dead children but told me they would pass that information on as soon as they found out. It is easy to be a socialist activist in Scotland, where you can publicly argue for your ideas, produce leaflets and newspapers, organize campaigns, stand in elections.

The life of an Afghan socialist is entirely different. First, they have no money for leaflets, websites, or computers. Every day is a struggle to survive. The activists I met live in grinding poverty, often eating nothing but potatoes for days at a time. They have no money for leaflets and newspapers. Even if they had, they could not distribute them, because they live under a permanent death sentence. Even those like Mahsooda, living in exile across the border in Peshawar, would be killed by the Taliban or other religious extremists if their identities were discovered.

But as an organizer of the party's women's section, Mahsooda carries out in effect double underground work. [Organizers of women] are in even more danger of punishment from the religious parties if they are discovered. And the women Mahsooda organizes are forced to meet clandestinely, behind the backs of the men in their families.

“Lots of women conform to a traditional role. But many thirst for knowledge and want to become active,” says Mahsooda, herself a mother of four young children. “Women have a long history of involvement in political struggle in Afghanistan. But now many men won't allow them to attend events, or courses.

“We have lots of women comrades who work in secret from their husbands, brothers, and fathers. They will say ‘we are going to the market’ or ‘we are going to buy clothes’ but instead they will come to this house and other houses.”

The day after I met Mahsooda, I met two other women organizers who have never met Mahsooda, because the party works in a secret cell structure. Shalbala is 27 years old and is from the province of Bamiya in Central Afghanistan—a Shia Muslim stronghold that has suffered terrible sectarian persecution at the hands of the Sunni Muslim Taliban.

Earlier this year, the Taliban went on a rampage in the area, destroying world-renowned Buddhist statues and slaughtering villagers. One of Shalhala's uncles and four of her cousins were executed when the Taliban entered two villages, Darali and Naick, and rounded up all the men. “In Darali, the people had come out of their homes to welcome the Taliban. But then they collected the men from the houses, brought them to the center of the village and tied their hands.

No one thought they were going to be killed, they thought they would be taken to jail. But they killed them all — 180 in Darali and 220 in Naick.”

Shalhala says that women are more hostile to the Taliban than men: “Some women, those who are from extremely religious backgrounds support them. But not most women. They see their own houses turned into jails. Most people — 99 percent of people — in Afghanistan are Muslim, but most of them want freedom and democracy.”

Shalhala believes that the choice between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance is a choice between Frankenstein and Dracula. Her area was in the past a Northern Alliance stronghold before it was captured by the Taliban. Shalhala explains that the Northern Alliance were guilty of terrible brutality against women, kidnapping them regularly and raping them.

“They are extremely cruel. One young girl — Shukria was her name — was attacked in her home by Northern Alliance leaders. They tried to rape her but she jumped from her window to escape and was killed.”

Hilla is 22 and organizes the women’s section of the Afghan Revolutionary Labor Organization in the city of Herat on the other side of Afghanistan near the border with Iran.

She speaks good English and tells me that 99 per cent of women in Afghanistan are uneducated. A major part of Hilla’s work is organizing basic educational schools. Hilla and her comrades collect women and take them to houses where classes are held in total secrecy. They charge very small fees to cover the cost of providing basic materials like pens, paper, and books. Those who have no money are allowed to attend free.

“In each class we teach 10 to 15 women. I have responsibility for five different courses, but we are organizing many other courses across the province and across the country as a whole. They are organized by the Afghan Revolutionary Labor Organization.

“Our first step is to organize basic literacy. Before we can educate women politically, we first have to teach them to read and write. We also teach basic medical care and clothes making. Then later, we move on to politics.”

Despite the repression they suffer from the Taliban, Hilla says all women in Afghanistan oppose the American bombings.

“This is not seen as a war between America and the Taliban — it is seen as a war waged by non-Muslims against Muslims. Where I work it is mostly Shia people. They oppose the Taliban.

“But if they [America and Britain] invade the country on the ground, most people will fight with the Taliban against America and Britain.

“Yes, America wants to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaida. But their main aim is to take over Central Asia as they have done with some Arab countries…America thought they would win easily, but now they say this is a long war, maybe two or three years.

“But even if America defeats the Taliban and brings in its own government, the Left will still have to work underground because America will not bring democracy but another dictatorship.

“The Left in Afghanistan has always had to work underground and now things are getting worse, not better.”