Thousands near border await call from Afghans
MATTA, Pakistan – Seated around an earthen-floor living room
in this mountain village on Tuesday, a group of armed men awaited
word from Afghanistan to start fighting for the ruling Taliban.
“Our blood is the same. Whenever the Taliban needs us, we are
here,” said Qari Abdullah, a teacher who is among thousands
gathering on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to help fight
Americans and defend Islam.
But Abdullah and his cohorts, who represent a challenge to
United States policy and, potentially, military efforts in the
region, haven’t crossed into Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials say they can’t.
And Taliban officials don’t want them – yet – saying the
battle only involves air assaults that would endanger the men.
Late Tuesday night, movement leader Mulana Soofi Mohamad
traveled to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to talk with Taliban officials
about a strategy for the volunteers, said Abdullah, spokesman for
the forces, which he said numbered 35,000. Pakistani officials
have put the number at 8,000.
Armed supporters around Abdullah in the room included a
nephew wielding an M-16 assault rifle that he said Americans
supplied to mujahadeen forces enlisted in the 1980s to fight the
“America’s President Bush said in one of his speeches that
this is the beginning of a crusade. He uttered that word,”
Abdullah said. “He challenged the faith of Muslims.
“Now we here are poor people. We work for our food, and
because of our work we survive. We don’t have time to leave our
beautiful children, our innocent children, and go away from our
“We had two options’
“But we had two options. Stay home. That would hurt our
faith. Or the other way, sacrifice our blood, head, body, heart.
This was the only gift we had to give the Afghan people. If they
don’t want this gift, we will still be ready all the time.”
This sort of resistance isn’t what U.S. officials had in mind
when they launched a military campaign in Afghanistan after the
Taliban refused to give up suspected terrorist leader Osama bin
This week’s amassing of Pro-Taliban forces along the border,
south of Dir in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, is one of
several challenges facing the United States and Pakistani
President Pervez Musharraf, who supports efforts to hunt down bin
North of Islamabad, another group blocked the Karakoram
highway this week in the latest of many protests against
cooperation with the United States. They agreed Tuesday to reopen
that key route.
Bin Laden remains alive and uncaptured. The Taliban remains
in power. Rebels fighting Taliban troops say they want more help
and appear to have made little progress.
“Very few Taliban are dying,” said Abdul Ghafoor, 36, a
businessman who crossed from the Afghan capital Kabul five days
ago with his 5-year-old son.
“The Taliban were bad. I wanted to change the government. But
now my whole life has gone bad because of the Americans. Now
everyone is siding with the Taliban.”
Pakistan Frontier Police Sgt. Yousaf Khan said people are
suspicious of the United States because of past policies.
“They feel that Osama is not responsible for the Sept. 11
attacks as accused. They say: “First Americans used the Afghans to
fight the Soviets. Now the Americans want to fight the Afghans.'”
A network of recruiters organized the volunteer forces
drawing from valleys including this one, ringed by mountain peaks
with farms down below between busy little towns where strict
Islamic codes prevail and uncovered women are seldom seen.
It’s easy to enlist volunteers, with thousands of men
entering recruiting offices to join the jihad, or holy war, said
Tariq Mehmood, 28, a bearded teacher from Khawazkhela in the upper
For seven years, he said, he’s been recruiting in Mingora and
towns to the north. First he interviews candidates to test their
faith, he said. “We ask the question: “For what do you fight?'”
Before the air assault on Afghanistan, “we have to arrange
only one vehicle for taking them to training. Now, we have to
arrange seven or eight vehicles for training.”
The training camps, he said, are those that U.S. agents once
helped establish across this region when the Soviet Union was the
enemy. Training consists of 40-day to six-month sessions heavy on
physical drills and demonstrations of how to carry and load
If Taliban leaders call for the forces along the border to
enter, and Pakistani guards still block them, Mehmood said, “then
we will make a plan what to do.”
“We are all Afghans’
Though they come from Pakistan, the men at the border speak
the same language, Pushtu, as a majority of Afghan people. Many
have relatives in Afghanistan.
“By culture, we are all Afghans,” said journalist Hameed
Ullah Kahn, 24, of Mingora, down the Swat valley from Matta.
“If Osama bin Laden is the bad guy, why are Americans
victimizing the Afghan people?” he said. “Think about those people
you are bombing. What might you see in their faces? If I bring a
Kalashnikov, put it on your head, that is the effect you have on
the Afghan people.”
Rights activist fears crackdown
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – As this former Soviet state prepares
for the arrival of American troops and the secretary of defense,
Nozima Kamalova is glad yet worried.
Glad because as head of the Legal Aid Society, which
encourages human rights, she applauds Uzbekistan’s growing role in
But concerned too, because she says the war against terrorism
could threaten the frail new freedoms she seeks. Authorities here
have locked up more than 7,000 political prisoners, squelched
political opposition and beaten critics, human rights groups say.
“I am very concerned,” she said. “Maybe they will think that
they can do anything now.”
This is the Uzbek version of the dilemma that Americans face,
too. Retaining civil liberties while cracking down on terrorists
is emerging as a global challenge that different nations approach
from divergent positions.
Last week, before it was announced that Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld would be coming to Uzbekistan, U.S. human rights
groups urged U.S. officials to make sure new military alliances
with Uzbekistan and other authoritarian Central Asian nations
don’t become excuses for abusive internal crackdowns.
Central Asia is “home to brutal dictatorships that use tools
of repression they inherited from the Soviet Union against any
political or religious group they cannot control,” wrote Kenneth
Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, in a letter to U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Tighter airport security
Uzbek officials hope the United States also might learn from
the experience of Uzbekistan, where many still speak Russian and
the government has fought militant Islamic insurgents for the past
On Feb. 16, 1999, five bombs exploded simultaneously around
the capital city of Tashkent, killing 16 people. Security measures
were imposed – such as checkpoints on roads outside the capital.
Airport security is far more intense than in the United States.
Despite increased security, attacks on Uzbekistan continued.
Last year, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan insurgents attacked from
neighboring Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Over two months, Uzbek
forces repelled them.
“They are very strong Islamic extremist groups,” said
Jakhongir Mavlany, assistant to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s
foreign commercial service officer in Uzbekistan. “Their final
goal, according to their press releases, is to create a pure
Islamic empire in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asian
republics, including parts of western China.”
The situation calmed this past year. U.S. companies led by
Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp. – which invested $300 million in
a gold-processing joint venture – see business potential in
Mavlany said leaders of the insurgency “are linked with Osama
bin Laden,” the suspected terrorist. In his speech after the Sept.
11 attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush referred to
the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its link to bin Laden’s
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in an interview
during the presidential campaign, said Central Asia could become a
hotbed of anti-U.S. terrorism, funded by sales of heroin from
Most of the people across the region are Muslims – 88 percent
of Uzbekistan’s population of 25 million. Widespread poverty –
with salaries at about $25 a month – creates potential recruits
for radicals, even though literacy rates are high.
Rumsfeld’s visit, following stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt,
is designed to build cooperation for attacks on Afghanistan, which
harbors bin Laden.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov is hosting Rumsfeld on
Kamalova will watch closely.
A 39-year-old lawyer who first toured America as Hillary
Rodham Clinton’s guest, she witnessed the destruction of the Sept.
11 attacks in New York while attending a United Nations conference.
Now she awaits the results. Karimov offered access to air
bases – including those near Tuzul, Termez and Samarqand – for
U.S. warplanes and troops. Many have been idle since Soviet forces
withdrew about 11 years ago and require improved electronics, air
control systems and fueling stations. A contingent from the 10th
Mountain Division is expected soon.
One fear here is that Americans might strike Afghanistan and
then withdraw, leaving Uzbekistan to face enraged radical Muslims.
So far, despite concerns, Kamalova said her group,
Uzbekistan’s first officially registered human rights
organization, finds that officials “are listening” to civil rights
“I think,” she said, “it’s good that they let the Americans
Millions of producers in Third World mired in poverty
UNILDE, Nicaragua – Standing in a cloud forest on the side of
a volcano, Santiago Rivera closes his calloused fingers over green
coffee fruits blushing ripe – future flavor for U.S. consumers.
He descends a twisting trail, past banana trees and the
donkey he fondly calls “the squirrel,” to his adobe house with an
earthen kitchen floor and no plumbing.
He gets by thanks to the “fair trade” deal that gives him 91
cents a pound – double what most growers here get. In fact, Rivera
is the model campesino pictured on brochures touting Starbucks
Coffee’s participation in fair trade, in which companies and
consumers team up to get more money to peasants.
But millions of other coffee producers, across Central
America and much of the Third World, are mired in some of the
planet’s worst poverty. A few hours from Rivera, women give birth
in fly-infested black-plastic shanties without medical help, and
barefoot children grow up on one meal a day.
The survival or suffering of people who produce your coffee
is one of many aspects of today’s world that U.S. consumers can
control. Today, poverty and despair are spreading, creating
breeding grounds for trouble in a world where the threshold for
violence rose Sept. 11.
Leading analysts, including former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado,
who recently led a sweeping appraisal of U.S. national security,
say we must confront global poverty – especially to combat
“There must be much more concerted international effort to do
what the Army calls drying up the swamp. The swamp is composed of
four things – money, weapons, shelter and the fourth thing –
recruits,” Hart said. “The only way you do the fourth is by ending
the despair and offering hope through concerted
The emerging fair-trade movement tries to accomplish this
within the market system instead of relying on aid handouts or
moving farmers into low-wage factories. The way it works is U.S.
consumers pay 5 to 10 percent more for products with fair-trade
labels. Those additional cents, and savings from companies buying
the products more directly from producers and co-ops abroad, can
give producers in the field a minimum price. Inspectors verify
whether the money gets through.
This movement brought “fair trade” coffee to Starbucks a year
ago along with other coffee shops – Kaladi Brothers in Denver,
Coffee Jones in Boulder and Bongo Billy’s Coffees in Buena Vista,
among them. Now, movement leaders target giant corporations that
drive world prices – owners of Maxwell House, Folgers and the
like. More than 80 percent of the coffee Americans drink is this
relatively inexpensive canned coffee.
Fair-trade leaders also plan to broaden their strategy to
encompass producers of other commodities – bananas, sugar,
But consumer-led poverty reduction isn’t possible unless
corporations agree to offer fair-trade products. Many refuse. As
it stands now, few coffee growers benefit because less than 1
percent, or 2.19 million of the 219 million cups of coffee
Americans drink daily, is certified as fair trade.
Meanwhile, a global coffee crisis caused by overproduction
drives millions ever deeper into poverty.
“We eat only beans,” said Paula Mercado, 40, in a dark
hillside shack near Rivera. “We’re killing ourselves working, and
we can’t get a decent price.”
Highly traded commodity
Four in five U.S. adults drink coffee, helping to make coffee
the world’s second most-traded commodity after oil with $55
billion in annual sales. And industry experts say the very best
coffee generally comes from small-scale farmers like Santiago
Rivera laboring in tropical highlands from Ethiopia to Indonesia.
This fine coffee grows on shaded plots, under diverse
canopies considered ecologically healthy, where complex flavors
develop. Here in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, brilliant
blue butterflies bounce around Rivera’s carefully tended coffee
His classic method and wise, weathered face made him a
modern-day Juan Valdez for Starbucks, which distributes its
fair-trade brochures at 3,000 shops around North America. Soon
Starbucks will offer fair-trade coffee worldwide, chief executive
Orin Smith said. “We’re going to be a force within our industry
… working very hard to make this program work.”
It isn’t charity, he said. To keep selling top-quality
coffee, “we need these people to survive.”
For his role, Rivera gained a public-relations tour of
America last year. He saw “streets made of nothing but buildings –
Now back home he struggles, perched on a wood chair teetering
on an uneven floor, weighing his finances. His wife, Ermelinda,
brings him a cup of his own coffee – one of the few luxuries in
his life. His earnings as a coffee grower aren’t enough even to
afford Nescafe instant from the village store, let alone an $11.45
bag of his beans in America.
He collects 91 cents a pound because he’s part of a
cooperative – Prodecoop based in Esteli – that sells 60 percent of
its coffee at fair-trade prices – $1.26 a pound for fair-trade
beans and $1.41 for beans also certified as organic. Directors
said farmers usually receive about $1 a pound depending on
deductions for transport, processing and community projects.
Rivera’s 91 cents means his six children can attend school
and, at this time of drought, eat store-bought rice and corn. He
still relied on aid handouts after Hurricane Mitch to repair his
roof and an outhouse.
Yet his struggles are minimal compared with those of
neighbors around him who must sell their beans for 45 cents a
pound. They beg regularly to let them join his co-op. Rivera must
say no until demand grows – which torments him.
“You should be able to work and have a better life,” he said.
Sales are still low, but the volume of fair-trade coffee
imported by the United States has more than doubled since 1999,
said Paul Rice, director of the TransFair USA organization that
coordinates monitoring and labeling.
“U.S. consumers are a sleeping giant,” Rice said. “As it
awakens, corporate America has to sit up and listen.”
But fair traders face an uphill battle.
Across coffee-dependent Central America – where good times
mean living on $2 a day – relief agencies estimate 1.5 million
peasants lack food as a coffee crisis worsens. World market prices
plunged to all-time lows last week – 19 cents a pound for
low-quality robusta and 45 cents for arabica beans. In Nicaragua
alone, a quarter-million people are suffering, and United Nations
officials said more than 12,000 coffee workers now receive
emergency food aid.
What caused this crisis? Investors over the past decade
sensed profit opportunities in Vietnam, where peasants work as
cheaply as anywhere in the world. Financiers and Vietnam’s
government directed rapid development of coffee plantations.
Vietnam now is the second-largest coffee producer behind Brazil –
churning out cheap robusta coffee that corporate giants like
Procter & Gamble buy. A resulting glut of this coffee sucked down
Vietnamese peasants win.
But in Nicaragua, Victor Manual Alvarez, 45, sat on the floor
of his two-room house measuring out the last of the corn that
feeds his family. His four barefoot children watched listlessly.
“When this runs out …” His voice trailed off. The family
has no money, he said. A dry cornfield behind the house isn’t
planted. He still counts on coffee, but unable to sell at
fair-trade prices he must settle for 50 cents a pound. After
tending to his coffee plants and harvesting, moving his coffee to
local middlemen requires five day-long donkey treks down the
volcano and then along a rocky 5-mile road to Somoto.
He devotes more time now to searching for construction work
that might bring some money for food. Sometimes he’s gone for
“It’s not fair,” he said. “Fifty cents a pound is not enough
to provide coffee.”
There was a time when he envisioned a better life for his
children. “I’ve been working with a machete since I was a little
boy. I never studied.”
Now he just wants them to survive. “Give a good price to us,
the poor producers of your coffee,” he implored. “The coffee we
produce is good coffee.”
United Nations World Food Program supervisor Rosario Sanabria
laments that too many commodity producers are falling behind.
“The companies play an important role,” Sanabria said. “Their
values are not human. They are commercial. What is their
responsibility? In general, we’re not taking care of human values.
The world would be a little more fair if we thought more about
Inside a Starbucks cafe on Denver’s 16th Street Mall,
bank-loan specialist Beth Bockenstedt, 44, ordered up a $3.80
Caramel Macchiato last week. She knew about fair-trade coffee.
She’d seen the brochure featuring Santiago Rivera. The cafe in
Denver offered no fair-trade coffee as a daily brew. Bockenstedt
said she might be inclined to try it or buy fair-trade beans for
home instead of French Roast – even if those beans aren’t quite as
But she doubts fair-trade money really reaches peasants. She
views fair trade as “just a gimmick” to hook socially conscious
At Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, chief executive Smith
worried about the quality of fair-trade coffee. He said he wants
fair-trade leaders to work with industry leaders to find
cooperatives that can produce the best coffee in large volumes.
Specialty-coffee lobbyists fear this is happening too slowly
and that an industrywide roughening of quality will result as
Vietnamese robusta drives out savory arabicas.
Fair-trade pitch rejected
“We can’t do what we need to do with fair trade,” said Ted
Lingle, director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
“We can’t get consumers to connect with the issue fast enough to
make a real difference for the farmer.” Lingle wants coffee-market
leaders in New York and London to remove “triage” waste products
that inflate global coffee volume, in an emergency effort to
Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble directors at a shareholder
meeting Oct. 9 rejected a pitch to offer fair-trade coffee. P&G
prefers to help impoverished producers by giving aid, spokeswoman
Margaret Swallow said.
Executives are looking for groups that work with farmers to
help them switch from coffee into growing more profitable crops,
Pressure groups plan to attack P&G as suppliers of “sweatshop
And in the U.S. Congress, lawmakers are trying to make up
their own minds about what kind of coffee to drink. Last week
lawmakers tested fair-trade blends in a congressional cafeteria.
Yet so far nobody is making a real difference for coffee
In a fly-infested shanty camp near Matagalpa, Dimas Carrazo,
40, grips an ax, trolling for wood to cut and sell, the only way
he can afford food for his four starving kids. Frustrations mount.
Carrazo and others once fought as U.S.-backed contra fighters to
subvert Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Many still wear blue
contra caps emblazoned “Guardians of Democracy.”
Americans should help with the coffee crisis, said Marcos
Molina Velazquez, 40, an ex-fighter now raising five kids. “If
they helped us before to get arms, now they should help us get
In another roadside camp, Samuel Tinoco, 53, suggested:
“Maybe I should go to Vietnam?”
Leading a group of 350 landless coffee workers, who marched
all the way to Managua pleading for aid to sick children and then
camped at the National Assembly, Maria Victoria Picado, 45,
announced: “If nobody does anything, this will get violent.”
This year, a U.S. State Department report warned that “endemic
poverty” in Nicaragua is driving entire communities into smuggling
drugs from Colombia north to the United States.
Even Santiago Rivera questions the free-market system right
now. He has friends in the United States, and excused himself
tearfully after watching the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade
Center. “We’re all brothers.”
Yet in Nicaragua’s election next month, he’s backing
ex-Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, a man with questionable
connections to Libya and Iraq who once tried to lead Central
America toward socialism. He’s worth another try, in Rivera’s
view, as a leader responsive to real people.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – As the first U.S. ground troops in
Central Asia reach this former Soviet republic, leaders of the war
on terrorism are depicting a resolute march toward justice.
That march, underscored by further warnings from President
Bush, on Friday took Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld up the
curving, brass-railed marble stairs in Uzbekistan’s White Palace.
There, bolstering new alliances the United States is trying
to forge, the secretary of defense shook hands with President
Islam Karimov, a burly former Communist Party boss.
They sat at a long table facing each other, palavered for an
hour and then strolled across a gleaming wood floor.
Karimov said yes, the United States could use one military
base for search and rescue and humanitarian operations – which
would provide key access to an area just north of Afghanistan
where suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
But the Uzbek leader also said no, the U.S. cannot yet launch
strikes directly from his country. And no, U.S. special operations
soldiers, key to efforts in Afghanistan, won’t be allowed in the
“We are not quite ready for this,” Karimov said.
Now some 1,000 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division –
created in Colorado during World War II, and now based in New York
– are charged with setting up operations at the Uzbek air base.
Rumsfeld’s five-country mission to build support paired with
a swing by British Prime Minister Tony Blair through Russia,
Pakistan and India. As they returned home, England and the U.S.
talked tough, but vaguely, to Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders.
“Time is running out,” Bush warned.
“Things are coming into place,” vowed Blair.
But what? When?
“The timing of any action is a matter to be discussed with
our close allies,” Blair allowed. “What has been happening is that
there is a political and diplomatic coalition there that’s very
But not as strong as the U.S. had hoped. None of the five
countries Rumsfeld sidled up to granted the unrestricted access
officials seek to conduct commando raids and bombing runs on
Pakistan, on Blair’s itinerary, is nervous about civil unrest
if it abets war against fellow Muslims in the Taliban – a regime
Pakistan has aided and, alone in the world, still officially
In Pakistan, some embassies are shedding nonessential staff
and closing offices in smaller cities. A metal detector suddenly
is the mark of a better hotel in Islamabad, the capital.
Only hours before Blair’s visit Friday, Maulana Fazlur
Rahman, leader of the extremist Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam party,
visited Rawalpindi and sent a crowd of about 5,000 storming
through the streets screaming anti-American and pro-Taliban slogans.
“The religious parties are united in their stand,” said
Muhammed Sharif Chowdry, 75. “If the government provides support
to America in an attack on Afghanistan, the government will fail.
“It will not be able to face the people. Not only the people of
Pakistan, but the Muslims of the whole world are behind
There is also unease in Uzbekistan.
“If Americans attack Afghanistan, it’s OK,” said Natasha
Ignatkina, 40, inside a smoky tea and kabob den in rural Angren.
“But only if Uzbekistan will be safe.”
In his palace, the president said much the same thing.
“We do need guarantees that tomorrow we will not be left alone
to confront a terrorist menace,” Karimov told several reporters
after Rumsfeld left. “We need this guarantee. We don’t want to be
used or manipulated in any way.”
Did the meeting with Rumsfeld allay these concerns?
“No guarantees so far. No reassurances.”
Karimov agreed with Rumsfeld that there must be a concerted
effort to counter terrorism.
“We’ve got to unite,” Karimov said. “We’ve got to respect
each other. We have to stand up and defend the world, defend the
clear skies over our heads.”
But the details can be pesky. Many key members of the
coalition Bush is trying to form were holding something back this
Significantly, Saudi Arabian officials refused to allow air
attacks launched from U.S. military bases in their country.
Charges of betrayal in coalition ranks also surfaced this
weekend. Afghan Northern Alliance backers in Tashkent accused
Pakistan of continuing its support for the Taliban regime.
Pakistani intelligence agents and the government “are
supporting the Taliban – sending military equipment to
Afghanistan, still,” Consul Ali Ahmad said at the former
government’s Embassy of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. “They
should seal that border completely.”
India and Pakistan continue a bloody dispute over Kashmir,
making them uneasy allies.
And while Bush on Saturday spoke of the post-Taliban era and
the aid Afghanistan would receive, questions loom about whether
the fractious tribal alliance – or anyone – can govern a country
that’s been at war for a generation and could see more conflict
“Maybe another Taliban will form,” said Tamara Prokopjeva,
whose Orbita TV station, housed in a converted eight-room
apartment, is one of the few nongovernment stations in a country
where more than 7,000 perceived opponents of the government are
“So many people think the way they do, other groups could get
The events of the last few days in Uzbekistan and Pakistan
show that it’s a tricky new world for the U.S.
“No question,” Rumsfeld said after meeting with Karimov.
“Circumstances in the world have shifted.”
The United States seeks to enlist Muslim allies against
accused Muslim terrorists. At the same time, Bush states that he
will retain ties to familiar allies such as Israel, whose leader,
Ariel Sharon, voiced strong warnings to the U.S. not to appease
“In a year, or two, or three, we’ll see considerably
different arrangements in the world than existed prior to Sept.
11,” according to Rumsfeld. “It’s not certain yet how that will
Uzbekistan exemplifies that uncertainty.
A predominantly Muslim country of 25 million, Uzbekistan has
fended off its own Islamic fundamentalist assaults in recent
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, tied to bin Laden and
Afghanistan, wants to overthrow Karimov and establish a more
rigorous Islamic life. The movement is suspected of setting off
five simultaneous bomb blasts around Tashkent in February 1999
that killed 13 and injured 120 – leading to a crackdown that
limits worship to government-approved mosques.
People here live in blocks of uniform ap
Some in Pakistan enjoy measure of freedom, education, basic rights
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Shabab Naqvi has a little problem with
her husband. Here she is, working at her government job all day,
raising five kids, doing all the cooking and cleaning, and taking
care of her 90-year-old mother-in-law, and does he help?
“Whenever I need him, he is gone,” she said, raising her
hands and rolling her eyes heavenward as she voiced the classic
lament of the working woman.
Except that this is Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim
country where – according to stereotype – women don’t work. Nor do
they go to school, leave the home or have opinions that contradict
their husbands’; opinions that would be muffled, in any case, by
the enveloping burka beneath which they supposedly live.
Put that scenario to some Pakistani women, and then step
back – you’ll need to give them room for a belly laugh.
“It’s a real misconception,” said Aisha Nafees, 21, a
business student here in Pakistan’s capital city. She tossed her
hair in indignation as she spoke – hair that was not, by the way,
covered by a veil. Like many women here, Nafees wears a length of
chiffon draped across her throat, its ends trailing over her
shoulders and down her back. “I pray five times a day. I recite
the holy Koran. I do not need a veil.”
There’s the stereotype of the constrained Muslim woman. Then
there are women such as Naqvi and Nafees.
They coexist in this part of the world, which has become
central to the Bush administration’s campaign against terrorism.
The treatment of women in neighboring Afghanistan, which harbors
suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, has become part of
Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban imposes many rules on women,
such as requiring them to be fully covered and forbidding
education for girls older than 8. Taliban opponents in the
Northern Alliance depict themselves as more progressive, for
example by allowing education for some women.
Pakistan, home to about 2 million Afghan refugees, is 97
percent Muslim. But within that populace, contrary to popular
belief, limitations on women vary from city to city and
neighborhood to neighborhood.
Recent reports by agencies as varied as the United Nations,
the U.S. State Department and the Progressive Women’s Organisation
paint a bleak picture of life for Pakistani women.
The U.N. and the State Department, in reports written in 1999
and 1998, respectively, found domestic-violence levels as high as
90 percent. The State Department said a third of the women in
jails in the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Peshawar and Mardan faced
That report also found that only about 2 percent of the women
in rural areas such as Sindh and Baluchistan, in southwest
Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, can read. Nationally 50 percent of
men are literate, twice the rate for women.
“Yes, you find that in the villages,” said Younas Khalid,
director of the Baluchistan office of the women’s rights group
Audad. “Our religion gives them rights. Our constitution gives
them rights. Our job is to make sure they know about those rights.”
In a different way, that is Farida Nigar’s job, too.
Nigar is a vice president and branch manager for First
Women’s Bank Ltd., founded in 1989 to help women manage their own
financial affairs. At noon Wednesday, the bank, in a fashionable
area of Islamabad, was crowded with customers, all waiting to
speak with one of the women – all the bank employees are female –
sitting behind a dozen desks that formed a horseshoe in the
office. The clients included everyone from stylishly dressed women
like Nigar to women so heavily veiled that only their eyes were
visible. Several men also waited for service.
“This is a commercial bank, so we take accounts from gents
also,” Nigar said. “But we have special arrangements for women.”
Those include a credit program for women who want to start, or who
already own, businesses, and loans to businesses that have at
least 50 percent female partnership and whose chief executives are
“The women are not treated with importance in other banks
where men are working,” Nigar said.
First Women’s Bank tries to help women learn their financial
rights and how to stand up for them. It holds seminars in money
management and gives computer training.
But instilling a belief in those rights is a struggle, she
“Generally,” said Nigar, “even when a woman works, her
husband controls her money.”
Audad, also, tries to apprise women of their rights.
Audad – Urdu for “women” – was founded 15 years ago. Last
year, President Pervez Musharraf founded the National Commission
on the Status of Women. Just this year, Musharraf’s government
ruled that 33 percent of all seats in local elections must go to
women. “This is a landmark in Pakistan,” said Khalid, who said the
group’s next goal is to have the same requirement for the national
elections next year.
Meanwhile, Audad – much like women’s organizations in the
United States – mostly helps women with legal matters.
Divorce is legal in Pakistan. Men don’t have to prove
cause; women, however, do. The husband usually gets custody of the
children. And few women know they can receive alimony, Khalid
said. Article 25 of Pakistan’s constitution states that no citizen
shall be discriminated against on the basis of gender, religion or
ethnic background. Audad’s job, said Khalid, is to make antiquated
laws comply with the constitution. There is a poster on his office
wall: “My wife does not work. But then – whose work provides the
time for the man to drink with his friends, smoke his hookah, gamble?”
Khalid’s wife studies for a master’s degree in education (she
already has a master’s in math) while raising their young son and
daughter. Far more unusual – especially in Baluchistan, where
women are rarely even seen on the street – she drives.
“I do believe that if male members of society understood the
rights of women,” Khalid said, “that the women would not be
deprived of their rights.”
Under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, those rights are more
Sitting in a guest house in Peshawar, a 22-year-old Afghan
woman quietly recalled a lashing she witnessed. It happened when
she entered a shop near her home in the capital city of Kabul, she
said. She wore her burka as required.
“Hard to breathe or to see,” she said. “Sometimes it gets
caught under your legs so you can’t walk. And in summer? Very
Inside the shop, she reached the jackets. She found one she
liked, but the shop was too dark to see. Not many people were
around. She pulled up the burka for a peek.
A Taliban man then entered the shop holding what she
described as a short, thick whip resembling a riding crop. He
“The Taliban was hitting the shopkeeper” – punishing him for
the woman’s transgression. “I said: “It’s not his fault. It was my
fault. Stop hitting him.’ The Taliban said: “Shut up.’ Then he hit
me. I covered my face and went home.”
She left for Pakistan, seeking more freedom. Yet here, too,
Islamic fundamentalism is strong. Some Taliban leaders got their
start here in religious schools.
“We are afraid of the Taliban,” she said, asking that her
name not be used. “Even sometimes here, the Taliban will say:
“Cover your face.'”
But she usually doesn’t. “The law of Islam says men and
women have equal rights. We want to be free, as free as women in
Some of that freedom can be found in Quetta’s narrow,
high-walled side streets, not far from Audad’s office, at Allana
Iqbal Open University, which offers courses over the Internet.
Nuzhad Rajbud is a student counselor there, and she gets in
your face fast if you suggest that some people in the U.S. think
Muslim women are oppressed.
Half the students at Iqbal Open are women, she said, adding
that the distance-learning format appeals to mothers with young
children, and women in more conservative areas such as Quetta
where purdah, a tradition where women appear in public rarely and
only under heavy veils, is practiced.
“This way, if they are used to purdah they can complete their
education,” she said.
Rajbud is one of six sisters to obtain a university
education, on insistence of their mother, who was widowed when the
girls were young. Rajbud said her mother believed, “You have to
live, you have to work, you have to fight.”
Then Rajbud, who had spoken animatedly of her pride in her
work and love for her job, leaned across her desk to confide. At
age 29, it was time to marry. Soon, she was to meet a professor
from Virginia, back home in Pakistan for a six-week visit.
They would decide whether they were compatible. If so, they
would marry in three months, and she would return to Virginia with
But what if she didn’t like him? Could she say no?
“But I like everyone,” she said. “I like all human beings.”
No, no – what if she didn’t think he would make a good
Again, the frown, and a shrug.
“I will like him, inshallah,” she said – God willing.
“I will not compromise. But I will make it work.”
Days filled with prayer, preparation to leave Pakistan
AKORA KHATTAK, Pakistan – Afghan student Abdul Sammad sat
down on a rocky berm by the road, ready to explain his willingness
to fight for Islam.
He had just finished morning studies inside a walled,
multi-tower mosque compound here, one of Pakistan’s proliferating
“madrassa” fundamentalist schools.
“You should not attack us,” Sammad said, his sequin-studded
white skullcap sparkling as fellow students crowded around.
“Otherwise, we will sacrifice ourselves. All Afghans will
sacrifice themselves. Whatever America intends to do is bad and
Some Muslims across the Middle East and Asia share Sammad’s
determination to struggle against, not cooperate with, a
superpower they see as an enemy. At the same time, many countries
that are heavily Muslim are cooperating at one level or another
with President Bush’s campaign against terrorism.
Sammad, 25, studies the Koran and prepares to return home in
case his country is attacked for harboring Osama bin Laden,
accused by Bush of fomenting the terrorist attacks on New York and
“We will go to Afghanistan for the jihad,” he said.
On Sunday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam
Zaeef, said Taliban officials know where bin Laden is but won’t
“For his safety, his place remains unknown to others,” Zaeef
said in an interview at his residence in Islamabad.
The Taliban’s continued protection of bin Laden led
Pakistan’s president to say Monday that the U.S. military is
likely to strike against Afghanistan, which could end Taliban rule.
Back by the side of the road, Sammad told how he grew up as
the son of a farmer in northern Afghanistan. He was 3 when Soviet
forces invaded in 1979 to prop up a communist regime. The battle
to oust those troops, he said, caused destruction that still mires
Afghanistan in poverty.
“I love Afghanistan, not the destroyed Afghanistan.”
When Sammad was 15, his family moved to Pakistan, where he
enrolled at the Akora Khattak madrassa, where Taliban leader
Mullah Omar studied.
Back home, Taliban fundamentalist fighters gained ground in
factional battles for control. They marched on Kabul in 1996,
dragged the former president to death, imposed sharia rules and
restrictions on what women can do.
They have burned books and generally challenged global
norms with actions such as blowing up ancient Buddha statues they
rejected as idols of foreign gods.
Sammad shares the Taliban rejection of modernity.
“We don’t need anything from outside,” he said, days after
Taliban forces seized emergency food supplies provided in part by
U.S. contributors. “We don’t want America to come here. We don’t
need the help of America.”
But problems with America aren’t what he studies these
days, he said. Students focus on the Koran. “We talk the opposite
of terrorism. Peace. Islam calls for peace. We like peace.”
When he prays in the blue-and-white-tiled mosque, he said,
“the feeling is of peace, tranquillity and mercy.”
Class begins for 3,000 or so madrassa students at 7,
breaking at noon, resuming from 2 until 7. There’s no tuition.
Food, too, is free.
On weekends, most, including Sammad, return to their families
in settlements nearby on the arid plains below the Khyber Pass.
In a perfect world, Sammad said, he’d be a teacher in
Things being what they are, he went to Afghanistan a few
months ago and joined the fight against the Northern Alliance, a
confederation seeking to oust the Taliban, now with U.S. backing.
His role was “in the back lines” of fighting.
He and fellow Taliban supporters in Pakistan are wary of even
talking with Americans.
Yet, despite their outrage at the possibility of U.S.-backed
retribution against their homeland, they conveyed sympathy and
dismay regarding the Sept. 11 attacks. Sammad watched images of
explosions and suffering on television at a hostel where he drinks
“It was very heinous to see this happen,” he said. “It was
very cruel. I felt bad as well. Islam doesn’t allow this.”