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America's New War: Life in Kabul

Aired September 21, 2001 - 06:30   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: There is an important distinction we want to make today. There of course is the politics and the allegations that Afghanistan is shelting Osama bin Laden, but then of course there are the people of Afghanistan.

A rare glimpse now of who these people are. Zohra Rasekh is in Washington, D.C., she is a health and human rights researcher. She is an Afghani American who has traveled to that country several times since, moving here when she was 16 years old.

Good morning, Zohra.


LIN: I know you do a lot of work on the ground, and I really wanted to get your personal and your professional experience.

It must have been remarkable, even for you, not only as an Afghani American but as a woman, to walk down the streets of Kabul.

What is it like? What is the human experience like there?

RASEKH: As a woman, it's an experience that makes you realize how lucky you are that you live in any other part of the world, because as a woman, living in Afghanistan, you basically don't have any right. All of your basic human rights are taken away from you. You cannot work. You cannot go to school. You cannot go out on the street freely. And many other things that women have been ripped off of their human rights. There is no...

LIN: But it seems that things have changed over time, because you tell us that between two trips -- one you made in 1996 and then one you made in 1998 -- the picture changed very much for people there. You describe the women in Kabul looking like ghosts and the streets being deserted.

What happened?

RASEKH: In 1996, I was in Kabul about three months prior to the Taliban takeover of Kabul. And things were -- because of the war and the destruction, things were bad enough. But women were out in the street. They went to school. They worked. Poverty showed everywhere, but I didn't see too many people begging. In 1998, when Taliban were ruling, things were absolutely different. I found Kabul as a city of ghosts, a city of beggars all over the place. I saw women, children, men begging, and you didn't see the identity of the people. Women were covered, and men were also covered by the long beard, and their faces were so empty and hopeless. And basically I did not see anyone smiling or laughing. People were too worried about their survival for the next day, about their children, about their safety, about just providing food for their children.

LIN: What does the government do for them? What does the Taliban government do for its people?

RASEKH: Well, we have to remember that the Taliban are actually not and have never been a recognized government of the Afghanistan, but as a regime, they were too busy with fighting with the opposition. They didn't have any kind of role in the social aspects of Afghanistan and supporting people.

LIN: Do they have any sense of control over people's lives? Any influence at all on a daily basis?

RASEKH: Absolutely. That was the only thing that they did -- controlling people and their life and the everyday...

LIN: How?

RASEKH: By -- basically they have edicts that people have to follow. And at that time, there are many edicts that prevented people from -- especially in the case of women -- from doing what they used to do, such as going out if they needed to, to take their child to a doctor or to a hospital. They had to have a male relative, and in some cases, I did see women walking in the street alone or with another woman, but they took the risk. The edict said women are not allowed to go out in public without a male chaperone.

And many women in the beginning of the Taliban takeover were beaten in the streets and hurt, and some people even were killed by Taliban abuse, because they had to go. A lot of widows are in Kabul, and they had to go out to either find food, beg or however way that they had to provide for their children. They had to take their kid to a doctor. They went out, they took the risk. Some people didn't have the money to even buy the burqa, the head cover that Taliban required.

Women were depressed extremely for being under house arrest. They were not able to even listen to music or watch television. Nothing such as TV or radio or any other kind of entertainment existed.

LIN: Zohra, you are describing a life that so many Americans cannot even imagine. I'd like to ask a few more questions. There's much to delve in here. Would you please stay right there? We're going to take a quick break and be right back -- Zohra Rasekh.


LIN: We want to get back to our conversation with Zohra Rasekh. She is an Afghani American, who is giving us a remarkable view into what is life like for the people who live in Afghanistan.

Zohra, what I am so struck by was what you just told me about women who are walking their children down the street, and by a simple act that we perform every single day, they are risking their lives.

When you in Kabul, were you afraid? Did you fear for your life?

RASEKH: Absolutely, as a woman and someone doing work on the issue of women in Afghanistan, that was risky, and I was afraid, and not just for myself, but for those women that I was talking and interviewing. Their safety was also very important to me.

And every day staying in Kabul -- every day that was passed, I was happy that I was alive actually, and I was not caught speaking with the women and...

LIN: What do you think people there think about the prospect, the possibility that they might be attacked by the United States?

RASEKH: In Afghanistan?

LIN: Yes.

RASEKH: Some people have already left, or they are leaving Kabul to other -- are going to either Pakistan or towards the border of Iran or in other parts of Afghanistan. Those who have no choice, they don't have the resources to get out are stuck. Some people expect the attack. Some people are angry that they are the victim of all of these injustice Taliban have. They did not choose Taliban. They did not choose and support bin Laden to be in Afghanistan. They have no voice to raise against the Taliban for harboring bin Laden.

LIN: It sounds like you're saying that their thinking they're almost caught between two evils -- the Taliban, which rules them, and the United States, which may be attacking their country.

RASEKH: Yes, absolutely.

LIN: So in their mindset, when the Taliban, as it did this morning, issued a call for a holy war if the United States attacks Afghanistan, how do its people feel about that? Is there enough anger on the street against the United States? And is there enough support for the Taliban, despite their circumstances, that they might actually follow that call?

RASEKH: I am sure there is some support. Taliban supporters who are living in Afghanistan or in Kabul, they support the Taliban action. However, the rest of the people, as always, never agreed with the Taliban policies and what they do and what they say. But they're afraid to express their feelings while they're inside of Afghanistan. Ninety-eight percent of the women that I interviewed in 1998 disagreed with all of the Taliban policies and called their policies against Islam. LIN: What do you think Americans need to know about the people who live in Afghanistan now?

RASEKH: I think it's important to know that there is a big difference. We must distinguish between the act of terrorism and the terrorists who were trained in Afghanistan, and the very vulnerable and desperate people who have been suffering for over 20 years in Afghanistan from the -- since the Soviet invasion and after the other internal fightings and the Taliban and now this. It's not the people of Afghanistan anywhere in the world whoever supports or have supported bin Laden or people like him. And they also -- Americans, we need to be aware of the rule of our own government that has played in creating or causing this...

LIN: Much debate about that. U.S. policy overseas and whether it contributed to the animosity and put the United States in the terrorist sites. Understood.

Thank you very much Zohra Rasekh, we really appreciate your stories from the ground.

RASEKH: Thank you.



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