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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT

Afghanistan: Lifting the Veil

Aired September 15, 2007 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: "Afghanistan: Lifting the Veil." Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY, CNN HOST (voice-over): Afghanistan, 2001. The true horror of Taliban rule revealed in the shocking CNN documentary "Beneath the Veil." M Massacres in the countryside. Streets filled with beggars. Starving children. Women forced to wear burqas, denied work or education, even paraded in front of a jeering crowd and executed in public.

Then 9/11. U.S. and coalition forces invaded. Throwing the Taliban from power for harboring al Qaeda. The country and its women were liberated, or so we thought. Now we've come back six years later to ask, if life for women in Afghanistan is really any better.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: The American flag flies again over our embassy in Kabul. The mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes. Today women are free.

OBAID-CHINOY: After the U.S. invasion, President Bush sounded so confident. But as a Muslim journalist, I want to find out if life has changed for women in this newly democratic state, are girls back in school? Are women working? Do they have freedom to live and to dress as they please?

I'm Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and I'm traveling right across the country find out.

In early 2001 we found a country under Taliban rule, decimated by war, poverty and violence.

The streets were full of women like this one, unable to work, forced to beg for change with only animal feed to serve her children.

Today, despite the invasion and promises of aid, things don't leak much better. Most of the beggars I see in Kabul are women. There are more than 1 million widows in Afghanistan, the legacy of 20 years of conflict and poverty.

Years of isolation by the Taliban have left many women unskilled and unable to work. Widows without male relatives to help them are often forced to beg.

I notice one particular woman by the side of the road. She's clearly in distress and crying into her blue burqa. (on camera): What is your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bibigul (ph).

OBAID-CHINOY: Bibigul. How many hours a day do you sit outside begging?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): It turns out that Bibigul is also a war widow.

(on camera): It must be extremely difficult for her to be sitting out here. She's surrounded by men all the time and she says men hurl abuses at her when they walk past her and this is extremely degrading for her to do.

Already I can see what she means because the men around are laughing at her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Because Bibigul feels uneasy talking here she invites us back to her home, a slum dwelling on the very edge of Kabul.

(on camera): I'm immediately struck by how poor this place is. There are children running around barefoot, piles of garbage and the building seems to have been hit heavy by years of shelling.

How long have you been living here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three years.

OBAID-CHINOY: Can I see your face? See what you look like? Bibigul is 40. She tells us she was widowed by an American bomb in 2001 and now lives in a single room with her two daughters, 14-year-old Zaiba (ph) and a 16-year-old Sima (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: I ask if her girls are getting an education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: These girls have had a very difficult upbringing. They have hopes and dreams they want to go to school, they want to be able to work when they grow up, but they don't have any money and barely enough to make ends meet and have no money to buy notebooks and it's very difficult for them to see their mother go out and beg.

(voice-over): They say that nothing has changed for them, that they hoped that the government would help them, but their life seems to have been exactly the way it was before.

To understand how harsh the streets of Kabul are for women, my translator and I follow Bibigul as she goes begging that afternoon. I keep my microphone turned on.

(on camera): It feels really strange to be under this. Actually I'm tripping all over myself because it's very difficult to walk in this.

(voice-over): In today's of Afghanistan, wearing the burqa is no longer required by law. Most are forced beneath the veil by men in their families or communities. For the Afghan woman, there is little difference.

(on camera): I can't imagine having to do this every day, day in, day out for years and years and years and to have no hope for what the future would hold.

This group of young boys who are just sitting in front of us making fun of us that we are begging. Asking us if we really needed the money and then they deliberately give it to us.

(voice-over): The men here look at us with disdain. I seem angry and invisible under the burqa. For the West, this veil has been a symbol of women's oppression here.

(on camera): But you know, let's face it, the issue of the burqa is just the tip of the iceberg. Afghan women face far graver issues than whether to wear the burqa or not.

(voice-over): I leave Bibigul where I found her, alone, blue figure, crouching in the mud. Her future and the future of thousands like her uncertain.

When we return, desperation leads to the unimaginable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): I'm going to catch a bus from Kabul right across this street to the western end of Afghanistan.

(voice-over): I'm trying to see if life here has gotten any better since the invasion. There are some signs of progress. New roads and power, six times of number of students in school, even a feeling of peace in some places, like Herat.

(on camera): Here, there's a sense of normalcy. You know, people are walking around, going about their daily business. Women are out in the market. It's very easy, I think, to forget that this country's still at war.

(voice-over): But under the surface, some shocking stories start to emerge. In 2001, women's behavior was strictly controlled in public by the Taliban, within the family, by men.

Today, we find there are still problems, more and more women are burning themselves to death to escape the horrors of Afghan family life.

Dr. Mamadi (ph) says there have been double the number of cases in the last two years. I ask him how the women burn themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: He tells me that few seek or find the help they need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: Even when women do report their problems, there is little evidence that the police follow up.

(on camera): I'm going to sit down so I can have a conversation with her. What kind of a married life did you have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My husband is a good man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): This woman tells me about her life at home. She finds it painful to talk, and can only say a few words at a time. But I slowly piece her story together. She says her brother- in-law beat her after a series of family quarrels. As a protest, she poured kerosene over herself and set it alight, much of her body has third-degree burns. She is six months pregnant.

This woman is just 20 years old. She has burned herself so badly out of despair that doctors do not expect her to live. I ask what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Why did you decide to burn yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): What strikes me is the sense of powerless in Afghan women's lives. They live hidden away, often under unbearable conditions. I think these women wanted to make a point. They didn't want to die quietly, but in a way that let others know they suffered in life. A reflection of deep-seated issues in Afghan society that need to be addressed.

Next.

(on camera): How old were you when your father sold you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was seven.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Young girls sold into marriage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAID-CHINOY: Six years after the Taliban were removed from power, I'm in Afghanistan investigating whether the lives of women have improved.

When we came here in 2001, we found a society oppressive to women where they lacked freedom, opportunity, or education.

Today, Afghanistan is freed from the control of the Taliban, and trying to move towards a brighter future. But still, very young girls are being sold into marriage.

I'm on my way to meet a child bride who lives with a family at the edge Herat where the desert begins.

(on camera): (Not English)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shahnaz (ph).

OBAID-CHINOY: Shahnaz. (Not English)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: Shanaz, tell me about your father.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: How old were you when your father told you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: How did you feel when you father told you that you had been sold?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: It's difficult for us speak to Shahnaz because her mother-in-law and her husband keep coming into the room.

(voice-over): And although I have permission to speak to Shahnaz, her husband seems nervous because, as it turns out, she had burned herself to protest their marriage.

(on camera): Tell me why you decided to burn yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: How old were you when you decided to burn yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: Would you like to go to school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: What would you have liked to have done had you not been sold into marriage?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Shahnaz's story is a familiar one across Afghanistan. Though the legal age of marriage is now 16, it is still common and customary to sell girls into marriage as the family struggle with the devastation caused by two decades of conflict.

Often these child brides are little more than servants at home and virtual prisoners in marriage. Divorce is nearly impossible for a woman here and would make her total outcast.

And it's not just poor women who are struggling in Afghanistan. Women who are educated and outspoken run the risk of great harm, as well.

(on camera): A young poet from this city recently published her first book. In spite of the fact that her family thought it brought shame upon them. She wrote, "I am caged in this corner, full of melancholy and sorrow. My wings are closed, and I cannot fly. I must wail because I'm an Afghan woman."

(voice-over): Her name was Nadia Unduman (ph) and she was killed last year. Nadia was a local heroine. She defied the ban placed on women's education by the Taliban and secretly studied literature with a group of friends.

Nadia's poetry had brought her celebrity and her death shook the liberal city of Herat. Thousands of people attended her funeral. She left behind a six-month-old son.

(on camera): I have managed to locate Nadia Unduman, the poet's family, and I'm going to try and see if I can sit down and speak to her mother about what really happened to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: How old was she in this photograph?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Nadia's mother is still very upset and would not talk long. But she did tell me something quite shocking. Nadia was murdered. Nadia's brother Shaki (ph) tells us more.

(on camera): Who do you blame for Nadia's death?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course her husband. The husband.

OBAID-CHINOY: He wanted to control her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course. Nadia was a successful woman, a popular woman. A good poet. And he was feeling jealous.

OBAID-CHINOY: You think her husband couldn't handle her success as a poet and he was jealous? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course. He talked to Nadia several times, why you are popular and I'm not? Why people knew you but they don't know me? I'm the husband. I am a man.

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Although Nadia's husband was arrested and charged for the murder of his wife, the case did not go to trial. Under local law, the victim's family can pardon the accused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of our culture, our religion, we forgave. But we didn't want him to be released two months after forgiveness. It was clear, we consulted with the lawyers, with the prosecutors. We asked them if we forgave him what will be happen. They said at least he will be in prison for five years. And we thought five years is enough. That's good.

OBAID-CHINOY: I've managed to locate Nadia, the poet's, husband. His name is Farid (ph). He works at the central Herat University library. I believe he's never given an interview. I'm going in to try and convince him to speak to us to tell us his side of the story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Initially, Farid done seem keen to talk to us. My translator also seems nervous. A U.S. State Department report says that he admitted beating Nadia but claims to have stopped before she died.

(on camera): What was the fight about? Did you not beat her that night?

(voice-over): Farid claims that Nadia died after taking poison.

(on camera): So she did have a bruise on her face which you cannot explain how it got there. Why would a successful, young poet commit suicide? You claim she was happily married. Why would she commit suicide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Farid denied everything to us. He spent less than five months in prison.

Coming up.

(on camera): This seems like the new Afghanistan. Young girls are laughing and joking and playing without their burqas on. At least within the four walls of this school there seems to be a new hope.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. More of CNN's SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT's "Lifting the Veil" in a moment. But first, an update on a huge wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California. It's now burned 18,000 acres. Thousands of people have been told to get out.

Joining us by phone, Jim Wilkins with the San Bernardino County Fire Department. Thank you so much for joining us. First and foremost, what kind of situation are we looking at? How much has been contained?

JIM WILKINS, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT (on phone): Right now we've got five percent containment on the Butler 2 fire. We're looking at a situation where it's burning in areas that haven't burned in over 50 years in hilled that are so dry that we've never recorded fuel moistures so low. And we're dealing with humidities of three to five percent. And so the situation, last night and today, has been critical, as this fire has been running with extreme fire behavior, torching, runs, running through the trees, and moving in three directions.

MALVEAUX: Now I know there are various communities impacted by this, Lucerne Valley, Fawn Skin, Green Valley. Which residents are in the most danger now? Who needs to evacuate immediately?

WILKINS: We have mandatory evacuations in place at a communities of Fawn Skin and Green Valley Lake. Lucerne Valley is still not in any immediate danger. The communities Running Springs and Arrow Bear are on a voluntary evacuation notice. As we monitor the progress of the fire to the west, the community of Lucerne Valley is in the high desert which is to north of us and again, we're monitoring the progress of the fire in that direction.

MALVEAUX: Are there some residents of areas that should stay put in their homes?

WILKINS: You know, each of the communities and each of the residents has to make that determination. We like to request people to heed the evacuation order. We don't have to worry if residents are still in their homes and things like that and have to make rescues but certainly people have to make decisions for themselves.

MALVEAUX: And Jim, real quick, how long do you think it's going to take before you can contain this fire?

WILKINS: This fire is going to be I tough one. We're going to fight for every percentage of containment and we're going to continue to do that with high winds tonight. And we do have all of the resources we need. We're number one priority in the country. We're also flying the dc-10 that drops 24,000 gallons of retardant a quarter mile of retardant line that's helping us on the fire.

MALVEAUX: Jim Wilkins, thank you so much for joining us.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux, now back to CNN's SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: "Lifting the Veil."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): In 2001, a secret women's political group Kalrava (ph) captured the shocking video of a woman executed in front of a jeering crowd. Later that year, coalition forces ousted the Taliban, and shattered al Qaeda. They promised Afghan women a better life.

More than six years later, I am meeting with a member of Rava (ph) in secret to find out if those promises have been fulfilled.

(on camera): What would happen to you if somebody found out that you belonged to Rava?

UNIDENTFIIED FEMALE: Well they have declared punishment for us which is stoning to death.

OBAID-CHINOY: Why does the current administration oppose Rava and the fact that women should be allowed to voice their opinions, that women should be active on the political front?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, because the current government is full of the fundamentalists who cannot tolerate women as even part of the society.

OBAID-CHINOY: But Afghanistan's constitution says now that men and women are equal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well the constitution is nothing to these fundamentalists. The chief justice of this country who was just three months ago was a tolerant (ph) kind of man -- clearly said this constitution, it has no value for us.

OBAID-CHINOY: So what you're saying is that Afghanistan may have a constitution but no one is following it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Most Afghans live outside of the city. I wonder how life is now in the villages. And if the aid and relief promised by the international community is reaching them.

(on camera): I've left Herat and I'm traveling towards the northeast of Afghanistan to the small town of Talakan (ph).

(voice-over): Talakan is a small quiet town now, a far cry from 2001 when it was at the center of some of the fiercest fighting between the allies and the Taliban. It's a place that's desperately trying to rebuild itself.

One of the first things I hear when I arrive is the sound that was silenced under the Taliban. The playful noise of girls running around, having fun in a school playground.

(on camera): There's a real sense of freedom within the four walls of this school.

You know, young girls are laughing and joking, gossiping, running around and playing without their burqas on. This seems like the new Afghanistan, you know, the kind of -- at least within the four walls of this school, there seems to be a new hope. (voice-over): I talked to the headmistress who held secret classes for girls at great risk when the Taliban were in power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

Second floor. My problem, you can see.

OBAID-CHINOY: No money?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No money.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): This school is a perfect example of Afghanistan's progress and pain over last six years. There are 4,000 girls now able to study here, but there isn't enough space to teach them. And I'm told that getting aid money to build more classrooms has proven nearly impossible. And the girls are still battling resistance at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No money.

OBAID-CHINOY: Only two of five Afghan girls attend school and seeking an education remains dangerous. The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch reports a sharp increase in attacks against students, teachers and schools across Afghanistan in the last two years, particularly if they teach girls.

The tyranny of extremists has oppressed women here, but I learned it's not just religious fanatics who think this way. Even the most educated Afghan males are deeply conservative, like this group of young teachers I meet in the park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they are my friend I never accept that they all should see my wife.

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Oh. They're your friends but you would never allow them to see your wife?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred percent.

OBAID-CHINOY: One hundred percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even a picture.

OBAID-CHINOY: Even a picture you won't want them to see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even a wrong (ph) picture.

OBAID-CHINOY: So you want to keep her locked away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

OBAID-CHINOY: Under lock and key?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock and key, password.

OBAID-CHINOY: Password. Lock, key and password? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

OBAID-CHINOY: There must be something in the water here because the testosterone levels here are very high. They think that if they saw a woman walking down the street wearing what I'm wearing which by no means is tight would be tempting for them they'd follow the woman, they'd say something. To avoid that, women should just wear burqas.

(voice-over): As a Muslim woman I know attitudes like these are not inherent in our culture. That there are places around the world where we can walk around freely. I find it oppressive here.

Six years ago, we met these four little girls in CNN's "Beneath the Veil." Up next, we learn their fate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAID-CHINOY: Since the overthrow of the Taliban, there has been some improvement in the lives of Afghan women. Now, I'm off to see if the health care has gotten any better.

Early in 20001 we used a hidden camera to film this footage of a maternity hospital. Dark, filthy, few doctors, little medicine. Today, some of the hospitals look better. But I'm shocked to learn that the health of mothers and the newborn children remains dismal.

These doctors are in charge of the maternity ward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Doctor Nila (ph), what kind of condition are the women in when they arrive for their delivery in the hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): I asked the doctors if the men realize that their wives are in grave danger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: It amazes me that a woman doesn't even have control over her own body. Since the invasion six years ago, there's been little improvement. UNICEF reports that 50 pregnant women die each day. And that one in four children will die before their fifth birthday.

I am traveling to the village of Mumayi (ph) in the far north of the country. The journey is extremely perilous. Others have been murdered on the road. Afghanistan today is more dangerous than it's been since the invasion. In 2001, the Taliban were fighting in the area. We came here then to see what life was like on the front lines. And what we found was shocking.

Stories of kidnapping, execution. And in Mumayi, the haunting sorrow of these four little girls.

The Taliban had taken their father prisoner, shot their mother, and stayed with them in the house, alone, for two days.

Now, six years later, I want to find out what happened to them.

We find their village is still very poor. This is the same house where the four little girls watched the Taliban murder their mother. I find their father, Mohammed Amin (ph), nearby. He's a land owner and a village elder.

Two of his daughters still live with him. Ruksana (ph) was just a toddler when the Taliban came, she's eight now, and goes to school. An opportunity her sisters did not have.

Mumayi's brand new secondary school was built with Western aid. Mohammed says, Ruksana is doing very well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: I ask about her future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: And he tells me about life in the village.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: Mohammed's older daughters have married and moved away from Mumayi. I wonder if they're happy. Then, something Mohammed says makes me think the next generation may have a better chance than they did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: Mohammed's daughters grew up in a bleak, violent time. Now there's at least a chance that their little sister and their own children will have a peaceful life and a brighter future.

Next, hope for Afghanistan's next generation.

(on camera): Nusotiya (ph) wants to get an education, she wants to go to school and college before she says she can even think of getting married.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): I'm heading way up into Afghanistan's northern mountain, into one of the most remote parts of the country. This was territory held by the Taliban. Small villages ruled by repressive clerics.

(on camera): I'm going to the village of Takitanuz (ph). This area was heavily mined by the mujahideen in the 1990s. When the Taliban came to power they had a base right above this village. It is a very remote area and outsiders hardly ever venture here.

(voice-over): First, some good news. There's a school here for the children.

(on camera): It's heartening to see in this tiny village young boys and girls are studying together. Their lesson today is about Afghanistan, how wonderful their country is, how plentiful the fruits and vegetables are and how they should respect their country.

A few of the students in this class are deaf so the teacher is using sign language to teach them.

What do you think about marriage?

Nosotiya (ph) wants to get an ed case, she wants to go to school and college before she says she can even think of getting married.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you married?

OBAID-CHINOY: Am I married? Yes. I'm married.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: No, my husband didn't come with me.

(voice-over)): Nostrat (ph) wants to show me her home. As the little girls pull me along, I'm expecting their parents to come out and stop us filming. But then a surprise. There are no parents.

(on camera): These young girls were left orphaned, both their parents died because they didn't have access to good health care and they had life-threatening diseases. And after speaking to them, it's heartening to know that, despite them not having parents, they are very eager to study, to be educated, and they all have hopes and dreams of becoming teachers and of working in the village when they grow up.

(voice-over): The head of the village is also the local cleric.

(on camera): Kari Sab (ph), can you tell me what the poverty is like in your village?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English)

OBAID-CHINOY: What hopes you have for your village in the future?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Not English) OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): People here are resilient. They have been through a lot, but they want to move forward. If they're given the chance.

I've traveled across this vast country and I have found joy and hope in places I least expected it. But I've also learned that progress is slow, Afghanistan's problems were not fixed by the invasion.

The country still struggles, after decades of war and loss. The culture remains oppressive to many and billions of dollars of promised aid have failed to arrive or to reach those most in need.

Hanging in the balance, the future of Afghanistan and the lives of its people. People desperate for peace and for hope.

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