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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 16, April 11, 2015

Tribute to Tahira Mazhar Ali

Sunday 12 April 2015

Pioneer of the Pakistani progressive women’s movement and noted Leftist leader Tahira Mazhar Ali passed away in Lahore on March 23, 2015. The editorial in The News International (March 25, 2015) observed: “Daughter of Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, landlord and Premier of pre-partition Punjab, and wife of famous Leftist journalist Mazhar Ali Khan, Tahira Mazhar Ali charted out her own path and, some would argue, surpassed the legacy of the two men.” She was among the founders of the Democratic Women’s Association (DWA) in 1950 that was affitiated with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). During the Zia-ul-Haq years she was among the leading figures of the Pakistani women’s movement to form the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in 1981 aimed at resisting the Islamisation agenda of the military dictator.

She was also in the forefront of the struggle in Pakistan to forge close friendly relations with India and all those seeking to build bridges between the peoples of Pakistan and India received her unstinted support. One recalls one’s visit to Lahore following a convention of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) in Peshawar in 1998 when one spent a couple of days at her residence. She was as always outgoing and took one along to show some of the landmarks of the city including the house where her closest Indian friend, Perin Chandra, used to stay. Both were leading activists of the Students Federation and thereafter the Communist Party.

While mourning her loss one sends heartfelt condolences to her daughter Tauseef Hayat, sons Tariq Ali and Mahir Ali, and grand-daughter Kamila Hayat. As a token of our tribute to her abiding memory we are reproducing a speech she delivered, as the Dwa General Secretary, at the Ghaffar Khan Peace Conference in Peshawar (May 24-27, 1989) that was published as an article in Mainstream 26 years ago on June 17, 1989. We are also carrying, with due acknowledgement, a piece written by the Dawn’s New Delhi correspondent, Jawed Naqvi (that appeared in the Pakistani daily on March 31, 2015) in her memory. S.C.

Mujahideen Atrocities on Women

Tahira Mazhar Ali

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan dedicated his life and work to the principle and deep conviction of non-violence. He raised an army of lakhs of people devoted to the cause of peace and brotherhood and the fight against British imperialism. He was undoubtedly the greatest freedom fighter we have had, who never compromised on principle. He understood his people and participated in their sorrows and joys.

He says: “I consider it a crime to be a slave, therefore until we establish in this country a true people’s government under which every community secures equal opportunities for expansion, you will find me struggling for freedom no matter who dominates the scene.”

He further conveys his conviction as follows:

I have one great desire.

I want to rescue these gentle brave, patriotic people from the tyranny of the foreigners who have disgraced and dishonoured them.

I want to create for them a world of freedom where they can live in peace, where they can laugh and be happy.

I want to kiss the ground where their ruined houses once stood, before they were destroyed by savage strangers.

I want to take the broom and sweep the alleys and the lanes, and I want to clean their houses with my own hands. I want to wash away the stains of blood from their garments.

I want to show the world how beautiful they are, these people from the hills, and then I want to proclaim “show me if you can any gentler, more courteous, more cultured people than these.”

Today, once again our country is being ravaged, once again our borders are simmering, and once again we are being used to damage and destroy our own people for the sake of foreign powers. American policies are ruinous. They have no respect for our blood—but at least our own government should save us from the destructive policies of the past 11 years of dictatorship.

The political process of ‘Islamisation’ initiated by Zia-ul-Haq was a complete deception. Under this process, rituals were manipulated to pose as the real Islam, and misinterpreted as a ‘complete social and economic system’. In real practice, these rituals were used to promote the interests of the ruling class, destroy popular democratic institutions and deprive the working classes of their rights. Under the cover of Islamisation, genuine concepts of democracy, equality, truth, justice and welfare were converted into flase concepts and ideas of ‘Islamic democracy, Islamic economy, Islamic state, Islamic science and Islamic banking’. Dictatorship posed as democracy, exploitation as equality, cowardice as courage and falsehood as truth. All moral scales were reversed. Hypocrisy and falsehood reigned supreme. The rulers interpreted the Quran and the Prophet to suit their own interests and situations.

Misinterpretation of Islam was used to undermine the status of women, lash innnocent victims who opposed Martial Law and imprison those who refused to bow their heads before a tyrant.

American strategic interests coined the word jihad and with Zia and the CIA planned the downfall of the PDPA regime in Afghanistan, and forecast a mujahideen victory in which Pakistan would seat its candidate on the throne, allowing Zia to become the overall ruler. People were misled by this misinformation, and those who daily planted CIA reports in the world press began believing their own lies. America protected all of Zia’s atrocities, and all mujahideen atrocities—but now they have second thoughts because Jalalabad has not fallen, Najibullah has not been overthrown, the Afghan Government’s army has not walked over to the mujahideen, and it has been proved by recent events that the misinformation campaign only destroyed their own credibility and convinced only themeslves.

In recent shameful events women were captured, raped and converted into slaves by some mujahideen groups. The women captured by these groups are reduced to becoming slave prostitutes, some in hostels, and some through temporary marriages (Mut’a). This is only the latest in horror stories from the front. Others regarding the public auction of women and stoning to death of people by Afghans in Pakistan have surfaced from time to time. We fear that as the Afghan civil war intensifies, such atrocities will increase. These atrocities have taken place all along, but were covered up by the CIA, the American Administration and the Zia regime. Now that we have a woman Prime Minister, we hope she will look into these matters, stop these atrocities and ensure that those responsible are immeidately deported back to their countries. The Arabs, who have come to defend the jihad, should go back and defend the Palestinians against Israel—they are much closer, and the cause is much greater.

All women’s organisations have sent letters to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Amnesty International, the Red Cross in Geneva and to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, condemning the horrendous violation of human rights.

Just a couple of months back, virtually every newsroom in the US was looking forward eagerly to the downfall of Najibullah, and the entry of Hikmatyar, or whoever else they prefer—but that has not happened, and now there are doubts and second thoughts. In fact US diplomats, intelligence officers and journalists have been generally incorrect in their analysis of Afghanistan because they began believing their own propaganda, which equated the Afghan PDPA with the corrupt South Vietnamese administration during the Vietnam war. Selig Harrison, probably the only US journalist who had the correct knowledge of Afghan affairs, says that Americans know very liittle about the Kabul Government, and the State Department’s analyses are based on misinformation provided by their own representatives. According to Selig Harrison, in the Wall Street Journal of May 4 journalists just sat back in the Peshwar Intercontinental Hotel, doing nothing. One network correspondent was dining when he was asked to file a story urgently to New York. He went out and concocted some completely phony footage.

All those who suggested that mujahideen leaders were fanatics, or bandits active in trafficking heroin westwards to American consumers, or had committed terrible atrocities were either ignored or suppressed. Now some of the less savoury details are being given wider coverage. The February 20 issue of Newsweek carried the terrible stories related by Soviet veterans of how rebels sexually mutilated live prisoners or slit the skin around their waists, pulling it up as though it were a shirt.

Mujahideen attitudes towards women are even worse. Our organisation in an open letter asked mujahideen leaders what the status of women would be if they came to power. There was no reply. We have never hesitated to say that we stand with the PDPA Government because it has raised the status of women, opened schools for adult education, given rights to trade unions and shown serious interest in the uplift of the common man.

We are for peace—against the armament race, against all nuclear weapons. We want money spent on development, not arms. We want friendship with all neighbours, we whole-heartedly welcome the Sino-Soviet rapproche-ment because it will improve the world situation. We do not want Afghan blood to be shed merely to please American imperialism. We demand an all-parties Conference in Afghanistan, and an immediate end of bloodshed. We demand the release of Soviet prisoners of war, so that they can return to their families.

I end with Badshah Khan’s wisdom, and his longing to achieve dignity for the Pathans.

I have one great dream, one great longing.

Like flowers in a desert my people are born, bloom for a while with nobody to look after them, wither and return to the dust they came from. I want to see them share each other’s sorrows and happiness. I want to see them work together as equal partners. I want to see them play their national role and take their rightful place among the nations of the world, for the service of God and humanity.

Let us pay heed to these words, let us listen to the voice of sanity, let us pay homage to Badshah Khan by embracing each other, loving each other, creating an atmosphere of affection and peace, justice and understanding, forgi-veness and friendship. Let us behave like dignified human beings, as Badshah Khan wanted us to conduct ourselves.

Long live the solidarity of the peoples of the world for justice, peace and friendship!