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Happy New Year! 

Our usual updating is proceeding apace of events, as usual. We have new
pieces from Fisk, Said, Pilger, new coverage of Argentina, new on the
Mideast, new on the war on terrorism, new updates of sections, and so
on...all accessible from the ZNet top page. We also have placed a
selection of 18 recent Sustainer Commentaries online linked from the top

Pilger: Behind America’s War 
Peters: Peace Movement? 
Herman: Coalitions 
Kagarlitsky: The Riddle Of Putin
Starhawk: Repression Perspective
Monbiot: The End of the Enlightenment 
DuBoff: Rogue Nation 
Bond: Momentum Returns 
Wise: Playing the World War Two Card
Raptis: Do (Ordinary) Americans Know? 
Russell: Damn Lies 
Choudry: Small Nation, Big Message 
Weisbrot & Baker: The New Economy? 
Flanders: Protect Us, Please 
Shiva: Saving WTO, Killing Democracy 
Mokhiber/Weissman: The Cipro Rip-Off 
Rebick: It Really Is About New Politics 
Klein: It's not enough

These are instances of the daily commentaries we send to ZNet
Sustainers. You may want to check them out, and may want to consider
joining the program to help support us.

But mostly, this mailing I just wanted to send a New Year toast, and to
convey, as well, two essays we have just received - also typical
Sustainer Commentary material.

The first is from some of the members of the collective who generate the
Spanish translations of ZNet. It is about the on-going crisis and
context in Argentina. For those who speak Spanish, the subsite has
hundreds of articles they have translated. This is a contribution from
them directly to ZNet, and a very timely, informative one. The second
essay is from a highly knowledgeable commentator on the situation in
Afghanistan, and, in particular, for women.


Letter from Spanish ZNet about Argentina’s events
By Cristina Feijoó and Lucio Salas
Translated by José Luna and reviewed by Alfred Sola

Dear friends, throughout these days we have received from you large
amounts of solidarity messages for the Argentinean people and their
undaunted struggle, as well as messages showing your concerns for our
own situation. We deeply thank you all for those warm expressions, many
of them full of fondness which we do not deserve, and so we start by
calming you; yes we are fine, as fine as one can be under the current

We are participating from the rear as we are into our 50s, and also
because we do not want to interfere too much with the struggles that new
generations are staging. We have spent two days in the same anguish that
we caused to our parents thirty years ago and, as everybody here knows
that we have not been exactly Gandhian, which yields us some respect, we
have preached for restraint during the clashes. In this regard, a
message from Michael Albert some months ago was very useful, as he
simply and truthfully asserted that violence can be utilitarian only
under certain circumstances, and that confronting the repressive power
of the State can just occasionally be fruitful: for they are the
specialists in death, and we are for life. Naturally, for another form
and condition of life.

Though we perceive that the majority of you have a fair degree of
information concerning the past events - better than that of the
majority of Argentineans, slaves of what it is "sold" to them by the
mass media concentrated into two or three groups - we are going to
tightly and somehow disorderly summarise the events and attempt to make
a first interpretation. 

The popular uprising that forced the government of the Alliance to
resign started shortly after the last measures that restricted fund
withdrawals to both business and people were announced by the Economy
Minister. This measure may be reasonable in Europe or the US, but here
it was preposterous, as the great majority of the population is entirely
alien to the banking system: they do not have bank accounts or credit
cards, etc. They did not do it out of rational considerations, but for
the insistence -highly irrational- of purporting to continue paying the
interest of an external debt of over 150 billion US dollars. This caused
a huge cash scarcity and its immediate consequence was to instantly wipe
out all the "informal" economic sector, which represented 40% - 50% of
all economic activity. Thus, in a couple of weeks poverty transformed
into hunger -literally - as the people that went out to work in changas,
such as cardboard pickers, street vendors, dog-walkers, electricians,
plumbers, etc., in other words, the workers who were not dependent on a
steady job lost their scarce income.

The "middle classes" (forget all Marxist categories: today in Argentina
"middle class" means someone with a job) had to cope with 250 US dollars
per week that was the limit allowed to withdraw from the banks; with
that the "middle classes" hardly could eat and pay one or another bill
from public services - privatised as the neoliberal dogma demands - that
are the most expensive in the world. This provoked an immediate flood
from the poorest, from those marginalized from the formal economy, who
arrived to the city from the suburbs with supermarket trolleys or
changüitos searching for food, clothes and diapers in the waste. These
groups of the poor - some of them organised, with an origin in the
piquetera practice (to cut off roads and motorways to demand some coins)
- went to ask for food in the supermarkets forming long queues in the
early hours of the morning. Some supermarkets gave away a few bags,
others none and it was this situation that originated the raids. Poor
people got into supermarkets and pocketed the food. 

You may have seen the images and listened to the heartbreaking
testimonies. This happened first during the week of the 10th to the 15th
of December in the provinces of the country where poverty is worse. It
happened in several provinces. The people intended to take the food
away, something which was fairly pre-established: not to touch the cash
tills, alcohol or items that were not of first need, and the target was
the big supermarket chains (all of them owned by overseas
conglomerates). Very soon these large supermarkets increased their armed
security, some even provided their employees with clubs to scatter the
poor. It was then that people started raiding small shops, many of them
owned by Asian traders who lacked of any security. The raids gradually
went out of control, as there is no leadership capable of containing
millions of people in hunger. They started with food but soon after they
took everything. The raids in some cases took place in modest shops
owned by people also under subsistence incomes, which resulted in
criticism from the "righteous thinkers" and the tragic battle of the
poor against the poor. The Biblical morale keeps working and common
people plainly reject the idea of outright robbery and tend to condemn
what they consider to be vandalism (both the "Church priests" and our
gaucho tradition justify the seizure of food, but the condemnation
subsists if that limit is trespassed).

We do not wish to enter into a sociological analysis of this complex
situation, but provide you with a personal opinion that we have not had
the time to mature. As we can see, in these situations resulting from
the vanishing of the State (that is, the disappearance of the welfare
State and the permanence of the repressive State) and the sheer
defencelessness of the poor, the robberies express on the one hand, the
anger of citizens long withheld who were deprived of their basic rights.
They also express their right to have access to goods considered
"sumptuous" and that are obscenely flaunted on TV; goods to which they
could never aspire. The system is here more schizophrenic than in other
latitudes for it constantly urges not only to a consumption that renders
stupidity but also to an impossible one. 

With regards to repression, the same weakness of the government saved
many lives: the Argentinean military, always ready to massacre their own
people, this time categorically refused to participate. The majority of
the deaths (estimated at more than 30) occurred on Thursday 21st, the
day following the great popular uprising. The day before, Wednesday
20th, the "middle classes" flooded the streets with their pots and pans;
more than a million people (over 2.7 million people living in the city
of Buenos Aires itself) peacefully taking over the city, demanding the
resignation of the Economy minister, Cavallo (the not long past IMF
hero) and of president de la Rúa. The minister resigned, but the
pusillanimous criminal president wished to stay and gave a speech that
was interpreted as a provocation. That was the spark that started the

The "middle classes" spontaneously went out to the streets,
self-assembled - there were no placards from any political party or
association - heading in large walking columns to the Plaza de Mayo,
Congress and the presidential residence in Olivos. The Plaza de Mayo
filled up and as the minister of Economy resigned, the people stayed
there demanding the same from the president. The people stayed overnight
at Plaza de Mayo; at that time many leftist activists had gathered, all
of them unarmed and with a pacific spirit. The repression started around
3 am in order to vacate the Plaza de Mayo. Families with their children
and elders left leaving behind the youngsters. At mid-morning on
Thursday the fight for the Plaza, which was the Plaza of the Revolution,
of our Independence, of October 17, 1945 when Peronism was born, the
Plaza of the Mothers of the disappeared in the last dictatorship, in
short, a space truly symbolic for the people, started to yield its first
deaths. Deaths without reason as the president knew he had no other
option but resigning.

That day six youngsters died in that Plaza. Four of them were motoqueros
(people who work as couriers in their motorbikes and that recently
formed a union encouraged by the association H.I.J.O.S. - sons - of the
disappeared) who heroically resisted the charges of the cavalry and
defended the families standing as they were being punished by the whips
of the mounted police just as in scenes of slavery films.
Simultaneously, the raids were repressed in the provinces, initially
with rubber bullets, with live bullets afterwards. The number of
casualties, names and ages of the death have not been reported by the
mass media. Only one TV camera broadcast scenes of a funeral and showed
them once for a few minutes. Until today, those names are known through
other sources. The media hardly acknowledge the number of casualties,
which continue to increase, as there are still many seriously wounded.
Hospitals have received orders not to give information to the press.

With regards to the new government, the current president is a governor
suspected of illicit wealth acquisition, conservative, authoritarian, a
populist caudillo with a good image within its province. The initial
speech, obviously, promised to abandon the present economic model: no
one could have tolerated anything less. He announced demagogic measures
without stating how those would be implemented, and he surrounded
himself of peronists. He avoided to call for a "national salvation
government" (obviously capitalist, let’s not ask for miracles, but at
least not a neoliberal one), leaving aside groups of economists that had
been working in serious alternative proposals. Hitherto, he seems to get
support in the so-called "productive group", which is formed by large
industrialists (the few that remain) and the unionised bureaucracies
whilst the privatised public service sector and the international
banking system maintain a "respectful silence" partly because their
buttocks have not been touched and partly because the spirits are
running high: no one doubts that if food is not handed out immediately
and jobs are created (they have promised one million jobs in a month),
this will start to burn again.

Amidst the tragedy of the youngsters shot dead, the interesting and
heartening part of this process is that the people have reclaimed their
role as citizens and with this, they have recovered some of their lost
dignity. A few months ago when we met with German [Translator note:
German Leyens, another member of Spanish ZNet] in Buenos Aires, he told
us he could not comprehend why the Argentineans had not rebelled against
one of the most vicious neoliberal experiments on earth: well, that
rebellion has now taken place. As we say here, "people do not chew
nails": the general feeling is of distrust towards these new rulers that
went along with this plan of true plundering of a nation - 150 billion
US dollars were transferred out of the country, the same amount that
Argentina owes to her creditors - and now have turned around their
rhetoric to accommodate the demands of those uprising.

The lessons are many, for the failure of neoliberalism is no more than
the failure of the old rotten capitalism in its predominant form. Maybe
due to the unbearable "navel-ism" characteristic of Argentineans we
think that our case is exemplary. We were a relatively important
country; up until the middle of the 20th century, the Argentinean
economy was as large as that of the rest of South America, including
Brazil. Apart from grains and cattle, we reached a medium level of
industrialisation leading to imports substitution, which allowed us to
start exporting manufactured goods. We had a solid social fabric with
mutual health companies, unions, co-operatives and a highly literate
population living in their majority in urban centres. With the last
dictatorship the disaster started with privatisations and the
indiscriminate opening of the national economy. And, most interesting,
for the last ten years we were the exemplary student of the IMF, the one
who followed all its recipes, the one who sent soldiers to the Persian
Gulf, the "extra-Nato” ally of the US. Neoliberalism has failed with its
fundamentalist recipes, but what is more, capitalism has failed as an
organiser of social life.

The responsibility of the Argentinean left is large and complex, but the
Argentinean left is weak, highly fragmented and stupid, tied to old
dictates of "socialism" without defining what it means today or how it
would solve the problems of the people. There are in fact some new
actors much more inspiring: the piqueteros of whom we have already
spoken, a new union organisation (the CTA, Central de Trabajadores
Argentinos, largely State employees) and a new latinamericanist
university movement, which has ousted from the directorship of
educational institutions the young officials associated with the
previous government.

We, however, need much international solidarity, urgently. On the one
hand, because those in more need require food now, therefore we need to
put pressure on the Red Cross or whoever so they can be assisted. On the
other, and this is the most important, we need clarity, ideas and that
the "Argentinean case" is made known as it seems to us very

Dear friends, we now end this excessive note. Share our pain for the
fallen ones, but also our pride for the millions who stood up. In our
old bodies nests a new spirit; as Che Guevara said, "if the present is
of struggle, the future is ours".

Cristina y Lucio


The Rape of Afghanistan 
By Rasil Basu 

An unexpected fall-out of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade
Centre and the Pentagon was the sudden concern of the American and other
governments with the plight of Afghan women.

America retaliated by declaring war on Afghanistan to bring down the
Taliban regime, end terrorism, and to capture Osama `dead or alive'. A
further justification, added by President Bush in his address to the UN
General Assembly, was the Taliban's treatment of women. Laura Bush went
further in her radio address to the nation, with the plight of Afghan
women providing her an entree into political life. She was unequivocal
in demanding that Afghan women be involved in rebuilding democracy in
Afghanistan. It has taken 13 years for America to recognize the problem
even though it contributed handsomely to the suffering of Afghan women,
as it was less concerned with their situation and more with its own
geopolitical interests during the period of Soviet occupation of

During the occupation, in fact, women made enormous strides: illiteracy
declined from 98% to 75%, and they were granted equal rights with men in
civil law, and in the Constitution. This is not to say that there was
complete gender equality. Unjust patriarchal relations still prevailed
in the workplace and in the family with women occupying lower level
sex-type jobs. But the strides they took in education and employment
were very impressive.

I witnessed these gains first hand when the UNDP assigned me (1986-88)
as senior advisor to the Afghan government for women's development
because of my long career with the United Nations working for women's
advancement. During this period I had drafted the World Plan of Action
for Women and the draft Programme for the Women's Decade, 1975-85
adopted at Mexico City Conference (1975) and Copenhagen Conference
(1980). In Kabul I saw great advances in women's education and
employment. Women were in evidence in industry, factories, government
offices, professions and the media. With large numbers of men killed or
disabled, women shouldered the responsibility of both family and
country. I met a woman who specialized in war medicine which dealt with
trauma and reconstructive surgery for the war-wounded. This represented
empowerment to her. Another woman was a road engineer. Roads represented
freedom - an escape from the oppressive patriarchal structures. 

But as far back as 1988 I could see the early warning signals as well.
Even before the first Soviet troop withdrawal, "shabanamas", or
handbills, warned of reprisals against women who left their homes.
Followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar started throwing acid on women who
dared to venture into the streets of Kabul in trousers, or skirts, or
short-sleeved shirts. Ironically, the US favored the three
fundamentalist resistance groups of "freedom fighters" headed by
Hekmatyar, Khalis and Rabbani over the more moderate mujahideen groups.
Saudi Arabian and American arms and ammunition gave the fundamentalists
a vital edge over the moderates. Even more tragic is the fact that this
military hardware was used, according to Amnesty International, to
target unarmed civilians, most of them women and children. But more
about that later.

In the fall of 1988, I wrote an article for an op-ed piece which I
submitted to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Ms Magazine. I
pointed out that ascendant fundamentalism in Afghanistan had struck its
first blow at women's education and employment. Since the Najibullah
regime, which was still in power, was anxious to accommodate the
opposition under its National Reconciliation Policy, women's rights were
made the first offering! 

It was no coincidence that the backlash started in the Ministry of
Islamic Affairs, which began dismissing women on the pretext of
abolition of posts. A strict code of dress was also imposed - a scarf to
cover the head, the traditional full sleeved long tunic, and pants.
Lunch breaks, which enabled women to meet, discuss problems, and protest
against unfair practices, were stopped. So was co-education, which
existed till sixth grade. With acute scarcity of resources it was
obvious that girls' schools would receive low priority and standards
would drop. I recommended a number of steps which the western world,
especially the US, could take to protect women's rights. In their aid
programmes they could insist on the integration of women in development
projects. Women's colleges, vocational institutes, and NGOs could
provide fellowships to women to study abroad. My recommendations were
buried. And the above publications also preferred not to publish my
piece, obviously, because it went against the perceived interests of the

The events, which followed, were worse than the most dire predictions!
The overthrow of the Najibullah government in 1992 led to fighting among
warring fundamentalist groups for territorial control. Massive artillery
attacks killed and wounded thousands of civilians, especially women and
children. Afghan women's rights were violated with impunity as the
constitution was suspended by the mujahideen groups who seized power in
Kabul. The ruling warlords ignored the legal system, dismantled the
judicial structure, assumed judicial functions for themselves in several
provinces, and for the Islamic clergy or local shuras (councils of
elders) in others. Trials were arbitrary and punishments were barbaric
like stoning to death and public lashings of everyone including women.
Amnesty International's report for the period April 1992 - February 1995
lists horrendous crimes against women. 

Rape by armed guards of the various warring factions was condoned by
their leaders; it was viewed as a way of intimidating vanquished
populations, and of rewarding soldiers. Fear of rape drove women to
suicide, and fathers to kill their daughters to spare them the
degradation. Scores of women were abducted and detained, sexually
abused, and sold into prostitution. Most girls were victimized and
tortured - because they belonged to different religious and ethnic
groups. In addition to physical abuse, women were stripped of their
fundamental rights of association, freedom of speech, of employment, and
movement. The Supreme Court of the Islamic State in 1994, issued an
Ordinance on Women's Veil which decreed that women should wear a veil to
cover the whole body, forbidding them to leave their homes "not because
they are women but for fear of sedition." This in a nutshell is the past
record of the groups that form the Northern Alliance. Their warlords
looked upon women as spoils of war - the very same warlords, who are now
strutting around Kabul, with the support of the so-called civilized
Western world under US leadership.

In February 1995, the Taliban (students of religion), a strong and
popular political force, took control of nine out of thirty provinces
and ushered in a new era. The Taliban established its own interpretation
of strict Islamic code of ordinances and conduct. The Ministry of
Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the moral
police, was established. Its edicts banned women from working, or going
to school, and forced them to wear the head to toe burqah. It ordered
people to paint their first floor windows black so that passersby could
not see the women inside. A Taliban representative speaking from the
Attorney General's office in Kabul explained the edict to journalists:
"The face of a woman is a source of corruption for men who are not
related to them."

The UN Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women, Radhika
Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka, reported "official widespread, systematic
violations of human rights of women in the Taliban areas of
Afghanistan." In many rape cases, she added, women were punished
publicly for adultery and beaten for violations of the ministry's
edicts, and under Rabbani's government from 1992-1996, some of the worst
outrages against women were committed. 

One exception to women's employment was made in the case of opium poppy
cultivation as it is a labour intensive task which men refused to
undertake. The report of the UN Drug Control Programme quotes a woman:
"Our major problem is that weeding poppy fields takes a lot of time. We
have problems carrying the seeds to the field and often get sick while
lancing and collecting poppy." With all the odds against them, Afghan
women showed amazing bravery and heroism while resisting successive
oppressive regimes. They often paid for it with their lives.

Foremost in the struggle was the Revolutionary Association of Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA) formed in 1977. RAWA organized women through
successive regimes to resist their oppression, by non-violent methods.
It organized underground schools and health facilities for girls and
women, and support and succour for rape victims, even in the refugee
camps in Peshawar and Quetta. RAWA's founder, Meena Kamal, continued to
work despite being repeatedly threatened for her "anti-jihad
activities", till her assassination in 1987 in her house in Quetta.
Although she had informed the Pakistani authorities of threats to her
life, she was not provided police protection.

More recently (1993), the Afghan Women's Council (AWC) was formed by a
number of professional Afghan women doctors, teachers and university
lecturers to provide schools and health clinics for Afghan children and
women in Pakistan's camps. Though they worked towards raising awareness
of women's rights within the framework of Afghanistan's religious and
cultural tradition they too were threatened by mujahideen groups.

The war in Afghanistan has come full circle. As of today the Taliban
seems defeated in all Afghan cities. Osama bin Laden has not been
captured `dead or alive' nor is the terrorist network destroyed. No
estimates exist of the toll war has taken of the lives of civilian men,
women and children, nor of those permanently disabled or seriously
wounded. The Northern Alliance, which is a conglomerate of various
opportunistic ethnic groups mostly Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks minus the
Pashtuns, will play an important role in the formation of the next
government. Needless to add they are the same groups who were in power
before the Taliban. 

Their treatment of women is well documented. The most recent indicator
of the Northern Alliance's intent is the ban imposed by Interior
Minister Younis Qanooni on a women's freedom march in Kabul, planned by
Soraya Parlika of the newly-formed Union of Women in Afghanistan, for
November 28. The ban, according to Parlika, is said to be "for security,
but that is just a pretext...they don't want women to improve." The UN
Special Envoy Frances Vendrell has been holding meetings with the
exclusively male Northern Alliance and other political leaders but not
met with any Afghan women. Is this a precursor of things to come?

Many of the countries - so-called victors of this "war" - have their own
agendas in Afghanistan, and their own ideas about a future Afghan
government. India is in a unique position to take up this issue with the
Northern Alliance with whom it is on good terms. But will it ? Is it at
all interested in raising its voice on behalf of the scarred Afghan
women? It is of the utmost importance that the UN sponsored talks in
Bonn and elsewhere take up these issues with the seriousness they
deserve. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has underlined the need to
involve women in the planning and implementation of the new government
and as beneficiaries. Now is the time for him to stand up and be
counted. RAWA must be invited to participate in the talks, and the views
of Afghan women implemented. Minimum humane standards as set out in the
Geneva Conventions must be impressed on the future government.

Women's human rights should be safeguarded in any new Constitution and
future legislation. Otherwise it will be yet another case of lip service
to the cause of women. Just as it has been in the past. 

Michael Albert
Z Magazine / ZNet

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