Afghan Women Harassed
| PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN
SINCE its opening four months ago, the school for young Afghan women here has been harassed constantly. The school has been flooded with leaflets condemning women's education as ``immoral'' and ``against Islam.'' Teachers have been threatened by Muslim militants. Students are afraid to attend classes. And now the administrators say they must move the school or face closing.
``This harsh conservative Islam is not Afghan,'' says a woman associated with the school, asking not to be identified. ``People are appalled at what is happening. But they don't dare stand up, because then they will be accused of not being good Muslims. And that's the kiss of death.''
Peshawar, the hub of assistance for millions of Afghan refugees, is facing a wave of harassment against humanitarian aid organizations and women working in their programs.
In recent months, several Christian and private agencies working in nearby refugee camps and in Afghanistan have been attacked and ransacked. Some prominent Afghan moderates have fled Peshawar. And educated Afghan women say they live in fear and uncertainty.
``This is one of the most difficult and depressing periods for Afghans,'' says Nancy Hatch Dupree, an American who has lived here for 35 years. ``Whoever is manipulating this is pushing the button which creates emotional chaos.''
No one is sure who is behind the extremist groups that call themselves the Council of Islamic Jihad and Mujahid Brothers.
Some blame prominent Afghan fundamentalists who are worried that their influence is waning. Some Arab-backed Islamic relief agencies, which fund Afghan moderates and militants alike, also are widely suspected. Diplomats trace some of the harassment to hostels run by some of these groups for Muslim militants on their way to fight in Afghanistan.
``Many of these Muslim groups do legitimate humanitarian work but have a different view than the West,'' says a prominent Afghan. ``They may give humanitarian aid, but they also don't hesitate to provide military help and push their own agenda.''
With corruption widespread among resistance politicians and the refugees dismayed at the leadership vacuum, fundamentalism continues to have a hold on young Afghans.
``The young have been brought up in the fervor of the jihad [Islamic holy war] and have missed out on a purposeful education,'' says Mrs. Dupree. ``But now they have no education and no jobs and no longer have a cause.''