The South Asia Channel

The Activist

 This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Name: Suraiya Parlika Age: 70 Ethnicity: Tajik Province: Kabul Suraiya Parlika is the director of the All Afghan Women Union (AAWU) and a former member of the Communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which deposed Daoud Khan’s first-ever republic with ...

Author Photo
Author Photo

 This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Name: Suraiya Parlika

Age: 70

 This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Name: Suraiya Parlika

Age: 70

Ethnicity: Tajik

Province: Kabul

Suraiya Parlika is the director of the All Afghan Women Union (AAWU) and a former member of the Communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which deposed Daoud Khan’s first-ever republic with Soviet support. She is above all else, committed. She remains dedicated to the ideology of the PDPA, even though she’s suffered the most from it: She was jailed and tortured by the PDPA general secretary, Hafizullah Amin, and sentenced to death for inter-party rivalries. She was rescued only because the Red Army invaded days before her scheduled execution and installed a new president — her cousin, Babrak Karmal.

She also remains committed to her country, even though living alone as an unmarried woman in a conservative society carries its own set of challenges, and despite the fact that she’s received countless offers from international organizations to relocate her. Still, she has always stayed, even as she’s experienced many of Afghanistan’s worst moments firsthand.

At AAWU, Parlika focuses on empowering women by raising public awareness about their rights and advocating in the legislative and judicial sectors for better laws and in favor of female victims. Through the union, Parlika has been one of the main driving forces advocating for the law on the elimination of violence against women and the law for access to information, as well as against the controversial Shiite family law.

In a Soviet-era apartment block, Parlika has gathered more than 10 young women who spend international money on projects that inspire hope for a more equal Afghanistan. 

The following are the words of Suraiya Parlika, as told to and translated by Moh. Sayed Madadi.

These two periods are so different — post-2001 and PDPA rule. Back then, there was a very firm commitment and belief in the PDPA towards women’s equality, development, freedom, reconstruction, combating injustice and poverty — especially I am talking about the period after Amin. These values were going to be institutionalized in all layers of the society. Education was available for everyone, male and female; vocational chances were equally available for men and women. I remember I personally proposed to Najib [the last Communist president of Afghanistan] a policy of maternity leave of three months before childbirth and three months after it; it is now part of Afghan labor law. Kindergartens were widely established at work places; labor houses — halls in the factories where women gathered during their lunch and off hours –were built in every factory and company; equal work against equal wages was strictly enforced; farming houses — similar to the labor houses for farmers in cooperatives — were founded, I don’t say all over the country, but as widespread as the government could.

I even proposed to Najib that polygamy should be banned. He accepted the suggestion principally, but not practically because it would cause controversy in Islam, which allows for up to four wives. But he promised to issue a decree which would ban PDPA party members and government employees from having more than one wife at the same time without reasonable justification, and if they were caught, they would be fired from office and have their membership in the party revoked. I agreed, and the very next day, it was in force, and no one dared act against it.

Back then, there was not much funding out of the government sector. The Soviet Union was only funding the Afghan government, which was extensive — groceries like cooking oil, rice, sugar, everything a family needed was available. In addition to coupons for public servants, there were Maghaza Taawoni [thrift shops] which offered everything at a quarter of their normal price. So generally, there was equal treatment and fair growth and the support for family was extensive. Believe me, people weren’t complaining about poverty back then.

Now, there are also very good things, many achievements have been made, things have improved a lot and developments are visible. But many of these improvements are so superficial. Back then, for instance, our army was one of the best in the region, with the most modern and sophisticated weaponry, air force, and other war equipment. Now, where is that committed and truly national army? It doesn’t exist. Where are those highly educated, trained, and faithful army officers? They aren’t here. After the Soviets left Afghanistan, for three years, the mujahideen — supported by all the Western countries, plus Pakistan and Iran — couldn’t defeat Najib’s Socialist government. Who do we have now to do that? We don’t have that commitment, nor is there that passion and conviction to guard the system and the stability.

I believe America should not repeat the mistake the Soviets committed when they left Afghanistan. We should not forget the traumas our people went through, we should not forget the lives of more than 60,000 Kabulis who were killed by mujahideen fighting, and we should not forget the women who were raped, and the destruction the country suffered. I am not skeptical of my nation, but I am skeptical of what the international community has done. They haven’t built infrastructures that could last beyond their own presence. To whom are they going to give this country?

I don’t know what President Hamid Karzai had in mind when he refused to sign the BSA [the bilateral security agreement, which would allow foreign troops to stay beyond 2014]. I was a member of Loya Jirga [grand council] that advised him to sign it. When he formed the council, he said that he would consider our decision to be the voice of the Afghan nation. I thought he just wanted to legitimize his decision to sign it and prove that it was backed by Afghans. But it turned out to be the opposite. When we all decided that he should sign it, it seemed like it was unexpected for the president.

Now I think if Americans and their allies decide to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, they would be committing the same mistake they once did when they left the mujahideen unchecked after defeating the Soviets and toppling Najib’s government in Kabul. The post-9/11 "War on Terror" is their reward for the negligence they committed a decade earlier. If they leave now, they will once again regret it; they will once again pay a similar reward. Afghanistan needs their money, their soldiers, and their political support for a viable democracy and lasting stability.

Moh. Sayed Madadi is a Kabul-based Afghan civil activist working on democratic governance and human rights. He is a member of the Afghan Coalition for Transparency and Accountability, a civil society group advocating for good governance, and the co-founder of the Youth Empowerment Organization, which focuses on youth engagement in local governance.

Moh. Sayed Madadi is an Afghan activist working on democratic governance and human rights. He is a member of the Afghan Coalition for Transparency and Accountability, a civil society group advocating for good governance, and the co-founder of the Youth Empowerment Organization. He is currently a Hurford Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Follow him on Twitter: @madadisaeid. Twitter: @madadisaeid

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