Between Fundamentalist Anvil and Red Hammer: How the 1980s Sculpted Afghan Women Movement

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorFarooq Sulehria
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterSpecial Section on South Asia in and after the 1980s
Between Fundamentalist Anvil
and Red Hammer: How the 1980s
Sculpted Afghan Women Movement
Farooq Sulehria1
The 1980s proved critical not merely for contemporary Afghan history but also for the women’s strug-
gle in Afghanistan. Showcasing Afghan women’s struggles, this article argues that the 1980s proved
crucial in shaping feminist debates in Afghanistan. Arguably, Afghan women’s lived experience from the
1980s drove home the conclusion that foreign occupation does not bring women freedoms, while reli-
gious tapestries to sugarcoat secular women’s demands reinforce patriarchy. They learnt in the 1980s
that their struggles antecede and should succeed foreign interventions. It was, therefore, understand-
able that the first demonstration against the Taliban, when they re-entered Kabul in August 2021, was
held by women.
Afghanistan, USSR, RAWA, great game, Cold War
The 1980s’ Afghanistan jogs one’s memory about ‘Afghan jihad’ bankrolled by the Saudis, assisted by
Pakistan, and captained by the CIA, on the one hand and the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party
of Afghanistan (PDPA) regime besieged by the ‘Mujahideen’, on the other hand. The PDPA introduced
reforms targeting feudalism and patriarchy in their bid to modernize Afghanistan; however, the top-down
nature of the reforms isolated the regime. In a way, the Afghan history was repeating itself: inspired by
Kemal Ataturk, Soviet-friendly Afghan monarch Amanullah also attempted modernizing reforms in the
1920s but was overthrown as tribes, egged on by British India, rebelled and paved the way for a puritan
regime. The PDPA in the 1980s faced a rather similar revolt with a global twist in the context of the Cold
War. Hence, the conflict became unusually complicated; it prolonged and assumed violent forms, culmi-
nating in the Mujahedeen/Taliban takeover in the 1990s. Amidst the conflict between Mujahedeen
and communists, an often marginalized narrative is the struggle of Afghan women. Anahita Ratebzad
(1931–2014) and Meena Keshwar Kamal (1956–1987), spearheading the Democratic Organization of
Original Article
Studies in Indian Politics
12(1) 104–116, 2024
© 2024 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230241235366
1 Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan
Corresponding author:
Farooq Sulehria, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore 53700, Pakistan.

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