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Activist Marvi Sirmed fears for women compatriots in Afghanistan

Marvi Sirmed is a very disturbed soul. Since the Taliban capture of large parts of Afghanistan and the takeover of Kabul, her fears have compounded.

“I am worried about Afghans in general and the state of women in particular,” says the political commentator, journalist, and human rights activist from Pakistan, currently based in the US.

“The situation for the Afghan women is very challenging and I fear for their lives,” states Sirmed, who had met several of them during conferences and meetings, but with whom she is unable to make contact since the last 48 momentous hours in the landlocked country.

According to this doughty activist, the future seems rather bleak for women after the Taliban takeover. “I have been trying to get in touch with my contacts and the people I know, but all the social media, including WhatsApp, have gone on the blink. It is distressing to not know what exactly is going on. There is no confirmation about anything,” she told Moneycontrol.

In her estimation, “it is stressful to think that the fate of women who were so active in social programmes, who were so forward looking and progressive, remains unknown.”

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) activists, forever in the frontline of agitations and political movements, have suddenly gone into hibernation, explains Sirmed.

The PTM is a social movement for Pashtun (or Pathan) human rights based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The movement was founded in May 2014 by eight students in Pakistan’s Dera Ismail Khan district.

The Pakistan response

What adds to her anguish are the responses of people in her own country, Pakistan. “I have been watching reactions in the social media, members of the civil society, the Twitter handles and the talking heads; everyone is speaking gloriously about the victory of Islam. It is dangerous and chaotic,” says Sirmed, for long an advocate of secular politics and minority rights in Pakistan, a situation which is fraught with danger.

Sirmed has courted the ire of conservatives in her country. In November 2007, she was arrested when she protested the 2007 Emergency declared in Pakistan by then military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

When the United States Embassy in Pakistan invited LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and Ally) people to an event, Sirmed’s defence of their decision was met with attacks on YouTube. In another televised debate broadcast on YouTube, Sirmed again spoke in defence of LGBT rights, leading her to be threatened with both death and sexual violence.

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Violence hits home

In 2012 and again in 2018, she was shot at by unidentified gunmen but escaped unhurt. Her home has been ransacked three times, with passports and documents being taken.

Nonetheless, the level of opportunism in Afghanistan has come as a shock to her. Prices of air tickets have gone up ten-fold in a matter of two days as people scramble to get out of the country at any cost. For the racketeers and buccaneers, it is field day in the benighted country.Is there any other way that the activists, particularly women, can leave Afghanistan? “Well the only way out is Tajikistan and that is not easy. All border crossings and roads that lead to Pakistan are being manned by the Taliban, or pro-Taliban men, including the roads and highways. There is really nowhere to go,” she says. As far as deadlocks go, this one is complete.

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