- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany Shahala Asad, one of several Afghan women demonstrating outside the U.N. talks on Afghanistan's future, is angry.

The United Nations does not consider her worthy of inclusion in the ongoing negotiations at the secluded hilltop luxury Petersberg Hotel, despite promises to secure the rights of the downtrodden female Afghan population.

In response to the public protest by the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association (RAWA), the United Nations has pointed out that it deliberately limited the talks to four Afghan political groups and 20 international observers.

There are women in each group, even one in the Northern Alliance delegation, and Lakhtar Brahimi, the U.N. chief envoy, met with RAWA in Pakistan in October, a U.N. spokesman said.

For years, the women of RAWA have been risking their lives in Afghanistan and refugee camps to provide secret schooling and support for girls and women amid the terrors of Taliban rule.

Now they have new fears.

"Many women are fleeing even after the fall of Taliban out of fear of Northern Alliance," said Mrs. Asad, 27. "Women do not want to leave their burkas even now because they afraid of systematic raping by Northern Alliance troops."

While her organization says the Taliban imposed "the most oppressive regime on earth," Mrs. Asad has equal contempt for the men who are destined to take over.

"We are against the Northern Alliance," she said. "We experienced them from 1992 to 1996, the most dark period of our history. Our people will not forget and forgive the atrocities killing, raping of women, destruction, fighting among factions, looting of houses, beating, using the gun for power. There is no difference between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. They [both] are anti-democracy and anti-women."

Shahala Asad, not her real name, never lets herself be photographed, and when she enters her homeland secretly, her burka is a means of disguise.

It has been women like Mrs. Asad who secretly filmed and chronicled some of the Taliban's most grisly acts, including the executions of women inside the Kabul Football Stadium in full view of thousands of spectators.

Now though, Mrs. Asad wants a very different kind of government to take over in Afghanistan, not a reversion to their past masters.

"The U.S. and U.N. must not now put non-democrats in power," she said.

She points out that Osama bin Laden got his "first hospitality" from the Northern Alliance. Mrs. Asad believes the supporters of the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, should be supported by the Western powers and the United Nations.

As for the Northern Alliance warlords, she demands: "The old leaders must go to an international court to pay for their past crimes."

When Mrs. Asad was 9, her father was killed fighting the Soviet occupation of her country. She and her four sisters fled with her mother and grandmother into a squalid refugee camp in Pakistan.

There she was enrolled into a school that gave her a remarkably good education, with a science laboratory and teachers of English. It also provided her with food and a bed.

It was run by RAWA, the women's group that has continued to be central to her life, even though she now has a husband and a son who is nearly 3. She absorbed the movement's radical ideology: a hard line on rights for women and, some say, a Marxist view of the world.

These ideological inclinations are brushed aside by Mrs. Asad: "We are just democratic."

Created in 1977 to resist Soviet rule over Afghanistan, the women's group went underground after its founder was bound, gagged and strangled in the Pakistani border city of Quetta, reportedly by KGB agents assisted by fundamentalists.

"We've been much more cunning and secret since then," said Mrs. Asad.

Under the Taliban, RAWA mounted the country's only substantial underground operations.

"We made movie clips, hiding cameras under our burkas. We ran home-based classes for girls and boys. We helped women become literate and to make carpets, do handicraft, and provided small mobile health teams," said Mrs. Asad.

Since it was illegal to teach girls anything except the Koran, the venue for classes was changed often, and the children were trained to pull out the holy book and recite loudly from it whenever any Taliban members were spied in the vicinity.

Other resistance activities included providing women and children with ice cream, and secret boutiques to allow women to put on makeup both activities barred by the Taliban.

Under the coming new regime, Mrs. Asad believes she will still have an underground role to play.

"The struggle is far from over," she said.

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