Editors Note: This is the first post by our good friend “Chim Chim” who works inside the wire with the American Army. His time in Afghanistan is coming to an end but he has given us many good posts to publish in the weeks ahead. He is posting anonymously at his own request.
The woman’s section of the Nanagarhar Provincial prison in Jalalabad City is a tight knit family of eleven prisoners and their children. In all, there are twenty eight souls residing in this mud-walled complex. They have been tried for “crimes” such as murder, smuggling, conspiracy, and adultery. They were found guilty, and under the tenets of Sharia law practiced by Islamic fundamentalists throughout the world these women must pay for their crimes.
The women range from the ages of sixteen to somewhere in the mid-forties. They are not wearing the traditional light blue Burkha; rather they dress in their colorful Shalwar Kameez (traditional Afghan pants and shirts). They wear brightly colored shawls draped over their heads to cover their hair which is a sign of modesty in these parts.
Maybe it is because of the presence of so many international aid workers that they are so willing to speak to foreigner and even have their pictures taken. This openness is in very stark contrast to the woman living in what some would call “free” Afghanistan. Perhaps their perception is that living in prison allows more personal freedom then living in the rural areas of Afghanistan as a woman. If so, they are probably right.
Women in Afghanistan are still forced into marriages. They are often beaten daily by their dominant husbands or even their older sons. This abuse is not universal, many Afghans develop a iron tight bond with their wife or wives. Many boys grow to worship the strong, selfless mothers who bore them and invested everything they had in the education and success of their sons. There are lucky women here, but as with anywhere else on earth the fickle fingers of luck touch just a very few. Afghanistan is replete with abuse of women. But some are resilient. They are possibly the “Bravehearts” of Afghanistan.
Out of the eleven women in Jalalabad Prison, I have found none to be guilty of a premeditated willfully violent crime. In cases where the degree of premeditation could be disputed their alleged crime were clearly in self defense. One woman committed murder and another conspired to murder. One smuggled weapons and opium across a border. The other eight committed adultery. Given these crimes, many would say that they deserve imprisonment.
An aged woman, possibly in her forties, who looked about fifty or sixty smiled as she saw visitors enter her compound. She was wearing an old white Shalwar Kameez that was actually grey in color due to the filth. Her story was disheartening. She killed her husband who continually abused her. He did not simply slap her a few times in the face once in a while. He beat her daily with sticks and buckets, which are a commodity in Afghanistan to transport water from wells to the home. Often he would tie her to a bed and leave her there for several days. She had many scars to show for this lifetime of abuse. When the tipping point came she was like a cat backed into a corner, she had only one option to attack. And attack she did giving her husband two to the chest with his AK 47, a memory which can still bring a smile to her sad face.
The second female prisoner had a similar story of abuse. She was much younger, approximately twenty five years of age. She has been in prison for nine years and has seven more to go. Do the math she was placed in prison by the Taliban. She was in love with another man and was forced to marry someone else. The man who she loved was similar in age, the demon her family married her to was over forty years old. After one daily beating, she escaped her dungeon with a black eye and ran to her true love. They both agreed that this demon must stop his abuse. They contacted the police, but the police in Afghanistan do not interfere with marital affairs. The demon accused his wife’s love of attempting to kill him. She would not allow such a statement to punish her love, and she needed protection. She openly admitted to conspiring with her true love to kill the husband. This was her way to escape the abuse.
Afghanistan is the land of smugglers. Most of the time, the smugglers are men. At times women can be found smuggling weapons and drugs across borders as well. It is not that they want to commit such crimes; rather they must commit such actions for survival. In the case of prisoner number three, she had children and was a widow living in this impoverished country without any support mechanisms. She needed to feed her family of four children. She knew of a person who would employ her and pay enough money to save her children from starvation. She made numerous smuggling trips across the Torkham border crossing with Pakistan but eventually was caught. Today she does not need to worry about her children starving or being caught conducting an illegal act. She and her four children live in prison together. They are fed, and have plenty of water but they cannot leave.
The remaining women committed a crime somewhat common in Islamic countries. Planned marriages are the rule of the land and such marriages rarely involve couples who are mutually attracted to each other much less the concept of love. Arraigned marriages are based upon convenience, sometimes they are based upon need. Stories of opium farmers or drug addicts selling their elementary school aged daughters into marriage to settle debts are common. In such marriages the only thing that matters is how well the girl can tend to needs of her husband. Some women and men do not want such arranged marriages to occur. Couples deeply in love have been known to run away from their families. They will attempt to live their lives together until both families allow a marriage to take place and be recognized. Sometimes this acceptance never occurs. In such cases, the woman is accused of the crime of adultery.
Adultery in Islamic countries is not about sex. Rarely are individuals found guilty of having intercourse and thus charged with adultery. Women are often examined by “professionals” to ensure they are still virgins. If a woman is found to have had sex prior to marriage the punishment is a stoning. The man normally faces very little to no punishment. Women who run away with men they love will normally be killed by their father or brothers when found. In Taliban times (or if they are caught in Iran) they would be stoned to death. The eight adulterers serving time in Jalalabad prison are lucky. They are alive.
Those found guilty of crimes are not the only people serving time in Afghanistan prisons. The children of these women must serve time too. Some children are born in prison. When they reach their sixteenth birthday they are released. They are forced to leave the only family they know. If family members on the outside of the prison walls do not pick them up on their sixteenth birthday, these children will live in the streets. They have no schooling; they were not allowed to obtain any formal education. They know anger, frustration, and hatred. They will struggle to survive and will seek acceptance from anyone who shows the slightest interest in them. Psychologically, they are prime targets for terrorist recruiters. They are already ticking time bombs all the terrorists need do is add in the bomb.
Jalalabad Prison is a large compound about the size of a city block. The small female inmate section is currently home to this group of women and their kids. There is no doubt that these women committed crimes according to the laws of Islam (Sharia). There is no doubt that their current incarceration is legal under the laws of Afghanistan. But are such laws acceptable in today’s world? Is this what we in the West want to see in our lands?
If you think that the infliction of Sharia upon the free peoples of the west is absurd or impossible, look at the United Kingdom. They recently allowed Sharia Courts into their judicial system. The reality is that the harsh laws of Sharia are being rapidly implemented around the globe today. Look at our neighbor to the north and their “human rights courts.” A Canadian cannot publish a book or magazine article which is critical of Muslims in any way without being dragged into “Human Rights” court. He or she will be forced to spend thousands of their hard earned dollars defending the right to print a point of view while their accusers spend the taxpayer money in pursuit of their interests.
The women in Jalalabad prison are very knowledgeable about the Islamic religion. They are proud to be Muslims and would most likely never leave the faith. But even they believe the punishment they are enduring for the “crimes” they committed are ridiculous. They will tell you they are human beings being victimized because of their gender and that such practices have no place in the world today. Afghanistan is a harsh land populated by rugged and harsh people who expect nothing good in this life. And that is just what happened to these women and their innocent childrennothing good. The only thing to be done for these unfortunates is to remember them in your prayers. And trust that God will show them the mercy that was missing in the hearts of their tormentors.
I went to the prison. I know a lot about it. I have a friend that goes there a lot and he is the one who got me in. The women were very comfortable speaking with us. The children were incredible and if Afghan Law allowed it, I would bring some of them back to the states with me as their gaurdian to take them out of this hell striken place.