From Taliban to Boko Haram and back again

The female body as battleground for extremists

Whilst the world engages in public breast-beating and vocal rage against the Boko Haram and the plight of the hapless, kidnapped girls, no-one seems to have expressed that feeling of  déjà vu all over again.
The last instance such a public display of international outrage occurred when, in 2012, Pakistani schoolgirl Malalai Yusufzai was viciously attacked by the local variety of Taliban militant Islamists who are responsible for the destruction of hundreds of schools all along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The attack on Afghanistan by US and NATO forces in late 2001 was shrouded in self-righteous indignation against the Taliban at a time when G.W. Bush needed some form of legitimation to invade the country as the links between Kabul and the 9/11 bombings looked at best tenuous. The fact that the Taliban had been in power for six years, all schools closed and girls’ access to education  banned had, until then, not been deemed suitably alarming by the Great Powers.
So why are they reacting now to Boko Haram, founded in 2002 and active since 2009 and for whom kidnapping of girls is a familiar tactic.? That is the real question which I hope someone more qualified than myself  will investigate.
In the meantime it is interesting to see what is shared by  Taliban and Boko Haram and the countries where they operate. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are amongst the most corrupt countries in the world[1] Polio is endemic in the three (nowhere else). The armed Political Fundamentalist groups are equally opposed to any form of female agency, expressed through systematic gender violence.
Each group has instituted active policies that have had disastrous consequences for civilian populations, public health and education generally, reversing any efforts undertaken to improve the standard of living. In North Eastern Nigeria where the Boko Haram rules, as in Northern Pakistan and all of rural Afghanistan, under Taliban and Deobandi control, infant and maternal mortality are catastrophic. The opposition to education has been much publicized, as it is known that there is a direct correlation between literacy and public health. But the consequences of militant Fundamentalism on young mothers and babies never make the headlines. Of course insecurity and armed combat, as in any conflict situation are a major impediment to accessing hospitals and dispensaries (when they exist). But add to that forced marriages of extremely young teenagers (as young as 11) encouraged by Boko Haram and every variety of Deobandi/Taliban (all political allies), plus the prohibition regarding Western health care, the ban on girls’ education (which makes female doctors and nurses unacceptable) and you get the world’s highest rate of maternal mortality (in the North-East of Nigeria) and the same in the remoter Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan..In all these cases, marriage is regulated by state, religious and customary law which do not afford any protection to the poorest. The infants born to these under-fed girls (because their value is deemed lesser than that of males) have few chances for survival and here as well, statistics are appalling: Afghanistan, despite the billions poured in holds the worst child mortality rates on the planet[2]
These Fundamentalist terror groups set themselves up as the only legitimate opponents to the West and fight the most visible manifestations of the Western idea of progress, that is to say women’s rights to health and education. In all three cases, the protagonists, despite being religious zealots, engage in big business on a transnational scale and high- level smuggling (arms in Nigeria, drugs in Afghanistan and Pakistan) with the more than probable connivance of those powers that supposedly fight them. Be it Karzai or Goodlife Jonathan, these leaders have shown remarkable indifference to the potential (and partly realized) fate of 50% of their population.
On one side, the US finances major aid programmes in Afghanistan that  are frequently inefficient because of inadequate knowledge of local culture. On the other, by negotiating with the Taliban, (since at least 2010) the American government actively supports corrupt politicians who have removed human rights from their agenda. Indeed, by bolstering warlords and government officials active in the opium-producing areas, these cynical real politicians know full well that they are de facto making school and hospitals inaccessible for the girls who live there. There again, the business advantages licit and illicit far outnumber any humanitarian aid committed to these regions. That’s showbusiness, good for press relations and feel-good media.

What of Nigeria? No institution is officially negotiating with Boko Haram who represent nobody but themselves. But their elusive finances indicate that more money is going in their direction than towards stopping the major humanitarian crisis in their benighted provinces. Their funding is a mystery but seems to include protection money from the governors in the region, bank robberies, ransoms from kidnapping, hand-outs from Al-Qaeda, allies such as AQMI and al-Shabab, themselves known to be financed by Qatar as well as money funneled through Islamic charities, via it seems Saudi Arabia[3]. The smuggling of weapons is certainly a major source of income. It is rumoured that Boko Haram might be financed by drug-cartels in South America who have for decades benefited from the not-so-occult help of the CIA, in other words the main allies of the Gulf State potentates. But in the meantime, Michelle Obama’s speech looks ever so moving on television…

So there we have it, from the Taliban to Boko Haram and back again, the female body is the battle ground of extremists, quietly murdered with the help of the  richest and the most powerful on this planet…

CM, May 13 2014.



(part of this article will be incorporated in a forthcoming essay on « Giving Birth on the Afghan battlefield » to be published early next year)

[1] according  to the Corruption Perceptions Index out of 175, Pakistan is at n°127, Nigeria at 144, Afghanistan nearly at the bottom 173.

[2] CIA Fact book, 2013 estimates.


One Response to “From Taliban to Boko Haram and back again”

  1. on 19 Mai 2014 at 1:35 Wamiqullah Mumtaz

    Dear Carol Mann,
    Very nicely written – another issue about women in Afghanistan is « Women are symbol of honor ». this symbolic honor restricted women from many development rights such as higher education, health, civic participation and decision making.
    I have also written an article about women role and rights in Afghanistan and will share with you if u want to read.
    Wamiq Mumtaz