BBC World Service
I have a right to...

Muhammad Dawood Azami - Pashto

Reporter's Story

To make my programmes, I travelled to Quetta and then to Peshawar in Pakistan, where there is a huge Pashto speaking community and thousands of Afghan refugees. Then I went to Afghanistan to visit Kandahar and Kabul, and Mazar and Shiberghan, in the north of the country.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan widespread human rights violations remain part of everyday life. People either do not know about or are unable to enjoy their civic freedoms. Besides the government's lack of interest, the citizens are also unaware of their human rights. Illiteracy and lack of information continue to be a hurdle in front of positive change.

Pakistan: The Right to Vote

In Pakistan, women have been given the right to vote - it's in the constitution, they have equal rights - but in certain areas men do not allow them to go outside of the house to cast their vote.

I met several women. They really want to go outside but they're not allowed to. They are dependent on men. In big cities it is different but in the Pashtun belt, traditions are very strong.

There are two very different realities. There are Pashtun women who have become prominent figures in every field of life. They are ministers, members of national and provincial assemblies and political leaders, but on the other hand, there are other women who are the most oppressed class of society.

Making a Difference

I contacted NGO's who help women become more aware of their rights; help them to come out and to have a say in elections.

There are several. The Aurat Fondation works towards the promotion and awareness of women's rights. The Sisters' Home is an NGO in Peshawar which works with women.

A woman I met at an NGO visits homes and talks to women. It has helped; she has achieved a lot.

The men I interviewed in Pakistan said, "This is the Pashtun tradition, we represent our women. Women have the same thinking as we have. If we cast a vote, they will want the same candidate as we will..."

Taleban Prisoners: from Afghanistan and Pakistan

When the Taleban collapsed in Northern Afghanistan, slowly all the troops went to Kunduz, a province in the north of the country, on the border with Uzbekistan. Finally after negotiations, the fighters decided to surrender to General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Northern Alliance commander). Their weapons were taken and they were loaded onto containers and were transferred to Shiberghan jail, close to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan. Some prisoners say that 18,000 fighters were transferred and some will tell you the number is 8,000.

I went to visit the jail in Shibarghan. The Taleban prisoners there told me their story and how they got there.

They said the doors of the containers were locked. About 200-300 people were locked in each container; there were several. It was a long journey; everybody was suffocating, sweating. Drops were forming on the walls of the container and people were so thirsty ... they licked the walls. They started shouting, "There is no air, no water, give us some water."

They told me that hundreds of them died because of a lack of oxygen. The officials deny this. They say only 70 to 80 people died; because of wounds they sustained in the war.


The prisoners are accused of being Taleban fighters. Some of the prisoners, they told me, are not Taleban although they were with the Taleban. They say that they were recruited. The Taleban would ask every village to give people.

Some prisoners are Pakistanis who helped the Afghan Taleban. In June 2002, when I was there, there were still 1,300 prisoners behind the bars; about 600 were from Pakistan.

Some of them have shaved their beards; the Taleban would not do this because, according to them, it goes against the Islamic Sharia law.

They are all in jail; there are no court proceedings. Hundreds of them have been released but hundreds are still in jail.

Making a Difference

With the help of the United Nations, on the 6th of June, 2002, President Hamid Karzai announced the establishment of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. I was able to attend the inaugural ceremony in Kabul.

Jail officials told me, "Look, we don't want to keep the prisoners. The central government and other agencies should do something to release them. We don't have food, not even enough for our own soldiers; we can't feed them. There should be a way of releasing them."

There are several groups and commissions in Afghanistan which have been working towards the promotion and awareness of human rights.

The Afghan Human Right's Commission, an NGO, was first established in Peshawar in 1998.

The Afghan Organisation of Human Rights & Environmental Protection was established in Peshawar, in 2000.

The human rights law group, established in Kabul, is involved in training on human rights.