‘We would rather have the Taliban’s time’

The Globe and Mail
September 2009

“My dreams are gone.”

“It is already too late for me.”

“My life has been destroyed.”

At first, the words pouring from the mouth of the girl with jewel eyes hemmed in kohl sound like a typical teenage lament.

Her tone is plain and without melodrama – she believes what she says. And there are plenty of reasons she should.


From her dolls to her husband in a single day

The Globe and Mail
September 2009

The day she got engaged, Sakina started out playing with her dolls in the street.

There was no indication that the 13-year-old was scheduled to meet her future husband. But then her father summoned her out of the street and planted her before a male stranger.

“I saw him and they told me I was getting married to him,” Sakina remembered in an on-camera interview with The Globe and Mail.

Next, she learned that she had been sold by her father for 600,000 afghanis, about $13,000. Although she was surprised at the abruptness of the transaction, Sakina doesn’t remember being upset.

“Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do,” she said. “It is not about whether we like our husbands or not. We just get married.”

It was after the wedding that the horror began.


One dreams about the “taste” of happiness, another about having one more chance to sit and talk with her slain husband. One hopes her children outlive her and finish their education.

Above all else, though, they wish for “security.”

For the 10 women who participated in The Globe and Mail’s “Behind the Veil” project, peace and stability in Afghanistan top their lists of hopes and dreams for the future.

“My dream for my personal life is that our country becomes peaceful; with it, all my dreams will come true,” said Shukria, a 32-year-old mother of six who has been once widowed and married twice.

“In my entire life, I haven’t even spent one year in happiness. … Now, my dreams and hopes are that my children grow up so I can see happiness in the future, so I can see what happiness tastes like,” she said.

Then, a sombre addendum: “But I know that if our situation remains the same, I don’t really have much hope left even for that.”


Instead of a burka or colourful long scarves, Shukufa trades her nightclothes each morning for an algae-green outfit that is boxy and masculine.

With the emblem of Afghanistan’s National Police sewn on the arm, the uniform is both a point of pride and a potential bull’s eye – an adrenalin-inducing duality for the 19-year-old.

“I am always afraid; I know that danger is with me,” Shukufa said in a recent in-depth, on-camera interview. “But still ... I do my job well. It’s destiny.”


When they wake in the morning, the women try to steal a few moments of peace for themselves before the children rise.

They drink tea, not coffee. Before it’s allowed to pass their lips though, they spend a few quiet minutes kneeling, their foreheads pressed down onto colourful prayer mats.

When the carpets are rolled up, the predictable family frenzy of morning begins – even in Kandahar.


Farmers’ fields outside the western Afghanistan city of Herat are about to blossom into a purple form of gold.

Once rife with poppy, the lucrative spring crop used to produce heroin, these plots are now seeded with saffron flowers. They yield the burnt orange granules that trade as the most expensive spice in the world. At its highest quality, saffron sells for between $2,000 and $4,000 per kilogram in global markets, enticing farmers to switch their allegiance from opium, which sells as little as a tenth as much.

Besides offering a panacea for opium cultivation – the Afghan government and its allies have struggled for years to stamp out poppies, a source of Taliban revenue – saffron has the potential to revitalize Afghanistan’s participation in world agriculture markets. It could also provide a rare passageway for growers, many of whom are women, into more lucrative trading jobs traditionally reserved for men.