ad hoc: Ms. Jonigkeit, in 1985, you went to Pakistan and Afghanistan for the first time. Since 2001, you have travelled there regularly again. What are the differences you see there between then and now?
Jonigkeit: The Soviets sought to win over the country and its people during the 1980s, just as we are trying to do today. They offered literacy classes, girls were sent to school, roads, factories and tower blocks were built. One difference is that these changes were arranged from above. Afghan intellectuals initially sympathized with the Communists because they were trying to open up the country. However, as the Soviets tried to enforce these changes against the will of the ordinary people there, even the intellectuals turned against them.
ad hoc: What time period are we talking about?
Jonigkeit: Over ten years, from 1979 to 1989. In Pakistan a resistance was organized. The burqa became a symbol of resistance for intellectual women against the Soviets. At that time the Mujahideen, the holy warriors, laid down the roots of fundamentalism, which is now an important theme.
In my film "Tschadari and Buz Kaschi" this is clear to see. Veiled women were told how they should behave; that their children, sons of course, should be good Muslims and be sent to Madrasas. This was all financed by money from the West with the aim of undermining the Soviet Union. As this came about and the last Soviet soldier left the country in 1991, all support for Afghan independence was dropped overnight.
ad hoc: So basically, fundamentalism grew from an intellectual movement?
Jonigkeit: That is always the case. Lenin was also an intellectual who managed to impress the people and bring them along with him. That is still there. The soldiers, they are often simple people. They are the ones that are shot or left to freeze in the cold mountains.
ad hoc: Are the people today tied to the "liberal" times of the Communists?
Jonigkeit: Yes, but today it is presented as if girls being allowed to go to school and women working was an invention of the West.
ad hoc: How do Afghans remember the Soviet period?
Jonigkeit: The women, with whom I've spent time with, relate very strongly with the Soviet times. They feel that this was a good time. The ten years after the Soviets left however, were dreadful for women.
ad hoc: Are there women that serve as role models?
Jonigkeit: There are very brave women in Afghanistan. For example, the police woman Malalai Kakar.
ad hoc: The prominent head of the department responsible for investigating crimes against women in Kandahar was killed in 2008.
Jonigkeit: The life of a high-ranking professional woman is very dangerous. If one appears in the media, then they are easily recognizable and everyone knows where they live. Life becomes even more dangerous.
ad hoc: How far has the emancipation of women come today?
Jonigkeit: The women's emancipation movement began in the 1920s with the progressive King Amanullah Khan. Then there was a long break until the arrival of the Soviets, which was followed by a backward step taken by the Mujahideen and the Taliban. Now, is the time of progress again and the difference with the past is that we cannot turn back. Women know how important education is and that you cannot be allowed to be beaten or made to walk behind men. I cannot imagine a time again when 50 per cent of the population are not allowed leave the house. Both ordinary and influential people understand this.
ad hoc: How would you describe the aspirations of women?
Jonigkeit: In one of my films, a young girl says, "I want to stand on my own two feet". That says it all. Women are future oriented and look forward to being able to do what their mothers were not allowed.
ad hoc: Ms. Jonigkeit, thank you for this interview.
The interview was conducted by Else Engel and Stephanie von Hayek.
Stephanie von Hayek, b. 1971, was a 2000/2001 Fellow of the Postgraduate Program in International Affairs, the predecessor of the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs. She spent her fellowship at the United Nations Office for Project Services in New York and at the World Bank Group in Washington D.C. She then worked as a consultant at a Berlin based public affairs consultancy before working as a consultant for the Assembly of the European Regions in Strasbourg. Today she works as a freelance political consultant, moderator and journalist in Potsdam and Berlin.
Else Engel, b. 1980, was a 2006/7 Carlo-Schmidt Fellow at UNESCO in Paris. In recent years, she has completed a postgraduate course in children's rights and was active in the sphere of human rights and education.
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This interview was conducted for ad hoc international, the joint biannual journal of the Network for international Affairs (NefiA) and the CSP Network for International Politics and Co-Operation. NefiA is the Alumni network of the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs as well as the former Postgraduate Program in International Affairs. You can read the full interview and the entire issue of ad hoc international in the German original: Afghanistan: Persönlich - Positiv -Kritisch.