In the disputed region of Kashmir, both India and Pakistan battle for control. There, women protest as much as the men — and as Farhana Qazi has seen, their lives are hard.
These women, Qazi said, are very aware they will be arrested for protesting. When Qazi asked what would happen to these women, she was told they would be held for the night and released the next day.
And as Qazi watched, four women, including one named Asiyah, were arrested and thrown into a jeep. The next day, Asiyah was indeed released, and Qazi went to meet with her.
“You know, sister,” Asiyah said in an alleyway, “I wanted to be a suicide bomber.”
And despite Qazi’s expertise as a terrorism scholar, she found herself shocked. But she didn’t understand why she was surprised. She knew the roots of terrorism, and she said Kashmir most definitely fit.
“What happened?” Qazi asked, referring to why Asiyah became a protester instead.
“Sister, the brothers wouldn’t take me,” Asiyah said. “The men wouldn’t take me.”
The group she went to, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is one of the largest militant Islamist terrorist groups in South Asia. It is responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai, India, attacks.
“I went to the brothers to volunteer for an attack,” Asiyah said, “because women, as much as men, can make an impact. Women are just as dangerous and just as deadly as their men.”
Members of Lashkar-e-Taiba had told her they would call on her when there was a shortage of men. Asiyah became very resentful of this decision.
“So when Asiyah told me this story,” Qazi said during her lecture at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater, “obviously, as an American woman, there was little I was going to do to help her. She became involved in a women’s political organization. And so this cycle — what I call this vicious cycle of protest — continues.”
Qazi, the third speaker in Week Five’s topic to discuss “21st Century Women: The Road to Social and Economic Growth,” discussed the living conditions and goals of Kashmiri women. In her speech, titled “The Mujahidaat: Why Muslim Women Kill,” she spoke about the growing number of female protesters in the area.
Qazi is an internationally renowned expert on the Muslim world and is the first Muslim woman to work in the CIA’s counterterrorism office. Qazi was born in Pakistan but was raised in the U.S.
The Kashmir region occupies the overlapping areas in northern India and northeastern Pakistan, as well as a small portion of China. Though Qazi did not include China in her lecture, she spoke of the dispute between Indian control, Pakistani control and independence in the region.
Kashmiri women are faced with battles on many fronts, she said.
“These women are fearless,” Qazi said.
Since the 1980s, 10,000 men have disappeared from the Kashmir region. If men are killed in battle, their spouses receive a small amount of aid from the state. The spouses of the men who disappear do not receive benefits, even though those men likely are killed in battle.
This has left many women searching fruitlessly for their loved ones until their own deaths.
Other women care for their injured sons, brothers and husbands. One woman started an organization called Daughters of Faith, designed to defend women’s honor. That woman carries a sword under her garb, Qazi said. Still, there are those who perform silent protests against the struggle in Kashmir.
Qazi said one doctor told her that “half of Kashmir is on drugs” because they need something to help them cope with the problems in their region. Many face stress and trauma to the point of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
“So as stark of a reality as it might be in the (Kashmir) valley,” Qazi said, “there are women who believe in making the world more aware of their plight.”
She said the Kashmiri people would be more than willing to accept aid from the United Nations and the U.S. In fact, some protests are orchestrated specifically to demand said aid.
Qazi referenced a Chatham House poll released in May 2010, which found between 43 and 44 percent of Kashmiri people would vote for independence if they had the choice, as opposed to voting for Pakistani or Indian control.
Instead, Qazi said, politicians running for election in Kashmir represent the Indian and Pakistani sides of the debate.
This “solution” is “forced upon them,” Qazi said.
There are those Kashmiris who believe even independence is not the answer. Even if Kashmir becomes independent, Qazi said these people believe Kashmiris still will be heavily reliant on both Pakistan and India.
“And why do India and Pakistan even care about Kashmir?” Qazi said. “Is this really an ideological battle as it once was? … It is less ideological; it is more political.”
There recently has been a push for journalists and documentaries to expose these issues. However, she said, there will not be peace without a political solution. Otherwise, that “vicious cycle of protest” will continue inevitably.
And as long as that cycle exists, Qazi said, there will be women involved.
“Women do not exist in a vacuum in any struggle, in any conflict, in any war,” Qazi said. “Women coincide with their men.”
Farhana Qazi is an internationally renowned expert on terrorism, specializing in Pakistan, Afghanistan and women in war. Currently, she is a senior instructor for Pakistan on the AFPAK Regional Training Team, responsible for designing a variety of training courses for the U.S. military and other government audiences. Born in Pakistan, Qazi grew up in Texas, and speaks Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, French, and is proficient in modern standard Arabic. She provides a unique insight into Pakistan, given her cultural, ethnic and linguistic heritage. She also instructs at the National Defense University and U.S. Central Command, and participates in senior-level training courses, or “deep dives,” on specific subjects such as “Governance and Justice of Pakistan.”
Before 9/11, Qazi was the first American Muslim woman to serve in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterterrorist Center, where she provided support to senior administration officials and worked across the U.S. military and diplomatic community. She joined the RAND Corporation in August 2005 as an international policy analyst, and managed several research projects inside Pakistan, including an examination of the madrasa educational system, the security dynamics in Kashmir and the role of women in leading Islamist movements.
Qazi’s editorial “Where is the Revolt in Pakistan?” for Reuters in May 2011 received international attention, and her previous publications on the female suicide bomber trend in Iraq have prompted action by senior U.S. policymakers at the U.S. embassy and the Multi-National Force – Iraq in Baghdad. Her articles and reviews have also appeared in many well-known publications, including the International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, The Middle East Times and The Washington Post, as well as academic journals in the United States and Pakistan. She also has been featured on CNN, BBC, PBS, Al Jazeera, FOX, NPR, Voice of America, and other media all over the world, including Pakistani state television.
Qazi is a member of the Political Science Association, International Studies Association and Women in International Security, and a guest of the American Psychological Association. She is a graduate of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and the Security Policy Studies program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.