THE general leans forward in the gathering
gloom, her eyes glinting with anger, and delivers a surprise attack
on an unexpected foreign enemy.
Not the Soviet Union for invading Afghanistan, nor the Americans
still bombing her country. Not the Pakistani-backed Taleban, nor yet
their Arab legions, whose Wahhabi fundamentalism fuelled much of the
Instead General Suhaila Siddiq, 60, sighs with exasperation at
Western feminists and their obsession with the burka, the
all-enveloping veil whose forcible use symbolised for many outsiders
the Taleban’s oppressive rule.
“The first priority should be given to education, primary school
facilities, the economy and reconstruction of the country but the
West concentrates on the burka and whether the policies of the
Taleban are better or worse than other regimes,” she says
dismissively. “Let these things be decided by history.”
She believes that the burka, which was worn long before the
Taleban and still is by most women around Kabul, is not the
battlefield upon which to fight their war.
General Siddiq is Afghanistan’s only woman general, a surgeon,
hospital director and heroine to a generation of young women who
remained in the country. Born in Kandahar the daughter of a powerful
regional governor, she is that rare thing: an Afghan Pashtun who is
not comfortable speaking her own language and prefers Persian,
historically the language of the Kabul elite.
Now head of the Women and Children’s Hospital in Kabul, she is
scornful of exiled Afghan women’s rights campaigners and Western
feminists who champion their agenda. Her most withering comments are
reserved for such vaunted women’s champions as Emma Bonino, the
former EU Commissioner, who brought the wrath of the Taleban down on
Afghan women when a CNN crew accompanying her filmed women patients
in Kabul in 1997.
Of Hillary Clinton, another supposed advocate, she simply says:
“She cannot defend her own rights against her husband. How can she
defend the rights of my country?” At the 400-bed hospital in Kabul,
where she now heads a separate women’s section, her colleagues speak
reverentially of the woman who took on the Taleban on their own
“General Siddiq, General Siddiq,” repeated nine times, was the
universal answer from women medical students asked to name the
person they most admired in the world.