Among those voices raised in opposition to American escalation is that of a very young and very articulate Afghan woman.
The story of Malalai Joya turns everything we have been told about Afghanistan inside out. In the official rhetoric, she is what we have been fighting for. Here is a young Afghan woman who set up a secret underground school for girls under the Taliban and – when they were toppled – cast off the burka, ran for parliament, and took on the religious fundamentalists.
Joya was four days old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On that day, her father dropped out of his studies to fight the invading Communist army, and vanished into the mountains.
Word reached the family that Joya's father had been blown up by a landmine – but he was alive, after losing a leg. Her illiterate mother she took her kids to refugee camps across the border in Iran. In those filthy tent-cities lying on the old Silk Road, Afghans huddled together and were treated as second-class citizens by the Iranian regime.
Joya's mother was determined her daughters would receive the education she never had. So they fled again, to camps in western Pakistan. There, Joya began to read – and was transformed.
As her political consciousness increased, she returned to Afghanistan and worked for the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities (OPAWC). In a very short time she was appointed OPAWC's director.
After 9/11, the Taliban retreated only to be replaced by the warlords who had ruled Afghanistan immediately before. Joya says that, at this point,
I realised women's rights had been sold out completely... Most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality towards women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahedin during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban – and now they were marching back to power, backed by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters.Frustrated by the post-Taliban regime's efforts to squelch OPAWC, Joya decided to fight this fundamentalism by running in the election for a Loya jirga ("meeting of the elders") which was to draw up the new Afghan constitution. This girl who wanted to build a clinic was elected.
Warlords have ruled Afghanistan ever since. A showcase parliament has been created for the benefit of the US in Kabul ... [real power] is with these fundamentalists who rule everywhere outside Kabul ...
In 2005, as the youngest person elected to the Loya jirga, she saw herself surrounded by
... a long row with some of the worst abusers of human rights that our country had ever known – warlords and war criminals and fascists ... It's the same donkey, with a new saddle.At first Joya felt nervous. But then, she says, when her turn came, she stood, looked around at the blood-soaked warlords, her fears and anxiety turned into anger and rage. She began to speak.
Why are we allowing criminals to be present here? They are responsible for our situation now... It is they who turned our country into the centre of national and international wars. They are the most anti-women elements in our society who have brought our country to this state and they intend to do the same again... They should instead be prosecuted in the national and international courts.These warlords – who brag about being hard men – could not cope with a slender young woman speaking the truth. They began to shriek and howl, calling her a "prostitute" and "infidel", and throwing bottles at her. One man tried to punch her in the face. Her microphone was cut off and the jirga descended into a riot. A fundamentalist mob turned up a few hours later at her accommodation, announcing they had come to rape and lynch her. She had to be placed under immediate armed guard – but she refused to be protected by American troops, insisting on Afghan officers.
But the US and Nato occupiers, experts as they were in democracy, instructed Joya that she must show "politeness and respect" for the other delegates. When Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador, said this, she replied:
If these criminals raped your mother or your daughter or your grandmother, or killed seven of your sons, let alone destroyed all the moral and material treasure of your country, what words would you use against such criminals that will be inside the framework of politeness and respect?When she ran for Parliament, she had to choose a surname for herself, to protect her family's identity. Joya won in a landslide.
I would return again to face those who had ruined my country ... and I was determined that I would stand straight and never bow again to their threats.But the male-dominated parliament simply voted to kick her out of her elective office. President, Hamid Karzai, supported the ban.
She says there is no difference for ordinary Afghans between the Taliban and the equally fundamentalist warlords.
Which groups are labelled 'terrorist' or 'fundamentalist' depends on how useful they are to the goals of the US. You have two sides who terrorise women, but the anti-American side are 'terrorists' and the pro-American side are 'heroes'.Any Afghan democrat today is
And it is "false" to say Afghan culture is inherently misogynistic. By the 1950s, there was a growing women's movement in Afghanistan, demonstrating and fighting for their rights. I have a story here ... from The New York Times in 1959. Here! The headline is 'Afghanistan's women lift the veil'. We were developing an open culture for women – and then the foreign wars and invasions crushed it all. If we can regain our independence, we can start this struggle again.
... trapped between two enemies. There are the occupation forces from the sky, dropping cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and on the ground there are the fundamentalist warlords and the Taliban, with their own guns. ....With the withdrawal of one enemy, the occupation forces, it [will be] easier to fight against these internal fundamentalist enemies.If all foreign troops were to leave immediately, she says that it is wrong to expect Afghanistan will simply collapse into civil war:
What about the civil war now? Today, people are being killed – many, many war crimes. The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people.Many people in Afghanistan were hopeful, she says, about Barack Obama, but
... he is actually intensifying the policy of George Bush... I know his election has great symbolic value in terms of the struggle of African-Americans for equal rights, and this struggle is one I admire and respect. But what is important for the world is not whether the President is black or white, but his actions. You can't eat symbolism ..... I say to Obama – change course, or otherwise tomorrow people will call you another Bush.But US policy is driven by geopolitics, she says, not personalities.
Afghanistan is in the heart of Asia, so it's a very important place to have military bases – so they can control trade very easily with other Asian powers such as China, Russia, Iran and so on.Last July, Joya addressed the English people in her column in the Guardian,
On behalf of the long-suffering people of my country, I offer my heartfelt condolences to all in the UK who have lost their loved ones on the soil of Afghanistan. We share the grief of the mothers, fathers, wives, sons and daughters of the fallen. It is my view that these British casualties, like the many thousands of Afghan civilian dead, are victims of the unjust policies that the Nato countries have pursued under the leadership of the US government.What I have been saying for some time, now.
..... I have a different message to the people of Britain. I don't believe it is in your interests to see more young people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers' money going to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug lords in power in Kabul.
What's more, I don't believe it is inevitable that this bloodshed continues forever. Some say that if foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.