Afghanistan: Malalai Joya versus Washington's warlords (+ video)
By Farooq Sulehria
August 20, 2008 -- Afghanistan lives in fear of US-sponsored warlords. These hated warlords are not scared by the Taliban monster raising its head in the south. But ironically, they live in the fear of an unarmed women in her late twenties: Malalai Joya.
To silence Joya's defiant voice, the warlords who dominate the national parliament suspended Joya's membership for three years in 2007. Earlier, at almost every parliamentary session she attended, she had her hair pulled or was physically attacked, and called names such as ``whore''. ``They even threatened me in the parliament with rape'', she says. But she neither toned down her criticism of the warlords (``they must be tried'') nor the US occupation of her country (``the ‘war on terror’ is a mockery''). Understandably, she's been declared the ``bravest woman in Afghanistan'' and even compared with Burma's Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
A household name in Afghanistan (``Most famous woman in Afghanistan'', according to the BBC), Joya shot to fame back in 2003 at the Loya Jirga convened to ratify Afghanistan's new constitution. Unlike the US-sponsored clean-shaven fundamentalists, Joya was not nominated but elected by the people of Farah province to represent them. She stunned the Loya Jirga and journalists present when she unleashed a three-minute vitriolic speech exposing the crimes of the warlords dominating that Loya Jirga. Grey-bearded Sibghatullah Mojadadi, chairing the Loya Jirga, called her an ``infidel'' and a ``communist''. Other beards present also shouted at her. But before she was silenced by an angry mob of warlords, she had electrified Afghanistan with her courageous speech.
During these three fateful minutes, the course of Joya's life changed. In her native province of Farah, locals wanted her to represent them in elections. It takes guns and dollars to contest an election in Afghanistan's electoral battlefields. Joya had none. But she could not turn down the hundreds of supporters who daily visited her, urging her to stand. She decided to run for the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of the national parliament). Danish film maker Eva Mulvad, immortalised Joya's courageous election campaign and subsequent victory, in Enemies of Happiness.
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Joya interviewed on Australian TV
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I met Joya in January unexpectedly at a dinner when she reached Peshawar in Pakistan on her way to Canada. Since her passport has been confiscated and she is on Afghanistan's Exit Control List, she had travelled to Pakistan in disguise. Politely refusing my request for an interview on the plea that she had to catch a flight early next morning, she promised to catch up with me in Kabul in March.
Three months later, we met again in Kabul. As an MP, Joya is entitled to rent a villa in a posh neighbourhood designated for MPs. However, plagued with death threats, Joya hardly visits it. Her comrades discreetly pointed to the villa when we were driving past this neighborhood on our way to an underground home Joya sometimes uses to meet visitors.
In an interview, interspersed by a delicious Afghan dinner, this brave woman shared her hopes and fears. Here are the excerpts.
Have you gone to court against your suspension. Did you contact Afghanistan leader Hamid Karzai to protest against your suspension?
Here in Afghanistan, we have a mafia running the system. It is the same warlords in the parliament who head the courts. These Northern Alliance warlords dispense justice. I was suspended because I called the Afghan parliament as a stable full of animals. Though I think animals are useful. The warlords want me to apologise for this comment. I refuse to apologise for telling the truth aloud. I don't see a chance in a court dominated by warlords to do me justice. However, another reason was, for the fear of personal security, no advocate was ready to plead my case. Now a lawyer has agreed to plead my case [she went to court in April]. However, I will tell the court that it is not me but warlords who should be in the dock.
As far as Hamid Karzai is concerned, he has been shamelessly silent on my suspension by an undemocratic parliament. I never contacted him. He should have contacted me. On the other hand, there were demonstrations across Afghanistan against my suspension. Karzai's police proved good only at breaking up these demonstrations. But also what could Karzai have done? He is ridiculed by the people of Afghanistan as mayor of Kabul since his control does not extend beyond Kabul.
How come Karzai is in power and why do you keep declaring Afghan parliament undemocratic when it has been elected in general elections?
Well, this is a parliament in which 80 per cent of the members are warlords or drug lords. They either snatched their places in parliament at gunpoint or bought these seats with US dollars. In some cases, both guns and dollars played a role. Even Human Rights Watch has accused some leading members of this parliament of war crimes. But this parliament, in a unique move, granted warlords an amnesty against crimes committed during the war. Even Mulla Umar can benefit after this amnesty.
Karzai, who was voted in as a lesser evil, has been cooperating with these criminals all the time. Hence, no wonder he is unpopular today. But he is sustained in the presidential palace by the USA and all the warlords co-operate with the USA.
By the way, one hears more about Karzai's brother in Kabul than Karzai himself. Every other posh real estate project or every second case of corruption is attributed to the younger Karzai. He is also named when it comes to drug peddling.
Corruption and drug trafficking have become a big issues. In my view, security is the biggest issue. After that, it is corruption. The so-called ``international community'', which in fact the US government and its allies, has sent a lot of money. This amount was enough to build two instead of one Afghanistan. But even Karzai himself confesses that the money has ended up in the pockets of ministers, bureaucrats and member of parliament. On the other hand, one hears about a mother selling her daughter for $10. And not merely is the brother of Karzai is a drug lord, foreign troops have been allegedly involved.
Really? Any proof? Press reports?
Yes some press reports have pointed that out. For instance, Russian state TV has hinted at US troops' involvement in drug trafficking. That was reported in the press here. But this is an open secret. Karzai in one of his speeches last year said that it was not only Afghans who are involved in drug trafficking. He hinted at foreign connections. Though he did not name any country or troops, people in Afghanistan understood what he meant. Now Afghan drugs are finding their way to New York and European capitals. Hence, no wonder Afghanistan today is producing 90 per cent of the world's opium. This is taking its toll on women. Now we hear about ``opium brides''. When harvests fail, peasants are not able to pay back loans to drug lords; they ``marry'' their daughters off to warlords instead.
Why is the USA letting all this happen?
The USA wants the things as they are. The status quo. A bleeding, suffering Afghanistan is a good excuse to prolong its stay. Now they are even embracing the Taliban. Recently in Musa Qila, a Taliban commander Mulla Salam was appointed as governor by Karzai. The USA has no problem with the Taliban so long as it's ``our Taliban''.
Not merely Karzai, but also all these warlords have been sustained in power by the USA. That is why, when there are demonstrations against the warlords, they are also demonstrations against foreign troops. People here believe that the warlords are cushioned by the US troops. If the USA leaves, the warlords will lose power because they have no base among our people. The people of Afghanistan will deal with these warlords once US troops leave Afghanistan.
Don't you think security situation will get even worse once foreign troops leave?
Maybe. But tell the people in Sweden that Swedish troops are helping implement the US agenda in Afghanistan. The democracy-loving people of Sweden should rather support democratic forces in Afghanistan, and instead of sending soldiers Sweden should send doctors, nurses, teachers and build schools and hospitals.
[Farooq Sulehria is a Labour Party Pakistan member who lives in Sweden. This interview first appeared in the the Swedish radical weekly Arbetaren (Worker).]
The war they all agree on
America's two ruling parties came together in August to plan the escalation of the U.S. war on Afghanistan.
September 11, 2008 | Issue 680 
IN EARLY September, the Pentagon closed its investigation into allegations that U.S. bombs killed 92 Afghan civilians, including as many as 60 children, as they slept peacefully in the village of Nawabad on the night of August 21.
Despite protests from the UN, human rights organizations and the villagers themselves, Pentagon officials insisted for weeks that only seven civilians had been killed, along with 35 Taliban fighters, during a legitimate military operation aimed at capturing Taliban commander Mullah Sadiq.
Indeed, they claimed that the attack, which included bombardment with a C130 Specter gunship, was a necessary response to heavy fire emanating from a meeting of Taliban leaders in the village.
In its defense, the Pentagon cited evidence from an embedded Fox News correspondent who had substantiated its claims. Unfortunately, that correspondent turned out to be former Marine Lt. Oliver North, who has been known to bend the truth in the past.
North's military career was cut short after his role was revealed in the Iran-contra scandal in the 1980s. At the time, North admitted to having illegally channeled guns to Iran while funneling the profits to the CIA-backed contra mercenary force fighting to overthrow Nicaragua's democratically elected Sandinista government--and then lying to Congress about it. In recent years, North has nevertheless cultivated a lucrative broadcasting career at Fox.
Although North assured Fox viewers, "Coalition forces...have not been able to find any evidence that non-combatants were killed in this engagement," video footage taken on the scene by a local doctor showed scores of dead bodies and destroyed homes, documenting a civilian death toll at Nawabad that is the largest since the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan nearly seven years ago.
Thus, the U.S. military was forced to reopen its own investigation on September 8, only days after it had exonerated itself. A red-faced official told reporters that "emerging evidence" had convinced the Pentagon to investigate the matter further.
On that same day, Human Rights Watch issued a report that U.S. and NATO forces dropped 362 tons of bombs over Afghanistan during the first seven months of this year; bombings during June and July alone equaled the total during all of 2006.
The rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan rattled even the normally placid New York Times, which argued, "America is fast losing the battle for hearts and minds, and unless the Pentagon comes up with a better strategy, the United States and its allies may well lose the war."
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AS NEWS of the Nawabad massacre unfolded, another atrocity was also gaining media attention, further exposing the gangster state installed and maintained by U.S. forces to run Afghanistan since 2001.
President Hamid Karzai, the U.S.'s handpicked puppet, reportedly pardoned two men convicted of brutally raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan in September 2005.
At the time, Mawlawi Islam, the commander of a local militia, was running for a seat in Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections. "The commander and three of his fighters came and took my wife out of our home and took her to their house about 200 meters away and, in front of these witnesses, raped her," the woman's husband told the Independent.
The couple has a doctor's report that the rapists cut her private parts with a bayonet during the rape, and then forced her to stagger home without clothes from the waist down.
Mawlawi won a seat in parliament in September 2005, as the U.S. media celebrated the elections as proof that democracy was flourishing in Afghanistan thanks to U.S. occupation. But Mawlawi was assassinated, mafia-style in January of this year.
His past had caught up with him. Mawlawi had first fought as a mujahideen commander in the 1980s, but switched sides to become a Taliban governor in the 1990s. He switched sides yet again when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and re-joined the former mujahideen, which had morphed into the Northern Alliance--the group of warlords installed by the U.S. to run Afghanistan as a collection of private gangster fiefdoms.
Karzai issued a press statement expressing his "deep regret" in response to Mawlawi's death in January. Bypassing the rape charge, he expressed nothing but praise: "Mawlawi Islam Muhammadi was a prominent jihadi figure who has made great sacrifices during the years of jihad against the Soviet invasion."
Mawlawi's three subordinates were finally convicted for the rape this year, and one died in prison. But although they were sentenced to 11 years, Karzai reportedly issued a pardon for the other two in May, claiming the men "had been forced to confess their crimes."
The drug-running warlords who have controlled Afghanistan since 2001 have no interest in either democracy or women's rights. Indeed, it is not uncommon for poor poppy farmers who cannot repay loans to local warlords to offer up their daughters for marriage instead.
Gang rapes and violence against women are on the rise, according to human rights organizations. As a member of parliament, Mir Ahmad Joyenda, told the Independent, "The commanders, the war criminals, still have armed groups. They're in the government. Karzai, the Americans, the British sit down with them. They have impunity. They've become very courageous and can do whatever crimes they like." In this situation, Afghan warlords again produce 90 percent of the world's opium, without legal repercussion.
Women's prisons, in contrast, are teeming once again. As Sonali Kolhatkar, the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence, argued on Democracy Now! "Women are being imprisoned in greater numbers than ever before, for the crime of escaping from home or having, quote-unquote, 'sexual relations'--'illegal sexual relations.' Most of these women are simply victims of rape."
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DESPITE THE appalling conditions that seven years of U.S. occupation have produced for ordinary Afghans, the two U.S. ruling parties came together in August to plan the escalation of that sordid war with the goal of adding 10,000 more U.S. troops in the coming year.
Barack Obama chided his Republican rival during his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention on August 28, using a page from Bush's playbook: "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell--but he won't even go to the cave where he lives."
Obama did not utter a word of criticism about rising civilian casualties, rampant corruption, the flourishing drug trade or women's oppression in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan during that historic speech. On the contrary, he continued, "I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan."
Ending the war in Iraq "responsibly" will allow a long-term U.S. military presence there--and the redeployment of 10,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to "finish" the job started by George W. Bush.
In one fell swoop, the candidate whose slogan is "change" laid out a strategy bearing striking similarity to that of the neocons who invaded Afghanistan in 2001. This was not a surprise. Obama first expressed his willingness to bomb Iran and Pakistan in 2004, when he told the Chicago Tribune, "surgical missile strikes" on Iran may become necessary.
"On the other hand," he continued, "having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse." Obama went on to argue that military strikes on Pakistan should not be ruled out if "violent Islamic extremists" were to "take over."
Obama represents the dissenting ruling class view since 2003, which regarded the Iraq war as a "distraction" from the real war the U.S. should pursue. That war has little to do with al-Qaeda, but much more to do with Afghanistan's strategic location in Central Asia, and its borders with Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China.
The Russia-Georgia conflict this summer surely reminded U.S. rulers that they cannot afford to ignore their longstanding aim to establish U.S. military bases in this key region, a goal which long pre-dated 9-11. As the BBC News reported on September 18, 2001, "Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by mid-October."
The antiwar movement in the U.S. can no longer afford to ignore the war in Afghanistan without fading into irrelevance. The war on terror has been resuscitated, and as Obama has repeatedly emphasized in recent months, its "central front" is shifting back to Afghanistan.
The Afghan people have endured seven long years of misery thanks to U.S. occupation, and it is high time to take a principled stand against U.S. imperial aims in Central Asia.
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Sharon Smith is the author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States , a historical account of the American working-class movement, and Women and Socialism , a collection of essays on women’s oppression and the struggle against it. She is also on the board of Haymarket Books .
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