Malalai Joya interviewed: US occupation making Afghan lives worse
Sunday, November 14, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- Malalai Joya is an Afghan feminist and anti-war activist who opposes the US-led occupation of her country. An opponent of both the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban and the equally fundamentalist and corrupt warlords in the US-backed regime of President Hamid Karzai, Joya was the youngest member elected to Afghan parliament in 2005. She was suspended after she said the parliament was full of warlords. Joya is touring Australia.
This year is set to become the year of the highest casualties for occupying forces since the 2001 invasion. US pilotless drone strikes, on targets in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, are at a higher rate than ever. During a parliamentary debate on Australia’s participation in the occupation, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia could be occupying Joya’s country for a further 10 years.
The administration of US President Barack Obama, which has sent an extra 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, backed away from its stated July 2011 timeline to begin withdrawing its military from Afghanistan, the Sydney Morning Herald said on November 11.
With no end in sight to the war further devastating one of the world’s poorest nations, Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman and Tony Iltis spoke to Malalai Joya about the occupation and its effects of on her country.
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Every time an Australian soldier is killed in Afghanistan, Australia’s two major parties and media claim they died to bring freedom, democracy and stability to your country. After nine years, is there any evidence to support these claims?
Freedom, democracy, stability and independence do not come with occupation. The soldiers are victims of this disastrous war in Afghanistan.
The war on Afghanistan is not only a military war but also a propaganda war. The media buries the truth and throws dust in the world’s eyes.
Thousands of innocent women, children and men have been killed in these nine years by US/NATO air strikes and bombardments, but the media sidelines the truth by decreasing the death toll and calling them “insurgents”. Yet when even one soldier from the occupying forces gets killed, there is a lot of hype.
The sad truth is they are not only betraying Afghan people, but also their own people.
Why didn’t you run in the parliamentary elections this year, and what is your assessment of the results?
I received invitations to run from many provinces and it was hard to say no to these friends and supporters.
According to many assessments, the elections were the most fraudulent of any election held so far in my country. My participation in such a mockery would be taken as a credit to the government.
For several months, I was threatened that I should not take part in the elections or else myself and my campaigners would be killed. I am not scared of these death threats, but in the current atmosphere, I was very afraid for my campaigners.
I was warned, including by a friend in the government, that this time Karzai and his fundamentalist accomplices were determined to stop me winning at any cost.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has foreshadowed Australian troops remaining in Afghanistan for 10 years. What do you think are US intentions?
The US is occupying Afghanistan for its own strategic, economic, political and regional interests and unfortunately Australia has followed this treacherous policy. They have only empowered a bunch of warlords and drug lords and pushed Afghanistan into a deep pit of corruption, drug trafficking, violence against women, extreme poverty and increasing civilian deaths.
Rich copper, lithium and uranium mines have been discovered in Afghanistan and US/NATO have their greedy eyes on them. Furthermore, they are expanding their military bases in Afghanistan everyday so they can easily control the gas and oil of the Central Asian republics.
Karzai and his US backers have put out peace feelers to the Taliban. Are the Taliban likely to respond? Will it make any difference for ordinary Afghan people?
I have always said that there is no difference between the Taliban and Northern Alliance (those now in power) criminals. Fundamentalists are ready to be part of any kind of government except an independent and democratic one, with or without the Taliban’s inclusion.
I think the US government, under popular pressure at home, wants to get out of Afghanistan so that it doesn’t become another Vietnam. And just like it said during the Vietnam War, it is searching for an “honorable solution”. This had been the US policy from the start and there has been no essential change.
The US helped create the Taliban. When the Taliban took power, it signed a mutual agreement with the US, particularly to allow US oil company UNOCAL build a gas pipeline. The US even gave the Taliban financial help. So if now the US is compromising with the Taliban, it’s not something new.
The Taliban themselves are not fighting against the US for the freedom of Afghanistan, they simply want a share of power in the puppet government of the US.
The main conflict between the Taliban and [US-backed] Northern Alliance is also over the sharing of power. But for this “honorable solution” to work, the US first wants to deliver some blows to the fundamentalists, especially the Taliban, so that its reconciliation with them doesn’t seem to be out of weakness.
For the US, the only important thing is that its political and economic interests in Afghanistan are kept intact and are not replaced with Iran or China. It’s not of any significance for the US if an even more corrupt and mafia-ridden government comes to power and Afghanistan remains backwards.
For the US, it is essential that through its domination of Afghanistan, its competitors in the region are intimidated and that the US has access to the oil and gas of central Asia without the intervention of Iran and Russia.
Despite all this, the US will not be successful in reconciling with its past stooges any time soon. The only difference for ordinary Afghans would be more disasters. The situation for women, especially,will worsen.
What democratic forces exist in Afghanistan?
Rather than democratic forces as such, we have democratically minded individuals. These people face death threats and many challenges, but despite all these risks, they are active underground. There are some progressive parties and organisations, such as the Afghan Solidarity Party, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan and some non-corrupt, financially weak NGOs.
As the occupation continues and civilian deaths and casualties increase, more people join these forces and their role becomes vital for Afghanistan. As a bright alternative, they should be supported for a stable future.
Time magazine ran a picture of gender-based violence victim Bibi Aisha and the headline, “What happens if we leave Afghanistan?”. How do Western pro-war propagandists manipulate the story of Afghan women?
In these nine years, much treason has been committed against Afghan women. The US and its allies misused their plight to occupy Afghanistan and now to justify their ongoing presence. The Time cover story with Aisha is just an example of how they use the oppression on women as war propaganda.
The headline should have been: “What happens while we are in Afghanistan?”. As long as these occupiers stay in Afghanistan and nurture these misogynist warlords and Taliban, such tragic stories as Aisha’s with continue.
Some members of the militia of Uruzgan warlord Matiullah Khan have been given military training in Australia. What do you know about Matiullah Khan? What would you like to say to the Australian government and people about this?
Matiullah Khan is one of those who have been accused of corruption and human rights violations. That he and his commanders have been trained by Australia proves how dishonest the occupiers are towards their own people. Despite the story of Matiullah Khan becoming international, they continue to support his.
But there are many other warlords, the same or much worse than him. Only they are in power wearing the masks of democracy. Instead of being behind bars, they sit on high posts in this puppet regime and get more powerful day by day with the support of their foreign masters.
There is a huge difference between the government and the people of a nation. The Australian government supports these terrorists, so my message to the justice-loving people of Australia is to put pressure on their government to withdraw their troops. I am sure they agree with us that democracy does not come with the barrel of gun, cluster bombs or white phosphorus therefore I would like to ask all peace-loving, justice-seeking and democratic organisations, groups, parties and individuals to support progressive and democratic-minded forces as a real alternative for a positive change in my country.
They can empower my people educationally because education is a key towards emancipation.
Most Australians want Australian soldiers brought home. They know the war is wrong, but are worried that if the US-NATO troops come out, the Taliban (and warlords) will get stronger. How do you respond to these concerns?
The only solution is the troops should withdraw because their presence is making the situation worse. Troops are daubed by Afghans as “enemies” rather than “friends”. Afghan people are squashed between three enemies: the Taliban, the fundamentalist warlords and foreign troops.
If the foreign enemy leaves Afghanistan, my people would only face two internal enemies and it would be easier to combat them. All the war criminals of the past 30 years should be put on trial and punished for their unforgivable crimes against the men, women and children of this nation. There are some that say the Taliban may get back to power, but my people, despite being wounded and tired of all the war, may lead a decisive combat against these dinosaurs with the extreme hatred that they have for them.
And then, a democratic, independent and secular government should be installed, free of all kinds of fundamentalist, mafia and criminal germs.
[This interview first appeared in Green Left Weekly, Australia's leading socialist newspaper.]
Matiullah Khan: 'Our man' in Oruzgan, Afghanistan
By Tony Iltis
November 7, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- Matiullah Khan is reportedly illiterate, but he is a very wealthy man. A warlord accused of mass murder, rape and abduction, the June 5 New York Times reported that Matiullah earned US$2.5 million a month through highway robbery, drug trafficking and extortion.
The news that members of his private army were training in Australia — revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald on October 29 — exposes the reality Australia’s “nation building” project in Afghanistan by putting a spotlight on a key local partner.
The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers. The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout. The remaining 75 were knifed to death.
Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognizable.”
In 2001, when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, they sought alliances from warlords opposed to, or willing to defect from, the ruling Taliban. These warlords shared the Taliban’s brutality, misogyny and religious conservatism. However, they differed in having less unity and being more involved in criminality.
The Taliban were never as free from corruption and crime as their puritanical laws imposed on others might imply, but since their overthrow crime rates hve exploded. Illegal opiate production has increased by 4500%.
In Oruzgan, where Australia’s military contingent is concentrated, President Hamid Karzai installed his kinsman, warlord Jan Mohammed Khan, as governor in January 2002.
However he “was removed from Oruzgan Province at the insistence of the Dutch in 2006 because of concerns that he was close to the drug trade”, the NYT said. “He is now an adviser to President Karzai.”
Dutch forces, who were the foreign military force occupying Oruzgan before being withdrawn from Afghanistan in August, also accused Khan of gross human rights abuses.
Matiullah owes his rise to being Jan Mohammed Khan’s son-in-law, under whom “he supposedly … led hit squads that killed stubborn farmers who wouldn’t hand over land, livestock, and in some cases, their daughters”, the SMH said.
Later, Matiullah became head of the provincial highway police, which offered lucrative opportunities to make money through extortion and drug trafficking.
In 2006, the force was disbanded because of its involvement in drug trafficking. “The highway police was one huge drug smuggling operation,” the NYT quoted “a former Western diplomat” as saying.
However, Matiullah continued the operation — converting the highway police into a private security company. Extorting users of the highway between Kandahar tand Tirin Kot remains his most profitable business. In what is essentially a protection racket, highway users pay him not to be attacked.
This is said to be to provide security from other attackers, but his private army attacks those who don’t pay. The occupation forces are his most profitable customer. “His company charges each NATO cargo truck $1200 for safe passage, or $800 for smaller ones”, the NYT said.
The October 29 British Daily Telegraph reported that, to promote this business, Matiullah “is also suspected of sponsoring Taliban activity in Oruzgan”.
The payments made by NATO, don’t always guarantee security. One of the documents on Afghanistan released by Wikileaks in July was a November 22, 2009, report of a convoy held up by 100 apparent insurgents demanding bribes of $2000-$3000 per truck. It turned out the “insurgents” were from Matiullah’s private army.
Matiullah featured prominently in a June US House of Representatives report into private security companies in Afghanistan. The CEO of an Afghanistan-based private security company told the congressional investigators: “Matiullah has the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt completely under his control. No one can travel without Matiullah without facing consequences.
“There is no other way to get there. You have to either pay him or fight him.”
The House of Representatives report revealed concern from US legislators that not only was the military not getting value for money for the billions it was spending in the “corruptive environment” of private security outfits in Afghanistan, but that some of the money injected into private armies and drug gangs made its way to the Taliban.
However, the US military are far more than just clients for warlord-dominated security companies. On October 8, the BBC reported: “Some 26,000 private security personnel, mostly Afghans, operate in Afghanistan. Nine out of 10 of them work for the US government.”
Al Jazeera said on August 18: “In July, a report by a UN Human Rights Council working group on private security cited an Afghan interior ministry estimate that ‘no fewer than 2,500 unauthorized armed groups’ were operating in government-controlled provinces.”
Foreign mercenaries working for US multinational private security outfits, such as Xe (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp International, are accountable to no-one — a cause of local resentment.
Al Jazeera reported on an incident from July, in which “an SUV driven by a DynCorp International team working under a state department contract collided with a car carrying Afghan civilians in Kabul, killing one and injuring three and prompting a crowd of hundreds to protest, throwing rocks and chanting ‘Death to America’”.
However, 93% of the up to 19,000 security contractors employed directly by the US military were Afghan, Al Jazeera said. They also operate with impunity. Furthermore, they are typically used in operations with special forces troops from the US-led occupying forces.
Special forces operations are veiled in secrecy and fall outside the normal command structures of the occupying armies. Special forces, not being bound by the same rules of engagement as regular soldiers, have been responsible for many human rights abuses and killings of civilians by the occupiers.
The result is parallel hierarchies in both the occupation forces and their Afghan puppets. In Oruzgan, the Dutch blocked Matiullah’s appointment as chief of police and officially refused to work with him on account of his links to the drug trade.
However, his 2000-strong army has dominated the province from a base adjacent to the US special forces compound in Tarin Kot.
The NYT said: “But Mr. Matiullah’s role has grown beyond just business. His militia has been adopted by American Special Forces officers to gather intelligence and fight insurgents …With his NATO millions, and the American backing, Mr. Matiullah has grown into the strongest political and economic force in the region.”
He formed a similarly close relationship with the Australian Defence Force contingent in Oruzgan. The August 8 Age reported: “Australian troops train and fight alongside his men, who wear Australian flags on their shoulder badges … The ADF describes [them] as the ‘Afghan partner force’ of Australian special forces.”
Mutiullah holds no formal position in the provincial or national government, but he has as a patron Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful political figure in the south of Afghanistan and one of the world’s major illicit opiate suppliers.
He also happens to be the brother of the US-installed president.
ADF head Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston defended bringing members of their ultra-violent “Afghan Partner Force” to Australia. He told journalists on October 29 that “Matiullah is very generous in circumstances. For example, a family lost a father and Matiullah provided support to that family in the absence of the father, and I’m familiar with other similar acts that he has been behind before.”
Matiullah is not the first gangster to have been praised in such a way.
The nature of such “allies” of the occupying forces makes a mockery of claims foreign soldiers are in Afghanistan to support democracy or to better the lives of Afghanis. The occupation is an imperialist adventure, seeking to strengthen the power of the US and its allies in the region.
To this end, many thousands of lives have been, and continue to be, sacrificed.
[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly, Australia's leading socialist newspaper.]