Malalai Joya is a writer, activist and former parliamentarian in the national assembly of Afghanistan. Prior to speaking at two Overland events at the 2011 Melbourne Writers’ Festival, she discussed occupation and resistance in Afghanistan today.
* * *
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said: “We’re in Afghanistan to make sure that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, a place where they can go and train and plan violent attacks. We need to see that mission through.” What role are Australian troops really playing in Afghanistan and what should the Australian people be demanding of their government?
The presence of Australian troops is only beneficial for the bunch of warlords and criminals ruling Afghanistan. The Afghan people face dire conditions as the US and their allies have massacred innocent women, children and men — and are continuing to do so.
Since 2001, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed by the blind bombardments of the US and their allies, which include Australia, as well.
Supporting [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai’s mafia regime is like hammering nails in the coffin of freedom, democracy, women’s rights and human rights because his government is full of misogynist Islamic fundamentalists, warlords, drug lords and criminals.
Karzai is a traitor and criminal to my people. He has collaborated with and placed their sworn enemies in high positions of power. He has completely compromised himself by continuing to keep silent about their inhumane past and present.
Therefore the Australian people need to demand that their government stop supporting such a treacherous regime and instead support the democratic forces of Afghanistan that are struggling under extreme conditions to bring peace, independence, democracy, freedom, and women’s rights. Furthermore, they should ask the Australian government to withdraw its troops because their presence is only making the situation worse.
Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith recently said: “I’ve returned from a visit to Afghanistan with some cautious optimism that we might be making progress, so we’re confident about transition to Afghan security forces, the army and the police in Uruzgan Province.” How would you respond to Smith? What do the people of Afghanistan think of the Australian forces in their country?
It’s important to understand that Afghanistan does not possess a national army and police so much as armed bands connected to fundamentalist parties.
Training them will not create an honest national army for the welfare of people. All the finances, all the education will only go to the corrupt regime and its corrupt officials.
As I said, the foreign troops are only adding fuel to the fire, and the sooner they withdraw the better.
As long as looters and killers like the [Australian-supported] warlord Matiullah Khan are being supported by the foreign troops, and enjoying full immunity for their brutality, there will be no change in the conditions of Afghan people. Peace is the first and foremost demand of our people, but warlords see their future in war and conflict. Therefore they are an obstacle on the path towards any progress.
The interior minister of Afghanistan, Bismillah Khan, is himself a former warlord and connected to a criminal fundamentalist group called Jamaat-e-Islami. He has installed many warlords from his party in the key posts in the ministry and the Afghan police force.
We can’t expect progress from a police force directed by such warlords. In fact, in many areas of Afghanistan, people hate the police as much as they hate the Taliban.
The Afghan people have lost all trust in the foreign troops: they see that they are making things even more complicated. The foreign troops are engaged with brutal warlords, they support a brutal mafia regime, they are implicated in drug-trafficking, they kill innocent civilians in their bombardments, and are only motivated by their own strategic and regional interests.
The conditions of poor Afghan people have no importance for them.
Progressive Australians were told that war against the Taliban was necessary to defend Afghan women. What’s the condition of women in Afghanistan a decade after the occupation? What do Afghan women need now?
Yes, it is vital to fight the Taliban in order to guarantee women’s rights. But occupation has aggravated women’s conditions because it brought into power a band of extremely anti-women elements that are like Taliban or even worse — that is, the Northern Alliance and some pro-US technocrats and monarchists, and even some ex-Taliban too.
A recent survey compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation rated Afghanistan as the most dangerous country for women. And I completely agree with this conclusion.
Afghanistan is currently facing a women’s rights catastrophe. One of the main slogans of the US and NATO was about women’s rights but today we see that women are subjected to the most inhuman kinds of violence.
The conditions are the same as in the Taliban’s time, even worse in some provinces. Women and girls are raped, kidnapped, killed, flogged in public, stoned to death, poisoned or have acid thrown on their faces. The conditions are so unbearable that they commit suicide, most commonly through self-immolation, with very high rates in many provinces.
Women in cities do enjoy a set of limited rights but not even close to what they had in the ’70s and ’80s. The Western media always highlight as a sign of progress the 68 women in the Afghan parliament, but in fact the parliamentary election was a complete fraud and the seats reserved for women were occupied by candidates selected by warlords.
Therefore, the women parliamentarians are a mockery of democracy and women’s rights, because most of them are pro-warlord and pro-occupation: mere mouthpieces who know nothing about women’s conditions — or, if they do, they shamelessly keep silent about them.
In order to deal with the Taliban, the Afghan government now compromises even further about the rights of women.
On March 8, the government asked the UN to remove the name of a former Taliban commander, Mulavi Qalamuddin, from its blacklist. He was a feared anti-women Talib and a religious police chief, from a force that the UN had called “the most misogynist department in the whole world”.
What progressive groups are active in Afghanistan today and what are they demanding? The Australian government often portrays the war in Afghanistan as a war against terrorism. Does al-Qaeda have influence in Afghanistan today?
The groups active are the Afghan Solidarity Party, Social Association of Afghan Justice-Seekers (SAAJS) and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). There are some individuals, too. They demand a free, independent, democratic, and peaceful Afghanistan, opposed to all the fundamentalist, pro-occupation, and reactionary forces. These are the only alternatives for a bright future.
Al-Qaeda has very little influence among Afghan people but it is helping the Taliban to carry out their terrorist acts.
What kind of influence do the Taliban have — and how much of that is religious, how much anti-occupation?
The Taliban are strongly supported by certain circles in the Pakistani government and enjoy full support from Islamic fanatic groups in that country. Also they receive arms and support from the brutal Iranian regime. Using their weapons and terrorist acts, they impose themselves on the Afghan people but otherwise they do not have much influence.
In eastern and southern parts of Afghanistan, the killing of civilians by the US and NATO, and the inability of the government to solve their problems, inspires some people to join the Taliban, to turn to them for help.
But by and large, the Taliban and other fundamentalist bands have no footing among Afghan people and are extremely hated due to the many crimes and brutalities they have committed against my defenceless people.
Most of the young Taliban are brainwashed in religious schools (madrasas) in Pakistan and then they are sent to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan. They believe that when they blow themselves up, they will land in heaven immediately and that is when the real enjoyment of life will begin!
Umar Fidai, a 14-year-old failed suicide bomber, told the police after he was arrested: “I thought that there would be a little bit of pain, but then I would be in heaven.”
They are just a bunch of wild, illiterate and uneducated religious fanatics. Their religious influence is not great because they have created their own version of Islam where they oppress people, particularly women.
As far as their anti-occupation slogans go, these are just put forward for their own power and not for real independence. It is like the sun that the CIA, through the ISI, created the Taliban, and therefore the Taliban are not at all against occupation. They chant the “anti-occupation” mantra to get in the good graces of people for their own benefit.
If the Taliban come to power, the US would be their closest ally, as they are following the same policy of supporting and funding reactionary and fundamentalist elements to form a non-independent, undemocratic, and reactionary government.
Many progressive Australians hesitate to call for Western withdrawal from Afghanistan for fear that a bloodbath might ensue. What would be the consequences of a withdrawal and why do you think it is necessary?
The people of Afghanistan are besieged by three enemies: government warlords, the Taliban and the US/NATO forces. If the latter leaves Afghanistan, our people would face only two internal enemies who will be weaker. Their backbone will break when US/NATO stops funding and supporting them. As you’ve stated, a bloodbath might ensue but the situation right now is catastrophic and cannot get any worse.
When the US/NATO invaded Afghanistan, people were optimistic about the promises made to them. Now, after 10 years, the US/NATO forces have killed tens of thousands of innocent children, women and men, and they support the fundamentalist regime of Karzai. People cite the US/NATO as their worst enemies, and there have been many uprisings against their blind bombardments and aerial attacks.
No nation can liberate another nation. It is the responsibility of our own people to rise and free Afghanistan from terrorism and fundamentalism. The US/NATO forces neither want to nor can bring freedom and democracy to Afghan people.
They still have many hidden links with the darkest terrorist groups, and use these groups to advance their military, strategic, and regional interests. The US and NATO put no price on the wellbeing of the Afghan people.
[Republished with permission from Overland magazine.]