Triumphantly, the United States declared in February that it had “brokered a peace deal” with the Taliban in Afghanistan — the same terrorist group the US said was a key reason it had to invade the country in 2001.
Australia was quick to follow the US into Afghanistan, and has had an occupying army there ever since. Australians are only now becoming fully aware of their role, with the ABC's Four Corners program on March 16 detailing, for the first time with graphic evidence, war crimes committed by Australian special forces.
Afghan pro-democracy activist and former parliamentarian Malalai Joya outlined to Green Left's Pip Hinman how the US’ latest move amounts to a continuation of the 19-year war.
What does the US-brokered peace with the Taliban really mean?
The so-called peace process is connected to the [Donald] Trump administration's bid to win the upcoming US presidential election. Trump is trying to deceive the US public that he has fulfilled a promise to end the longest war. It has nothing to do with the Afghan people and bringing about peace.
For 19 years, the Afghan people have been hearing from different anti-democratic governments about a so-called peace, with no positive result. We have lost all trust.
Afghans are tired of war and thirsty for peace. But peace never comes through a compromise with the sworn enemies of these values. In the end, such a move helps the enemies of peace and democracy to continue their barbarism.
One of the main causes of the ongoing bloodshed is the reign of impunity being given to the killers, and Afghans are fed up with this.
Warlords and the Taliban continue to ruthlessly kill people because they know no one is prosecuted for such crimes.
For example, several days ago Khwaja Sidiqi, the son of a warlord, opened fire on two young boys, killing them on the spot in Parwan province, 40 kilometres from Kabul.
Such crimes by “untouchables” go unpunished. Over the past 40 years, more than 2 million Afghans have been killed, but not a single killer has been put on trial for war crimes.
The Taliban has also announced that their war with Afghan national forces will continue and that their deal is only with US/NATO forces so that they do not attack each other. The main victims of the Taliban's attacks are Afghan civilians and security forces.
It should be remembered too that Joe Biden, vice-president in the Barack Obama administration, announced years back that the “Taliban is not our enemy”. The US government announced its “peace” with the Taliban long ago.
The recent deal mean that the Taliban and US forces will not attack each other, that their leaders' names will be removed from the United Nation's “black list” and around 5000 Taliban criminals will be released from prisons.
After 19 years of war with the Taliban and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans, the White House officially recognises this savage group.
Meanwhile, terrorist groups like ISIS remain a major threat in Afghanistan.
Is there likely to be any scaling back of the occupying troops?
No. We expect the US will extend its occupying presence, after the possible re-election of Trump.
The Pentagon likes to repeatedly point out that our neighbours — Russia, China and Iran — are its main “national security challenges”. It needs to control Afghanistan to curb these rivals. Right now, the US is also expanding its embassy in Kabul and enlarging its intelligence operations here.
What is the make-up of the new government and what hope is there for the democratic forces?
The new government is a US puppet and corrupt like the previous one. We expect that some Taliban leaders will soon be made ministers in it.
It consists of warlords, drug lords, mafia and Western technocrats who are not interested in rebuilding a democratic and inclusive Afghanistan: they will push the country toward even larger catastrophes.
Poverty, insecurity, joblessness, addiction, unprecedented corruption, the rule of mafia, injustice, violence against women and other tragedies remain part of daily life.
We are still struggling against fundamentalism and occupation: we want a free, democratic and secular Afghanistan, where men and women have equal rights and can live in a peaceful society.
But our democratic forces, suppressed for decades, are weak.
We know that as long as the US remains as an occupying force, they will empower brutal fundamentalists, of different brands, as their local lackeys.
Also, regional rivals of the US will use our country to sabotage the US, and that means we are affected. We have a very long and hard road ahead.
The war was partly justified to “liberate" women. How are women faring now?
It has been an open secret that the catastrophic situation for women was used as an excuse for US/NATO forces to occupy us. Still, they misuse the suffering of Afghan women to justify their criminal war and sinister deals with terrorists.
Today, the situation facing women is as catastrophic as it was during the Taliban regime. Some Afghan women have become more powerful, but mostly even that is symbolic. By far the majority do not have even basic rights, especially in the rural areas.
By giving power to the Taliban and sharing power with misogynist warlords, women face a very difficult situation.
Today, the Taliban and local warlords preside over killings, gang rapes, stoning to death, the cutting of ears and noses, public beatings, lashing, acid attacks on girls, domestic violence, poisoning of school girls and other brutalities.
As long as these extremists are in power, there is no hope for women to live normal lives.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has recently authorised an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by US forces in Afghanistan. How do you see this?
It is positive, but we are not too optimistic about the outcome because the ICC has not done much over the last 19 years even though the US army has killed tens of thousands of innocents, including bombing wedding parties.
The war criminals are in power and have not been brought to justice. For instance, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a known killer who was on the UN's war criminal black list, has now been removed. This enemy of the people even ran as candidate in the recent ridiculous presidential elections.
The UN has even granted amnesties to the terrorist Taliban. Since the ICC has turned a blind eye to the massacres and war crimes and US imperialism has a huge influence on such international bodies, we remain very sceptical.