The U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan should be brought to a halt because it has solidified, rather than weakened, oppression against women in her home country, Afghan human rights activist Malalai Joya said Saturday.
“Taliban leaders and the administration of Hamid Karzai are carbon copies of each other; both are misogynist. The Taliban are fascists, and Karzai is supported by the warlords,” said the 32-year-old author and former member of the Afghan parliament, speaking by phone from Boston.
Both factions gain support as a result of U.S. and NATO-inflicted civilian casualties, and both are benefiting from the influx of foreign aid — at the expense of progressive-minded Afghans, she said.
“We're trapped between three enemies: the Taliban, the provincial warlords and foreign soldiers,” she said. “They need each other. They're playing ‘Tom and Jerry.' It's like a family fighting with itself.”
Joya will elaborate on power struggles in Afghanistan (and women's roles in tempering them) at a talk at 5 p.m. today at University of Vermont's Billings Lecture Hall.
Her monthlong speaking tour of this country was delayed last week by U.S. visa authorities because, she was told, she was “unemployed and “living underground.”
Joya, a self-described “freedom-loving fighter,” said she has survived five attempts on her life for speaking out against the Taliban, the Karzai regime and what she terms the “U.S.-NATO occupation.”
But Saturday, she placed that danger in perspective.
“Millions of people face the same risk, day by day, in Afghanistan. The only difference between me and them is that I am speaking out,” Joya said. “The reason they want to eliminate me? I never show silence. I use my voice for the benefit of my people. I will never drop my watch.”
Moderates in Afghanistan discreetly refer to their Western-trained soldiers and police as “the Dollar Army,” because of what they say is a thin, mercenary allegiance to human rights, Joya said.
“‘The rabbit has responsibility for the carrot,' as we say. We have the same gender-crimes now that we had during Taliban (rule): death by stoning, rape, poisoning girls at school, domestic violence and forced marriages,” she said.
“The only difference now, it is done under the name of democracy, with the mask of democracy,” she added. “These crimes are increasing rapidly, even by historical standards.”
While we argue
And when the foreign troops pull out? Their absence would weaken the power now enjoyed by the Taliban and warlords, Joya answered.
“Nobody says it will be like heaven in my country,” she said. “But I know people will come into the streets. We will unite more. Hundreds of people already join protests against occupation.
“History reveals that this nation can liberate itself,” she continued. “We have a powerful history. We gave the British a lesson and the Russians. If the U.S. and NATO do not go out voluntarily, we will give them, with the passage of time, a very good lesson.
“People ask what will happen to our women? I ask them now: ‘What's happening to the women while we argue?' War crimes are being committed. We don't want this kind of so-called helping hand that's helping the enemies of my people,” she said.
“We know what to do, we know our destiny. I'm sure the progressive Afghan men will help us; they'll unite with us to bring women's rights and human rights to our country. But this presence of the troops in our country: It doubles our misery. They create more obstacles. They've made progressive, democratic-minded men and women in our country move ‘underground.' But there are plenty of us.”
“The so-called war on terror is a war on civilians,” Joya said. “When cluster bombs kill civilians, for each dead body, America gives $2,000 to the family. It's just blood money. It insults my people.
Yet Afghan moderates welcome American help — without “top-down justice” and military interference, she said.
“Education is the key to emancipation. No question we need a helping hand, with moral support, with financial support. You must not leave us alone — we have been forgotten,” she said. “The silence of good people is worse than the actions of bad people.”
How, specifically, can Americans help? Joya said a good start would be to increase pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to speed the exit of U.S. troops.
“We want the end of this occupation,” she said. “The blood of my people is not water.”
All three members of Vermont's congressional delegation signed a letter dated March 18 to the U.S. Consulate in Afghanistan in support of Joya's visa. The letter described Joya as “a rare symbol of hope for Afghanistan's future.”
Joya extended credit for her visa approval to grassroots petitions and phone-ins.
“I want to thank all my supporters who put pressure on the government to give me a visa. Their support gave me more courage and more determination for me and my people to spread our message,” she said.
Joya's Vermont appearance is sponsored by the Stop the F-35 Coalition, the International Socialist Organization, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Peace and Justice Center, Students for Justice in Palestine, Vermont Woman Newspaper, Veterans for Peace, Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Her talk Friday night in Boston drew 1,200 people (among them, Noam Chomsky), Mass Peace Action organizer Cole Harrison said.
Joya's subsequent venues, listed by the nonprofit Afghan Women's Mission website, include: Amherst, Mass., Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Copies of Joya's autobiography, “A Woman Among Warlords,” will be for sale at tonight's talk at UVM.