Malalai Joya and Some Straight Talk about Afghanistan

19 Nov

Last night, I went to hear a speech given by Malalai Joya. An MP in Afghanistan’s parliament, she has become a forceful and charismatic voice in the defence of average Afghanis. By doing so, she opens up (for many, I think) an entirely new vision of what is really happening in her country, caught as it is in a quagmire of utterly corrupt and inept governance, druglords, warlords, the Taliban and the occupying NATO forces. The invasion, so heavily touted to us who are paying for it as essential in bringing freedom to Afghanistan, “has pushed us from the frying pan into the fire,” she said. Life for women “is like a hell,” their situation “as catstrophic now as it was under the Taliban.”

The truth of what is really happening there is something I’ve felt a need to know about for a long time now. Sure, I was and still am against the invasion and occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq, not because I believe there is any saving grace whatsoever to either the Ba’ath party or the Taliban, but because I wholeheartedly agree with Malalai Joya when she says that “democracy never comes by guns, cluster bombs or white phosphorous.” Yet I recognize that most average people in Canada, the U.S. and Britain really don’t know what to think –in spite of the fact that most polls now show a slight majority of Canadians at least to be in favour of immediate withdrawal. But we’re not up-in-arms about it, no longer marching in the street. The mainstream media here has been surprisingly silent about any other view but the one that insists that people are better off with the Taliban (sort of) gone . Well, out of power at least.

But last night, Joya described how the war on terror that governments, particularly the US government, claim to be fighting is really a war on civilians. By now more than 65,000 innocent civilians have been killed, compared to only 2000 Taliban fighters. Recently three wedding parties have been bombed, with hundreds killed. Women activists are under constant physical threat and many have been killed for daring to demand human rights.  The Parliament, which sets aside a much ballyhooed 25 percent of its seats for women, has been unable and unwilling to enact laws that bring people, especially women, any real freedom. And most of those female MPs, says Joya, are either pro-Karzai, pro-Taliban or just as conservative. The burkha has not only not disappeared but is worn by women “to keep alive,” she said, “even in Kabul.” Poverty is so rife and so dire that women are selling their babies for $10. (The country is still the lowest on the UN’s Poverty Index.)

She describes president Hamid Karzai as “a shameless puppet man who compromises with warlords and drug dealers.” His competition, Abdullah Abdullah, is cut from the same cloth, and will be given another top job, she predicts, in the Karzai government. There is absolutely no one, it seems, who wants to bring about real democracy in Afghanistan except the millions of beleaguered people who quietly go about the business of daily survival, praying they don’t get killed, and still hoping they will someday be able to live normal lives. And for this appalling state of affairs, Canadian taxpayers have shelled out $18 billion — so far.

While the audience who came to listen to her last night had to put up with an hour of truly irritating warm-up speakers — every single one of them pronouncing her name incorrectly — it was hugely  worth it in the end to see and hear this electrifying young woman. Anyone interested in knowing more about what is really going on in the country we’re supposedly saving should look for her book, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Proceeds will go to a clinic and orphanage she has set up in her province, Farah, and can have a far greater impact, I’d bet, than the millions misspent on infrastructure projects, most of which ends up in the pockets of corrupt politicians. I am also convinced that this kind of solidarity is better than charity. As Malalai Joya herself said, “No nation can donate liberation to another nation.”

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