Afghanistan today 'a mockery of the war on terror'

"Today we have a drugs mafia in Afghanistan and the so-called government is deeply implicated in drugs and the war lords"

ON LINE opinion - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate, March 9, 2007
By Judy Cannon

Malalai Joya in Australia
Message ... Malalai Joya, the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament

Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya, who will be 28 in April, is a slight woman who maybe reaches 5ft but against whom four assassination attempts have already been made.

This does not prevent her from speaking out, as she sees it, the candid, sometimes brutal, truth about her country, the government, its parliamentarians and the "terrible crisis" now faced by Afghanistan.

She called on Australia this week to adopt an independent policy towards her country and to listen to the wishes of the Afghan people. "They should know that bringing the Northern Alliance to power was the key to all the disasters we are experiencing today," she said.

She told a Brisbane UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women breakfast on Wednesday that after the US and its allies removed the Taliban and its al-Qaida masters, they had brought back into power the Northern Alliance, who she claimed are, "as brutal and undemocratic as the Taliban and even worse," and that Afghan people were now hostage to, "Mediaeval men responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people".

"The US government keeps promising not to repeat its past mistakes ... but the US is making the same mistake, she is generously supporting the fundamentalists more than ever." All justice-loving people and human rights organisations were demanding the trial of the war lords and former Moscow puppets but they had not been brought to justice. Instead, shamelessly they were offered higher positions and found their way into the parliament with the support of the US and allies, she said. It made a mockery of the war on terror.

Although praised by the western media, the elections in Afghanistan had been a sham. Some 20 per cent of those in parliament had been accused of things such as war crimes, drug-dealing and killing. She said her country was in the hands of bloody and fundamentalist terrorists.

A women's activist, she is the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament, and first spoke out publicly against the domination of the war lords in December 2003, as an elected delegate to the constitutional Loya Jirga, where tribal or regional leaders, political, military and religious figures, and government officials meet.

Because of the assassination attempts, she travels in Afghanistan under a burqa and with armed guards. She said on Tuesday that one day they might kill her but they could never stop the truth.

UNIFEM organised the breakfast to mark International Women's Day.

Malalai Joya told the hundreds of women present, including schoolgirls, a few men and at least one boy, how recently criminals, some of them parliamentarians, had been scared by the hanging of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and, as a result, a parliamentary Bill had been brought into parliament providing immunity to all criminals over the past 25 years. A UN report had expressed disapproval of the Bill.

"Today we have a drugs mafia in Afghanistan and the so-called government is deeply implicated in drugs and the war lords," she claimed. Western governments and the western media underestimated Afghan's problems. The appearance of "suits and ties" was a mockery of democracy.

Women's rights were as catastrophic as they had been under the Taliban and the number of suicides had never been as high as they were today. She listed examples of recent violence against women and girls, including the case of an 11-year-old who was abducted, raped and then exchanged for a dog. The position of women would never change as long as the war lords were not removed from the political scene.

"Human dignity has no price and it as easy as killing a bird," she said. A 19-year-old hanged herself after she learnt she was to be sold to a 60-year-old man. Another woman had locked herself in a stable and immolated herself, she said. Women continued to wear burkas because they could not trust the authorities in power.

Crimes and acts of brutality were going on under the noses of US and allied troops. In a recent UNIFEM survey, 65 per cent of 50,000 widows in Kabul indicated they had been victims of sexual and mental violence. A woman could become a victim of her own husband's violence for "he will know he has the support of the misogynist Northern Alliance," she said.

What was happening to "my crying country" had been described in a UN health report as a disaster worse than a tsunami, she said. It was estimated that 700 children and 50-70 women die on daily basis owing to the lack of health services. Child and mother mortality rate was still very high as 1,600 to 1,900 women among each 100,000 died during childbirth. Life expectancy was below 45 years. A majority of people were living below the poverty line.

About 40 per cent of the workforce was unemployed although the country was in need of reconstruction. "Yet this is happening in a country that has received $12 billion with another $10 billion pledged … but this will go into the pockets to better suppress the nation."

Among Afghan people, the phrase "freedom of speech" was a joke. Journalists faced severe pressure from Afghan authorities - threats, intimidation, imprisonment and even murder, she said.

Her own recent experience had been that after she had been interviewed at a local TV station, together with others including "a member of parliament who was also a wanted criminal", the TV station broadcast a trailer to advertise the forthcoming program. A subsequent phone call to the TV station threatened that if it were broadcast, the consequences would be "dangerous" for the director. When it was finally broadcast her comments were excluded.

It was not the first time she had been censored, "Many journalists are too frightened to report my comments," she said. Those who spoke for justice were threatened with death. "I was physically attacked by four war lords, members of parliament - in the parliament - just for speaking about the crimes of the Northern Alliance." She said one attacker had even shouted, "prostitute, take and rape her." She said that instead of bringing war lords to trial, the president had appointed them to higher posts.

She said because of the situation in Kabul, it was an unattractive proposition for Afghanistan's four million refugees to return.

"No country can deliver liberation to another country," she said. It had to be done by the people themselves.

But Australia could play a great role if it aligned its policies according to the aspirations and wishes of Afghan people and stop any kind of support for the war lords.

"Please could Australia act independently," she asked, and not follow the policy of the US, but rely on the Afghan people and democracy-minded groups that could help guarantee Afghanistan a bright future.

At the end of her address in Brisbane she was given a standing ovation. Among those present were Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce, Queensland Minister for Minister for Women Margaret Keech and Lord Mayor Councillor Campbell Newman.

Judy Cannon is an editor and journalist, author (with Mark St Leon), of Take a drum and beat it, the Story of the Astonishing Ashtons 1848-1990s and Letters from Charlie.