Malalai Joya lives under a death threat because she publicly scorns the warlords

By Brian Tamanaha, Balkinization Blog, October 24, 2009

Malalai Joya is an incredibly courageous Afghan woman, only 30 years old, living under the constant threat of being killed because she dares to speak the truth. The people who want to kill her are the people we put into power in Afghanistan.

Ms. Joya lived in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan during Taliban rule. She loved to read and wished to share this gift with other Afghan women. With the support of a charity, Ms. Joya snuck back into Afghanistan and opened a secret school to teach young girls to read. This was at great risk to her personal safety, for the Taliban would have punished her severely if they found her out, which nearly occurred on a number of occasions.

One would think, given this history, that she would be pleased about the ejection of the Taliban and its aftermath. Not so:

Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments [speaking to a British reporter]. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for. (quote from this piece in The Independent, October 21, 2009, which provides the material about Joya for this post).

The warlords of whom she speaks—our allies—are the ones who have openly threatened to kill her. She expects that they may well succeed.

Malalai Joya

We “won” the initial war against the Taliban by relying upon fighters supplied by warlords, supported by our special forces soldiers and backed by our heavy equipment and bombing capacity. CIA operatives were also on the ground distributing piles of money. Following the quick collapse of the Taliban government, we put into place a replacement government that was stocked at the highest levels with these very warlords. The Karzai government is as weak as the warlords are strong—and we have increased their power by funneling millions of dollars to them.

It’s natural for a military power to reward its allies in battle with plunder and power after victory, and that’s what we did. The problem is that we claimed to be bringing democracy and saving the Afghan people from tyranny, but the warlords have a long record of terrible behavior that predates the Taliban. Before the Taliban took over control of the government, the warlords were fighting one another for territory and control, destroying parts of the cities, killing many civilians, and raping women. Ms. Joya reminds us of this recent past:

Most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality toward women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahedin during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban—and now they were marching back to power, supported by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters.

Malalai Joya lives under a death threat because she publicly scorns the warlords and insists that they should not be allowed to hold high government positions. “They should instead be prosecuted in national and international courts,” she declares. (Details about the warlords that lend strong support to her assessment, and confirm her courageous opposition, are provided here.)

Although Afghan and US officials urged her to tone down her opposition to the warlords, the Afghan people praised her courage and feared for her life. She was elected to a seat in the Afghan parliament. In the parliament, Ms. Joya objected to a proposed law that would grant amnesty for all war crimes committed in Afghanistan in the past three decades, stating: “You criminals are simply giving yourselves a get-out-of-jail free card.” The members of parliament promptly voted to kick her out of parliament (with no objection from President Karzai).

Now you know more about the folks we are supporting in Afghanistan.

Ordinary Afghan people, according to Joya, feel “trapped between two enemies”: one enemy are the occupation forces dropping bombs on them (that’s us), and the other enemy are “the fundamentalist warlords and the Taliban.”

Although we enjoyed significant support in the population during the first few years of our presence, a recent poll indicates that 60% of Afghan people want NATO to immediately withdraw. Ms. Joya wants us to leave. Why would that be the case, you might wonder, since that would leave the Afghan people vulnerable to two repugnant forces, each worse than the other in different ways. They want us out of there, apparently, because we have failed to make things much better (dashing their initial hopes) and our presence feeds the violence. "Today, people are being killed [including by our bombs]--many, many war crimes," she observes. "The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people."

And they want us out of there because we are outsiders: heavy-handed, self-interested, poorly-informed interventionists in their tragic domestic struggle. The warlords and the Taliban are their own bad guys.