Review of “Raising My Voice” by Malalai Joya, Rider Books.

By Andy Newman, Socialist Unity, December 9, 2009

Malalai Joya

As the hundredth British casualty this year is flown back to the UK, there is a real danger that the closing ranks behind the military sacrifice will exclude a proper debate about what the war aims to achieve.

That is why Malalai Joya’s account of her political struggle is so important. She was the youngest female MP elected to the Afghan parliament in December 2005, and has shown extraordinary courage in denouncing the warlords and gangsters that still dominate Afghan life. She was unconstitutionally excluded from the parliament in 2007, and during her time as an MP she was subjected to threats of violence, having her microphone turned off whenever she spoke, and even bombarded by plastic bottles and shoes when criticising the war criminals among her fellow MPs.

Her brave career started when she was an organiser of illegal womens’ and girls’ schools under the former Taliban regime. What is extremely inspiring is her description of the widespread solidarity between women in Afghanistan; and the acts of support from the poor that she has continually received.

While the current war is presented as defending democracy against the warlordism and anti-women bigotry of the Taliban; the reality is that the Afghan allies of the Americans include monsters equally as bad.

The “United Islamic front for the Liberation of Afghanistan”, more commonly known as the Northern Alliance, included the most venal criminals whose militias had pillaged Afghanistan during the long civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. Fighting among the war-lords had killed 65000 in Kabul, and destroyed most of the city. They include Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf and Mohammed Qasim Fahim among others. During the American invasion Dostum murdered 2000 prisoners by sealing them in air tight trucks under the watching eyes of American soldiers, and bulldozing them into mass graves at Mazar-e-Sharif. The Americans propelled the Northern Alliance to military victory by bribing other warlords to change their allegiance, and by direct military action including heavy bombing by B52s flying from RAF Fairford in the UK.

Kabul was captured by the Northern Alliance forces of Fahim, with American support, and as the Taliban evaporated into the hills, the real power in the country lay with the warlords again, who prey upon the civilian populations under their control, and are major players in the world heroin trade. So when Hamid Karzai, a former nonentity returned from exile with US support, was elected president, it was only because he was not a war-lord himself, but he had no power and no influence. All he could do was negotiate compromise after compromise and make concession after concession to the warlords; especially as the main priority of the Americans was not reconstruction of Afghanistan but pursuing their war against Al Qaeda. The warlords were their allies, and there was no prospect of having them disarmed. Instead they manipulated and intimidated and took their places as members of parliament.

In 2007 the Afghan parliament voted the “Reconciliation Draft Law” which gave immunity from prosecution for all crimes committed over the last 30 years. As Malalai Joya describes it, “essentially criminals created a law giving themselves amnesty” The motivation for the law was the hanging of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which showed the Afghan gangsters that they could not necessarily rely upon the West to protect them.

It is important to understand that the oppression of women in Afghanistan did not start with the Taliban, and has not ceased with the Taliban’s fall from power. As Joya explains:

A number of laws against women were first implemented during the civil war, and then maintained and enforced by the Taliban. For instance, the Ministry from the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which would become infamous under the Taliban, was actually first set up during the civil war era. Not only are many of these laws still on the books but, what’s more, many of the warlords that introduced these restrictions are still in power in the current NATO-backed government.

The crimes of the warlords are well documented in the book “ Bleeding Afghanistan ” , by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingall … … In their book they point out the US government’s lack of concern for the impact of their policy of encouraging extremists: ‘If Afghanistan ever deserved the label “failed state”, it was most appropriate in the years 1992 to 1996 when US eyes were averted while US weapons were eliminating the buildings, institutions, and people required for the survival of the state of Afghanistan’

Even the opium poppies were introduced by the CIA during the war against the Soviets. According to Joya:

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is one of the biggest drug-lords in the region, is said to be using his old CIA-generated trafficking network to fund the current insurgency. In 2006, Pervez Musharraf, then Prime Minister of Pakistan accused Hekmatyar of using his influence and drug money to protect the USA’s arch enemy, Osama Bin Laden.

Malalai Joya is clear that withdrawal of foreign troops is a pre-condition for progress. The war-lords have no base of support among the Afghan people. She points out that those who say that the withdrawal of foreign troops would lead to civil war are ignoring the enduring conflict that already locks the Afghan people into endless suffering. She worries that the current fighting is not preventing civil war, but only postponing it, and the longer the occupation prevails the more Afghanistan becomes militarised and locked into conflict and so the worse the eventual bloodletting might be when the foreign troops leave, as they will, as invaders always have done.

So withdrawal needs political preparation. Avoiding civil war requires the risk from the war lord militias to be reduced, and that requires agreement between the neighbouring countries to stop peddling weapons to them, Pakistan and Iran in particular are playing a pernicious role. The presence of US and NATO troops is an obstacle to the necessary regional stabilisation process.

She calls on those of us in the West to hold our governments to account and to question what they are really achieving by the war in Afghanistan. Why are they propping up a government of misogynist, drug dealing gangsters against an insurgency? The insurgents may be no better, but there is no military solution to the cycle of violence and warlordism that grips Afghanistan, because the military logic is based upon NATO forces allying with some warlords against others.

One of the biggest problems with the war in Afghanistan is that few people have any understanding of what the war is about, or what the reality of Hamid Karzai’s government really is. Malalai Joya is a brave and determined woman, and an extraordinary tribune for the Afghan poor and for the women of that country. Her voice needs to be heard.

“Raising My Voice” by Malalai Joya, Rider Books.