By Malalai Joya
Even with the assassination threats she faces, Malalai Joya, often called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” speaks out—naming warlords and telling the international community what it must do now.
Today, I’m not sure of my life, I’m not sure of tomorrow, and when I go outside my house, I don’t know if I will make it back. But I have vowed to speak out and tell the truth of what is happening in my country.
Seven years ago, the US bombed Afghanistan under the pretenses of “bringing democracy” and “liberating Afghan women.” Within weeks, the Taliban was removed and we Afghans had hope that we’d be able to create a promising and free society. Then, only weeks later, the US government betrayed us by relying on the criminal warlords of the Northern Alliance to aid them in their fight against the Taliban and to help run the country. And now, there are ongoing negotiations to have the Taliban, which has regained its foothold in my country, officially share power with Hamid Karzai’s puppet government.
US/NATO forces have killed more Afghan civilians than terrorists—without any repercussions. The US and its allies are here for their own interests and the fate of Afghanistan’s people has no price to them. The Taliban, along with warlords and drug smugglers (including Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Qasim Fahim, Younis Qanooni, Ismail Khan, Gulabzoi, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Rashid Dostum, Karim Khalili, General Daud, Hazrat Ali, and Ata Mohammad) who make up Afghanistan’s ruling class, are in reality the sworn enemies of true democratic values.
I have been a vocal critic of the warlords who have taken over Mr. Karzai’s government. Though I was elected to Parliament in 2005, I was illegally suspended two years later for criticizing the very criminals I served with. In an effort to silence me, the Parliament has banned me from media interviews, taken my diplomatic passport, and forbidden me from traveling outside Afghanistan. Although I hate guns, I have to live under the protection of armed guards whenever I go outside and I have been forced to hide my identity and wear a burqa in public. Having already survived four assassination attempts, I move from home to home every night and live under the constant threat of death.
Even so, I vow to speak out about the truth here in Afghanistan; it is the best possible way for me to care for my suffering people. Over 85% of Afghans are living below the poverty line and don’t have enough to eat. While the US military spends $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan for its operations, up to 18 million people (out of a population of only 26 million) live on less than $2 US a day, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Many women in Afghanistan find all doors closed to them. Gang rape of women—some as young as 4 years old—has reached record levels. But rapists, most of whom are powerful warlords, enjoy immunity—or are pardoned by Mr. Karzai himself.
According to UNIFEM, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul see suicide as the only answer to their miseries and desolation. Self-immolation among Afghan women—a practice where women douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves ablaze—has never been so high in our history: In the first six months of 2008, there were 47 cases recorded at just one hospital in the Herat province in Western Afghanistan.
But I do not want to choose the path of suicide. Being killed by the enemy is much better than committing suicide. I am young and I value my life; I don’t want to be killed. I don’t fear death; I fear political silence against injustices. I fear becoming neutral to the fate of my people the way many Afghan intellectuals who preferred money and high posts under the Karzai regime have done.
I know my enemies are very powerful: They have guns, money, foreign support, and links to armed groups. But what I have is the powerful support of my people, which gives me courage, determination, and hope for a bright future. My enemies have little true footing among the people of Afghanistan and that is their biggest weakness. The day they are disarmed, the people who have been victims of their brutal actions for decades will find justice.
To help the people of Afghanistan there are several things we must do. We must end the drama of the “War on Terror,” which is a war on poor and innocent people. As soon as possible, the US/NATO troops must vacate our country. We want liberation, not occupation. With the withdrawal of occupation forces, we will only have to face one enemy instead of two.
The warlords and their accomplices must be disarmed and brought to justice in an international criminal court. The international community must stop giving money to the mafia government. It is a heart-wrenching fact that over $15 billion of aid has been given to Afghanistan in the past seven years, but with the vast majority grabbed by warlords, NGOs, officials, and donors themselves, only a tiny portion of it is reaching the people. Afghanistan could have been rebuilt two times with this amount!
There are many more secret heroines in Afghanistan, both working in the underground and openly risking their lives. These women need our backing. They need the support of the peace- and democracy-loving people of the world, who can join hands with the voiceless people of Afghanistan. Education must also be sup-ported directly. If Afghan people have education, they can stand up for themselves, and the Taliban and Northern Alliance will not have much chance to mislead them. We know no foreign power can bring peace and democracy, and that these values can only be achieved through our own power. That is the key to solving the crisis in Afghanistan.
I am heartened by recent signs of protest from ordinary Afghans against the current regime. The power of the people is like the power of God, and this power will only get stronger day by day.