Malalai Joya: One woman standing against warlords

May 2017, The New Arab

“The resistance of the people is the real hope,” says Malalai Joya, a fearless human rights activist and a former member of the Afghan parliament.

She was speaking in Rome about the threat faced by human rights defenders around the world. But she hardly spoke about her struggle, and more about that of all Afghans fighting discrimination and oppression.

“The European countries are deporting Afghans back,” she says. “But many of them have only two ways in front of them: to became drug addicted, or to join the Islamic State group or Taliban who pay $600 per month for their fighters.

“Millions of Afghans are suffering from insecurity, corruption and unemployment. When they leave Afghanistan and they come to Western countries they face enormous risks, and finally, when they arrive, they have also to deal with discrimination. But I believe the US and NATO – including Italy – have a huge responsibility for the current economic situation of Afghanistan.”

Joya, who shares a forename with Afghan national hero Malalai of Maiwand, is today as passionate and fearless as she was under the Taliban regime, when she used to run underground schools for girls.

She has become a global symbol of resistance against corruption and oppression, and an inspiration for women around the world. Today, she continues to be outspoken against what she calls “the warlord system”, accusing western countries of betraying the values of democracy and human rights in Afghanistan.

“Somehow, things for activists like me have become even worse,” she said. “Under the Taliban, we had only one enemy – now we have Taliban, warlords, Islamic State, occupation forces that keep dropping bombs, and the so-called technocrats, who have compromised in exchange for money and power.”

Laura Cesaretti was in Rome, and spoke to Malalai Joya on behalf of The New Arab.

Laura Cesaretti: ‘Malalai, in 2007 you publicly confronted the Afghan parliament, denouncing the warlords’ system in Afghan politics. What has changed since then?’

Malalai Joya: “Unfortunately, the situation has become even more of a disaster. Still, our country is considered on the top of the list of drug producers, corruption, unhappy [citizens], misogynists and war-affected.

“The reason is because, after 9/11, US and NATO forces replaced the Taliban regime with fundamentalist warlords who had caused a civil war in 1992 to 1996. In Kabul alone, more than 65,000 innocent people were killed – 20-year-old mothers raped, as well as young girls. Many of the crimes they committed were not different from those committed later by the Taliban.

“The change was only physical, and their bloody hands were imposed on the Afghan people.”

LC: ‘A few days ago, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the notorious Afghan warlord, returned to Kabul after nearly two decades in exile. For many, it was a shock, but others welcomed it as an important step toward peace. What do you think?’

MJ: “The result of this so-called ‘peace’ will be more bloodshed and more human rights violations. We have experienced that already, 15 years ago, with the so-called ‘peace of the warlords’. The only demand of the people is justice – Hekmatyar should at least apologise to the Afghan people.

“Instead, the first day he arrived in Kabul, he attacked the media – and we have freedom of media written into our constitution.”

LC: ‘How can Afghanistan put a difficult past behind it, and work towards a better future?’

MJ: “Since the Soviet invasion until now, war has been ongoing. People, especially the most uneducated, have lost everything. But we do have one thing: political consciousness. That is why my message around the world is always ‘please, empower our people with education’.

“But the system is corrupt. It is true that some schools have been built, especially in the big cities, but it was just a justification for the occupation.”

LC: ‘The NATO coalition said that women rights in Afghanistan were one of the most important achievements reached with the intervention. Do you agree with that?’

MJ: “This is propaganda of the US and NATO to the mainstream media. They were not the first to bring women’s rights to Afghanistan. This is a lie. Even mainstream media in the 1960s used to report Afghanistan with women dressing more or less like western people. They were playing a role in the society.

“Only when these fundamentalist warlords came to power and these extremists who mix Islam with politics arrived, the situation of women became a disaster… The story of Farkhunda and how she was killed in daylight, just a few kilometres away from the palace offices is one example.

“What has happened? The small fish went to jail while sharks are still free. We are very far away from values such as peace and democracy – as long as fundamentalists remain in power, as long as the occupation will be in the country, it is will be still a prolonged struggle.”

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Afghanistan’s Militias: The Enemy Within?

The Diplomat, January 4 2017

KABUL — It has been over 15 years since U.S.-led international troops arrived in Afghanistan. Today, beauty salons fill the streets of Kabul and Indian music plays loudly during traffic jams. Yet the news from the provinces is distressing. Afghan security forces are currently engaged in active battle across at least 26 of the country’s 34 provinces. Occasional attacks interrupt the normal daily routine of the chaotic capital, once the center of the secular Afghan aristocracy, now an architectural landmark of the war business.

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Afghanistan: challenging aid neutrality in war-torn Helmand

Offiziere, October 10 2016

There is a reason why you can find a cold Guinness in the unstable and alcohol-free Afghan capital Kabul: Globalization. For many, it is a refreshing relief from their daily struggles, which help them to cope with a life full of renunciation. Normally, those people are the humanitarian workers, who have moved to Afghanistan in the name of highest values, career building, or more cynically, the opportunity to have a generous wallet in their pocket. For others, globalization is the process whereby their own culture is weakened and questioned by an unknown outside agenda. “I have a message to send to the world. Please, stop this fight against Afghanistan. We are simple and poor people, the only thing we got is our homes”, says Mahmud.

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In Helmand, Even Pain Has Become a Luxury

Fair Observer, July 28 2016

Lashkar-gah. Hospitals are tough. The disinfectant smell trapped inside these walls, along with that of plastic furniture, would flood anyone with a sense of anxiety. Yet here in Helmand, one of the most troubled provinces in Afghanistan, there is no space for laments and sorrows. “My job is to manage the pain, from the beginning, to the middle and after. Afghans never complain about pain. We have a ward full of kids, and you never see them crying,” says Joseph Rumley, the anaesthesiologist working with Emergency—an international medical charity who provide free health care to the victims of war in the province.

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When ISIS Steals Your School

Warscapes, April 18 2016

Graffiti on the walls of a high school in Afghanistan’s Achin district, some 10km from the Pakistani border, reads: “Islamic Governorate of Khorasan.” Until a short time ago, the voices of diligent students, whose aim is to progress to Nangarhar University in Jalalabad, the provincial capital, were absent here. Instead, the school, financed by the Afghan government and newly painted blue, was home for eight months to many of the Islamic State’s Wilayat Khorasan fighters, the Asian faction of IS now seeking to establish itself in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of other central Asian countries. The fighters took issue, in particular, with what they decried as the school’s role in training future government employees.

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