‘Most of the Taliban were long gone before the first bombs fell…And so, in Farah as with the rest of my country, many lives were needlessly lost.’
Glued to the radio Malalai and her family experienced the invasion first through global media reports then as terrifying air strikes rained down, it was many months before they saw any ground forces, air power being the devastating weapon of choice for the US/NATO assault. Once the invading forces arrived in Farah they built a fortified base and ignored the citizens. She sums up subsequently-
‘In the first years after Afghanistan was invaded, as they removed the oppressive regime of the Taliban and many promises were made, many people seemed sympathetic to the American and allied forces. But in the later years as they did nothing for the people, installed a corrupt government, and killed many civilians, they lost support. And people discovered that behind the nice name of ‘International Security Assistance Force’ is in fact just another foreign occupation of Afghanistan.’
Joya details the murky history of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, a catalogue of shifting alliances as the US poured funds into all three at one time or another (paying the Taliban $43 million for ‘Poppy eradication’ and recently Sibel Edmonds stated that Bin Laden was working with the US right up until 911). Now it was the turn of the Northern Alliance to find favour with the Pentagon and soak up the largesse of the US taxpayer (imagine spending it on such silly things as healthcare and schools when there are war criminals to tool up!). Millions in cash was handed out to warlords, Dostum, Sayyaf, Rabbanin, Arif et al, a rogues gallery of vicious terrorists, however as their terror was mostly aimed at the Afghan people they were seen as a safe investment. The old warlord favourite of rape became once again endemic, seeing it as punishing their enemies while simultaneously rewarding their troops.
The Bush Whitehouse looked to establish a puppet administration, its attention already turning towards Iraq. As the Pashtuns were the largest ethnic group they looked for a leader from among them, no Pashtun warlords were considered reliable, most had sided with the Taliban. Eventually a safe pair of hands was found in Hamid Karzai, deputy foreign minister during the civil war years believed to be a CIA contact since the 80’s and an advisor to UNOCAL. US media began portraying him as an anti Taliban resistance leader as it flew warlords and exiles to Bonn to create the transitional government. Joya now introduces one of her bete noirs, Zalmay Khalilzad the neoconservative front man for the US empire. In Bonn Khalilzad enacting the ‘Warlord policy’ did a closed door deal with the warlords to give them top government posts, a legacy that lasts to the present day, the damage immeasurable. An emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002 carefully managed behind the scenes by Khalilzad put the motley collection of war criminals into power in Kabul and elected Karzai president, tellingly his protection detail was comprised entirely of US troops. The 90 year old exiled King Zhir Shah was flown in and declared ‘Father of the Nation’ neocons loving the theatrical touch (and spurious legitimacy) royalty affords.
The warlord government established their criminal fiefdoms quickly, in Farah they were not pleased with Joya and OPAWC’s operations which were expanding with a medical clinic- Hamoon Health Centre in 2003 with Joya as director. She was not medically trained and so young that several times people mistook her for a functionary and asked her where to find Dr Joya. They scraped together the money for an ambulance and recruited a dedicated driver, the ambulance became famous in Farah province even as the government refused to fund the fuel, the community helped out declaring ‘This is the car of the people’.
The earthquake that destroyed Bam in south eastern Iran brought an influx of survivors to the clinic and with Afghanistan at the time having a high international media profile OPAWC was able to raise more money and an orphanage was established. Malalai lived behind it in a one room hut with no electricity, reading at night by oil lamp. She remembered her schooling and as well as teaching them reading and writing she made sure they played and had fun as well as being able to discuss their feelings and deal with their traumas. They had a constant problem with family reclaiming girls in order to marry them off or sell them. She details the painful memory of one girl Rahella, whose uncle married her off to a cousin, Rahella soon afterwards committing suicide by self immolation which Joya points out is a growing phenomenon in Afghanistan as women try to escape the misery of their lives.
In 2003 the UN was to oversee a second Loya Jirga, to approve a new constitution. Nine delegates, 7 men 2 women, were to be chosen from Joya’s district, she was 25 and determined to be an honest voice in the warlord dominated puppet administration, she determined she would pledge to put an end to the rule by fundamentalist and warlords, to expose the true nature of the Jirga. Thus begins Malalai Joya’s political career which takes up the bulk of her book, as the director of the free clinic she had a great deal of respect and recognition and discovered she was an effective speaker and someone the people could tell their troubles to knowing she would try to help. It is interesting that she recalls some of the UN staff being overjoyed at a young passionate progressive voice emerging while others in language couched as fear for her safety were less enthused. Winning the election process Malalai attended the Loya Jirga comprised of 502 delegates out of which 114 were women, already though fear of reprisals meant only her friend and fellow delegate Nafas would share a dormitory room with her, an outspoken woman talking of equality and social justice was not to the administration’s taste. Malalai was shocked that warlords were in the assembly, men who ran private torture chambers were taking power in Afghanistan once again. This was the elephant in the room no one was supposed to mention (and not dissimilar to the war criminals at large in our political classes). While she had a head filled with tales of abuse, murder, rape and torture, the tears of widows and the terrorised orphans at her clinic she saw an apparatus overrun with war criminals backed by the Bush administration. Malai had to speak out, she negotiated a chance to speak in font of the assembly, she spoke truth to power, her microphone was cut off 90 seconds in to her speech.
After that she was not safe even in the parliament building, the UN arranged bodyguards and safe houses, warlord controlled media slandered her even as she made a name in global media, supporters held a rally in Farah for her even as the assembly made sure she could not speak again.
When the Jirga ended in January 2004 it had adopted a new constitution in an atmosphere of ‘fear and corruption’ as a HRW researcher who attended described it. Joya now had powerful enemies, they received a tip off a warlord would have her killed on a flight home, the UN arranged for another direct flight to Farah where she was greeted by a huge crowd. Invited to a reception by the governor she noticed a young girl supporter of hers switched the tea cup she had been given with the governor’s, a precaution and a challenge to those who meant her harm. Her life was in constant danger yet she had the support of Afghans long oppressed by the ruling class in their various guises. Her challenge was to remain an effective representative of the people in a government built out of war criminals by neoconservative imperialists. She was not going to back down.
Malalai Joya’s Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out has just been published by Rider Books, all proceeds go to humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. Buy it here, here or here. Or in the US where it is called A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, buy from Amazon.