Afghanistan: Women Among Warlords

 In Afghanistan, Peace Action West News

9781439109465The Afghan Women’s Mission is sponsoring two nationwide speaking tours featuring two amazing, brave Afghan women: Zoya and Malalai Joya.

Zoya is a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, and Malai Joya is one of just a few women who’ve been elected to Afghanistan’s Parliament. Joya was thrown out of Parliament for her outspoken advocacy for women’s rights.

In 2001, the Bush administration used Afghan women’s hardships to sell war, but Afghan women still must fight to be heard – not just by their government, but by ours too. Both women will share a critical perspective of life in Afghanistan, and what Afghan women need. Peace Action West is co-sponsoring some of these events, and I hope you’ll check the calendar of events and attend if there is one in your area.

Below is a report back from Lindsay Caldwell, a Peace Action West organizer who attended an event featuring Zoya in Los Angeles.

“Absolutely NO photography is allowed tonight; this is very serious.” That was the introduction given at “Resisting the US Occupation of Afghanistan”, an event featuring Zoya, a women’s rights advocate from Afghanistan. It was a stiff reminder of the incredible courage of the woman we all came to hear. “Zoya” is an alias, and the ban on photography keeps her identity safe from would-be assassins. Like many other brave women’s rights activists, she is forced to continuously change ‘safe houses’ for her protection.

Zoya’s message to the audience was simple. It was a plea to Americans to pressure our government to change course in her country and to emphasize that time is of the essence as the Obama Administration makes its decision regarding troop increases.

She emphasized the lack of improvement in circumstances for civilians after 8 years of war. For women and children in particular, things have worsened. Rapes and acid attacks are on the rise. Zoya spoke about one young woman who attempted suicide by setting herself aflame. She told her she thought it better to have one quick death than many long, slow deaths.  She told the story of one adolescent boy who joined the Taliban the day after losing 13 members of his family in a drone attack, echoing Peace Action West’s sentiment that civilian casualties fuel the Taliban movement.

She was critical of the American media for presenting a distorted view of the US occupation. The sense that we are liberating her people, she said, is simply untrue. The reality is that real grassroots supported political opposition to Karzai’s regime is always threatened into submission. RAWA did not support the recent election from the get-go because as Zoya said, “It doesn’t matter who’s voting, it matters who’s counting.”

She described the Karzai government as being ‘brother’ to the Taliban. Many of Karzai’s cabinet members are former Northern Alliance warlords who she said are in many ways worse than the Taliban. US foreign policy is empowering and arming these warlords, and in her words, the US is simply arming another terrorist group who will eventually wage another attack like 9/11.

During the Q&A I was able to ask Zoya a question. I told her that many members of Peace Action West who I’ve met with fear that withdrawing troops would mean abandoning the people of her country, and I asked how she would respond to that. She replied that the US could better protect Afghans and Americans by working to disarm the factions they have been arming the last 8 years and by helping to empower real grassroots movements within Afghanistan. She also cited a need for warlords to be brought to justice in order to set an example that their crimes cannot go unchecked.

One gentleman asked whether there were strong economic powers present in Afghanistan who could assist in the recovery of the country. For this, a former Karzai cabinet member came to the stage and began to paint a picture of a long history of survival of the Afghan people without intervention or aid.  Though initially it was difficult to know where his story was taking us, in the end the message became evident: leave the worrying to Afghans, we don’t need your help to solve our problems.

I was reminded of a quote from the 1982 film Gandhi. In negotiating liberation from Britain one British ruler points out, “With respect Mr. Gandhi, without British administration this country would be reduced to chaos.” To which Gandhi replies, “I beg you to accept that there is no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the good government of an alien power.”  Perhaps we too, despite our best intentions, must accept this fact.

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