There’s not a straight line between the revolts sweeping the Arab world and Iran and the far more difficult situation in Afghanistan. Devastated by three decades of war, occupied by the United States and NATO, and ruled by corrupt warlords and political wheeler-dealers, revolutionaries and pro-democracy activists in Afghanistan face an additional challenge: unlike, say, Egypt, there’s no online culture of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, and in many areas there is neither electricity nor electronic devices.
But that isn’t stopping Malalai Joya.
I spent yesterday with Malalai, in southern Maryland where she had a speaking engagement at St. Mary’s College, a public college in the hamlet of St. Mary’s. She’s a remarkable young woman, an activist schooled as a refugee in Pakistan in the 1990s, in part at schools run by RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. She was a teacher in underground schools in Afghanistan during the Taliban era and in Farah province, her home, she set up free clinics and an orphanage. In 2003, at 25, she made worldwide news by standing up at a national council and denouncing not only the Taliban but the myriad warlords who’d emerged to take control of the country with American backing. In 2005, she was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament, dominated then as now by ultra-conservatives, warlords and corrupt politicians, but two years later she was suspended from parliament for her fierce criticism of Afghanistan’s parliament and government. Since then, she’s lived semi-underground, surviving a series of assassination attempts. In 2010, she was named by Time as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the World.
Joya says that she wants the US and NATO troops to leave, immediately. “They should leave,” she says. “The future civil war will not be more dangerous than the current civil war.” She is bitterly opposed to the Taliban, but she’s equally strongly opposed to the gangsters who run the old Northern Alliance and its allies, who were backed by the United States in 2001, and to President Karzai.
She’s currently on a tour of the United States, in part to promote a new book, A Woman Among Warlords. Her trip was disrupted because initially the State Department refused to grant her a visa, in part after she told them that she’s underground and unemployed in Afghanistan, and they decision was reversed only after worldwide protests. “We know very well who you are,” said an embassy official, she recalls.