Malalai Joya has been called "Afghanistan's bravest woman." When the
Taliban ruled her country, she braved death, running an underground
girls school. When the US military overthrew the Taliban she ran for
But that doesn't mean she's a supporter of the U.S. military, or
President Obama's decision to double the number of American troops in
"Unfortunately, President Obama's foreign policy is a lot like [the]
criminal Bush," she said in a sit-down in interview during a recent
visit to San Francisco. "He follows war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in
Joya's opposition to the U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan began shortly after foreign troops arrived in 2001.
Immediately "after the 9/11 tragedy, my people thought maybe this time
the US government will be helpful for our people," she said. "They were
hopeful that Taliban domination has been destroyed maybe this time they
will give a chance to justice-loving, democrat-minded people of my
country. At least to people who don't have bloody hands!"
But Joya found that hope dashed quickly - as early as December 2003 -
in the first meeting of Afghanistan's newly-elected constitutional
assembly. She looked around the room and saw the United States and NATO
had invited a who's who of the warlords who had destroyed her country
to form a new government.
She was 24. And she couldn't stay silent.
"I wish to criticize my compatriots in this room," she said amid boos,
catcalls and scattered cheers. "Why would you allow criminals to be
present at this Loya Jirga, warlords responsible for our country's
situation? Afghanistan is the center for national and international
conflicts. They oppress women and have ruined our country. They should
be prosecuted. They might be forgiven by the Afghan people, but not by
The chairman responded by throwing her out.
"The sister has crossed the line of what is considered common
courtesy," he said, banging his gavel. "She is banished from this
assembly and cannot return. Send her out! Guards, throw her out! She
doesn't deserve to be here."
But Joya did not give up. She ran for Parliament again in 2005 and was elected a second time.
In 2006, she was physically attacked on the floor of the Parliament, when she said:
"There are two types of Mujahidin" - freedom fighters - "one who were
really Mujahidin, the second who killed tens of thousands of innocent
people and who are criminals."
Joya was again expelled from Parliament. One law-maker Jebel Chelgari
said that wasn't enough. She should be punished with a gun, he said.
Like many members of post-Taliban Parliament, Joya says Chelgari has a
reputation for brutality.
"This cruel man, this non-educated, ignorant man," she says, "is famous
in his province as a head eater. Because he has killed so many people
they do not even mention his name. They call him ‘head eater.'"
All together, Joya has survived five assassination attempts. But at
least she's still alive. Other women's rights advocates have not been
She breathlessly rattles off a half dozen prominent women who have been
killed by the U.S. and NATO, U.S.-backed warlords, the Taliban and
general lawlessness since September 2001.
There is Malalai Kakar, Afghanistan's most prominent policewoman, who
headed up Kandahar Province's department for crimes against women, who
was shot and killed while driving her car on September 28, 2008.
Also among the dead is Sitara Achakzai, who spent the years of Taliban
rule in Germany and returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to join women
working to promote their human rights and struggling to secure peace.
For International Women's Day on March 8, 2009, she played a major role
in organizing a national sit-in of more than 11,000 women in seven
Afghan provinces. On April 12, 2009, she was gunned down in broad
daylight in front of her home.
"This list can be prolonged," she says. "When these brave activist
women get killed mainstream only reports like a bird has been killed.
That is it."
That these war-lords remain in power is not an accident, she said. They
thrive on the drug trade and are actively supported by the United
States and other regional powers.
And that arrangement has gotten worse under Obama than Bush, she said,
because certain warlords deemed too brutal to take part in the Afghan
government under Bush have been invited to the bargaining table under
One example she cites, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a 61-year-old veteran of
Afghanistan's three decades of war who gained infamy for rocketing his
own capital during a brief stint as prime minister in the 1990s.
Bush had put a $25 million "price on his head" for participating in
terrorist actions with Al-Qaeda, she notes, and in 2003 the State
Department designated Hekmatyar a "Specially Designated Global
This April, however, U.S. officials began meeting with Hekmatyar's representatives in hope that he would join the government.
So Joya has taken her fight directly to the occupiers. She's written a book - A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out - and is touring the very countries that occupy Afghanistan - England, Germany, Canada, and the United States.
Joya says she has hope for the future. If the NATO and the US military leave Afghanistan, she says life will gradually improve.
If "these occupation forces leave Afghanistan and their governments
leave us alone then we'll know what to do with our destiny - if they
leave us a little bread and peace, because these war lords and the
Taliban have no fruit among the heart of my people. My people hate
In this way, she sees the weakness of Hamid Karzai's government as a strength, not a cause for concern.
"Resistance of my people is a big hope for my people of Afghanistan.
That's why my message to the great people of the U.S. and the around
the world is that your government must leave our country, but you are
the ones that must join your hands with us: human rights organizations,
justice-loving people and intellectuals, feminist organizations-they
are the ones that must not leave us alone. As much as we can, we need
New America Media editor Aaron Glantz is author of The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans