THE plight of women in Afghanistan is no excuse for Western ''occupation'' of the country, a leading Afghan opponent of the war and former MP has declared.
Malalai Joya - the youngest woman elected to the Afghanistan Parliament, in 2004, who then faced death threats for her outspoken criticism of tribal warlords - said the image of Afghan women was being unfairly used to justify the foreign presence.
''The tragic situation of women under the Taliban was a very good excuse for the US and NATO after the 9/11 tragedy to occupy the country,'' Ms Joya told The Age yesterday during a visit to Melbourne.
Time magazine recently featured a cover photo of a mutilated, 19-year-old Afghan woman, Aisha, after her nose and ears were hacked off by her husband. The photo carried the caption: ''What happens if we leave Afghanistan.''
But Ms Joya said despite the presence of the Western troops, women continued to suffer.
''They replaced the Taliban with fundamentalist warlords, who are the same like the Taliban - they are misogynist and have committed many crimes against women and human rights,'' she said.
''Today, most of the women are wearing the burqa just to be alive because of security reasons.''
Ms Joya will discuss the Afghanistan conflict at a public lecture today at Deakin University in Burwood.
She describes herself as a member of a ''war generation'' - born in 1978 shortly before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - that has seen the crippling effects of civil war and the rise of the Taliban.
She said the 68 women now in the Afghan Parliament only served a symbolic role.
Elections earlier this year were marred by corruption and Ms Joya said she refused to participate so as not to legitimise a flawed process.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates - in Melbourne this week for meetings with Australian counterparts - flagged a transition by US forces to Afghan control in 2014.
But Ms Joya said the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan was the withdrawal of foreign troops and support for education and social networks.