Malalai Joya at a book signing, April 2011.
Robert Farley wonders whether "the Afghan Model" -- foreign airpower and special forces assisting local fighters to overthrow an international pariah regime arousing minimal nationalism in the target country and minimal domestic opposition in the imperial power -- has been vindicated in Libya. He doubts Gadhafi's end will prove an unqualified success for the stratagem; for now, " the grade is mixed."
Malalai Joya contends that the grade should be far worse than "mixed" in Afghanistan itself. Joya is the author of A Woman Among Warlords: the extraordinary story of an Afghan who dared to raise her voice. This really is an extraordinary book -- a detailed life story from a woman who has stood up against both the Taliban and the thuggish criminal warlords who the U.S. "Afghan model" has put in power in her country. I heard her speak last spring and put her autobiography away for summer reading; when I finally got to it, I was much rewarded.
Like many Afghans, Joya grew up in a refugee camp in Pakistan where her family fled the war against Russian domination that lasted from 1979-89. Her father lost a leg in the fighting. While many refugee boys were being educated by fundamentalists whose rigid variant of Islam made them ripe to become Taliban, her family settled in a camp where there were equal educational opportunities for girls. She thrived.
As students, we didn't always realize how lucky we were. I have a vivid memory of how one teacher reacted after some of us complained that we were tired from studying. Her response was firm: "You should realize that these years, with the chance to focus on your education, will be the best time of your lives." I know now that she was right. I only wish that all Afghan children could have the chance to get "tired" by many years of education.Unfortunately, these happy times didn't last. Victory in the nationalist war in 1992 didn't lead to a peaceful developing country. After the Soviets left, Afghans found they were largely ignored by the interfering powers that had funded the war --Pakistan, Iran, and the United States -- and left to the violence of competing warlords who had thrived on foreign subsidies.
It is difficult for outsiders to understand, but our people divide the mujahideen into two types: the real mujahideen and the criminal. In the early days of the Soviet-Afghan war, the majority of those who struggled against the Soviet forces called themselves mujahideen -- or "holy warriors." They were, like my father, Afghan patriots, united to fight against an oppressive invader. When the Soviet-backed regime of Najibullah finally collapsed on April 28, 1992, the real mujahideen laid down their arms, but it was on this date that the extremists and power hungry groups began their civil war. It is these criminals that today we call jihadis to distinguish them from the honorable mujahideen.Joya never wavers in this perspective on what has happened to her country. It is her nationalism, mixed with a tolerant feminism, that has put her at odds in sequence with fundamentalists, greedy and violent warlords, and foreign occupiers such as the United States and NATO.
Even though the mujahideen were battling an atheistic Soviet empire, it is not true that they were fighting just for their religion, which is a personal matter. They were fighting for our right as Afghans to be free from foreign domination.
Joya secretly taught women and girls during the 1990s when Taliban ruled in the Herat region. When the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 by Northern Alliance warlords with U.S. help -- the Afghan Model's debut -- she was a known and trusted local figure. She was elected to an assembly, a grand Loya Jirga, where in theory new governing arrangements would be decided. There she bravely denounced the rapacious criminal thugs with guns who also sat in hall and was shouted down. This scene is available on video.
In the autobiography, Joya describes the welcome she received when she returned home from making this shocking and courageous outburst.
There were so many people outside the plane that it was difficult for me to move through them. Young girls had brought flowers for me, and many people shouted kind greetings my way. As I walked slowly through the throng, women called out, "Thank you for telling the truth!" ... There was a big tent and stage set up in the courtyard, and a huge crowd had gathered in our honor. My dear uncle Azad -- who in the coming months would take charge of my security -- greeted me warmly and helped me up to the front of the crowd.I have quoted this passage at length because it contains an answer to the question which people in the United States immediately ask ourselves when we hear of Malalai Joya: how can such an outspoken champion of women's freedom and Afghan freedom survive in a country we've learned to think of as dominated by burqa-imposing, thieving fundamentalists?
Waiting for my turn to speak, I watched and listened to a number of speakers and performers onstage. There were tribal elders and young students making speeches, musicians dedicating songs to me. People were performing local traditional dances. The whole scene was almost unbelievable to me. I knew many of these people, but for every face I recognized there were many more strangers. These were the ordinary people of Farah -- the poor and forgotten who had inspired me to become active politically -- and they had obviously been moved by my message. Many had traveled great distances to attend the ceremony. I scanned the crowd in front of me looking for my mother and father, but I couldn't see them anywhere. ...
This was one of those moments where I could see the depth of support I had, and it confirmed for me that the power of people is like the power of God. In front of the clinic, waiting for me, was my father. I had never seen him so emotional. He was beaming and gave me a big hug. I asked him if he had been at the rally. "Of course," he responded. "I was behind the stage, but I heard everything."
The autobiography answers that question: this is a woman whose values are supported by her immediate and extended family and by a significant fraction of the Afghan population to whom she is known and whom she has served. If we were to pay attention, we would learn that we should understand that another Afghanistan is possible -- but only when all the outsiders get out and leave Afghans to sort out their own future. This does not seem to be imaginable to anyone in the Pentagon or Washington. But the U.S. will leave -- this is not a question of if, but when.
Meanwhile, catch glimpse a different Afghanistan in Malalai Joya's life story.
... nothing will vindicate the Obama administration's decision to ignore the advice of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Pentagon and the Attorney General that congressional approval wasn't required for war in Libya. ...Whatever the long term consequences of intervention in Libya, Obama has made it easier for his successors to unilaterally start wars without congressional approval.