Today marks the 12th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan. The ongoing war, the longest in American history, has fallen from the forefront of the American public’s consciousness. The US has turned its focus from the initial fronts in the war on terror—Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq—to fresh battlefields in Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria. But for Afghans, whose country remains divided between Taliban commandos and a government comprised largely of former warlords supported by US and NATO, violence remains an everyday reality.
On Friday, I caught up with Malalai Joya, an Afghan women’s rights activist and former member of the country’s parliament. Malalai was expelled from her post in 2007 for criticizing her fellow parliamentarians, leveling allegations of corruption against them, and calling them “sheep and donkeys.” She was told she could return if she apologized. Instead of saying sorry, she mused that she ought to apologize to the animals for comparing them to Afghanistan’s lawmakers.
As a result of her vocal opposition to the Taliban and the US-sponsored regime in Afghanistan, Malalai has faced repeated attempts on her life. Currently she lives underground and does not travel without armed escorts. She remains a popular and divisive figure, beloved by some and loathed by others. Malalai is in the US on a speaking tour to mark the anniversary of the Afghanistan war and promoting her book, Woman Among Warlords, a biographical account of resisting occupation and organizing secret classes and clinics for women and girls under the Taliban. In this interview, we discussed the impending US withdrawal, Afghanistan’s opium trade, education, women’s rights, and what it is like to live under the boot of warlords. She also gave her thoughts on Syria, the latest object of US intervention.