Girls School in Danger of Closing

The War Cannot be Won with Weapons

CLICK HERE to make a secure online donation to Danish School.

Afghanistan is a fearful place to be a child, especially a girl. Violence continues to be the norm, and Afghan women continue to suffer. According to a recent Guardian story, in Helmand province “adult women are almost entirely invisible, even in the city” of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. The article notes that “the advancement of women’s rights has moved at a glacial pace in places like Helmand” while at the same time “the process toward peace has slid backwards.” Just last week, multiple suicide bombings have claimed the lives of hundreds of Afghans, most of them civilians. On Tuesday, at least 74 were killed by a wave of Taliban attacks in the South, East, and West of the country; on Thursday 43 Afghan soldiers were killed by explosive filled vehicles; and on Friday, suicide bombings in the cities of Ghor and Kabul, the country’s capital, claimed the lives of 70.

We spoke recently to Friba of RAWA, who told us that, while she is safe, “the situation is getting worse day by day.” Unfortunately, donations to this website, which support the projects of RAWA, have declined in recent years. We were saddened to have to explain to Friba that we were no longer able to fully support the expenses for Danish girls’ school, a project that we have sponsored since it was built in 2003. Originally, the school was funded primarily from a donation of the Billes family (owners of Canadian Tire Corp). After the family’s donations stopped, we continued to provide funding that kept the school going with reduced staffing.

Donations have dropped to such an alarming degree that salary payments for teachers and other staff have only been paid up to March 2016.

CLICK HERE to make a secure online donation to Danish School.

Please consider supporting this vital school for girls in Afghanistan. A full year’s worth of operations costs approximately $50,000. If you have the money, consider giving $10, $100, or even $1000.


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Huffington Post: A Woman Among Warlords: An Interview With Malalai Joya

By Suzanne Persard
Published in Huffington Post on 10/25/2013

Most publications incorrectly report the number of assassination attempts Malalai Joya has received — the number is seven, not six; and these are only the number of plots that have been counted.

In 2007, Joya, the youngest elected member to the Afghan parliament, was expelled from the government for her denunciation of incumbent corrupt warlords. The then 28-year-old Joya advocated for women’s rights, spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and their locally installed puppets, while deeming the Taliban medieval. Death threats against her immediately erupted, followed by several unsuccessful assassination attempts by the Taliban.

Following her indefinite expulsion from a parliament she has likened to a “non-democratic mafia,” Joya’s unpopularity, which surged at home, spread like wildfire abroad. Applying for entry to the U.S. in 2011 to promote her newly released book, A Woman Among Warlords, while continuing to speak out against the U.S. occupation and its devastating impact on the Afghan people, the State Department denied her entry, citing “unemployment” and “living underground.” Public rallying, including a petition of over 3,000 signatures — including the signature of Noam Chomsky — prompted the department to renege and her visa was granted.

Joya, who appeared in New York City for a series of speaking engagements earlier in October, is easily confused with another similar-sounding activist: 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, who also survived a Taliban assassination attempt, but has received much more attention from American news outlets. While Yousafzai was headlined on every major American news channel, Joya’s presence in the U.S. was relatively unnoticed. Although the State Department granted two visas, only one could serve as justification for Western intervention and serve as the voice for oppressed Muslim women everywhere.

But Joya has never subscribed to an imperialist narrative that places the U.S. as the sole liberator of the Afghan people. She has refused to be another poster-child for wars waged under the false banner of Western liberation, and is quick to name the U.S. and NATO as committing the same violences against women as the Taliban and local warlords.

Click here to read the entire article.

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The Cost of Courage: Malalai Joya’s Life-Risking Activism

Originally published on Truthdig.com on Oct 10, 2013

By Sonali Kolhatkar

Contrary to her small stature, Afghan activist Malalai Joya is a towering figure among ordinary Afghans. At the tender age of 25, she openly challenged her country’s notorious U.S.-backed criminal warlords at the 2003 Constitutional Loya Jirga (popular assembly) in Kabul.

She thundered, “It is a mistake to test those already being tested. They should be taken to national and international court. Even if they are forgiven by our people, the bare-footed Afghan people, history will never forgive them,” before her microphone was abruptly cut off. Today, after a decade of narrowly escaping numerous assassination attempts as a result of that infamous public confrontation, she remains politically active underground and continues to call out the warlords. She also demands the U.S. government immediately end its war and occupation.

It is hard to believe that 12 long years have passed since Operation Enduring Freedom was launched on Oct. 7, 2001. As the first wave of bombs fell on Afghanistan, I spent sleepless nights thinking about the Afghan women with whom I had started to work only a year and a half earlier through a newly formed nonprofit organization called the Afghan Women’s Mission. How could any of us have foreseen that the U.S. had entered the longest war it would ever wage?

But to Joya, war is a part of life, literally woven into the fabric of Afghan society—Afghanistan’s famous war rugs traditionally feature tanks, guns and other military paraphernalia. All her life, Joya and her fellow Afghan 30-somethings have known only war, beginning with the Soviet occupation of the ’80s, then the U.S.-fueled civil war of the early ’90s, then the Taliban rule of the late ’90s, and finally the present-day U.S. war. She yearns for a peace she has never known and risks her life each day to realize it.

In an interview on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. war, Joya made it clear to me that the American occupation had been marked by far too much blood. She blamed the media for “putting dust in the eyes” of the world by parroting the government’s claim that many of the civilians killed were “insurgents.” Indeed, according to Joya, “the atrocities of the occupation forces are not new for my people.”

She went on to list just a handful of incidents: “In my own Farah Province, American troops bombed 150 civilians. They bombed our wedding parties in the past in Nangahar and Nuristan. Recently in Kunar Province through their blind bombardment, 65 civilians were killed. In the same province in another village, nine children were killed.” The endless lists of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are numbing enough to read in the newspaper. But coming from the mouth of an Afghan who is living in the middle of the war, it was almost unbearable to hear.

And yet we must hear what Joya has to say. She has chosen to risk her life to say out loud what other Afghans cannot say.

I first met Joya in 2005 in the remote Farah Province of Afghanistan while researching a book about the war. Already a legend for standing up to the warlords, she spoke softly, in halting English, about how the warlords denounced her as an “infidel, prostitute, and communist.” She implored “democratic-minded people” to tell her story to Americans and added that she was just one person, representative of many. She said, “I am a member of the young generation of this country. Now I accept this risk because of my people. They [the warlords] killed a lot of democratic people. Maybe one day they will kill me. But I will never be afraid.”

Later that year, Joya was elected with overwhelming support by residents of Farah Province to represent them in Afghanistan’s new parliament. But within two years, the warlords dominating that governing body kicked her out, striking a blow to Afghanistan’s fledgling democratic experiment. Joya was accused of insulting criminal MPs during a TV interview and was physically attacked in Parliament. Thousands of ordinary Afghan women marched on the streets in a nation where such a thing is generally unheard of demanding her reinstatement.

Joya had refused to remain silent in Parliament, and now, out of office, with her life more in danger than ever, she continues to speak for her people. In 2009, at the insistence of her supporters, she published her memoir, “A Woman Among Warlords,” where she laid out in clear terms her twofold struggle against fundamentalist oppression and foreign occupation. She wrote, “The United States has tried to justify its occupation with rhetoric about ‘liberating’ Afghan women, but we remain caged in our country.” Joya is clear about the war’s goals, writing in her book, “This endless U.S.-led war on terror … is in fact a war against the Afghan people.”

Joya’s life, like most ordinary Afghan women, is marked by quiet destitution. In a 2006 documentary about her parliamentary campaign called “Enemies of Happiness,” scenes of Joya sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor and washing her clothes by hand reveal the typical day-to-day hardships of ordinary Afghans struggling to survive grinding poverty. It is precisely because Joya has eschewed the luxuries that foreign funded nongovernmental organizations could easily have brought her that her people love her and see her as one of their own.

But Joya’s life, like all Afghan women who have taken a courageous stand, is also marked by constant danger. She represents everything that extremist fundamentalists like the Taliban and mujahadeen warlords despise. Hundreds of Afghan women have been murdered for a fraction of what Joya has said and done. For example, in recent years women TV presenters such as Shaima Rezayee and Shakiba Sanga Amaj were assassinated. This summer alone, two high ranking female police officers, Islam Bibi and Nigara, were also killed.

Joya’s outspokenness has also ruffled some feathers here in the U.S. In 2011, during a routine visa application for a national speaking tour in the States, she was denied entry. While it was never clearly understood why her visa was denied after many years of visits, a major public campaign involving members of Congress and the ACLU finally shamed the State Department into granting Joya a late visa.

When I interviewed her after she entered the U.S., she speculated over the reasons why she was initially denied a visa, saying “I think they are so afraid of what I am saying. I always expose the wrong policies of these warmongers. Their troops are killing civilians in my country. I also inform Americans of their tax dollars—that billions of them are going into the pockets of these warlords, druglords and even indirectly to the Taliban.”

I have met Joya nearly a dozen times since that first encounter in Farah Province and over the years our friendship has evolved into a deep love. My organization, Afghan Women’s Mission, has arranged a number of national speaking tours for her in the United States and this month, she is once more on a national tour organized by the United National Antiwar Coalition making the case for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan on the 12th anniversary of the war (click here for a complete listing of her tour stops).

Each time I see Malalai Joya at the airport, I breathe a quiet sigh of relief at the fact that she is still alive and healthy. My desire to see her live out her life into ripe old age clashes internally with my admiration for her courage. I want her to be safe even as I understand that her safety can be bought only by her silence, a bargain Joya has never been tempted by and likely never will.

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Huffpost Live: No Escaping the Taliban

On October 15, 2012, Afghan Women’s Mission Co-Director Sonali Kolhatkar was a featured guest on Huffpost Live hosted by Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. The program focused on the on-going attacks against women in Afghanistan. Other panelists included Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women, Jean MacKenzie, correspondent with the Global Post, and Jennifer Hunt, an Army Reservist who served in Afghanistan.

The panelists were asked the following question:

Violence against women spiked to its highest level since the Taliban’s fall. Will a U.S. troop withdrawal contribute to an increase in the region’s assault on women?

Watch the video below:

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Nonprofits fear money in center’s care vanished

By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times

February 14, 2012

More than 200 nonprofit groups, from animals rights organizations to political activists, said most of their donated funds appear to have vanished after the organization that watched over the money suddenly ceased operations last month.

The International Humanities Center closed its offices, took down its Web page and informed its clients by email that it has ceased operation. The center served as an umbrella organization for small nonprofit groups, handling their donations and performing administrative duties.

Directors from two of the groups said the executive director of the center told them only $10,000 was left in the accounts his organization held when there should have been $1 million.

A tally of potential losses compiled by directors of 40 of the groups comes to $877,000.

Several of the groups said they can no longer pay their staffs or bills. Some have explained the situation to donors on their websites.

The California attorney general’s office is investigating, and directors of several groups said they had been interviewed by the office or had been asked for information.

“The more time goes on, the more I lose hope we’ll ever see any of that money again,” said Dylan Rose Schneider of Peaceful Uprising, a collective that fights global warming.

The groups were mostly small nonprofits that said they turned to the Humanities Center, as what is known as a fiscal sponsor, because they don’t have the staffing to handle donations and related paperwork. For a small fee, the center’s website had said, it handled such tasks for its clients.

Steve Sugarman, the center’s executive director, said in an email to some of the groups that he was filled with “deep regret” over going out of business and hoped it caused no lasting harm. He assured them in the email that all funds had been properly spent, though it is not clear what he was referring to because a fiscal sponsor is not supposed to spend its clients’ money on its own operations.

A consultant for the center told some of the groups in a letter that their donations were used to pay legal fees and other bills, including $12,000 a month for offices in Pacific Palisades, as well as back taxes and penalties to the IRS.

“Many of us realized that this was a dangerous way to run a business but were repeatedly assured by Steve (in writing) that all misappropriated funds would soon be replaced,” consultant David DelGrosso told directors.

Sugarman did not return emails and his phone was not accepting calls.

Directors for many of the nonprofits, which included such diverse groups as the Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid, Saving Wild Tigers, Champions Against Bullying, the Malibu Realtors Fund, the Southern California Bluebird Club and Shanti House L.A., said they believe their money has vanished.

The Pasadena-based Afghan Women’s Mission, which supports schools, clinics and other programs in the war-battered country, said it had $400,000 banked with the Humanities Center. It has told donors on its Web page that its money is probably gone.

“What we’re seeing is much larger than dumb management and bad mistakes,” said Sharon Simone, who runs Headwater Productions, which she said has had a number of projects with the Humanities Center, including a scholarship fund in her late brother’s name.

Before it was pulled down, the center’s website described its operation as a one-stop organization for groups that had neither the time nor expertise to handle accounting, bills and other administrative tasks. By doing business with the Humanities Center, groups were able to designate donors’ gifts as tax-deductible. In exchange, the center, which started in 2003, took a 5% cut of donations in its first years of operation and more recently raised the fee to 10%.

In most cases, if someone wanted to donate money to one of the groups online with a credit card or through PayPal, the transaction was done through the Humanities Center. The groups also submitted their bills to the center for payment; and when they needed money, they would send in forms explaining what it was for.

Jane Levikow, chairwoman of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors, said a group like the Humanities Center would never dip into the funds of its clients for its own purposes.

The center’s website had stated that Sugarman has a master’s degree in research psychology, served as executive director of another fiscal sponsor, was involved in well-known environmental causes such as the Bolsa Chica wetlands restoration and was the author of a book called “The Blueprint for Planetary Evolution.”

In a 2009 interview with OpEdNews.com, one of the groups that used the center to handle its money, Sugarman said it had 300 groups under its auspices, with total revenue of more than $6 million.

Marcia Hanscom, who heads three groups that banked money with the Humanities Center, said she has known Sugarman since the early 1990s, when he was fighting to protect the Dana Point Headlands. “He was really committed to doing good work for people and the planet,” she said.

Her groups had $2,000 in donations at the center, which she assumes is gone.

Directors for several of the groups said they grew worried when Sugarman told directors in an email about an IRS audit. The email didn’t mention that the IRS had filed a $69,570 tax lien against the center.

By mid-2011, some of the groups said, the center was not paying their bills and was not responding to their phone calls and emails. Financial statements, they said, arrived sporadically if at all.

In September, the state Franchise Tax Board suspended the center’s corporate status because it had failed to file the nonprofit equivalent of a tax return, according to state records.

Late last year, Sugarman sent an email to some groups’ directors explaining that the center was running “a considerable deficit.”

“The specific causes of this deficit are many, complex, interrelated, and have been escalating over time. Cumulatively they have resulted in a perfect fiscal storm for IHCenter,” he wrote.

He ended the email: “First and foremost, the bleeding has to stop so the patient can heal. I know that this will cause many hardships, and for that I express deep regret for any harm that results; deeper than you can imagine; deeper than words can convey.”

Six days later, Sharon Simone and Deena Metzger, whose groups were under the Humanities Center umbrella, met with Sugarman. They said he blamed the problems on the economic downturn and an anticipated $15.2-million grant that never materialized.

Shortly thereafter, DelGrosso, the center’s consultant, sent his letter blaming Sugarman for the problems. He also said a former Humanities Center official “made a huge mistake by wasting project funds on a deceptive email scam” but had since left the country.

In an interview with The Times, DelGrosso said the Internet scam cost the center more than $200,000. He said he was interviewed by a deputy attorney general last week.

Sugarman sent out a final email Jan. 16 announcing that the center was shutting down.

“Be assured that all funds were used solely to benefit the [clients’] projects and their support, and to maintain IHCenter and its tax exempt status,” he wrote. “All projects were part of this organization and our responsibility has been to the organization as a whole.”

Rob Kall, the editor of OpEdNews, said he wonders whether the Humanities Center got carried away when the donations for the various groups started coming in.

“I think they became grandiose,” he said. “I feel like I was robbed.”

Read the article on the LA Times’ website here.

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Gareth Porter: Taliban Hijack the US’s Narrative

By GARETH PORTER
Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON – General David Petraeus wrote in his 2006 counter-insurgency manual that the United States command headquarters should establish a “narrative” for the counter-insurgency war – a simple storyline that provides a framework for understanding events, both for the population of the country in question and for international audiences.

But this week’s Taliban attacks on multiple targets in Kabul, including the US Embassy and US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters, are the latest and most spectacular of a long series of operations that have given the insurgents the upper hand in establishing the narrative of the war as perceived by the Afghan population.

Those attacks and other operations that generated headlines in 2010 have been aimed at convincing Afghans that the Taliban can strike any target in the country, because they have their own agents within the Afghan government’s military, police and administrative organs.

In the wake of the latest attacks, the Taliban war narrative achieved a new level of influence when a political opponent of President Hamid Karzai associated with a prominent Pashtun warlord charged that the Taliban could not have pulled off such a sophisticated set of coordinated attacks in the center of the capital without help from within the Afghan security apparatus.

The Taliban have mounted three high-profile attacks in Kabul over the past three months involving suicide bombers and commandos with rocket-propelled grenades.

In late June, six suicide bombers attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, the favorite spot in the capital for Westerners to hold conferences, which left the hotel in darkness for many hours.

And in August, the insurgents carried out a much more complex attack on the British Council, a semi-governmental agency involved in organizing cultural events. The attack involving a suicide bombing at a key intersection in western Kabul followed an attack on the police checkpoint guarding the British Council, and a suicide car bomb that destroyed the wall around the council and allowed the team of suicide attackers to enter the compound.
Attacks on the capital were supposed to have been made impossible by a “ring of steel” around the city. After the Taliban had carried out an attack in downtown Kabul in January 2010, the Afghan police, with funding and advice from the US military, set up a system of 25 security checkpoints around the capital that is guarded by 800 officers of the Kabul City Police Command battalion.

Nevertheless, the insurgents were able to smuggle weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, through the cordon and sustained an all-day attack on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters.

For the first time, a prominent political figure in Kabul has charged that the attackers must indeed have had help from people within the Afghan government’s security apparatus.

Mohammed Naim Hamidzai Lalai, chairman of the parliament’s Internal Security Committee and a political ally of powerful Pashtun warlord Gul Agha Sherzai, charged that the “nature and scale of today’s attack” showed that the Taliban had gotten “assistance and guidance from some security officials within the government who are their sympathizers”, according to the New York Times.

“Otherwise it would be impossible for the planners and masterminds of the attack to stage such a sophisticated and complex attack, in this extremely well-guarded location without the complicity from insiders,” he said.

Central to the Taliban strategy has been a series of assassinations of top Afghan government figures that has demonstrated their ability to place their own agents within the most secure spots in the country.

In mid-April, a Taliban suicide bomber wearing a policeman’s uniform was able to penetrate security outside the Kandahar police headquarters and kill the provincial police chief.

On May 28, a Taliban suicide bomber who had been able to gain access to the governor’s compound in Takhar province detonated his suicide vest in the hallway outside a meeting room and killed the police chief for northern Afghanistan, General Mohammad Daud Daud.

In July, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of President Karzai and the Mafia-style political boss of Kandahar province, was killed by the long-time head of his security detail, Sardar Mohammad. Mohammad had been trusted by US Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency, who had very close ties with Wali Karzai.

But Mahmoud Karzai, another brother of the president, told Julius Cavendish of The Independent of London a few days after the assassination that Mohammad had made a trip to Quetta in Pakistan and had met with the Taliban, and that he had been getting phone calls in the middle of the night. The Karzai family had concluded that Mohammad had been recruited by the Taliban to kill Wali Karzai, according to the brother.

Perhaps the most important element in building the Taliban narrative has been the constant drumbeat of attacks by Afghan soldiers and policemen on US and NATO troops. According to official NATO figures, between March 2009 and June 2011, at least 57 foreign troops, including 32 Americans, were killed in at least 19 such attacks.

United States military and intelligence officials reluctantly concluded that that most, if not all, of the attacks had been the result of recruitment by the Taliban intelligence service of Afghan security personnel to kill US and NATO troops, at obvious risk to themselves.

In June, the US decided to send an unknown number of counter-intelligence agents to tighten procedures for identifying troops who might be more likely to be recruited by the Taliban.

Adding to the Taliban war narrative was the carefully-planned breakout of nearly 500 prisoners from the security wing of Sarposa prison in Kandahar city after a few prisoners spent months digging a 300-meter tunnel. The breakout was possible only with the help of a Taliban underground agent or sympathizer who provided copies of keys to the cells, with which Taliban prisoners involved in the plan could unlock the cells of their fellow prisoners and so they could escape through the tunnel.

Two weeks later, the Taliban carried out a complex attack on key government targets in Kandahar city, including the governor’s office, the Afghan intelligence agency and the police station. The offensive in Kandahar involved seven explosions across the city, six of which were the result of suicide bombers.

The Taliban were able to strike freely in Kandahar despite what Canadian Brigadier-General Daniel Menard had called a “ring of stability” – a security cordon that supposed to keep Taliban fighters from getting into the city.

In February 2010, Menard, who was commander of Task Force Kandahar for the ISAF, had boasted that, with a total of nearly 6,000 US and Canadian troops deployed against Taliban forces in Kandahar province, “I can literally break their back.”

But the Taliban continued to operate freely in the city. As Peter Dmitrov, a former Canadian military officer who was working as a security consultant to non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan, observed last November to The Canadian Press, “The ring hasn’t really shut closed in any way, shape or form.”

The US war strategy has been based at least in part on convincing Afghans that the United States would remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, and that the Taliban would weaken. But the Taliban war narrative that it is able to penetrate the even the tightest security and cannot be defeated appears to have far more credibility with Afghans of all political stripes than the narrative put forward by US strategists.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

(Inter Press Service)

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Malalai Joya, Afghan war critic, gets U.S. visa

San Francisco Chronicle
By Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

A prominent Afghan feminist and war critic was granted a visa to enter the United States on Thursday – by the same State Department office that turned her down last week – and belatedly started on a speaking tour that is scheduled to wind up in San Francisco.

The case of Malalai Joya is the latest of several in which the Obama administration, after at first refusing entry, has allowed a visit by a foreigner who has criticized policies of the United States or its allies.

The administration “does not engage in the practice of ideological exclusion,” the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Koh, said in a letter in December to the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed Joya and others whose visits were challenged. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said the administration has largely kept its promise.

President George W. Bush’s administration “repeatedly used immigration laws as a means of censoring political and academic debate inside the United States,” Jaffer said. “There certainly has been a very positive shift on this set of issues.”

Hollman Morris, a Colombian journalist and critic of his country’s U.S.-backed government, was admitted for an academic program last summer after consular officials initially denied a visa. Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and advocate of an economic boycott of Israel, was granted a visa Friday after a support campaign led by Jewish Voice for Peace in Oakland.

Joya, now 32, was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 2005. In a stormy 2006 meeting, she was suspended, assaulted and threatened with death after describing other members as warlords and criminals. She has also denounced the U.S.-led war in her country.

Joya was approved for four previous visits to the United States and last spoke in the Bay Area in October 2009. Preparing for a three-week U.S. tour to promote her book, “A Woman Among Warlords,” she applied for a visa at a U.S. consular office March 16 and was turned down.

The consular officer told her she was ineligible because she was unemployed and “living underground,” implying that she had no means of support and might not return to her homeland, said Joya’s co-author, Derrick O’Keefe, who spoke with her after the incident. When she tried to explain her situation, he said, she was told that “they knew exactly who she was, and she was not getting in.”

Supporters mounted a protest campaign that included letters from the ACLU, groups of writers and academics, and nine members of Congress, and a mass phone-in to the State Department on Wednesday.

On Thursday, consular officials allowed Joya to reapply without the normal waiting period, then questioned her and approved her, said Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission in Pasadena, which organized her support.

The State Department said Joya’s initial exclusion had nothing to do with her opinions, but did not elaborate. Department spokesman Mark Toner also declined to explain Thursday’s turnabout, saying visa proceedings are confidential.

Joya missed her first two scheduled stops in New York and Washington, D.C., appearing instead by video. She has a talk scheduled at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church at 15th Street and Julian Avenue in San Francisco’s Mission District on April 9, followed by an appearance at an anti-war rally in the city the next day.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

Read original article: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/03/25/BA9G1IIA3P.DTL

This article appeared on page C – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

© 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.

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U.S. Government Embarrassed by Afghan Woman Again

By Shirin Sadeghi
New America Media
Malalai Joya's visa to the US was granted.
Malalai Joya was 26 when she became the youngest woman ever elected as a member of parliament in Afghanistan. Today, she is the country’s most famous woman – a political activist who was just denied a visa for a book tour to the United States because she is “unemployed” and “lives underground,” according to what she was told by the U.S. embassy officer who stamped the denial.

Her supporters in the United States have announced today as a Call-In Day, a grassroots effort to flood Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s telephone with calls demanding that Joya be given the visa for which she has applied.

Having successfully applied for a U.S. visa four times before, this time it is not about Joya, but about the war in Afghanistan.

New nationwide polls show that the majority of the American public is now opposed to the war and many of her supporters think an American book tour by a widely known and highly vocal activist – against not only the war but the U.S. government’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan – is the real reason her visa has been denied.
“She’s a thorn in the side of the American government, the warlords who we support, and the Taliban, who we essentially support by inviting them into the government. At least two of those three sides actively want her dead,” said Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the U.S.-based Afghan Women’s Mission, who has been closely involved in arranging Joya’s U.S. tour.
Even members of Congress have stepped in to denounce the visa denial and what many believe are the bizarre explanations given for it. “It just didn’t make sense to me, the answer they gave as to why she was kept out,” said Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state’s 7th district. “It was as if she was apparently not a substantive person – that she’s hiding out because she’s afraid.”

Representative McDermott drafted a letter, co-signed by Senators Patrick Leahy, Patty Murray, and Bernie Sanders, as well as Representatives Jay Inslee, Keith Ellison, Peter Welch, Betty McCollum, and Bill Pascrell, asking for “full reconsideration” of the visa application, stating that they “were distressed” to hear the reasons presented by the Embassy considering the security challenges, including “five assassination attempts” she has faced because of “her conviction to stand up against warlords and fundamentalists.”
“We said we care what happens to women in Afghanistan and we’ve been saying that we decry what’s going on with the Taliban, and here’s a woman who’s willing to stand up and be counted and suddenly we find that we can’t give her a visa to come to the U.S.,” McDermott said.

According to Kolhatkar, Joya believes the U.S. government is aware of her security situation and the reasons she “lives underground,” based on the discussion Joya had with the officer who denied her request. As for the accusation of being “unemployed,” Joya’s book tour organizers seem to disagree.

“A writer is a job – she’s on a book tour. She has a job,” says Judith Mirkinson, who has been working with the Afghan Women’s Mission as the San Francisco Bay Area organizer of the tour. “[The State Department] has used a lot of different excuses for writers and artists, especially from the Middle East. It’s intellectual censorship.”

Joya’s book tour is actually for the paperback release of her memoir, “A Woman Among Warlords,” published by the Scribner division of Simon and Schuster. The publisher finds the visa denial “distressing” because she was previously permitted to do a book tour for the 2009 release of the hardback, according to Scribner publicity director Brian Delfiglio.
Indeed, the main reason for denying her visa seems to be her position on the war – a position that conflicts with U.S. policies in Afghanistan, and contradicts the idea that the Afghan people, and women in particular, prefer U.S. troops to be in their country. “We’ve seen through the years of the anti-war movement from Vietnam on, what makes the American people against a war is to see that the people of that country don’t actually want U.S. troops there,” Mirkinson says.

“Joya is a real voice with real facts, who says that, ‘We don’t want occupation and we know occupation and militarization make it worse for women, not better.'”
Now that the war in Afghanistan has officially extended into being the longest war in American history, most Americans want an end to the war, and are gravitating toward voices who say as much.

“I think it’s time for us to get out,” Representative McDermott said. “We are not going to win in any kind of decisive way that people think of when they think of winning. We are not going to leave a democracy in place, we are not going to leave civil institutions in place. People keep saying we are doing better – compared to what?”
Kolhatkar and the people who organized Joya’s tour believe that a leading voice from Afghanistan would bolster existing American voices against the war. “The authorities do not want someone like Malalai riling up the masses. To have a leading woman’s activist from Afghanistan say the U.S. war is not helping Afghanistan, could be damaging.”
They also believe the State Department’s denial of Joya’s visa has been damaging – but not to Joya, who has continued her book tour through discussions and gatherings conducted through Skype. “There’s definitely some amount of public embarrassment for the State Department,” Kolhatkar said.

Read the original article.

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Malalai Joya Named by Guardian Newspaper as Top 100 Women

March 8, 2011
By Emine Saner
The Guardian
Malalai JoyaTo watch a 2003 video of Malalai Joya, then in her early 20s, making a speech is to witness phenomenal courage and the power of speaking out. Joya, now 32, was an elected delegate to the Loya Jirga (an assembly to debate the proposed Afghan constitution) when she stood up and publicly criticised the room full of men. “Why would you allow criminals to be present? Warlords responsible for our country’s situation . . . The most anti-women people in the society who brought our country to this state and they intend to do the same again.”

Delegates shouted “prostitute” at her, and the guards were ordered to throw her out. Later, a mob gathered where she was staying, threatening to rape and murder her. This moment sealed her reputation as “the bravest woman in Afghanistan”.

Joya was just four days old when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Her mother took her 10 children first to refugee camps in Iran, then Pakistan; her father stayed to fight. In the camps, Joya learned to read and began to teach other women, including her illiterate mother. A charity called the Organisation of Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities smuggled Joya – then 16 – back to Afghanistan to set up a secret school for girls. “Every time a new girl joined the class, it was a triumph,” she said.

In the aftermath of 9/11, and the American invasion of Afghanistan, the vacuum left by the fall of the Taliban was filled by warlords. Determined to challenge the authority these men had over the country, Joya decided to stand for election, speaking out against these fundamentalist “warlords”, a word few dared say in public. Despite threats from these powerful men, there was also a huge swell of support for Joya, a rare politician, ordinary Afghans felt, who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. She won a landslide victory when she ran for parliament in 2005, the youngest person to be elected, only to be kicked out after she compared the house to a “stable or zoo” in a TV interview.

Joya is married, but doesn’t see her husband often and has not named him publicly for fear that he will be murdered; she has survived several assassination attempts. In an interview with the New Statesman she said: [] in January, : “The US replaced the barbaric Taliban with the brutal Northern Alliance. This act betrayed human rights. The situation for women is as catastrophic today as it was before. In most provinces, women’s lives are hell. Forced marriages, child brides and domestic violence are very common. Self-immolations are at a peak.”

She lives in a series of safe houses run by supporters, travels with bodyguards, wears a burqa and does not attend public meetingsliving in fear for her life. “My parents chose my first name after Malalai of Maiwand,” she said in an interview in 2009 to promote her memoir, Raising My Voice. “She was a young woman who, in 1880, went to the front line of the second Anglo-Afghan war to tend the wounded. When the fighters were close to collapse, she picked up the Afghan flag and led the men into battle herself. She was struck down – but the British suffered a landmark defeat, and, in the end, they were driven out.”

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The Afghan War is Brutal, Expensive, Unpopular, and Ineffective – So Why Are We Spending Billions on It?

Leading Afghan Feminist Wants the U.S. and NATO to Leave Her Nation
March 3, 2011
By Sonali Kolhatkar
Published in Commondreams and Alternet

“The sad truth is that Obama’s war policies have turned out to be even more of a nightmare than I expected.” – Malalai Joya, A Woman Among Warlords

While millions of Americans are experiencing unemployment, wage stagnation, rising tuition, dwindling social services, and poverty at levels not seen since the Great Depression, an unjustifiably large proportion of our taxes are being used to cause death and destruction in Afghanistan. With Afghanistan being the longest war the U.S. has ever officially waged, we should carefully examine the costs of the war – financial and otherwise – and ask ourselves, is it really worth it?

The war costs taxpayers between $500,000 to $1 million per soldier in Afghanistan every year. Since President Obama deployed thousands of more troops than Bush, the escalating war has come with a bloated price tag. So far, we have spent $336 billion on the war, and if Congress approves a request for additional funding, that number will go up to $455.4 billion – nearly half a trillion dollars. According to CostofWar.com, just the $120 billion in additional funding could fund 1.6 million elementary school teachers for a year, 1.9 million firefighters for a year, or $5,550 Pell Grants for 19.3 million students. A single month’s expenses on the Afghanistan war could pay for 46.9 billion meals for the hungry each month. Six months’ worth of Afghanistan war expenses could pay for school supplies for every single child in the world.

In addition to its financial price, the Afghanistan war is costing real human lives. Over the course of the entire war, at least 1,400 U.S. troops have been killed and over 10,000 wounded. The rate of deaths is also increasing, as more than a third of the total troops killed (499) died just during the past year. The price paid by ordinary Afghans is even greater. Not counting so-called insurgents, at least 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 were wounded in just the first 10 months of last year – these are most likely conservative estimates. The rate of Afghan civilian deaths is up 20 percent compared to the year before, directly corresponding to the increased troop levels under President Obama. In fact, over the course of the war, U.S.-led military actions have resulted in more direct civilian deaths (5,791 – 9,060) than “insurgent”-led actions (4,949 – 6,499).

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan has no more legitimacy than Egypt’s embattled Mubarak regime. The 2009 elections in which President Hamid Karzai claimed victory were condemned internationally as fraudulent. Released documents showed that 100% of votes from dozens of polling places in provinces like Kandahar were for Karzai. Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission received thousands of complaints of fraud. Journalists easily purchased voter registration cards on the black market. Despite documentary evidence of criminal activity implicating top government officials and Karzai himself, the U.S. continues to legitimize the central government as the only alternative to the Taliban. There is also little criticism beyond vague assertions of “corruption” of members of the Afghan Parliament. Many Afghan MPs have a history of bloody war crimes, particularly during the post-Soviet era of the early 1990’s when tens of thousands of civilians were maimed, raped, and killed often with U.S.-supplied weapons. Today, those same men, considered the Taliban’s ideological brethren, control private militias, suck up millions of dollars of aid for their private gain, terrorize civilians, and are neck-deep in the drug trade.

It is no wonder then that leading Afghan activist and former Member of Parliament, Malalai Joya, wants the U.S. and NATO out of her country. Having come face-to-face with the brutality of war and the power that U.S.-backed war criminals wield, Joya has been demanding an end to the occupation for years. In her book, A Woman Among Warlords, just out in paperback, Joya explains the situation of ordinary Afghans: “[w]e are caught between two enemies – the Taliban on one side and the U.S./NATO forces and their warlord allies on the other.” She goes on to say that “for our people, Obama is a warmonger, like Bush. He follows the same disastrous policies, only with much more determination and force.”

Joya is the most outspoken Afghan to have been elected to Afghanistan’s Parliament. She is beloved by her people for daring to speak out against U.S.-backed war criminals that dominate the government and is targeted by those very warlords. In fact, Joya has survived at least 4 assassination attempts. She represents a majority of Afghans that want neither a foreign occupation with its fundamentalist lackeys in government nor their enemies the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Despite this, her opinions are rarely reflected in U.S. media.

By most accounts, violence is increasing. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), attacks in Helmand and Kandahar rose by 124% and 20% last year compared to 2009. Furthermore, the violence has now spread to parts of the previously more peaceful North and East, but the U.S. military and its spokespeople continue to cast their failures as successes. For example, in a recent letter to U.S. troops, General David Petraeus said, “Throughout the past year, you and our Afghan partners worked together to halt a downward security spiral in much of the country and to reverse it in some areas of great importance.” He went on to cite specific progress in the Afghan capital Kabul as well as the traditional Taliban strongholds of the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, ignoring the fact that the number of attacks there are increasing. The ANSO, which provides security advice for organizations operating on the ground in Afghanistan, said in its quarterly report, “No matter how authoritative the source of any such claim [of progress], messages of this nature are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion.” As Malalai Joya says in her book, “It is all a lie – dust in the eyes of the world.”

Like Malalai Joya, most Afghans are painfully aware of the war’s spiral into violence and mayhem: a November 2010 survey by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research found that favorable opinions of the U.S. have hit an all-time low of 43% among Afghans. More than twice as many Afghans now blame the U.S. and NATO for violence compared to a year ago. Afghans are also less optimistic about the availability of jobs and economic opportunities, freedom of movement, and the rights of women compared to a year earlier. Americans share the Afghan opinion that the troops should leave. A CNN Opinion Research poll last December found that 63% now oppose the war.

In the last chapter of her book, Joya details her recommendations on how the world can really help Afghans, the first of which is to the end the U.S.-NATO war. She also explains the real humanitarian needs of the Afghan people that the international community could fulfill, and how this would have to go hand-in-hand with disarmament, especially of the warlords that have enjoyed foreign support for so long. Finally, Joya ardently demands all foreign troops to withdraw from her country, making a strong case for how any outbreak of civil war could be minimized through responsible international diplomacy.

According to Joya, “the truth about Afghanistan has been hidden behind a smoke screen of words and images carefully crafted by the United States and its NATO allies and repeated without question by the Western media.” Joya will speak directly to American audiences this spring in a nationwide tour intended to expose the brutality and futility of the war and clear the smoke screen. Her speaking tour comes ahead of a major push by antiwar activists to organize bi-coastal events protesting the Afghanistan war on April 9th and 10th 2011. Starting in mid-March, Joya will begin her tour in New York. From there, she heads to New Jersey, Washington D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington state, and California. Joya’s tour will culminate with her participation in San Francisco’s April 10th Antiwar Demonstration. Details of Malalai Joya’s Spring 2011 tour are online by clicking here.

Joya’s words can help Americans clear the “dust from our eyes” and face the reality that for all our sakes, the Afghanistan war must end sooner rather than later.

Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that supports women’s rights activists in Afghanistan. Sonali is also co-author of “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence.” She is the host and producer of Uprising, a nationally syndicated radio program with the Pacifica Network.

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