Gareth Porter: Taliban Hijack the US’s Narrative

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)

US-Backed Fundamentalists in Afghan War No Different From 9/11 Perpetrators

AWM’s Sonali Kolhatkar Interviews a Member of RAWA

Ten years ago, when the terrorist attacks took place on September 11th, 2001, my colleagues and I in the Afghan Women’s Mission watched in shock and horror as thousands of innocent people lost their lives. We knew right away however, that retaliation would be aimed at Afghanistan and that all Afghans, including the women of the underground organization RAWA who we worked in solidarity with, would become targets of American bombs.

On September 14th, 2001, RAWA issued a statement entitled “The people of Afghanistan have nothing to do with Osama and his accomplices.” In it, they expressed their condolences, and warned that past U.S. policy had led to this day:

RAWA stands with the rest of the world in expressing our sorrow and condemnation for this barbaric act of violence and terror. RAWA had already warned that the United States should not support the most treacherous, most criminal, most anti-democracy and anti-women Islamic fundamentalist parties because after both the Jehadis and the Taliban have committed every possible type of heinous crimes against our people, they would feel no shame in committing such crimes against the American people whom they consider “infidel”. In order to gain and maintain their power, these barbaric criminals are ready to turn easily to any criminal force.

RAWA went on to urge the US against launching a war: “vast and indiscriminate military attacks on a country that has been facing …disasters for more than two decades will not be a matter of pride.”

On October 11th, four days after the bombs began dropping on Afghanistan, RAWA once more urged the US to do the right thing, predicting accurately the outcome of the war: “[t]he continuation of US attacks and the increase in the number of innocent civilian victims not only gives an excuse to the Taliban, but also will cause the empowering of the fundamentalist forces in the region and even in the world.”

A month later, when the Taliban were rapidly pushed out of Kabul, RAWA realized that the US was ready to replace the Taliban with their ideological brethren, the Northern Alliance (NA) warlords. They issued yet another international appeal, warning: “[t]he NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain in power.”

Sadly RAWA’s warnings were ignored and the last ten years have borne out their predictions. The Afghan war continues with no end in sight, and with an increasing empowered Taliban, corrupt central government dominated by members of the Northern Alliance, and ordinary people caught in the crossfire.

On this tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I interviewed a member of RAWA who goes by the name, Reena.

Sonali Kolhatkar: What was your reaction when you first heard about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington ten years ago? Did you have any idea that within a month, the U.S. would begin attacking Afghanistan?

Reena: Well, the first reaction of course, was the whole world was shocked. We were also shocked and of course sad for the innocent people who were killed in the World Trade Center. But what the U.S. then did was a pretty natural reaction for us, as you know with the history of the U.S. we know that invading in other countries is their policy. But, what we were most scared of and what we braced ourselves for was that they would install the old criminals and enemies of the Afghan people, that is the Northern Alliance under a nice cover as a democratic government. This was something we predicted, and we also predicted much worse conditions as compared to those under the Taliban.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Would you say that the same forces, the same ideology that manifested itself in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, is affecting and oppressing women inside Afghanistan?

Reena: Well, yes, in a different way. You see, fundamentalism is global, and it is just under different brands in every place. But, what it does to women, what it does to people, what it does if it comes to power, is the same everywhere. So, fundamentalism under the name of Taliban, fundamentalism under the name of jihadis, or Northern Alliance, or let’s just say under the name of the Iranian government, or some other terrorist group in some other part of the world, does the same thing, if they come to power, if they are empowered the way the U.S. has empowered the warlords.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Many Americans didn’t know the history of U.S. support for fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan as well as for the many Arab fighters that came to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. Here in the United States, Americans were surprised about the consequences on 9/11, but in Afghanistan, it seemed as though most people weren’t surprised.

Reena: Yes, absolutely. You just need to look at the history, and unfortunately, these very important things don’t get mainstream media attention in the U.S. But if you just look at the recent history, you can very clearly see that America’s policy has always been to use the fundamentalists for its own interest, as it did thirty years ago with the Mujahideen, as it presently does with some terrorist groups, as it has always been doing. If you just read a good history book, it’s just plain. They’ve always helped the Mujahideen and the warlords, as long as it was for a bit of trust in overthrowing the Soviets, and then coming to power, and today allowing U.S. to have its bases, and military presence in everything, so it’s good as long as it’s in its interest. They will support anything, including such brutal fundamentalists.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Now, RAWA was for years speaking out through your website internationally and via other means, about the oppression of women by the Taliban. How did you respond when President Bush began, and his wife Laura Bush began using women’s rights as one of the reasons to launch the war in Afghanistan?

Reena: Well, using women’s rights seemed very ridiculous from the very start. We have always said that Bush, that America itself brought back to power, the Northern Alliance warlords. They are never going to be doing something beneficial for women. The conditions of women are worse, as we have seen now. But, it wasn’t ever going to help them. So, you know, it was very ridiculous that Mr. Bush and Laura Bush wanted to help the Afghan women and people. If they did, they wouldn’t have installed these criminals. They wouldn’t have given them so much power. There are many democratic groups in Afghanistan; maybe they could have, you know, negotiated with them, talked to them. From the very start, it seemed like the most ridiculous thing to do to bring such fundamentalists back to power and using women as an excuse to invade a country. But, they were not really helping them with such fundamentalists in power, as proven after ten years of the occupation, and of the rule of these warlords.

Sonali Kolhatkar: So, in the past nearly ten years now under the U.S. and NATO occupation – I know it’s a very big question to ask – how have women’s rights been set back over ten years, specifically regarding the laws that the Afghan Parliament has passed that have been very misogynist, and the way in which the U.S.-backed government’s judicial system has attacked women? Are things today, legally and politically speaking, worse for women than under the Taliban, or are they about just as bad?

Reena: Well, the laws that you just mentioned are not getting enough attention – that is one of the things that affects women badly. But basically in Afghanistan there is no legal system, there is no judiciary. There is nothing to protect women if they’re being abused, or they’re being hurt, or need help. So there is no proper legal system to prosecute people and bring them to justice. If there is a legal system, it is used in the interest of the warlords who are in power. For example, the Parliament is using their power to pass such laws. The judiciary will pass very controversial sentences which according to them are in accordance with Sha’aria law. There is no law, and if there is, it’s in the hands of these warlords who twist and turn them for their own benefit, according to their own misogynist mentality, and use it against women. So there is no protection or justice whatsoever for the bereaved women of Afghanistan.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Ten years after the September 11th attacks happened, there’s still a lot of ignorance about Afghanistan. Even though we have been fighting a war there longer than any other war in U.S. history, there’s still so much ignorance. What do you recommend for Americans to do about the war, and to better educate themselves?

Reena: People should consult RAWA’s website,, well as our news section on that site, for daily updates on Afghanistan and the horrible things that happen to women over there. As for what American people can do, as we’ve always said, I think they should first of all call for the withdrawal of the troops, as the military presence has not helped Afghan people in any way. That has been proven in the past ten years. And, as I said before, there are truly democratic groups in Afghanistan that can actually help the Afghan people. But the U.S. military bases and troops are not required for this. These warlords have to be disarmed, have to be removed from power, and then maybe we can talk about a better Afghanistan and women’s rights.

Reena is a member of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Sonali Kolhatkar is the Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and host of Uprising on KPFK Pacifica Radio.

This interview has been edited for clarity. The audio portion will be broadcast nationally on Sunday September 11th 2011 as part of Pacifica Radio’s 9/11 Anniversary Special. Special thanks to Sana Shuja for transcribing.

Joya Successfully Wraps Up 2011 US Tour – A Reportback

Although initially denied a travel visa from the US government, Malalai Joya, with the help of her supporters, successfully petitioned the United States for a visa and wrapped up a successful book tour in the US in early 2011.

Citing she was “unemployed” and “lives underground,” the US embassy refused to allow Joya into the country. Joya’s supporters responded in full force. On March 23, they staged a national call-in day to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, organized a petition garnering over 3,000 signatures, and executed a nationwide campaign involving Senators and Congressmen. On March 24, the US granted Joya a visa.

Although Joya was forced to miss her events in New York and Washington DC, they were rescheduled to the end of her tour where the public had the opportunity to hear her speak.

On March 25, Joya began her tour at Harvard University’s Memorial Church in Cambridge, MA, speaking alongside world renowned Professor Noam Chomsky.

Due to last minute schedule changes caused by her visa denial, Joya arrived only three hours before the event. Nevertheless, she was able to speak at the event and draw a crowd of over 1,200 people. Watch a video recording of the entire event on YouTube here. Click here here to read a report of the event.

Joya continued her tour at the First Church in Jamaica Plain, MA on March 26. More than 250 people attended, and Joya received a standing ovation at the end of her speech. Read a Boston Globe report about her Massachusetts events here.

The next day, Joya spoke at the University of Vermont in Burlington on March 27 to over 200 people, many of them students. She went on to attend a women’s legislative breakfast, meeting with several state lawmakers from Vermont.

On March 28, Joya spoke at the University of Massachusetts and Smith College in Massachusetts. Crowds for both events totaled over 400 including hundreds of students, and they expressed a very favorable response to Joya’s message.

Joya spoke at the University of New Hampshire on March 29 to a crowd of 250. Her books sold out at the event, and many people signed the Peace Action petitions circulated there.

On March 30, Joya continued her tour at Villanova University and Arch Street Meeting House in Philadelphia, PA. Over 100 people attended her event at Arch Street to hear her speak and participate in a question and answer session.

Joya traveled to Chopin Theater in Chicago, Illinois on March 31 and was met with a packed theater. After the event, she was interviewed by the National Public Radio (NPR).

On April 1, Joya visited Minneapolis, Minnesota to speak at St. Joan of Arc Church. Click here here for additional coverage.

On April 3, Joya continued her book tour at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon where she was well-received. At the end of her speech, the audience gave her a minutes-long standing ovation. Click here here for a report on the event.

On April 4, Joya visited Washington State to speak at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, and Seattle First Baptist Church. The event at Seattle First Baptist Church drew a crowd of 600. Approximately 50 new potential donors and members were identified at the Washington State events. Local Afghans attended the events as well.

Joya spoke at the University of Washington-Tacoma on April 5. She addressed the Afghan people’s struggles amidst the occupation and an increase of civilian casualties under President Obama. Click here here for more details.

On April 6, Joya lectured at the Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Over 400 people attended the event, filling the capacity of the theater it was held in.

Joya continued her book tour in Southern California where Afghan Women’s Mission is based. She began at California State University, Los Angeles at an event attracting more than 400 students, faculty, and members of the public. Afterwards, she spoke at the University of Southern California with more than 300 people in attendance.

The next day on April 8, Joya spoke at UC Santa Barbara and Golden West College. The UC Santa Barbara event was packed with more than 200 people in attendance and some even sitting in the aisles. Joya received a standing ovation at the end of that event followed by a crowded booksigning. At Golden West College, more than 350 people attended, including the President of the college, and she received another standing ovation.

Click here to view AWM’s photo report of all Southern California event.

Joya then took her tour up north to San Francisco, CA from April 9-11. She spoke at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist on April 9 and was accompanied by the music of singer and songwriter Kaylah Marin. On April 10, Joya attended and spoke at an antiwar rally held at Dolores Park. Click here here for video footage. On April 11, Joya spoke at the University of San Francisco.

Another speaking event was held at the St. Mary’s College of Maryland on April 13. Despite rescheduling and short notice, more than 100 people attended the event including many students.

For her last stop, Joya joined playwright and activist Eve Ensler at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York for a dialogue on the experience of Afghan civilians, particularly women, in face of the war and how the US can support their struggles. The audience was very supportive of Joya and gave her several standing ovations throughout the night. While in New York, she also met with members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, participated in a community gathering of various organizations, and had press interviews.

This report was authored by Chan Peter Kim, USC intern for AWM.

Joya’s Southern California Tour – A Photo Report

On April 7-8, 2011, Malalai Joya, renowned Afghan activist, returned to Southern California on the occasion of the release of her book, A Woman Among Warlords, in paperback. Part of her national tour (read report here), Joya’s time in Southern California, where Afghan Women’s Mission is based, was packed with 4 geographically diverse events attended by hundreds of people.

California State University of Los Angeles – April 7, 2011

Joya addresses a crowd of more than 400.

Mostly students and faculty attended the event.

A slide show accompanied Joya’s presentation.

A view of the audience at CSULA in the University Student Union LA Room.

A book and poster signing followed the event.

A supporter hugs Joya.

Special thanks to Students for Social Justice at CSULA and Earth LA for organizing the event.

University of Southern California – April 7, 2011

A large audience gathered at Taper Hall of Humanities, Room 201.

Joya addresses the crowd.

Joya shares an image of one-time Taliban member turned Yale University student, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi.

USC student and AWM intern Chan Peter Kim thanks Joya for attending and offers a token of appreciation from his fellow student organizers and himself.

A book and poster signing follows the event.

Joya signs a copy of her book, A Woman Among Warlords.

Joya interacting with audience members after her presentation.

Joya with USC student and AWM intern Chan Peter Kim.

USC student and AWM intern Alia Delpassand helps Joya with translating questions during the event.

AWM volunteer and photographer Alice Chiu looks on as Joya signs books.

Special thanks to the USC Political Student Assembly for organizing the event.

University of California at Santa Barbara – April 8, 2011

People gather outside the Multicultural Center on the UC Santa Barbara campus where Joya spoke.

Copies of Joya’s book, A Woman Among Warlords, were available for sale.

Janet Afary of UCSB’s Department of Feminist Studies introduced Joya, with Nancy Gallagher of the UCSB History Department in the background. Both co-organized the event.

Joya addresses a packed audience hall.

Hundreds of Santa Barbarans attended the event including many high school students.

Uprising interns Natalie Reyes and Chan Peter Kim staffed the book and poster sales table.

Many audience members stayed for a vigorous question-and-answer session.

Joya shares her accompanying slide show.

Dozens of people wait in line to get their books and posters signed.

Joya chats with members of the audience.

Special thanks to the UCSB Multicultural Center and Mellichamp Fund – Department of Religious Studies for organizing the event.

Golden West College, Huntington Beach – April 8, 2011

Joya addresses hundreds of Orange County residents at Golden West College.

The event was attended by Golden West’s President, Wes Bryan.

Members of the media record the event.

Joya answers questions from the audience.

Audience members gather for a book and poster signing.

Joya signs a copy of her book A Woman Among Warlords.

Joya shakes hands with a supporter.

The team at Afghan Women’s Mission that organized all four events in Southern California, posing with Joya. From left to right: Natalie Reyes, Sonali Kolhatkar (AWM Director), Malalai Joya, Chan Peter Kim, Alia Delpassand, Alice Chiu.

All photographs taken by AWM volunteer, Alice Chiu.

Vote for Malalai Joya – 9th Annual Human Rights Award

Vote for JoyaMalalai Joya, former Afghan MP and author of A Woman Among Warlords, has been nominated for the 9th Annual Global Exchange Human Rights Award, as part of the People’s Choice Contest.

Malalai Joya Visits Southern California April 7-8 2011

Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya, former Afghan parliamentarian and author of A Woman Among Warlords, will be speaking at 4 events in Southern California. Elected to the Afghan parliament in 2006, Joya was the nation’s youngest MP, and known for her outspoken views against the U.S. backed warlords that dominate the government. She has survived 4 assassination attempts, and in 2007, was kicked out of Parliament by the very men she criticized. Women and men across Afghanistan demonstrated for her reinstatement.

Joya is also a staunch critic of the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan. She was initially denied a visa to the U.S. for her Spring 2011 book tour, but after a national campaign to overturn the decision, was finally let into the country to finish her tour.

In 2009 Malalai Joya published her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords (Scribner). Noam Chomsky said of her book, “Malalai Joya leaves us with hope that the tormented people of Afghanistan can take their fate into their own hands if they are released from the grip of foreign powers.”

Malalai Joya will make 4 public appearances in Southern California April 7-8 2011. Special thanks to KPFK our media sponsor. Sonali Kolhatkar, Co-director of Afghan Women’s Mission, and host of KPFK’s Uprising, will introduce Malalai at all the events.

Download a 4×9 postcard of the events. Download an 8.5×11 poster of the event. [WARNING: Files are large].

All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited so come early! Copies of her book will be available for purchase.


When: Thursday April 7, 1:30 – 3 pm
Where: Cal State Los Angeles campus, University Student Union LA room, 5154 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032
Co-Sponsor: Students for Social Justice at CSULA, Earth LA
For more info: email, call 626-676-7884.


When: Thursday April 7 at 7 pm
Where: University of Southern California Campus, Taper Hall of Humanities (THH) Rm 201, 3501 Trousdale Parkway Los Angeles, CA 90089. Click here for a campus map.
Co-Sponsor: Political Student Assembly at USC
For more info: email, call 626-676-7884.


When: Friday April 8 from 12 noon – 2 pm
Where: University of California Santa Barbara, Multicultural Center Lounge. Click here for a map and directions.
Co-Sponsors: Multicultural Center, Mellichamp Fund – Department of Religious Studies at UCSB
For more info: call 805 893 8411.


When: Friday April 8, Doors open 6 pm, event begins 7 pm
Where: Golden West College, Forum I, 15744 Golden West Street, Huntington Beach (Exit at Golden West or Edinger from the 405 Freeway). Click here for a map of the campus. Forum I is in Building 12 in the south end of campus, and the closest parking lot is “D”.
Co-Sponsors: Peace Mind, and Body Club at GWC
For more info: email, call 626-676-7884.

Afghan Women’s Mission is the lead sponsor of all events. KPFK is the Media Sponsor.

Download a poster of all the events here.

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

Read original article:

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

© 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.

U.S. Responds to Broad Public Campaign, Grants Malalai Joya Visa!

For Immediate Release

A U.S. Embassy today granted acclaimed Afghan human rights activist and former MP Malalai Joya, a visa, a little over a week after she was initially turned down. The outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan was informed at her initial visa interview that because she “lived underground” and was “unemployed” she would not be allowed into the U.S. for an extensive speaking tour, even though she had been granted visas 4 times over the past several years. Due to the visa denial, Joya has already missed all her events in New York and Washington DC and is now on her way to Boston to attempt to finish up the rest of her tour.

Afghan Women’s Mission’s Co-Director Sonali Kolhatkar responded to the news saying, “We are ecstatic and gratified that the government finally did the right thing and allowed Malalai Joya into the country so that Americans could hear what she has to say about the reality of the war, and particularly how Afghan women are faring under the occupation.” Kolhatkar added, “It is a testament to the nationwide campaign that was launched by our national coalition of organizations and individuals who worked very hard to put the events together and to bring her to the U.S.”

The co-writer of Ms. Joya’s book, A Woman Among Warlords, Derrick O’Keefe, was optimistic that the visa hold-up would boost audiences for her speaking tour. “This is a victory for free speech, and I’m confident that over the next couple of weeks thousands will welcome Malalai Joya into their communities — Americans need to hear in-person what she has to say about the U.S.-NATO war,” said O’Keefe.

The campaign to pressure authorities to grant Ms. Joya the visa was a multi-pronged one. Within days of her initial visa refusal, organizers in many states lobbied their representatives in Congress to send a letter to the U.S. Embassy urging them to grant her a visa. Washington Congressman Jim McDermott took the lead on signing the letter. Representatives Jay Inslee, Keith Ellison, Peter Welch, Betty McCollum, Bill Pascrell, and Senators John Kerry, Bernie Sanders, and Patty Murray co-signed the letter.

Following that an online petition was set up, which has been signed by over 3000 people to date, including well known activists and intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Eve Ensler, and many others. And, on Wednesday March 23rd, a national call-in day was announced, calling on Americans to flood the State Department with phone calls urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant Joya a visa.

While Ms. Joya was forced to physically miss all her events in New York and Washington DC, she managed to make a presence via live video chat or recorded video talks. She now heads to Boston to pick up the remainder of her tour. From Massachusetts she heads to Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minneapolis, Oregon, Washington, and California. Click here for a full schedule of events.

The nationwide speaking tour coincides with the paperback edition of Malalai Joya’s book, A Woman Among Warlords (Scribner). Copies of her books will available for sale at her speaking events.

Malalai Joya is available for a limited number of interviews during her tour. Contact Sonali Kolhatkar (626-676-7884) or Natalie Reyes (562 319-3046) or email

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Praise for Malalai Joya and A Woman Among Warlords:

‘The youngest and most famous of all the women in the Afghan parliament…a powerful symbol of change’
– Guardian

‘A courageous female MP’
– The Times

‘… one of the few symbols of hope for Afghanistan’s future.’
– New Statesman

‘Quite simply the most passionate and devastating critique of Western intervention in Afghanistan I have ever read.’
– Peace News

‘[Has] spoken her mind as few Afghan women dare to do’
– New York Times

‘Malalai Joya leaves us with hope that the tormented people of Afghanistan can take their fate into their own hands if they are released from the grip of foreign powers.’
– Noam Chomsky

‘Unwavering in her mission to bring true democracy to her country…Women have been known to walk for miles just to touch her. For them, she is their only real hope for a better future’
– Telegraph

‘Joya is a model for women everywhere seeking to make the world more just.’
– Six women Nobel Peace Prize laureates

‘Joya’s pain and bravery are genuine and can be felt on almost every page’
– Christina Lamb, Sunday Times

‘A fascinating account of Afghanistan’s political reality…Malalai Joya has been compared to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi’
– Irish Times

‘Malalai Joya is a staunch defender of human rights and a powerful voice for Afghan women.’
– Human Rights Watch

– John Pilger

– The Independent

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.

ACTION ALERT: March 23 is Natl’ Call-In Day to Demand Malalai Joya Visa

Nearly a week after former Afghan Parliamentarian and acclaimed human rights activist Malalai Joya was denied a U.S. visa, a national network of activists is calling on everyone across the country to demand that the State Department let Ms. Joya in.


On Wednesday March 23, call Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department at 202-647-5291 between 9 am to 5 pm Eastern Standard Time. Press “1” and leave a comment stating that you are outraged at Malalai Joya’s exclusion from the U.S. and that you would like the State Department to immediately grant Ms. Joya an emergency appointment and visa at any U.S. Embassy she has applied.


Joya was due to enter the U.S. on March 19th for three weeks of events spanning over a dozen states to promote the paper-back edition of her book A Woman Among Warlords. She was turned down for her visa application on the basis of “living underground” and being “unemployed.” Afghan activists who criticize their government are routinely forced to live underground due to the risks to their lives, and the vast majority of Afghan women are unemployed. Ms. Joya has come to the U.S. at least 4 times before since 2006. She was listed last November by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world, and this month by the Guardian newspaper as one of the top 100 women activists and campaigners in the world. Joya faces incredible security threats – she has survived at least 4 assassination attempts leading her to live underground.

The reasons for Ms. Joya’s exclusion is most likely politically based – her outspoken opposition to the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan now resonates with a majority of Americans and her 2011 tour would have potentially drawn the biggest audiences yet. The ACLU has called the increased phenomenon of denying visas to international activists and intellectuals, as “ideological exclusion.” On Friday March 19, nine U.S. representatives and Senators including Jim McDermott, John Kerry, and Bernie Sanders, wrote to the U.S. Embassy urging them to reconsider their decision. To date there has been no official response that we know of.

Currently Ms. Joya is at an undisclosed location. American officials have privately responded that she ought to apply at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and that she would likely be granted a visa from there. However, Ms. Joya faces grave risks to her life in Afghanistan and is unable to move freely and openly there – a fact that U.S. authorities seem ignorant of. Additionally when she was forced out of the Afghan parliament by U.S.-backed warlords in 2007, a ban on her travel from Afghanistan was issued, which is still in effect.

The United States should grant Malalai Joya a visa immediately from any U.S. Embassy.

It is an insult to her and all Afghan women that she has been excluded from attending her speaking events in the U.S. and it is a travesty that Americans are denied the right to hear directly from her about the Afghan war.

Click here to find out what else you can do to help Malalai Joya be allowed into the U.S.

Click here for our press release about Malalai Joya’s visa denial.