The inspirational anti-war Afghan MP Malalai Joya was joined on the platform by Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, a serving British soldier who was speaking in public for the first time against the horror caused by the war in Afghanistan.
Malalai Joya really is one of the bravest women in Afghanistan. She told the 300-strong audience at Conway Hall in central London that she’s survived five assassination attempts and is still not safe with personal security guards or by wearing a burkha to cover her identity. Yet she continues to campaign against foreign occupation and fundamentalist warlords, and for women’s rights and education. She believes all NATO troops must leave Afghanistan immediately.
In her first speech to an elected assembly in 2003, she told the new Afghan government that the warlords and criminals present should be prosecuted in the national and international courts. But she had barely started her speech when her microphone was cut off, angry men were raising their fists towards her and she had to be escorted out by a human chain of supporters and UN officials around her. In 2005 she told the assembled parliament that it was “worse than a zoo.” Two years ago she was expelled from parliament altogether.
She told the audience last night of the suffering of Afghans, and in particular women, at the hands of both occupation forces and the warlords who benefit from the occupation. If the war was ever about eradicating opium, 93% of global opium production now comes from Afghanistan, and £500m goes into the pockets of the Taliban every year because of the drug trade. Afghans have lost almost everything, she said, except that they have gained political knowledge. And they are against the occupation.
She holds little hope for the upcoming elections in August. She said the ballot box is controlled by a mafia of warlords and criminals, and that even if the democrats in Afghanistan could put up a candidate, they would inevitably become puppets of the US and NATO, or they wouldn’t survive in office. NATO could not possibly provide a solution because the troops are despised for the carnage they have brought to the country. As Malalai repeated a number of times in the meeting, no nation can liberate another nation, and only the oppressed can rise up against their oppressors. The only solution, she said, was for the anti-war movement internationally to speak out and demonstrate against the war in their own countries, “because our enemies are afraid of international solidarity.” It will be a prolonged and risky struggle, she continued, but the Afghans must liberate themselves.
The other highlight of the meeting was the testimony of a serving British soldier. While Malalai fights against the war in Afghanistan, more and more British troops - who equally risk their lives fighting in Afghanistan - are realising the futility of this project. Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, who fought in Kandahar in 2006, told the audience that he came back ashamed and disillusioned. He said the army and the politicians never explained why they were there or what was going on, only that British troops were helping the Afghan people. When he found that the Afghans were fighting against them, this came as a real shock. He spoke of the discontentment in the ranks, which he described as dangerous, and the need for Britain to withdraw its troops.
Two years ago when Glenton heard he was being posted back to Afghanistan, he decided the only sensible thing to do was to leave the army, even illegally, as he did not believe that Britain was doing anything constructive in Afghanistan. He now faces up to two years in a civilian prison. Stop the War Coalition declared it would support Glenton and any other soldier who faced the courts on account of being against the war.
Andrew Murray, Chair of Stop the War, opened the meeting by reminding us that the Stop the War Coalition was founded in response to the threatened invasion of Afghanistan. Now that the British government has shifted its focus to Afghanistan - discussing the possibility of sending more troops, as the death toll rises past that in Iraq - so the anti-war movement will step up its campaign to mobilise public opinion to demand that all the troops are brought home as soon as possible.
Public opinion in Britain has indeed shifted against the war in Afghanistan. Whatever support the war had initially - for reducing opium production, for the reconstruction taking place, for keeping the Taliban in check, for defending women’s rights and bringing democracy - people are now cutting through the media spin. They know this is an unwinnable war, that there is no reconstruction taking place and that the longer we stay the more death and destruction we cause. As Malalai put it, the war being waged by the British government in Afghanistan not only causes untold suffering for the Afghans, but it takes away from our humanity too.
Stop the War Coalition is calling on all its local groups to organise protests on the streets to mark the 200th British soldier that is killed in Afghanistan. The current death toll stands at 188 and is rising at an average of about one per day. It will also call a major national demonstration in November to mark the anniversary of the invasion in 2001.
Feyzi teaches at SOAS, University of London, and is active in UCU and the anti-war and anti-austerity movements. She is a contributor to The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, and is on the editorial board of Counterfire.
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