Opium, Rape and the Bravest Woman in Afghanistan

Chris Hedges, the American war correspondent who has authored such books as War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, has a new article entitled "Opium, Rape and the American Way" published on the website of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan).

The warlords we champion in Afghanistan are as venal, as opposed to the rights of women and basic democratic freedoms, and as heavily involved in opium trafficking as the Taliban. The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality.

This is a war fueled by drug money. There are very few good things you can say about the brutal thugs that ran Afghanistan following the Soviet Union's withdrawal in the late 1980s. However, the Taliban of old completely eradicated the crop that, after eight years of US intervention, is now the country's number one export:

Afghanistan's boom in the trade in opium, used to produce heroin, over the past eight years of occupation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Taliban, al-Qaida, local warlords, criminal gangs, kidnappers, private armies, drug traffickers and many of the senior figures in the government of Hamid Karzai. The New York Times reported that the brother of President Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been collecting money from the CIA although he is a major player in the illegal opium business. Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's opium in a trade that is worth some $65 billion, the United Nations estimates. This opium feeds some 15 million addicts worldwide and kills around 100,000 people annually. These fatalities should be added to the rolls of war dead.

In the piece Hedges interviews Malalai Joya, the former Afghani Parliament member who was expelled in 2007 after allegedly insulting a fellow representative during a television interview. She has been widely hailed as "the bravest woman in Afghanistan" and must constantly move from house to house to avoid the numerous death threats made against her.

Long an outspoken critic of warlord rule in the country, in December 2003 she publicly denounced the warlords who serve as the leaders of the nation during the Loya Jirga convened to ratify the constitution of Afghanistan:

In her interview with Chris Hedges, Joya likewise denounces the American occupation and insists that it has only helped prop up the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai (who yesterday was redeclared President after his opponent, the warlord Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the runoff election):

"Afghanistan, after eight years of occupation, has become a world center for drugs," Joya told me. "The drug lords are the only ones with power. How can you expect these people to stop the planting of opium and halt the drug trade? How is it that the Taliban when they were in power destroyed the opium production and a superpower not only cannot destroy the opium production but allows it to increase?

And while all this goes on, those who support the war talk to you about women's rights. We do not have human rights now in most provinces. It is as easy to kill a woman in my country as it is to kill a bird. In some big cities like Kabul, some women have access to jobs and education, but in most of the country the situation for women is hell. Rape, kidnapping and domestic violence are increasing. These fundamentalists during the so-called free elections made a misogynist law against Shia women in Afghanistan. This law has even been signed by Hamid Karzai. All these crimes are happening under the name of democracy."

For more on Afghanistan see my post: Afghanistan's Arrow and the Cycle of Imperial Hubris

More like this

Take a good look at the chart above. This represents the increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan since 2001. The number of soldiers that are presently in country might be a little high on this chart, given that The New York Times estimates 68,000 soldiers currently in Afghanistan.…
The AP reports: Gunmen on a motorbike Monday killed an Afghan women's rights activist who ran an underground school for girls during the Taliban's rule -- the latest victim of increasingly brazen militants targeting government officials and schools. Safia Ama Jan, a provincial director for…
In the recent incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, the cylons were a human creation who turned on their creator. Such a motif is a classic literary form and can be found in Shelley's Frankenstein, Goethe's The Sorcerer's Apprentice and in the 16th century Jewish folktale of the golem. In the…
Bill Moyer's Journal - LBJ's Road to War, Part 2November 20, 2009Part 1 / Part 2It is interesting to note that the suggestion I made earlier about creating "shovel ready" projects in Afghanistan was one of the key approaches that Johnson originally considered but was unable to adopt forty years…

Great column, you are fast becoming one of my favorite reads!

A little film by the name of "American Drug War" comes to mind...
Malalai is fighting a battle with no allies. Who will help her, if her women are too scared (or dead), and the men fight over the Carrot of Power? We fund this regime, they accept it, and she (alone?) fights it. Even the wealthy drug lords will find themselves puppets, eventually. We poison ourselves with the same opium we pay them to distribute. No one wins. Why?! Who does this make sense to? Are we to blame a cabal, or a power-mad chess player with no better game than this, or a "system" with so much inertia that we feel it cannot be stopped? Sick as it sounds, I could almost understand the US doing this as a nominal power play with financial benefits.. except that we have our own problems with opium, heroine, and the inflated healthcare costs that accompany the attrition of addiction. What good are foreign puppets and drug money if it can't solve the problems it creates? You're an anthropologist, what's your guess?

i am not so sure about the 'facts' , first i have the information that the war with ussr was partly financed through drugs, in particular also hashish(unmentioned but substantially so). next i think afghanistan is not 90% of the opium production, but 90% of the production outside the (secret police) controlled pharmaceutical industry's. There is also no connection whatsoever in the article between the supposed rape and the drugstrade.. so it seems somewhat biased if you beg my pardon. Onedimensional views are dangerous for the afghans, when warlords involve in drugstrade it is pragmatical, where it is the money to get (for arms i.e.). i have not much bases for that, but my guess is drugstrading groups tend to be among the more tolerant, because that is everywhere, but also because to grant the individual a right to make quick and plentyfull money in a restrictive (capitalist elitist) society is a tolerant trait. It is also on a very different note necessary to study the islamic developments of recent decades in a modern light, i missed that a lot and i think we are mostly due self for the alienation. The radical groups in afhanistan prior to the invasion were much more engaged in (at least, but it is sth.) discussion about the position of women then for example our own society's or the one of karzai, they were not as stupid not to recognise it for a cultural reaction on a changing world. Karzai is usia's own invention, maybe a more horrible guy then i would think, but someone that could be trusted to stay relatively close to western interests, in that sense it is typical that where he has no answer to the militarisation of his nation, he also finds hard to deal with women('s rights) when there is a need for an answer. ofcourse he tries to control at least some of the drugstrade. when you look at eg. iraq, you can now see great poverty, and after such invasions any source of income is rare. The money must be relevant for the situation of afghanistan as a whole, and thus also for the developing of a better position for women. (eg. under (former) usian favourite karzai) indeed a nice and brave woman there.

@ENT-TT: I think it's a problem imperialists of all stripes have had to face. Short term expediency versus long term success. The US knows that heroin is a problem. But the drug cartels are intentionally overlooked in the country because they're on "our side" (and this drug money is likely helping to fund the Afghan army). There's a belief that, once a stable government is in place, then the drug issue can be dealt with. But I think the fallacy in reasoning is believing that a stable government can be set up without addressing the structure that's being put in place.

Just look at the number of people applauding Joya in that video. Afghanistan is ready for democracy. But the United States wants the government to be organized a specific way. Like Britain in India or France in Algeria, the US is trying to impose a specific kind of institution onto a different culture.

Karzai, like "Mr Ten percent" who is Pakistan's president, or like our own beloved president Gloria Arroyo, is corrupt.

But what is the alternative?

It's nice to criticize the "occupation" for the violence, but when the Taliban were in charge, a woman like her would be dead...women had no schools...and there were millions of Afghan refugees who have since returned home.

People in the US like to point out similarities with Viet Nam, but miss the point: The choice was not between a good government (without US presence) and a corrupt one.

The choice is between a corrupt government versus genocide, ethnic cleansing, and a couple million refugees languishing in camps.