from Frontera NorteSur

A caravan aimed at upholding women’s rights and stopping violence against women in Ciudad Juárez and Mexico is headed to the US border. Organized by Women in Black along with other women’s and human rights organizations, the caravan set off from Mexico City on November 10.

Prominent Chihuahua City women’s activist Irma Campos Madrigal spoke to about 100 people gathered in the Mexican capital as the “Exodus for the Life of Women” prepared to embark on its journey.

“The great distance between Mexico City and the old Paso del Norte is shorter than the breadth of impunity,” Campos said, “but never greater than the demand for justice for women murdered in the city in which el Benemérito de las Américas [Mexican liberation hero Benito Juárez], present here today, and the secular Republic, found refuge in during the 19th century.”

The Exodus for the Life of Women promotes a 10-point program which calls for finding missing women and clearing up murders, defending sexual and reproductive rights, advancing gender equality in the political system, demilitarizing the country, and ending military impunity in human rights violations against civilians. Women in Black and its allies are urging local legislatures in the states they pass through to codify femicide as a crime.

On the long road north, the caravan has stopped in several cities to hold public protests and document violence against women.

In the central Mexican city of Queretaro, caravan participants were present in a demonstration demanding justice for Maria Fernanda Loranca Aguilar, a 17-year-old local university student who was found murdered with signs of sexual violence in late October. At the Autonomous University of Queretaro, the caravaneers painted a mural that included the names of Ciudad Juárez femicide victims.

Reached briefly while marching near the border of San Luis Potosí and Aguascalientes, Chihuahua human rights lawyer Luz Castro told Frontera NorteSur the caravan would reach Ciudad Juárez on November 23, two days prior to the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Ciudad Juárez, caravan organizers planned to deliver a big bell constructed from keys collected over the years in memory of femicide victims, Castro said.

In Aguascalientes, the marchers faced down local police reluctant to allow the bell onto a section of the city’s main square, the Plaza Patria. Gathered in the city which was the scene of Mexico’s historic 1917 Constitutional Convention, mothers of murdered and disappeared women recounted their suffering and struggles.

“There is a lot of pain on this road,” said Norma Ledezma, mother of 16-year-old Paloma Angelica Escobar, murdered in Chihuahua City back in March 2003. “It is very tiresome, and our strength is extinguished,” Ledezma said. “Nonetheless, the position of a mother is that I am going to struggle until the end of my life to find the murderers of my daughter.”

Eva Arce, mother of Silvia Arce, who disappeared in Ciudad Juárez in 1998, also delivered a message of persistence and resistance. Arce pledged that the mothers on the caravan will aid all mothers of victims in the states visited by the caravan.

Surrounded by wooden pink crosses assembled on Plaza Patria, other speakers addressed violence against women in Aguascalientes. As if delivering a huge wake-up call to Mexico and the world, the bell lugged by the caravan rang out after each presentation. The event concluded with the singing of “Ni Una Mas,” the anthem of the Mexican anti-femicide movement.

As it nears the borderlands, the caravan retraces the route of a similar event in 2002, when Women in Black and others traveled from Chihuahua City to Ciudad Juárez in protest of the femicide. Now, more than seven years and hundreds of murders later, most crimes remain unpunished and the killing of women in Ciudad Juárez is at an all-time high.

The Exodus for the Life of Women coincides with a flurry of activity around the Mexico femicides on the international front. At a meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, representatives of Mexican human rights groups requested that the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again send an investigator to Ciudad Juárez.

In 2002, the IACHR visited Ciudad Juárez and issued a series of recommendations to the Mexican government.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Parliament is expected to review any progress that has been made since the elected body passed a resolution two years ago calling on governments in Mexico and Central America to protect women from violence and sanction the perpetrators of femicide.

Also in November, all eyes are on Costa Rica, where the Inter-American Court for Human Rights could render a historic decision holding the Mexican state accountable for the slayings of Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez and Claudia Ivette Gonzalez. The three young women were found murdered in a Ciudad Juárez cotton field in 2001.

A recent report from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission claimed that the three levels of the Mexican government [federal, state, municipal] spent tens of millions of dollars from 1993 to April 2009 in response to the women’s homicides. According to the federal agency, the money went for special prosecutors, new institutions and related expenses.

Despite the alphabet soup of agencies brought into the field, women’s homicides have broken all records in Ciudad Juarez this year. Through mid-November, more than 120 women were reported slain in the violence-battered city. Unlike previous years, when gender and domestic violence were clear motives in numerous killings, most of the crimes this year appear to be connected to the ongoing narco-war between rival cartels.

However, gender violence and gangland rivalries could be merging in an increasingly sadistic synergy. In mid-November, for example, two young women said to be in their late teens or early twenties were reportedly tortured and possibly sexually assaulted before being dragged outside of a house in the Senderos de San Isidro neighborhood where a party had been underway and then set on fire. The house in which the party was held was then torched in the fashionable style of warring gangs.

Because of indications of sex-related violence, the case was turned over to the women’s homicide prosecutor. Earlier, in October, the body of a beheaded woman was found on a Ciudad Juárez street. Four execution-style slayings of young women also bloodied Chihuahua City in November.

Differing statistics from Mexico’s National Defense Ministry and the Office of the Federal Attorney General report that somewhere between 3,726 and more than 4,000 women were slain in all of Mexico from December 2006 to October 2009. Domestic violence was blamed for the vast majority of the killings, but there was a clear trend of organized criminal activity as the culprit of crimes.

Some officials even attributed murders to human traffickers who killed victims resisting sexual exploitation. Mexican states registering the highest number of women’s murders were Mexico, Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Tabasco, Veracruz, Chiapas, Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, and Sinaloa, in that order.

Notably, because of smaller overall populations, violence against women was higher than average in the northern border states of Baja California, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas.

In a new book, Ciudad Juárez sociologist Julia Monarrez Fragoso explores the various causes and patterns of gender violence in her city. Among the roots of violence, Monarrez contends, are an industrialization based on existing gender and class discrimination, localized cultures of violence, drug trafficking and organized crime and, above all, the lack of rule of law.

According to Monarrez, “The demands for justice by relatives, by organized groups of women and feminists have not been heard by the State.”

Commenting on the Exodus for the Life of Women, Chihuahua state legislator Victor Quintana wrote that Women in Black is attacking “apathetic attitudes, numbed consciences and normalized perceptions that the murders of women are something ordinary.” The November 2009 caravan, Quintana added, proposes to shake up the nation and refocus its future on “a new reality built by all, women and men, of bountiful rights and of bountiful life.”


This article first appeared Nov. 16 on Frontera NorteSur.

See also:

War on Women in the Borderlands
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, May 2009

The Free-Trade Roots of Mexico’s Narco Crisis
by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, November 2009

From our Daily Report:

UN peacekeepers for northern Mexico?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 17, 2009

Juárez femicide cases go before Inter-American Court of Human Rights
World War 4 Report, April 30, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



An interview with Jeanne Theoharis

by Angola 3 News

Jeanne Theoharis is the author of an April, 2009 article in The Nation, entitled “Guantanamo At Home,” which focuses on the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of US citizen Syed Hashmi in a New York City prison with Guantánamo-like conditions. Theoharis holds the endowed chair in women’s studies and is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

Syed Hashmi’s trial will begin in New York City on December 1. The website FreeFahad.com explains: “Syed Hashmi, known to his family and friends as Fahad, was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1980, the second child of Syed Anwar Hashmi and Arifa Hashmi. Fahad immigrated with his family to America when he was three years old. His father said ‘We knew there would be many opportunities for us here in the United States. We came here to find the American dream.’ The large Hashmi family settled in Flushing, New York and soon developed deep roots throughout the tri-state area. Fahad graduated from Robert F. Wagner High School in 1998 and attended SUNY Stony Brook University. He transferred to Brooklyn College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2003. A devout Muslim, through the years Fahad established a reputation as an activist and advocate. In 2003, Fahad enrolled in London Metropolitan University in England to pursue a master’s degree in international relations, which he received in 2006. On June 6, 2006, Fahad was arrested in London Heathrow airport by British police based on an American indictment charging him with material support of Al Qaida. He was subsequently held in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s most notorious jail.”

Angola 3 News: Can you please give us background on the arrest and prosecution of Syed Hashmi? For example, what are the charges against him? What is their evidence?

Jeanne Theoharis: In June 2006, Hashmi, who is a US citizen, was arrested by the British police at Heathrow Airport (he was about to travel to Pakistan, where he has family) on a warrant issued by the US government. In May 2007, he was extradited to the United States, the first US citizen to be extradited under terrorism laws passed after 9-11. Since then, he has since been held in solitary confinement at Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

The US government alleges that early in 2004, a man by the name of Junaid Babar, also a Pakistani-born US citizen, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. According to the government, Babar stored luggage containing raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks in Hashmi’s apartment and then Babar delivered these materials to the third-ranking member of al-Qaeda in South Waziristan, Pakistan. In addition, Hashmi allegedly allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call other conspirators in terrorist plots.

The government has claimed that Babar’s testimony is the “centerpiece” of its case. Babar, who has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for al-Qaeda, faces up to 70 years in prison. While awaiting sentence, he has agreed to serve as a government witness in terrorism trials in Britain and Canada as well as in Hashmi’s trial. Under a plea agreement reported in the media, Babar will receive a reduced sentence in return for his cooperation.

A3N: What can you tell us about Hashmi as a person, especially your personal experience of knowing him when he was a student of yours?

JH: Fahad was a student of mine at Brooklyn College in 2002. An outspoken Muslim student activist, Fahad wrote his senior seminar paper with me on the treatment of Muslim groups within the United States and the violations of civil rights and liberties that many groups were facing. Needless to say, this feels particularly chilling—and no longer academic—as we have now witnessed his own rights being violated.

A3N: Since his arrest, what have the conditions of his incarceration been?

JH: Under special administrative measures (SAMs) imposed in October 2007 by the former Attorney General [then acting AG Peter Keisler], Hashmi must be held in solitary confinement and may not communicate with anyone inside the prison other than prison officials. Family visits are limited to one person every other week for one and a half hours and cannot involve physical contact. While his correspondence to members of Congress and other government officials is not restricted, he may write only one letter (of no more than three pieces of paper) per week to one family member. He may not communicate, either directly or through his attorneys, with the news media. He may read only designated portions of newspapers—and not until thirty days after their publication—and his access to other reading material is restricted. He may not listen to or watch news-oriented radio stations and television channels. He may not participate in group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring inside and outside his cell—including when he showers or relieves himself—and 23-hour lock-down. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation—when it is given—inside a cage.

As the expert testimony supplied by Hashmi’s attorneys in a pre-trial motion of December 2008 attests, the conditions of Hashmi’s detention may have severe physical and mental consequences and impair his mental state and ability to testify on his own behalf.

While former acting Attorney General Keisler claimed that these measures are necessary because “there is substantial risk that [Hashmi’s] communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons,” Hashmi was held with other prisoners in a British jail for eleven months without incident. The SAMs were renewed by Attorney General [Michael] Mukasey in November 2008 and upheld by Judge Loretta Preska in January 2009, citing Hashmi’s “proclivity for violence.” There has been no change to the SAMs under the Obama administration. They were renewed again by Attorney General [Eric] Holder in early November 2009. Yet, Hashmi is not being charged and has never been charged with committing an actual act of violence.

Currently, according to research by the New York Times in February 2009, there are six people in the United States being held on pre-trial terrorism SAMs; three (including Hashmi) are under the jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York, which has long served as a stepping stone to national political office.

A3N: Looking particularly at the harsh solitary confinement imposed on Hashmi, how is this officially justified? Do you think the stated reason is the actual motivation, or do you think there are other reasons for the solitary confinement and other harsh restrictions?

JH: My colleagues and I have begun to come to the conclusion that the use of prolonged solitary confinement is a tactic to ensure convictions. Such conditions weaken people mentally and the toll of sensory deprivation and isolation simultaneously makes people more eager to take a plea or not able to fully assist their counsel. Most experts agree it is torture. While our public discussions have tended to see torture as a tactic to get information, in cases like Hashmi’s, torture is being used to help secure convictions.

A3N: How are the prison conditions for Hashmi in NYC different from those in Guantánamo?

JH: There are key similarities of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation between Hashmi’s treatment at MCC in lower Manhattan and what we have heard of the conditions at Guantanamo. However, there has been much less attention to these inhumane conditions within the United States.

The focus on prisons like Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Baghram stems, in part, from a larger post-civil rights paradigm that assumes the judicial process is now fair in the United States and relatively incorruptible and thus it was necessary to go outside of the US courts to do the extreme bad things.

Rather, what made Guantánamo possible stemmed from domestic legal practices, many already in place and many others expanded after 9-11, which have continued almost unabated under the Obama administration.

A3N: With Hashmi’s trial beginning on December 1, what are activists currently doing to support him?

JH: Theaters Against War began holding weekly vigils in October to draw attention to the inhumane conditions of confinement and the due process violations Hashmi and others are facing within the federal courts. Artists and actors such as Wallace Shawn, Kathleen Chalfant, Bill Irwin, Jan Maxwell, Betty Shamieh, and Christine Moore have performed at the vigils.

A3N: Any closing thoughts?

JH: Three central Constitutional issues have become clear in the treatment of Hashmi and others within the federal system: the inhumane conditions of confinement, the abridgment of due process rights , and the lack of First Amendment protections.

If these are not addressed, then moving the Guantánamo detainees into the federal system does little to return America to the rule of law, of which we are rightfully proud. I am reminded of that quote by former Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1967, “It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of…those liberties…which [make] the defense of the nation worthwhile.”


This article first appeared Nov. 18 on Angola 3 News.

Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3—the African American activists Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King Wilkerson, who have been held in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary for nearly 30 years. Angola 3 News also spotlights the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.


For more information on the Hashmi case, also visit: Educators for Civil Liberties

“Hell Hole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?”
by Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, March 30, 2009

From our Daily Report:

Second Circuit affirms civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart conviction (for violating SAMs)
World War 4 Report, Nov. 18, 2009

Gitmo detainees to Illinois?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 17, 2009

New Yorker on trial for possession of terrorist rain gear
World War 4 Report, June 4, 2007


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Book Review:

Chronicles of Power and Revolt
by John Gibler
City Lights Books, San Francisco, 2009

Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History
by Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic
PM Press, Oakland, 2008

by Bill Weinberg, WIN Magazine

It is welcome to see two new entries at the bookstore on the Zapatistas and related revolutionary movements in Mexico—issues that have slipped from the U.S. headlines even as nightmarish violence escalates with vertiginous rapidity just across the border. Both these books also have something to add to the long debate about armed struggle and how it relates to unarmed, civil popular movements.

John Gibler's Mexico Unconquered is most useful in its first-hand reportage from across a swath of social struggles. Gilber speaks with peasants in impoverished villages of Guerrero and Michoacán, where residents are terrorized by security forces acting under the rubric of drug enforcement. From the U.S. border, he offers a chilling interview with a pollero who smuggles desperate migrants across the line—proffering a perilous desert journey for an exorbitant price. He portrays a lawless society in which the poor are left with the choices of submitting to hunger and humiliation, heading north—or fighting back.

Gibler visits the Zapatista rebel zones in the jungle canyons of Chiapas, where Maya peasants have for 15 years been constructing their own living model of indigenous autonomy—an armed movement which has managed to survive and maintain its turf through political rather than military means.

Two civil movements Gibler focuses on are those at the village of Atenco in central Mexico, which was brutally occupied by police following protests in 2006, and in the southern state of Oaxaca, which saw a popular uprising against a corrupt governor that same year. The Oaxaca movement included marches and sit-ins, but also "throwing rocks at the riot police [and] burning tires at the barricades."

Gibler's most important contribution is his prison interview with Gloria Arenas—"Colonel Aurora" of the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI). Arenas was arrested in 1999, along with her husband Jacobo Silva Nogales, "Comandante Antonio," charged with leading the guerilla movement in the mountains of Guerrero. She tells how she was politicized in her youth in the Sierra Zongolica of Veracruz, where campesinos faced repression for organizing to defend their lands from rapacious logging operations. The 1998 massacre at Guerrero's El Charco village—where soldiers killed several ERPI militants and civilian sympathizers in a surprise attack on a schoolhouse—is related. And new light is shed on the ERPI's emergence from the more Leninist and doctrinaire Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR).

Arenas cites the Zapatistas' ethic of mandar obedeciendo (command by obeying) as offering a more democratic alternative, in which decision-making power flows up from the base rather then being imposed from above. She also speaks of armed struggle as part of a praxis with civil social movements, resorted to "depending on the circumstances, but not defined by dogma independently of experience." (True to form, the EPR issued orders for Comandante Anotnio's death when he broke away to form the ERPI.)

More theoretical and frankly meandering is Wobblies & Zapatistas, a series of interviews between anarchist scholar Andrej Grubacic and the revered radical historian, conscientious objector and veteran anti-war and civil rights activist Staughton Lynd. The conversation starts out with the Chiapas rebellion and the Industrial Workers of the World—"the Zapatistas of yesteryear," in Lynd's phrase—but makes brief stops with the community organizing efforts of former steelworkers in post-industrial Youngstown, the 1946 general strike in Oakland, the Vietnam-era anti-war movement, and the 1980s revolutionary upsurges of Central America. Lynd ties it all together with his concept of "accompaniment"—basically, throwing one's lot in with the oppressed, sharing the burdens and risks of their struggles.

Grubacic and Lynd are concerned with the potentialities of movements that seek fundamental social change "without taking over the state," drawing from both a Marxist analysis of capitalism's dynamics and an anarchist critique of centralized power. While they are clearly inspired by the Zapatistas, Lynd acknowledges that the Chiapas revolutionaries have fallen short of their ambitions to build a unified movement across Mexico. He also concedes that their intransigent opposition to traditional political parties (even of the left) has been criticized by some Mexican activists and commentators as counter-productive—helping to bring the right to power.

Lynd brings a similarly nuanced analysis to the question of nonviolence, speaking of his personal commitment to the principle and how it developed in the ant-war movement of the 1960s, how he perceives its applicability to many of the struggles discussed—yet without portraying it as an absolute or uniform solution.

Grubacic is from the former Yugoslavia, and inevitably this discussion touches on the question of so-called "humanitarian intervention"—unfortunately occasioning the book's one failure of intellectual honesty. The wording of Grubacic's question is contemptuously dismissive of those who are concerned about Darfur and Tibet, or were concerned about Kosova ten years ago. And Lynd's answer is just as bad, summing up U.S. war aims in the Balkans as "to destroy the last vestiges of public ownership in Serbia," without even mentioning the ethnic cleansing. There may be a case to be made that U.S. war aims were those he depicts, and there is certainly a good case against "humanitarian intervention" as counter-productive hubris. But failure to even acknowledge the atrocities is simply dodging the question. One would hope for words that would encourage solidarity between the Zapatistas and the Bosnians, Kosovars or Tibetans—rather than a glib betrayal of the latter.

Lynd is more honest on the limitations and complexities of nonviolence when he looks into American history. He acknowledges the critical role of the abolitionists—"the strongest nonviolent movement in United States history," at least up to that point. But he also acknowledges that it was the Union army and its merciless war that ultimately destroyed the slave system. "Could slavery have been ended in any other way?" he asks. "Was this humanitarian intervention justified? I do not know the answer."


Bill Weinberg is author of Homage to Chiapas: the New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso 2000) and editor of the online World War 4 Report.

This review first appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of WIN Magazine, journal of the War Resisters League.

See also:

Autonomy Under Siege in the Zapatista Zones
by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, CIP Americas Program/La Jornada
World War 4 Report, February 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingPOWER FROM BELOW 


Eight environmental activists arbitrarily detained in Iran in January and February remain in detention eight months later without clear charges, Human Rights Watch said. The organization called upon Iranian authorities to either immediately release them or charge them with recognizable crimes and produce evidence to justify their continued detention. The detained are all members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. The public prosecutor for Tehran told reporters after the arrests that the detained are accused of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified strategic information. It is unclear what classified information they could potentially collect, as their organization says it only works to conserve and protect Iran's flora and fauna, including the Asiatic cheetah, an endangered species in Iran. Other sources indicated they have been accused of "sowing corruption on earth," a serious charge that carries the risk of execution. (Image via HRW)


by Sonali Kolhatkar, Foreign Policy in Focus

While President Barack Obama reviews his strategy on Afghanistan, a perfect moment to send a strong unified message to end the war is slipping through our fingers. Whether it’s because we seem to have bought into the lies about the goals of this war or because we mistakenly feel that a Democratic president is going to come to the right conclusion on his own, one thing is clear: There’s no debate within the Democratic Party or in the White House about whether to end the war. The only thing being debated is how to continue the war.

Similarly, there’s little debate among progressives about how this is a bad war, and at the very least we need an exit strategy. Paralysis has set in on the particular manner of ending the war: whether to wait for some sort of “peace process,” to pull out troops now versus later, to preserve troop levels until Afghanistan’s women are safe, or some variation of these questions. We’re in a bizarre situation: As Obama waffles on how to continue the war in Afghanistan, progressives are waffling on how to end the war.

Despite some major differences between the Afghan and Iraq wars, U.S. military operations and their consequences in both countries are the same. Similar to Iraq, this war kills civilians and soldiers causing misery on all sides. Similar to Iraq, this war has made women less safe. Similar to Iraq, this occupation has become unpopular on the ground. Similar to Iraq, our actions are leading to greater instability. And similar to Iraq, our tax dollars are being disappeared into a sinkhole of destruction rather than human needs. Yet, unlike Iraq, where progressives were clear right from the start on ending the war, Afghanistan seems to confuse our moral compass.

Our actions in Afghanistan have caused a perfect storm of untold numbers of civilian deaths, fundamentalist resurgence, and women’s oppression. We’re protecting a corrupt government with a puppet president and criminal warlords, and our deadly bombing raids have led to a devastated and rightly bitter population and a stronger Taliban. There’s no promising indication that our military operations can improve the situation, no matter how many troops are added. If ever the Afghanistan war ever had any legitimacy, it’s irreversibly gone.

Enabling Women’s Oppression
One of the original justifications for the war in 2001 that seemed to resonate most with liberal Americans was the liberation of Afghan women from a misogynist regime. This is now being resurrected as the following: If the U.S. forces withdraw, any gains made by Afghan women will be reversed and they’ll be at the mercy of fundamentalist forces. In fact, the fear of abandoning Afghan women seems to have caused the greatest confusion and paralysis in the anti-war movement.

What this logic misses is that the United States chose right from the start to sell out Afghan women to its misogynist fundamentalist allies on the ground. The U.S. armed the Mujahadeen leaders in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation, opening the door to successive fundamentalist governments including the Taliban. In 2001, the United States then armed the same men, now called the Northern Alliance, to fight the Taliban and then welcomed them into the newly formed government as a reward. The American puppet president Hamid Karzai, in concert with a cabinet and parliament of thugs and criminals, passed one misogynist law after another, appointed one fundamentalist zealot after another to the judiciary, and literally enabled the downfall of Afghan women’s rights over eight long years.

Any token gains have been countered by setbacks. For example, while women are considered equal to men in Afghanistan’s constitution, there have been vicious and deadly attacks against women’s rights activists, the legalization of rape within marriage in the Shia community, and a shockingly high rate of women’s imprisonment for so-called honor crimes—all under the watch of the U.S. occupation and the government we are protecting against the Taliban. Add to this the unacceptably high number of innocent women and children killed in U.S. bombing raids, which has also increased the Taliban’s numbers and clout, and it makes the case that for eight years the United States has enabled the oppression of Afghan women and only added to their miseries.

This is why grassroots political and feminist activists [in Afghanistan] have called for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from their country. After eight years of American-enabled oppression, they would rather fight for their liberation without our help. The anti-fundamentalist progressive organization, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), has called for an immediate end to the war. Echoing their call is independent dissident member of Parliament Malalai Joya, who tells her story in her new political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords. The members of RAWA and women like Joya are openly targeted by the U.S.-backed Afghan government for their feminism and political activism. RAWA and Joya have worked on the ground, risking their lives for political change, and echo the vast majority of poor and ordinary Afghan women. It’s they whom we ought to listen to and express solidarity with. If American progressives think they know better than Afghanistan’s brave feminist activists on how liberation can be achieved, we’re just as guilty as the U.S. government for subjecting them to the mercy of women-hating criminals.

No Negotiations with Fundamentalist Criminals
Some on the left have made the case that the Afghanistan war can come to an end through a negotiated peace process where everyone has a seat at the table, including women. But this ensures that only those within the corrupt clique of Afghan politics remain involved in the future of Afghanistan—such as a few female allies of the fundamentalists who are plentiful in the current government.

Joya struggled her way into getting a “seat at the table” through the 2005 elections. For representing her people’s views that war criminals ought to be brought to justice, she has been rewarded with death threats, assassination attempts, and the loss of her electoral title. Asking ordinary women and men to have a seat at a negotiating table with war criminals is akin to asking them to silence themselves or mark their foreheads with a target.

The reason why democratic forces in Afghanistan are completely underground and constantly living in fear of being killed is that time and again the U.S. government has insisted on bringing warlords and even Taliban leaders to the negotiating table. Asking the Obama administration to sponsor a “peace process” between civilian representatives and our warlord allies whose private militias we have armed, is the same as asking for exactly what President George W. Bush did eight years ago in Bonn, Germany, after the fall of the Taliban. That process predictably led to the establishment of today’s corrupt government. In fact, the Obama administration is very likely to patch up the recent failed presidential elections in the same way: by creating a power-sharing deal between two corrupt sides and their proxies and claiming that all sides were represented at the negotiating table.

Given our violent role in Afghanistan over the past three decades, the United States has scant credibility in sponsoring any kind of “peace” process. The most responsible action the U.S. can take is to end its occupation immediately, and clean up its mess.

Let’s Call for an Immediate End to the U.S. Occupation
Those who make the case that withdrawing U.S. troops will unleash another bloody civil war, where Afghan women and men will be at the mercy of the Taliban and warlords, are raising the exact same justification made for the war in 2001: that it’s our moral duty to protect Afghans from fundamentalist violence. This logic ignores the fact that we have nurtured and created the very fundamentalist violence that targets Afghans as explained above. By empowering war criminals and protecting a corrupt government that has forgiven the crimes of all sides including the Taliban, and that even includes some Taliban leaders, all we have done is complicate a war that was on-going. A member of RAWA who goes by the pseudonym Zoya in a U.S. speaking tour last month made it clear that it’s hard to imagine things getting worse if the U.S. does pull out immediately. The damage isn’t being prevented by the United States—it’s being carried out by the United States.

Instead of subjecting Afghans to the three oppressive forces of a stronger Taliban, a corrupt and criminal government, and a deadly foreign occupation, the first thing we Americans can control most directly is to end our occupation immediately. This alone won’t address the Taliban and Northern Alliance. But it will reduce the oppressive forces at work, and potentially reduce the legitimacy of the warlords and the motives driving the Taliban.

How do we undo the damage we have subjected innocent Afghans to? Afghans themselves have the answers to that. Surveys have shown that a majority of Afghans want a complete disarmament of our warlord allies—essentially that the U.S. needs to take back the guns we put into the hands of the Northern Alliance and their private militias. Surveys have also shown that Afghans want war crimes tribunals to hold all the corrupt and criminal fundamentalists accountable in some sort of court, perhaps even the International Criminal Court (U.S. government officials shouldn’t be exempt from this type of accountability either). With weapons, warlords, and U.S. troops gone, real democracy could potentially take root and pro-democracy forces could someday operate freely. Many have also called for a massive Marshall Plan for poverty-stricken Afghanistan, to flood the country with money in the hands of small groups, organizations, and civil society, and eventually to help rebuild the country with a strong, non-drug-based economy. With all the money freed up from military operations that would be fairly feasible.

As for the Taliban, even the U.S. government publicly admits that the Pakistani government’s own agencies have long supported the renegade army as a tool for national and regional stability. With the U.S. troops gone, the Taliban’s raison d’être inside Afghanistan would be greatly weakened. If the United States were to take the lead in regional talks between Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia, and China to address the Pakistani government’s fears of a hostile regime in Afghanistan, it would go a very long way toward undermining the Taliban.

These measures are necessary but may not guarantee stability for Afghanistan. Still, the current occupation only guarantees instability, so at the very least the time for a non-military solution is now. In other words, we can choose to repeat a failed experiment with predictably negative results by extending the war in any number of ways. Or we can implement the complex, constructive measures that could potentially help stabilize Afghanistan, undermine the fundamentalist misogynist criminals, help the Afghan people take back their country, and undermine the conditions for violence.

These are complex demands to make of the Obama administration. But it has taken a complex set of destructive American policies and many years to destroy Afghanistan. It will take a similar amount of time and complexity, as well as trial and error, to help rebuild Afghanistan for ordinary Afghans, and by extension make Americans safer. We can make these demands as secondary points in our call for an end to the war. But the primary demand easily fits on a protest placard: “End the U.S. War in Afghanistan NOW.” Let’s make that call loudly, clearly, and ubiquitously, as soon as possible, so that Obama and Congress can’t ignore us any longer.


Sonali Kolhatkar is co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission and co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. She has worked in solidarity with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) for nearly 10 years.

This article first appeared Nov. 2 on Foreign Policy In Focus.


Defense Committee for Malalai Joya

A Woman Among Warlords
The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice

Simon & Schuster, 2009

See also:

Interview with Abdul Aziz Yaqubi, PeaceWork
World War 4 Report, February 2009

From our Daily Report:

Obama at crossroads on Afghanistan —and anti-war movement?
World War 4 Report, Oct. 10, 2009

Afghanistan: Karzai “legalizes rape”
World War 4 Report, April 2, 2009

Afghanistan: war criminals win amnesty vote
World War 4 Report, Feb. 23, 2007

Afghanistan: woman legislator physically attacked on parliament floor
World War 4 Report, May 9, 2006


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

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