Ann Jones has spent much of the past nine years in Afghanistan working as a journalist, photographer and humanitarian aid worker. She has focused largely on the impact the war has had on the women of Afghanistan. Her new book is War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has unveiled a seventy-member peace council that the Afghan government and the Obama administration hope will broach talks with the Taliban. But human rights groups have criticized Karzai for including former warlords, suspected drug traffickers, and Taliban fighters on the commission. Rachel Reid of Human Rights Watch said, quote, “Many of these men are unlikely peacemakers. There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption.”
McClatchy Newspapers reports members of the so-called peace council include Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, who’s been implicated in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Another peace council member is Maulvi Qalamuddin, a former Taliban deputy minister who oversaw the closure of girls’ schools and the flogging of women who failed to cover themselves in a burqa.
AMY GOODMAN: Human rights groups have also questioned why more Afghan women have not been named to the council. Of the seventy members, just six are women.
Our first guest today, Ann Jones, has spent much of the past nine years in Afghanistan working as a journalist, photographer and humanitarian aid worker. She’s focused largely on the impact the war has had on the women of Afghanistan. In 2006, Ann Jones wrote the book Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. Her new book is called War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict. It’s just been published.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Ann Jones.
ANN JONES: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Ann, first start by talking about what you last saw in Afghanistan when you were there — you’re embedded in Afghan communities, you’re embedded in the US troops — and this latest news of the so-called peace council that President Karzai has established.
ANN JONES: Well, I think it’s typical of what has happened, from the beginning, in the exclusion of women. Women have fought very valiantly to be included in peace processes, and they have gone repeatedly to Karzai. And he has made promises over and over again, but he’s always reneged on his promises to include them in various councils. He has been instrumental in implementing legislation that really deprives women of rights that they are guaranteed under the constitution. And to have six women on this council is just another, you know, finger poke in the eye. It’s a complete incident of tokenism. And to have someone like Sayyaf on the council, who, as head of the Wolesi Jurga, the lower house of the Parliament, is one of the chief intimidators of women, is a complete insult to women.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the things that you’ve mentioned in some of your writings, you said in one article, “Our government complains that the Karzai administration is corrupt, but the greater problem — never mentioned — is that it is fundamentalist. The cabinet, courts and Parliament are all largely controlled by men who differ from the Taliban chiefly in their choice of turbans.”
ANN JONES: Yes, that’s exactly right. And, of course, these are the men that the United States put in power at the Bonn conference. They were our allies all through that proxy war against the Soviets. Our thinking in those old days was that any devout religious people must be good allies in the fight against what we used to call “godless communism.” So we allied ourselves with completely the wrong people, and we’ve stuck with them all the way through. And we installed them as the government that we now support. And it partly — I think it largely explains the bind that we’re in now, because we’re supporting a government that actually stands in opposition to many of the principles we pretend to be supporting.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what is the impact of this at the village or town level among — on the Afghan people, in the coverage that you’ve done over the last few years?
ANN JONES: Well, in fact, change has not reached most of the villages, and the Karzai government does not extend much outside the capital. So, what is felt in outlying areas is more the impact of the presence of foreign troops in many parts of the country. And as you know, thousands upon thousands have been displaced and are living as internal refugees.
AMY GOODMAN: Your experience embedded in the troops in Afghanistan, what it was like?
ANN JONES: I was embedded in the — in Kunar province on the Pakistan border, the area in which so much trouble is occurring today and in the last few days. And at that time, probably the most important thing I learned from the commander was that he was not fighting a war of counterinsurgency, as we say we are doing. He was fighting conventional war, because he was being hit by a surprising force coming over from Pakistan. He had served on that border six years ago and never expected to face the kind of opposition he was facing last summer. He had lost many men in the first weeks that he was there. Meanwhile, all the public policy and press attention was on the south, on Kandahar, where the US was organizing for this great push. And the east was totally neglected. And as we see now, that’s where this problem is growing.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in your new book, War Is Not Over When It’s Over, what do you mean in terms of the title and what you attempted to tell in terms of various wars that the United States has been involved in?
ANN JONES: What I’m trying to suggest is that war is not what we think it is, when we hear all these reports about soldiers and generals and strategies. War includes the whole population. War is fought on civilian ground. And in all modern wars, civilians are the primary casualties of war, much more so than soldiers. And we ignore that completely.
Also, war is a guy thing. Men fight with each other. Then they sit down at the table, negotiate some kind of power sharing agreement, and go on jockeying for that power relationship as they rule the country. But all the while, they go on raping, murdering, displacing women and children, so that when men end war and say, “Now we have peace,” war is not over for women. The war against women goes on, to such an extent that today, if you look at the demographics, we are short 60 million women in this world who have been killed and lost in war.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us examples in the different places you have covered.
ANN JONES: Well, for example, the Congo, which is very much in the news now, where mass rape has been used as a technique of war for years now, for a decade or more. And thousands of women are raped over and over again, gang raped, not merely to persecute the women, but to disrupt families, to disrupt villages, to displace whole populations, so that the men who are running the war have free access to the natural resources, the stuff that goes into our cell phones and computers, and that pays for their wars. So women pay the highest price in that war.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about one woman that became the front page of Time magazine in August, Bibi Aisha, the young Afghan woman who was pictured, her face mutilated, with the headline “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.” You’ve been particularly critical of that story and how the media have manipulated it. Could you talk about that?
ANN JONES: I was very concerned about the exploitation of that personal family tragedy in order to make a case for keeping American troops in Afghanistan and continuing this war, in which so many Afghans have suffered. Bibi Aisha’s case was not uncommon. Her particular mutilation has been her nose and ears being cut off. There are four cases of it reported this year by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This, after Americans have been protecting Afghan women for eight or nine years in Afghanistan. This happens to be the way some Pashtun families treat women in order to keep them in servitude to the family. We are not going to change that by the presence of troops, and we’re not going to stop it by the presence of troops.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us her story, though, and how you feel it was misrepresented, in being on the cover, Time's case for why the US is there?
ANN JONES: Mm-hmm. Bibi Aisha ran away from her parents-in-law's house. Her husband was absent elsewhere in doing some kind of work or looking for work. She was treated as a servant and physically abused all the time. She ran away. Her father-in-law caught up with her and did this mutilation. The Time story amplifies that, saying it was done under orders by Taliban commanders and so on. That is not the story I heard from Bibi Aisha when I talked with her. But —
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you spoke to her before this Time story had ever come out.
ANN JONES: I spoke to her several weeks before, and other journalists have spoken to her, as well, and have reported the mutilation, but not this supposed instruction of the Taliban to do this. So I think the story changed in some way. How that happened, I don’t know. This young woman was deeply traumatized, and we know that people in that circumstance have selective memory or repressed memory, and maybe it changed later. I don’t know. But my quarrel is with the news media that took that personal tragedy and used it for this political manipulation. And even the story in that issue of Time about what’s going on in Afghanistan today was much more nuanced and was warning against the possibility of women being sold out in negotiations with the Taliban. That is a very real concern that we need to be addressing, and that was completely ignored in the attention paid to this particular horrifying photo.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ann Jones. She has a new book; it’s called War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War. Can you talk about your camera project, giving cameras to women to document war and the effects of it on their lives?
ANN JONES: Yes. Working with the International Rescue Committee, we gave digital cameras to women and asked them to photograph the blessings and the problems in their lives. It was really a project to encourage them to begin to articulate their own situation and speak up in their own villages and communities on behalf of their own interests. And the women were amazing. They did fantastic work. They spoke up very loudly in their own interests.
And what they gave us, really, was blueprints for peace. What they addressed were the problems of getting safe water, getting safe access to their fields to work, getting education for their children, getting healthcare, getting places for community members to meet. In other words, the women are concerned about the future of their families and their communities living a peaceful life. And this, it seemed to me, was such important support for what the UN has been saying for a decade now, that you will not get durable peace anywhere in the world in the aftermath of conflict unless women are involved every step of the way. And that’s exactly what we are not seeing in Afghanistan today.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you’ve been going back and forth now since 2002 to Afghanistan, so you’ve seen the war when it was George Bush’s war and now when it is Barack Obama’s war. Have you seen any difference in the way the war is being carried out on the ground?
ANN JONES: Well, now American troops are much more involved, of course, because, as we know, George Bush neglected the Afghan war, busying himself elsewhere. So, American troops are much more in evidence now, much more active, causing far more civilian casualties. And since the Obama surge, if we can call it that, the civilian casualties have gone up about 25 percent. Six thousand were killed last year. The number is likely to be higher now. Thousands more have been displaced, so that I think the civilian population is suffering perhaps even more now than they did during the Bush years. And certainly more and more Afghans outside the capital are saying that conditions are worse for them now than they were before. Within the capital, there is still an island of relative security, although it’s really a fortified city now, so that many within the city are still arguing for the presence of American troops to protect them. But I think when you go outside the city, you get a very different story.
AMY GOODMAN: Ann Jones, we want to thank you very much for being with us, writer and photographer. Her new book is called War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War.