Afghanistan's "most famous woman" has voiced deep scepticism about Operation Moshtarak's aims and its impact on Afghan civilians.
"It is ridiculous," said Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan parliament. "On the one hand they call on Mullah Omar to join the puppet regime. On another hand they launch this attack in which defenceless and poor people will be the prime victims. Like before, they will be killed in the Nato bombings and used as human shields by the Taliban. Helmand's people have suffered for years and thousands of innocent people have been killed so far." Her fears were confirmed when Nato reported yesterday that a rocket that missed its target had killed 12 civilians at a house in Marjah.
Dismissing Allied claims that Nato forces won't abandon Afghan civilians after the surge, she said: "They have launched such offensives a number of times in the past, but each time after clearing the area, they leave it and [the] Taliban retake it. This is just a military manoeuvre and removal of Taliban is not the prime objective."
Ms Joya believes that corruption is endemic, citing uranium deposits and opium as incentives for Nato and Afghan officials to retain a presence in Helmand. Operation Moshtarak is described as an inclusive offensive, depending for its longer-term success on involvement of Afghan forces. But Ms Joya said: "The Afghan police force is the most corrupt institution in Afghanistan. Bribery is common and if you have money, by bribing police from top to bottom you can do almost anything. In many parts of Afghanistan, people hate the police more than the Taliban. In Helmand, for instance, people are afraid of police who commit violence against people and make trouble. The majority of the police force in this province are addicted to opium and cannabis."
The suspended MP was not invited to the recent London Conference that discussed her country's future, but she is pessimistic about its outcome. Politicians regard Joya as a loose cannon: quick to criticise but slow to suggest solutions.
Her uncompromising position has, however, earned her legions of supporters. It has also gained her enemies and, after allegedly insulting her fellow parliamentarians in 2007, she was suspended from operating as an MP.
Reflecting on the London Conference, Joya said: "Ordinary Afghan people say it was like a meeting of vultures coming together to discuss how to deal with the prey which is Afghanistan." Joya sees moves towards any reconciliation with the Taliban – an exclusively male and cruelly anti-female group – as a betrayal.