An Angry Woman
By Malalai Joya
11 March, 2010
Interview with the young Afghan deputy thrown out of Parliament for having exposed foreign interference in her country.
Malalai Joya is an angry woman. She's angry about the war being carried out by the international coalition in her country, Afghanistan, angry about the UN bombs that are killing civilians in their villages, angry about calls for reconciliation with the Taliban and the war lords. "Stop the massacres in my country. Withdraw your foreign troops so we can stop Talibanization," is what the young Afghan deputy tells Western public opinion.
Huma: The conference in London, which took place at the end of January, formalized negotiations with the Taliban. What could happen next?
Malalai Joya: Millions of dollars have been promised to the Karzai regime so that insurgents will lay down their arms: at the same time millions of Afghans are dying in poverty. This will lead to the Taliban being rehabilitated, they will take control of the Loya Jirga, the meeting of the elders and the tribal leaders which is to be held soon. Can we really expect to establish democracy with such reactionaries? The Taliban aren't the only fundamentalists. When the USA and their allies overthrew Mullah Omar's regime, they replaced him with the war lords and the Northern Alliance who were led by Massoud. This group resembles the Taliban in its way of thinking. Over the past few years there's been a series of laws and judicial decisions that are scandalous. Under the pretext of national reconciliation, immunity was extended to the war lords and other known war criminals, many of whom sit in Parliament. These war lords are highly placed, they're in the Parliament, in ministries, the judiciary and they are all corrupt. And now the UN itself is crossing off the names of the ex-Taliban leaders from their black list. Is this the way to build the future of a people? Unless you want to persuade them that the Coca-Cola plant inaugurated by Karzai in the suburbs of Kabul, in our impoverished country where water is a precious resource, should serve as an emblem of the benefits of Western progress.
Huma: You were elected to Parliament in 2005. Eighteen months later you were suspended. Why?
Malalai Joya: At the opening ceremony of the parliamentary session I presented "my condolences to the Afghan people." Obviously, that didn't please a good number of deputies, who complained that they were offended. It's the war lords who wanted me out. I reminded that they had sacked Kabul during the 1992-96 civil war and that they were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. I said they should be dragged in front of the international courts. I also denounced the corruption, fed by the millions given by the international community under the guise of rebuilding the country. Very quickly, I couldn't go on. They cut my microphone as soon as I took the floor and I had to scream at the top of my voice to make myself heard over the insults and threats. Some deputies defended me, men and women, but they were few. I was called a communist and an infidel. The worst insults possible in their eyes. In a television interview, I ended up comparing Parliament to a zoo! Worse than stables because there at least the animals serve some purpose.
Huma: What will the reinforcement troops announced by Obama achieve?
Malalai Joya: The aim of the war was never to create democracy and justice nor to uproot the terrorist groups. The war's only purpose has been to perpetuate the occupation, install military bases and safeguard the takeover of a region that has substantial natural resources. Obama is just like Bush, if not worse, because he is escalating the war and bringing it to Pakistan. The American government is maintaining a dangerous situation in order to stay as long as possible in Afghanistan so it can more easily watch over neighboring countries like Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan. If Obama doesn't withdraw his soldiers there will be more bloodshed, more disasters. Look at the UN bombardments. In May 2009 in my own province more than 150 civilians were killed. This massacre allows the world a window onto the horrors being suffered by my people. But does the world really want to look in? I organized a press conference: a villager from Gerani, overcome by grief, came to tell us how he had lost 20 members of his family in the massacre. Mightn't he or other young men like him want to join up with the insurgents even if they are fundamentalists?
Huma: The situation of women under the Taliban regime finally moved international public opinion. What's the situation today?
Malalai Joya: The Afghan Constitution has clauses concerning women's rights. I was one of the many delegates in 2003 at the Loya Jirga who pushed for their inclusion, but the meeting is marked by the strong influence of fundamentalists with whom Karzai and the West cut deals. The base text might very well declare equality between men and women, but the country is ruled by Sharia law. The so-called democracy of the official Constitution is systematically flouted. It's only there as a token to attract international aid, which is then usually embezzled. Today Afghanistan is a country where women - often girls as young as 14 or 15 years - fleeing their conjugal home to escape extreme violence, are considered criminal and are imprisoned. Yes, there's an increase in the number of girls returning to school, but the records don't take into account the girls who have to leave school again, due to threats to their safety and pressure from their families to get married. Suicide has become the ultimate weapon of desperate young women, who are aware that there are alternatives but know that they will never have the right to them.
Huma: And what exactly are these alternatives?
Malalai Joya: All of the troops must leave and the militia of the warlords must be dismantled. Democracy can't be established by an occupying force that does nothing more than spread out and strengthen the Talibanization of my country. And it's my people who suffer. If the US and UN troops who are occupying my country don't voluntarily quit Afghanistan within a reasonable timescale they will find themselves confronted by even stronger resistance from the Afghans. The Western governments deliberately ignore that people are fighting to reconstruct the peace and safety of their country, in ways respectful of the rights of each man and woman. Democratic parties and associations are more often than not fighting in secret. Let's not forget that the Constitution bans the existence of all non-religious parties whose frame of reference does not include the Qur'an. Student protests against the recent bombardments and the rallies of hundreds of women last month at Kabul show the world the true path towards a real democracy in Afghanistan. There are so many faceless heroes and heroines. Their battle is in their towns and villages. Why does no single Western leader recognize the existence of a progressive movement that could emerge and play a role? I'm not losing hope, we need Western public opinion, and, in the course of my travels, I recognize that it's evolving. There have been protests against reinforcements being sent, people no longer believe in a "just war." But pressure needs to mount in order to sway the warmongering governments.
Translated by Kristina Wischenkamper and reviewed by Henry Crapo.