Malalai Joya has been described by the BBC as “the bravest woman in Afghanistan”. A long-term opponent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in her country, Joya first rose to prominence through a heartfelt and controversial speech in 2003 that was an indictment of the powerful positions gifted to Afghan Warlords by the US-led coalition. She was elected to the Afghan parliament in 2005 and continued her campaign against war criminals and fundamentalists there until being suspended in 2007 for criticising fellow MPs. Activists Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein are amongst those who have called for her reinstatement.
In spite of having had four attempts on her life and having to live under constant protection, Joya continues her campaign against the Karzai government, its fundamentalist allies, and its Western backers. I spoke to her during the recent presidential elections, which are still in contention and have been condemned by international observers.
You were thrown out of parliament for attacking the war criminals and religious extremists that make up a large proportion of the current Afghan MPs. How were so many of these people elected and why do more MPs not speak out against them?
The 2005 elections were held with the participation of the most infamous warlords and drug-lords in the county. It was a rigged election under the shadow of the guns, threats and money of these criminals and therefore many of what I call the dirty elements entered the parliament. They are hated amongst the people but because they had power and arms they threatened the people to vote for them.
There is a saying that it is not so much who votes that is important but who counts the votes and all the ballot boxes in Afghanistan were in the criminals’ hands. Crucially, the corrupt extremist candidates were also strongly supported by the US and other countries like Iran and Pakistan and therefore their chances of success were quite high.
So when you ask why more MPs do not speak out against these extremists, it is because the majority of the parliamentarians are fundamentalists and also because some MPs will simply collaborate with such criminals for their own benefit. There are a handful of parliamentarians who are against the extremists but they are afraid of being killed and therefore they do not dare to speak out.
During the initial invasion, the NATO strategy was to deal with the Northern Alliance in order to oust the Taliban. You have since attacked this as being detrimental to the development of genuine democracy in Afghanistan. Do you think it is possible for any government in Afghanistan to oppose both the warlords and the Taliban and still maintain stability?
Of course I believe this strategy has been detrimental to democracy because the Northern Alliance are just another set of terrorists like the Taliban and they share the same mindset. Both are fundamentalists with a heavy criminal past. They are harshly anti-freedom, anti-democratic and anti-women. The Northern Alliance has a long list of crimes to its name, like raping, looting, killing and bombing during their regime in the 1990s. They have been even worse than Taliban in wounding our people.
A stable government without the Taliban is possible only if we have a democratic, secular and independent government that is not beholden to the US or any other foreign power. Unfortunately, since the democratic forces have been trampled and are very weak in Afghanistan, they cannot offer a strong alternative. Stability will only be achieved if our democratic forces join hands with like-minded people around the world to raise a powerful voice and uproot every brand of fundamentalism, whether Northern Alliance or Taliban, and pave the road towards a democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
The new NATO commander in Afghanistan, General McCousins, has said that coalition strategy will now shift its emphasis from attacking insurgents to protecting civilians. How do you think public opinion in Afghanistan will respond to this move?
The Afghan public has lost its trust and interest in such false words. In the first days of the invasion George W. Bush also said that the war would not harm civilians and many high-ranking Afghan and foreign officials have been repeating this over the last eight years. But on the ground we can see that civilians are being killed and injured by foreign troops. Civilians killed by the foreign troops are entering the thousands whereas killings by the Taliban are not even in the hundreds. That is why people believe the US war is against them and not the Taliban, who are stronger than before while the peoples’ sufferings have increased with every passing day. Our people are fed up and such small changes in war tactics will not win the “hearts and minds” of our people.
In your book you call for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. Yet with a resurgent Taliban and an under resourced security force how can you be sure the country will not collapse into civil war?
The country is already in a war and things can’t get any worse. Our people are suffering from war, poverty, unemployment, lack of healthcare facilities, corruption in the state and non-existence of justice, just to name a few of the problems. The foreign troops are fighting the Taliban but as a result of this the civilians suffer greatly. The foreign troops can bomb and raid homes any time they want.
While this is happening the Taliban continue to carry out their attacks, mostly through suicide bombers or roadside bombs and on top of all that, people also suffer at the hands of local warlords who loot, murder and rape with no fear of prosecution. So we have a total of three enemies attacking our people from all sides. The withdrawal of troops simply means the removal of one enemy and this is obviously in the interest of our people.
There is a high probability of the Taliban winning power again should foreign troops withdraw it is true. However, there is another force here that shouldn’t be forgotten which is the democratic people in our country. If the US and other countries like Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia stop backing fundamentalists then democratic forces will be able to defeat these dirty criminals and decide the fate of their country. There is no doubt that this will be a very difficult struggle and will not be achieved in the near future. However, democracy comes with a price and cannot be simply donated. Our people are ready to pay this price and get out of the hell-like situation of our country.
You have cited the current unrest in Iran as an example of how a grass-roots movement for change can emerge without military intervention. How important will the success or failure of the Iranian protests be to the cause of democracy in Afghanistan?
The success or failure of Iranian protests is very important for Afghanistan because our two countries are closely connected. Besides being linguistically and culturally similar, the same fundamentalists rule both nations. If you look at our history, Iran has had, and still has, a long hand in Afghanistan’s affairs. They have always wanted to impose their influence, especially by nourishing Shiite Islam through their lackeys. In the past eight years, Iran has been deeply involved in our government and has many stooges, one of them being Karim Khalili, vice-president of Karzai.
Every voice raised in Iran against their fundamentalist and criminal regime is supported by me, because a victory for democracy there will give an amplified voice to our own people in Afghanistan.
Finally, which, if any, of the presidential candidates in the 2009 elections did you support? Do any of the major players offer any hope of change?
I did not supporting any candidate because everyone knows in Afghanistan that the winner is already been selected by the White House and the election merely gives him legitimacy. We know that the election is just a mockery of democracy.
Considering that the vice presidents of Karzai are the criminals Fahim and Khalili, it is apparent that any elections will be held with corruption in full vigour. The presidential campaigns are run with dollars, guns and threats. Even a change in government would just mean a new puppet replacing the old one. Our people have a famous proverb that it will be the ‘same donkey but with a new saddle’!
Malalai Joya’s autobiography Raising My Voice is out now. The website of the Defense Committee for Malalai Joya is at www.malalaijoya.com
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This post was written by Steven Littlewood