Malalai Joya, 34, first gained international attention in 2003 when she spoke out publicly against the domination of warlords. She was at that time serving as an elected delegate to the Loya Jirga that was convened to ratify the Constitution of Afghanistan; in 2005 she became one of 68 women elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, and was the youngest member of the Afghan parliament.
In 2007 she again spoke out against former warlords and war criminals in the Afghan parliament and was thereupon suspended from the parliament. Since then she has survived many assassination attempts. She travels in Afghanistan with armed guards and has worked tirelessly on behalf of Afghan women and to end the occupation of her country.
She has received broad international recognition. In 2010, Time Magazine placed Malalai Joya on their annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and Foreign Policy Magazine in listed her in its annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In March, 2011, The Guardian listed her among "Top 100 women: activists and campaigners." Her most recent book is "Raising My Voice."
I first met Malalai in 2007 in Berlin, after she was invited to speak in the German Parliament (see http://www.zcomm.org/the-war-on-terror-is-a-mockery-by-elsa-rassbach), and we've met again during some of her further visits to Europe. This interview is based on our conversation during her most recent visit to Berlin and subsequent email correspondence between us.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>JOYA: line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance warlords are long-time allies of the West. These groups are criminal, dark-minded, and reactionary to the core. In their lust for power, they are ready to sacrifice national interests of Afghanistan to any foreign power.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>As history shows, the U.S. has relied on criminals, dictators, human rights violators, and reactionary forces in many other countries of the world. Recently in Libya the U.S. and NATO supported fundamentalists who are worse than Qaddafi; in Syria they are supporting Al-Qaeda and other such dirty groups. So it is not surprising that they are once again working with the Taliban and with Hekmatyar and other criminals in my country.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>Karzai and Obama are working on an outline of an agreement for legalizing permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But as long as we have foreign military bases in our country, we have no independence. And when we have no independence, we have nothing, and all talk of democracy, human rights and women's rights is a joke. Afghanistan is the second most corrupt country in the world. And Afghanistan is the worst place to be a woman, according to a recent international study. They are looting our rich mineral deposit mines worth three trillion dollars, and they are raking in money from the drug trade.
For the U.S. government, the wellbeing of the Afghan people has no value at all. The U.S. elites just want relative stability in order to continue the occupation and maintain military bases in Afghanistan without much trouble. If “stability” can be achieved by empowering the worst enemies of Afghan people, they are ready to do this. After all, the U.S. schemes to interfere with and control Afghanistan did not begin with 9/11. They go back for decades.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>The warlords who were put into power in Kabul by the U.S. are extremist fundamentalists. In the 1980s, during the Cold War, they received much financing and support from the ISI (the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan) and from the CIA to fight the Soviets. The warlords were known to be misogynists; for example, one of their leaders was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (founder of Hezb-e Islami), a fanatic who in the early 1970s ordered his followers to throw acid into the faces of Afghan women who refused to wear burkas in Kabul.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>In the 1990s, the CIA provided financing to the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban and encouraged Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support the Taliban in their drive to power; in 1996, the Taliban defeated the warlords and ruled Afghanistan for five years.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>The power of media has been another effective way for the U.S. to mislead Afghans, especially the youth, to say "yes" to the occupation and to the continuing presence of foreign military bases in Afghanistan. Over the past eleven years, the U.S. has promoted media in Afghanistan and has spent large sums of money on propaganda and “soft war.” Almost all the major media outlets in the country are under U.S. control. A large majority of the Afghan people is illiterate, and we have no independent, progressive media to neutralize and counteract the pro-U.S. media.
mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>There are many reports that the U.S. and NATO want to keep a significant "troop presence" in Afghanistan well after 2014. But if all the foreign troops were to leave, would there be civil war in Afghanistan?
There is already a civil war, a dangerous civil war. Whether the foreign troops stay or leave, war is going on. The presence of foreign troops only makes our struggle for justice harder, because the occupiers empower reactionary warlords — and now also empower Taliban, along with killers from the past Russian puppet regime. At least if the foreign troops leave, one of the biggest evils will be gone. Then we will face internal enemies. If the occupation leaves, at least the Taliban will not get more powerful. If the troops honestly leave, the backbone of these terrorists will break. They will become like orphans, because their godfather is the U.S., which was also the godfather of Al Qaida.
We are fed up with the so-called helping hand of the U.S. and NATO that is used to justify occupation. The mother and father of all these tragedies is the occupation itself and the U.S./NATO support of the killers of my people. When the occupation leaves, these fundamentalists will get weak. They have no roots in the heart of the people, and their backbone will break. If the U.S. stops helping terrorists and killers, then they may not be in a position to wage a civil war and destroy Afghanistan like they did in 90’s.
So the first request of the people is: Leave Afghanistan and stop supporting our enemies.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>The situation of women in Afghanistan was used as an excuse for the U.S. and NATO to occupy our country. But it is clear they were not fighting on behalf of women, because they have put into power the reactionary warlords who are sworn enemies of women. If your family were bombed in a wedding party or your daughter raped by Taliban, what would be your reaction? And you want to negotiate with them?
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>In comparison to the dark period of the medieval-minded Taliban, today there is now a Ministry of Women, and 25% of the representatives in the parliament are women. But the female representatives have mainly a symbolic function, and little is done for ordinary women. In the larger cities like Kabul and Herat, women have some jobs and education, but in most of Afghanistan their lives are hell. The media don't write much about the many women who are raped or stoned to death in public. Hundreds of schools have been closed, and even in Kabul women don't have security going to school; in many provinces acid is thrown in their faces. In most places killing a woman is still as easy as killing a bird.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>These warlords are misogynists, just like the Taliban, and they don't want women's rights in Afghanistan; a few token fundamentalist ladies wearing beautiful clothes should not fool people. And many of the women who have positions, who run NGOs, are corrupt and have received money from the occupation; they betray the truth and justify the U.S. occupation and are even ready to negotiate with the Taliban. Through this, the situation of women will become more bloody and more of a disaster.
mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Where do you place your hopes for the future of Afghanistan?
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>The Afghan people are fed up. Fundamentalism and occupation are no longer accepted among the common people because of the brutalities and savagery they have experienced over the past decade. There is more openness, now, to progressive and democratic organizations and ideas. With the passage of time, I hope for the emergence of a powerful justice-loving alternative in Afghanistan. The U.S. is the main obstacle towards the development of such democratic forces.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>When women learn to read and write, many of them become extraordinary activists, and these brave women are running projects and organizations that are really working on behalf of women's and human rights, like RAWA, like OPAWC, like the Social Association of Afghan Justice Seekers, and a few others that I know who are also justice-seekers. And now women are even coming onto the streets and demonstrating, wearing the burka, in resistance against the U.S. and NATO and also against the Islamic fundamentalists. This is a positive example and a source of hope. In the history of Afghanistan, we have never before seen this kind of activism by women.
mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>If you were invited to speak to the U.S. and NATO officials, what would you say?
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Elsa Rassbach is a US journalist and filmmaker based in Berlin, Germany.