Malalai Joya was one of the first women to be elected to Afghanistan’s parliament. Having denounced her warlord fellow MPs, she was subsequently banned. In the run-up to the 20 August elections, Joya speaks openly to journalist Lucinda Dunn about the Government, the Taliban, the war and the plight of her country’s women.
Lucinda Dunn: You are wearing a badge saying: ‘Troops out of Afghanistan’…
Malalai Joya: This Government, the US and its allies are not being honest with the Afghan people. These troops are the victims of the policies of their Government, and to you democratic people I pay my condolences, on behalf of my people, to those families who have lost their sons.
They say Iraq is a bad war and Afghanistan is a good war. I say war is war. And if we support criminals, the situation will be worse
Seven years ago, the US and its allies occupied Afghanistan in the name of human rights and women’s rights, while at the same time they betrayed these values. They brought into power the Northern Alliance, who made civil war from 1992-6, and have turned the Taliban from mice into wolves.
We are now fighting against two enemies: those internal – the Taliban, many of whom are now in power – and those external, the occupying forces.
Malalai shows images of civilian injuries inflicted by a white phosphorous bomb, apparently dropped in Farah province in May (after Obama took office) by the allies. There were 150 civilian casualties, most of them women and children.
MJ: These pictures are enough to know about the deep tragedy of Afghanistan. In Bagram, they are going to spend $18 million to build another Guantánamo jail. They even cut off the water supply so that the people themselves leave this city. And it makes it easier for them to build a military base there. They will then have easier access to gas and oil in the central Asian republics, and be able to control the Asian powers.
An election under the shadow of the gun, warlordism, drug lordism, awful corruption and occupation, has no legitimacy at all. In Afghanistan we say ‘It’s not who’s voting, it’s who’s counting’
They have also turned Afghanistan in the centre for drug trafficking. There has been a 4500% increase in opium production since 2001, and every year, through this dirty business alone, $500 million goes into the pocket of the Taliban. Ahmad Wali Karzai, President Karzai’s brother, is a famous drug trafficker. And they are paying money to a mafia government to struggle against the planting of opium. Is this possible?
LD: You say the US and its allies are supporting and empowering criminals by inviting them to join the Government?
MJ: With today’s civil war, it is impossible to bring about these [democratic] values through the enemies of these values, to bring peace by war. They say Iraq is a bad war and Afghanistan is a good war. I say war is war. And if we support criminals, the situation will be worse.
Fewer than 2,000 Taliban have been killed, while over 8,000 innocent civilians have died. The US has played a game of Tom and Jerry with the Taliban. These Taliban members have only physically changed their appearance by wearing suits and ties, but they are the same people. Mullah Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, once spokesman for the Taliban, is now studying in Yale. Why is he not in Guantánamo jail? Also Mullah A Rahimi, appointed by Karzai to the Senate, and Abdul Salam Zaeef [former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan]. And they now want Mullah Omar to join the Government, as a moderate? And Gulbuddin Hekmayar, this fascist man, President Bush put a price on his head but Obama is inviting him to join the Government! We should not negotiate with them; they should be tried for war crimes. The US Government created the Taliban; they can also destroy them.
LD: What are your views on the upcoming elections?
MJ: Ridiculous. An election under the shadow of the gun, warlordism, drug lordism, awful corruption and occupation, has no legitimacy at all. In Afghanistan we say ‘It’s not who’s voting, it’s who’s counting’. My people have no hope for this election because the vote and will of my people have no role in it. This not the first time Afghanistan has experienced elections. All the boxes are in the hands of mafia. The Independent Election Committee cannot be trusted. These people are from the Government. If they raise their voice, who will listen, and who guarantees their life? They will have to escape from Afghanistan.
In any case, the next president will be selected behind the doors of the White House. Many people in Afghanistan now say: ‘Same donkey, different saddle’
Organizing the elections is difficult because of security problems. People are without hope, asking themselves why they should risk their lives by voting. The only exception is Dr Ramazan Bashardost, whom I trust. He was Planning Minister under Karzai. When he spoke out against the corrupt NGOs, which he wanted to close, and Karzai refused, he resigned. He is loved by the people, even though he comes from an ethic minority [Hazara], but they are now calling him ‘mad’, just like they did with me. When I met Bashardost, I told him: ‘I am telling you congratulations, and at the same time I am giving you my condolences, because you are not a puppet.’
The other candidates? Abdul Salam Rakhity raped three Chinese women when the Taliban was in power, and Ashraf Ghani was a minister when the Amnesty law was passed. He should have raised his voice. And even Karzai, this shameless puppet man, is running.
Bashardost is a nationalist man. These warlords destroyed our national unity, they want people to fight against each other like in Iraq. They want federalism so they can impose feudalism. It’s a policy of divide and rule.
In any case, the next president will be selected behind the doors of the White House. Karzai, in two weeks, has already spent 85 million Afghani on his election campaign, even though people already know him. Many people in Afghanistan now say: ‘Same donkey, different saddle.’
LD: What, in your experience, is the position of women in parliament?
MJ: The parliamentary elections are different, and I would still like to be in the parliament, even though I said it is like a zoo. Of the 249 seats, 68 are held by women, but many of them belong to fundamentalist parties, or their husbands do, so they vote as they wish them to. One female MP, Dr Fatimi, told me: ‘Malalai, I agree with you that they did civil war, but if I don’t support them my husband will divorce me, and I have children.’ There are very few democratic men and women in parliament.
Women have only a symbolic role, it’s a ‘peace show’ to tell the world that we have women in parliament
Women have only a symbolic role, it’s a ‘peace show’ to tell the world that we have women in parliament. But for us, gender is not important, mentality is important. That’s our problem. They even use my position in parliament as a cover, without saying how I was threatened with rape and Kalashnikovs in the Parliament.
LD: And the situation for women in general?
MJ: The situation for women is getting worse day by day. They want to bring Mullah Omar to power, but he put acid in the faces of girls in Kandahar. Every month, 10 women commit suicide. On 8 March [International Women’s Day] , you women celebrate with happiness and hope, but in Afghanistan at least three women set themselves on fire. Even women who go out with male relatives wearing a burkha don’t feel safe. They get kidnapped and raped. It’s not only the Taliban, it’s those in power who are committing these crimes. For example, 14-year-old Bashira was raped by three men, one of whom is the son of an MP. Not only did they not send him to jail, they changed his age to less than 18 so he is not punished.
Every 28 minutes, a woman dies in childbirth, and they tried to close doors of the clinic I opened for women and children in Farah province. There are women activists, such as RAWA, but they have to work underground, and many are killed. In the 1970s and 80s, women in Afghanistan dropped the veil, had nice clothes and jobs. They played their role. But in these past seven years, we haven’t even gained the limited rights we enjoyed in the 70s and 80s. These days women get kidnapped and raped even wearing a burkha.
Malalai shows a picture of girls leaving school: one of them walks bareheaded with her veil resting on her shoulders. But this does not show the threats they face.
MJ: Many girls are poisoned, kidnapped or have acid thrown in their face if they go to school. Would you dare to send your daughter to school? [The US] occupied Afghanistan in the name of women’s rights, but they don’t want to bring women’s rights to Afghanistan.
The situation for women is getting worse day by day. They want to bring Mullah Omar to power, but he put acid in the faces of girls in Kandahar. Every month, 10 women commit suicide
They have built a large shopping centre in Kabul city centre, but it is too expensive for my people, who don’t even have money to eat, who sell their babies for $10 because they cannot afford to feed them.
But I have hopes. One Afghan woman told me how she went out under her burkha and voted for me, and was happy, even though her husband beat her when he found out.
LD: In the current context, how do you see Afghanistan’s future?
MJ: I’m sure you will agree that no nation can give liberation to another nation. This is the responsibility of our people to bring these values. Why are we risking our lives? Because we believe women’s rights and human rights are not a bunch of flowers another government can hand to us. We must end this tragic drama of war on terror. There are only two options: either compromise or raise your voice. And as history has shown, our people do not accept occupation. We gave a good lesson to the British and the Soviets, and we will do it again.
We must end this tragic drama of war on terror. There are only two options: either compromise or raise your voice
You can’t do diplomacy with a bunch of killers. In any case, US foreign policy has been made by the CIA for 20 to 25 years. Obama only plays a symbolic role. If he wants to do something, his destiny will be like JF Kennedy, but as a democrat we still want him to raise his voice. As we say, ‘the silence of good people is as bad as the action of bad people’. Otherwise it is just a continuation of the Bush policy.
LD: With so much tragedy, are there any signs of hope?
MJ: We are a victim generation, we have seen nothing but violence, rape and bloodshed, but we are struggling, and there is lots of hope. The political knowledge of my people has improved a lot, and we have stronger support and solidarity. But it is a long struggle, it will take 10 to 15 years, and no one guarantees your life. But we must be more fearless, more tireless. No one, no superpower, can hide the truth, it’s like the sun, and no one is able to hide the sun. The light is small, but light is light. With the passage of time, I’m sure we will have a democratic front, and democratic people will raise their voice. More people are doing this since I raised my voice in 2003. I’m sure one day we will have a democratic president, a man or woman, but is better if it is a woman!