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No more occupation

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“Today people are sandwiched between two enemies—the Northern Alliance with the U.S., and the Taliban,” she said.

by Meaghan Kerr, Martlet, The University of Victoria's Independent Newspaper, Nov.1, 2007, Volume 60 No. 13

Joya in Canada Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya headed a rally to end the war in Afghanistan. (Josh Szczepanowski)

“In the name of democracy and peace: dear friends, while Afghans are being marginalized, suppressed and silenced, you give a helping hand to me as a small voice of my suffering people.”

So began a lecture by controversial Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya on Oct. 28 at UVic’s David Lam Auditorium.

Joya spoke as a closure to the Pan-Canadian Day of Action Against War in Afghanistan. The weekend saw major anti-war demonstrations in 21 Canadian cities, and Joya was in both Vancouver and Victoria to speak at events. The 29-year-old critic and activist is traveling across Canada to raise awareness on human rights issues in Afghanistan, particularly women’s rights.

Earlier in the day, protesters met at the B.C. legislature before marching to the Canadian Forces’ recruitment office on Fort Street, with Joya as a special guest. The event was sponsored by Victoria’s Canada Out of Afghanistan coalition, made up of several anti-war groups including BC Labour Against War, the Raging Grannies, and UVic’s Students Against War.

Joya has survived four assassination attempts and now travels wearing a burka and has several bodyguards while in Afghanistan. After repeatedly denouncing other members of government, she was suspended from the Wolesi Jirga (Afghanistan’s national assembly) in May of this year.

Joya’s lecture concentrated on corruption of government, the plight of Afghan women, and criticism of the NATO-led mission. She cited four major opium producers who are also members of Parliament as proof of rampant government corruption, and claimed that over 60 per cent of MPs are criminals through their association with the opium trade.

“There is no question that Afghanistan needs international support,” Joya said, but added frequently, “We want liberation, not occupation.”

She accused NATO of propping up a government for appearance’s sake, while in reality occupying and repressing the country.

“The Northern Alliance [current government] has the same mind as the Taliban,” she said, adding that people are no more free than they were under the Taliban rule of the ‘90s. Joya said farmland takeovers by the wealthy, warlord rule, and kidnappings still occur on a regular basis.

The 2004 Afghan constitution states that “man and woman have equal rights before the law,” however it does not explicitly prohibit forced marriages or the bartering of girls. In the first six months of 2007, 250 women committed suicide, a number Joya says is higher than at any time in Afghan history.

“Today people are sandwiched between two enemies—the Northern Alliance with the U.S., and the Taliban,” she said.

Joya compared the Northern Alliance to Mussolini and Pinochet, using legitimate channels to solidify power. Record numbers of Afghans voted in 2005 show the country wants democracy, she said, but their choice is limited.

“The only hope we have is in democratically-minded people of Afghanistan,” said Joya. “I believe the power of people is as the power of God.”