Malalai Joya: “But I do not fear death. I fear silence in the face of injustice.”

By Blake Sifton, Megaphone, 11/24/2009

Malalai Joya in Kabul

When Malalai Joya’s father took to the mountains of Afghanistan in 1978 to fight the Soviet occupation, she fled with her mother to refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan.

But when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, Joya did the unthinkable—she returned to her country to set up a clandestine school for girls.

In 2005, Joya became the youngest person ever elected to Afghanistan’s parliament. She used her position to publicly denounce the warlordism she says is destroying her country. As a result, she was suspended from parliament in May 2007.

Joya is the author of the new book, A Woman Among Warlords. She epitomizes the educated and empowered Afghan woman Canadian soldiers are supposedly fighting to protect, but she is a vocal opponent of the U.S. and NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

I reached her at a New York hotel where she is registered under a fake name for security.

The Afghan election was seen internationally as fundamentally flawed, how did ordinary Afghans view the election?

Ordinary Afghans don’t have security or even food to eat. They don’t trust the candidates and often they hate them. It’s hard for true Afghan democrats because elections are supposed to be a hallmark of democracy and we want to believe in them. But an election held under occupation and the influence of corruption and warlordism has no legitimacy at all. It is impossible for there to be a democratic election in Afghanistan right now.

What do you think would happen if all NATO soldiers left Afghanistan?

We are stuck between two enemies: the occupation forces killing innocent civilians, as well as the Taliban and warlords. Many people say that if the troops leave Afghanistan then civil war will happen. But we have a civil war now. As long as the U.S. and NATO are here the civil war will continue because they are supporting the government and the warlords. If they end the occupation of my country then we, the true democrats of Afghanistan, will be fighting one enemy instead of two.

Since operations began in 2002, 133 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan. What message do you have for their families?

I am sorry for the Canadian families who have lost their sons in Afghanistan. The soldiers are themselves victims of their government’s policies, just as our civilians are. Their families should raise their voices against the misguided policies of their governments... They must turn their sorrow into strength.

You have spoken out against drug traffickers and the impact of opium on your society. What do you think needs to be done to limit the trade?

After eight years the U.S. and NATO have failed so badly that now Afghanistan exports 93 per cent of the world’s opium. In 2001, the Taliban almost destroyed the opium trade in Afghanistan. The Taliban! These uneducated, ignorant misogynists.

It’s unbelievable that a superpower, along with 40 other countries, cannot stop the opium trade but a medieval organization like the Taliban nearly succeeds. How many poor people do you have on your own streets? Yet the U.S. and Canada sends millions to help warlords and drug dealers in Afghanistan.

Support for corrupt warlords not only effects the people of my country it also allows more and more drugs to make their way onto the streets of Vancouver and destroy your youth as well.

You have already survived four assassination attempts. Are you afraid of being killed for speaking out?

I am a woman and I refuse to stay silent. I document the crimes of the warlords so they want to kill me. My life is always at risk. Even with bodyguards I am not safe in the country NATO occupies under the banner of women’s rights and democracy.

Faced with so many assassination attempts, I have to imagine that one day they will succeed. But I do not fear death. I fear silence in the face of injustice. That is my message to democratic people around the world.