Joya hardly grabs headlines in pro-Taliban mainstream Pakistani media despite being household name in Afghanistan

Farooq Sulehria, Viewpoint, 28/05/2010

Malalai Joya

It is hard to say if she is Karzai’s nemesis or Mullah Omar’s since Malalai Joya is as vocal a critic of U.S. occupation (‘sustained through Karzai and blood-thirsty war lords’) as Taliban (‘their violence is no resistance’). Recently she was named one of ‘100 most influential people in the world’ by Time magazine.

But Time allowed author Ayaan Hirsi Ali to make the announcement and distort Joya's message. Hirsi Ali, who wrote the announcement, said "hope in time she comes to see the U.S. and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country."

A furious Joya strongly reacted: "TIME has painted a false picture of me and does not mention anything at all about my struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO, which is disgusting. In fact every one knows that I stand side-by-side with the glorious anti war movements around the world and have proved time and again that I will never compromise with the US And NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots in Afghanistan."

Malalai Joya was also called ‘Afghanistan’s most famous women’, by BBC. However, she hardly grabs headlines in pro-Taliban mainstream Pakistani media even if she is a household name in Afghanistan. Joya shot to fame back in 2003 at the Loya Jirga convened to ratify Afghanistan’s new constitution. Unlike US-sponsored clean-shaven fundamentalists, Joya was not nominated by Karzai but elected by the people of Farah province to represent them at Loya Jirga. She stunned the Loya Jirga and journalists present on the occasion (including Pakistan’s Ahmed Rashid), when she unleashed a three-minute hard-hitting speech exposing the crimes of warlords controlling Loya Jirga. Grey-bearded Sibghatullah Mojadadi, chairing the Loya Jirga, called her an ‘infidel’ and a ‘communist’. Other beards present on the occasion also shouted at her. But before she was silenced by an angry mob of war lords around, she had electrified Afghanistan with her courageous speech. Ahmed Rashid, in his latest book ‘Descent into Chaos’, narrates every detail about Loya Jirga but carefully avoids Joya’s mention. During the course of these three fateful minutes, the course of Joya’s life was also changed. In her native province of Farah, locals wanted her to represent them in elections. It does not merely takes guns and dollars to contest an election in Afghan electoral-battlefields. ‘In Afghanistan, it is not important who is voting. Important thing is: who is counting,’ Joya told Viewpoint. Still counting on thousands of supporters she decided to run for Wolesi Jirga (lower house of national parliament). Danish film maker Eva Mulvad, immortalised Joya’s courageous election campaign and subsequent victory, in her ‘Enemies of Happiness’. At the age of 25, she was the youngest Afghan MP. Even importantly, she proved the bravest MP. On the floor of parliament, she emerged as a strong critic of US occupation, Taliban and Mujahedeen-dominated Karzai government. Hence, at almost every parliamentary session she attended, she had her hair pulled or physically attacked and called names (‘whore’). ‘They even threatened me in the parliament with rape’, she says. But she neither toned down her criticism of war lords (‘they must be tried’) nor US occupation.

To silence Joya’s defiant voice, war lords dominating national parliament, suspended Joy’s membership for three years in 2007. Understandably, she’s been declared the ‘bravest woman in Afghanistan’ and even compared with Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Meet Joya and Habib Jalib comes to mind:

Dartay hain bandooqon walay ek nehatti larki say
Phailay hain himmat kay ujalay ek nehatti larki say
Daray hooway hain maray hooway hain larzeeda larzeeda hain
Mulla, tajir, general jiyalay, ek nehatti larki say
"Aazadi ki baat naa kar, logon say na mil", yeh kehtay hain
Bayhiss, zalim, dil kay kaalay, ek nehatti larki say

Recently, she visited Sweden and in an interview with this scribe, she discusses the situation in her country.

Viewpoint: There is lot of press about proposed NATO operation against Taliban in Kandahar while recently Marjah was successfully secured. How would you evaluate these offensives against Taliban?

Malalai Joya

Joya: First of all, let me say that despite the presence of thousands of US and NATO troops, millions of Afghan people keep lacking security and keep suffering from hunger, poverty and disease. Regarding Marjah and Kandahar, I would say Marjah was not the first operation and Kandahar will not be the last one. The so-called ‘war on terror’ is not just ‘a war on terror’, it is also a war of propaganda. Marjah and Kandahar constitute a part of their propaganda war where they want to show that war against Taliban is going successfully. Before NATO attacked Marjah, Taliban had escaped to other places. But the USA claims to have secured Marjah. Later on, they handed the town over to Afghan police which is extremely corrupt. Afghan people hate Afghan police more than they hate the Taliban. But, also the Taliban will bribe the police and will re-take the town. This keeps on happening. This is a cruel joke. Similarly, let’s not forget that the USA is not in Afghanistan for the sake of fighting the Taliban. She is there because of her strategic interests in the region. If they had been fighting Taliban, they would not have invited Mullah Omar and Gulbadin Hekmatyar for talks. Earlier, Hekmatyar was declared a terrorist by the USA. Recently, the names of five Taliban leaders including Taliban-era foreign minister Mullah Mutwakil, have been removed from UN’s list of terrorists. Now we are told that there are ‘moderate’ Taliban that the USA wants to engage through Karzai’s puppet regime. I wonder who and how one will determine that one is ‘a moderate’ Talib while the other is not. I ask if Mullah Omar is a ‘moderate’. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘moderate’ Taliban. The fact is the US is ready to deal with every dirty minded element in Afghanistan to stay and keep hold on Afghanistan. By the way, they also want to attack Helmand province. In fact , both Great Britain and the USA are trying to outdo each other in Helmand because uranium has been discovered in Helmand province.

Viewpoint: President Obama has announced a withdrawal plan. There are big fears of civil war when foreign troops leave. What you say about these fears?

Joya: Nobody is talking about today’s civil war. There is already a civil war going on in Afghanistan. Right now my people are fighting three enemies. There are warlords backed by the USA, there are Taliban, and there are the foreign troops. The occupation forces are bombing them with cluster bombs. Phosphorus is being used against women and children. Only in 2009, 2400 innocent civilians were killed. In last about eight years, 8000 civilians have been killed while 2000 Taliban were killed. Last year, Germans bombed 200 civilians in Kunduz. The US troops keep bombing and they have bombed even wedding parties. If occupation troops withdraw, at least Afghan people will have one enemy less to fight against. Also, the US presence is not making my people’s fight against warlords and Taliban any easier. In the last eight years, the USA has not merely armed and funded criminal minded warlords who are ruling in collaboration with Karzai but Washington has also directly or indirectly helped sustain the Taliban. For instance, Mullah Rocketi is now member of the parliament. He was a Taliban commander. He is living a decent life in Kabul. Another Talib commander, responsible for massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif back in 1990s, now heads a district administration. Mullah Rehmatullah, who oversaw destruction of Buddha’s statues in Bamiyan, has been co-opted. Karzai has invited Mullah Omar , many times over, to join his government. Similarly, a key person in Hekmatyar’s party Hadi Arghandiwal was aappointed Finance Minister by Karzai. Hekmatyar’s son-in-law is part of Karzai’s regime. Almost two dozen members of his party are members of parliament while Mullah Rehmani, a Talib , was appointed by Karzai himself as Senator. Remember, according to Afghan law, war criminals cannot contest elections but all these Taliban and members of Hekmatyar’s Hizb e Islami have been welcomed in the parliament.

Let me point out here: There is two kind of resistance. One that is in my view not even resistance but is presented as resistance by mainstream media which tries to make something out of nothing. This is the so called resistance of Taliban. Another resistance is coming from ordinary people, democratic forces, women, intellectuals, students. This resistance is result of the political knowledge people have gained in last thirty years of civil war. These forces are weak and need a helping hand.

Viewpoint: India and Pakistan have locked horns in Afghanistan. Iran has been intervening for many years. Even if the USA leaves, do you see peace has any chance when these regional powers are not giving up their role in Afghanistan?

Joya: This is like a chess game. The ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) along with the CIA supported and patronized the Mujahedeen. Now the ISI is supporting the Taliban. India has been supporting the Northern Alliance and is still supporting them and Karzai. Unfortunately, the victims in this India-Pakistan war in Afghanistan are ordinary Afghans. There was a suicide attack on Indian embassy in Kabul. Similarly, early this year Indian officials were attacked in Kabul when there was an attack on the guest house where they were staying and both times Pakistan was blamed. In every attack, ordinary Afghans were killed. Similarly, the fascist Iranian regime is supporting the Taliban, to keep the USA busy in Afghanistan, and also has a puppet in the Karzai regime. For peace in Afghanistan, these countries neighboring Afghanistan must stop their proxy war.

Viewpoint: If Taliban accept the offer to join the government, what impact it will have on Afghan women’s situation?

Joya: The warlords ruling Afghanistan under the leadership of Karzai are a photocopy of Taliban. The only difference is that instead of religion, they use democracy to oppress women. This way, they are also discrediting democracy in peoples’ minds. And if Mullah Omar joins them too, it will be a catastrophe for Afghan women. After September 11, women's situation was a good excuse to occupy Afghanistan. Some symbolic steps were taken. For instance, today there are 60 women MPs in parliament: that is almost 25 percent. There is a Ministry for Women Affairs. Also, in big towns women are going to jobs or higher education. But the security situation remains grim while sexual harassment is a great problem. Hence many women wear this disgusting burka. Meantime, domestic violence is a big issue. More and more women are committing suicide because they think their voice is not heard. The Afghan woman is sandwiched between a misogynist regime and a patriarchal system. If we have a democratic system, at least there is a chance that patriarchy is challenged a little bit. Now if the Taliban join the warlords, there will be more restrictions on women.

Viewpoint: Would you support UN peace troops in the event of withdrawal of US troops?

Joya: In the last eight years, the UN has been very passive. As I said, the names of Taliban on the UN list of terrorists have been removed. Similarly, the UN was involved in the Bonn Conference soon after September 11. The UN has been involved in many other processes in Afghanistan but it never raised a voice against injustice. No doubt, we will need a helping hand. But if this is what UN has been doing, playing a second fiddle to the USA, than we don’t see any UN role.

Australian version of

(Malali Joya’s biography ‘Raising My Voice’ came out recently and has been translated to over a dozen languages. Viewpoint will run a review of her book in couple of weeks. Editor)

Text and photos by Farooq Sulehria.
Farooq Sulehria is working with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen (www.internationalen.se). Before joining Internationalen, he worked for one year,2006-07 at daily The News, Rawalpindi. Also, in Pakistan, he has worked with Lahore-based dailies, The Nation, The Frontier Post and Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from Punjab University, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications in Europe and Australia.

DCMJ: translation of the heading and poem in this article:

Armed men are afraid of an un-armed girl
courage is widespread because of an un-armed girl
religious leader, business tycoon, brave general
are scared, scared to death and shriving because of an un-armed girl
"Don't talk about freedom, don't meet people" they say
Unkind, brutal, hypocrites, to a an un-armed girl