Defying threats to her life, Malalai Joya singlehandedly fights for Afghanistan

Syed Hamad Ali, GulfNews Weekend Review, July 2, 2010

Malalai Joya: llustration by Ramachandra Babu ©Gulf News

Malalai Joya is an Afghan politician who has publicly railed against the presence of warlords in the country's parliament and is a vociferous critic of the Taliban and the government of President Hamid Karzai. "The warlords and the Taliban — they are cancer for my country," she says.

Her outspoken nature has drawn the ire of her detractors, resulting in threats to her life. "My life in Afghanistan is not quite normal and I keep changing houses," she says.

Joya believes the United States is occupying her country and committing war crimes. "Democracy never comes with occupation," she says.

She brands George W. Bush "criminal" and says Barack Obama should first change his foreign policy if he wants to be any different from his predecessor. "His supporters are losing hope because of his wrong policies." She demands withdrawal of all the troops as soon as possible from Afghanistan. "We don't need this kind of so-called helping hand," she tells Weekend Review. "My people are so fed up they don't expect anything good from them. Just stop the wrongdoing. This is a war crime. They are bombing and killing civilians."

Joya holds Pakistan and the CIA responsible for the rise of the Taliban. "By supporting the warlords, who destroyed our unity, and the Taliban, they [the US] are hindering the growth of national unity in my country," she says.

Describing the Karzai government as a "puppet, corrupt mafia regime", she alleges that the Afghan president has joined hands with dubious elements to stay in power.

Joya has immense faith in the women of Afghanistan, who she says can play a crucial role in the development of the country. "This is the part of the population of my country which I believe has power."

Excerpts from an interview:

 

You have repeatedly called on President Obama to apologise to the Afghan people. Why?

When Barack Obama took office, his first news for my people was more war and conflict. His foreign policy is quite similar to criminal [George W.] Bush, even worse because he sent more troops to Afghanistan. And now, adding a soft tag to the Taliban, these terrorists, [he says] we are ready to negotiate with moderate Talib, when we have no moderate Talib. They are terrorist Talib.

These eight years they supported the Taliban directly and indirectly. Now [President Hamid] Karzai has been calling on Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to join the government but Obama is silent. If he [Obama] is honest to my people, he must first apologise to my people, criticise the wrong policy of the criminal Bush, and at least make powerless the minister of war, this Robert Gates, who was in the Bush administration. And apologise to the democratic nation of America in whose name they are committing these crimes.

After the war crimes they apologise to the Hamid Karzai regime. And Karzai's administration says thank you. That's it!

[It is] the blood of my people, not water, that they shed. It's worth as much as the blood of a Westerner.

My message to democratic people around the world, especially those from the countries with troops in my country, is that democracy never comes by cluster bombs, by white phosphorous. The troops themselves are the victims of the wrong policy of their governments, who send them for a bad cause. They are not children of Obama or Michelle that they will be sad if the soldiers get killed. It is the ordinary Afghans they are killing, not their family. This is just a war crime. They must end it.

Malalai Joya being welcomed in Kabul
Malalai Joya being welcomed in Kabul. 'Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed,' she says

Many still insist on calling Iraq the ‘bad war' and Afghanistan the ‘good war'. How would you respond?

They are wrong politicians who say good war and bad war. There are many similarities between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the main being both these countries have been occupied. My country [has been occupied] under the banner of woman's rights, human rights and democracy — but they betray these values. In Iraq as well, they destroyed a Fascist regime when they made powerless a dictator such as Sad-dam Hussain. But now they have their own puppet regime there. The civilians are the victims. Ditto in my country, where they destroyed the Taliban — terrorist, fascist people — but they got into power a photocopy of the Taliban.

The US occupied Iraq because of oil. They occupied Afghanistan mainly because of the geopolitical location of Afghanistan. When they have their military base in Afghanistan, they can easily control Iran, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, etc. They will have easy access to the gas and oil of Central Asian republics.

The third reason is that they turned Afghanistan into a centre of drugs. Ninety-three per cent of the world's opium is produced from Afghanistan and billions of dollars are received for its distribution. This is not only a so-called war on terror in my country. This is a war of propaganda as well. Look at history of the US since the Second World War. In several countries, they have destroyed democrat regimes and supported dictators instead.

 

What do you make of President Karzai's statement when he said that he might join the Taliban if he continues to be put under foreign pressure and also his accusations about fraud in the elections?

For eight years he [Karzai] has deceived my people and now wants to deceive them again. But he cannot do that because now they understand him very well.

He supported compromise with dirty-minded elements such as Khallili, Fahim, Dostum and Esmail Khan. Hadi Arghandiwali, who is Karzai's minister of economy, is the key person in Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's party. Gulbuddin is not in power but his photocopy is. While Arghandiwali publicly says he belongs to this terrorist party, the US says Gulbuddin is on its blacklist. It makes no sense to my people. Now Karzai is inviting the terrorist Mullah Omar to join the corrupt, puppet regime. Karzai only wants to complete the circle of druglordism, warlordism and terrorism.

 

When Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Professor Noam Chomsky suggested your name as someone who should have been picked instead. What was your reaction when Obama won this prize?

The support of Noam Chomsky, who I respect as an anti-war activist, and many others put extra responsibility on my shoulders. Because when you are involved in a struggle against occupation, against enemies of my people, warlords, the Taliban and their foreign master, their support gives me more courage, determination and hope.

But regarding the award that Obama got, I think it is a question for himself as well — in nine months what did I [Obama] do to receive the Nobel Peace Prize? There are thousands in the world who are risking their lives. They are the real heroes and heroines who do a lot for peace. But nobody even knows their names. In my country, around the world, they are the ones who must be winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. So this [award] is just making fun of peace.

What is going on in Palestine today? He is silent on the wrong policy of the Israeli regime. But he follows on in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and then receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

You have spoken out against some of the NGOs and aid agencies in Afghanistan, calling them NGO-lords, similar to the terms warlords and druglords.

Unfortunately most Afghan and foreign NGOs are corrupt as the system is corrupt. Eighteen parties have been registered but we know what their backgrounds are. They belong to these warlords. And they have beautiful names. Same is the case with NGOs.

My life itself should be an example. Many attempts have been made to assassinate me and I am now receiving more death threats. I have been banned from meeting the media and going abroad. They took my diplomatic passport. I have gone underground and going from one country to another with great difficulty.

Unfortunately the NGOs — and heads of some of the NGOs are women — are getting into a compromise with warlords. For example, they are building schools with cheap material and most of the money goes into their pockets. After a year, if you see the school, you cannot believe it is the same building.

 

In your book you mention how Benazir Bhutto helped in giving rise to the Taliban in the Nineties. Do people in Afghanistan blame her for it?

She herself said that in an interview. Anyway she is not alive anymore and was even talking about secularism before she got killed. I condemn those who killed her. Of course they are terrorists but her policy when she was in power unfortunately supported the Taliban.

My people say Pakistan supported the Taliban and now the Taliban have become a problem for the Pakistanis themselves. Caught between all this, the ordinary people are the victims. Ordinary Pakistani people such as taxi drivers call the madrassas Talib-making factories because that is where they do the brainwashing.

The CIA created the Taliban.

 

You are also critical of another figure, Ahmad Shah Masoud, looked upon almost as a legend in certain quarters in the West. Is he a misunderstood character?

A terrorist of yesterday, he is a hero today. So the terrorist of today will be a hero of tomorrow. Ahmad Shah Masoud was imposed on my people as a hero by the CIA and the French government.

They even compare him with Che Guevara. His first act of treason was he signed a ceasefire with Russia. In Panjshir he killed at least 85 anti-Russia intellectuals. When he was in power from 1992-1996, he was the defence minister of warlords. This point says enough about this so-called hero of Afghanistan.

When you come to Kabul you go to Afshar, populated by the Hazara people. There was a massacre there during the civil war. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was shooting from one side and Ahmad Shah Masoud from the other. My people, caught in between, were the victims. People of Afshar call him the butcher of Afshar.

After 9/11, when Masoud was killed by his brothers in creed, the Taliban, the US tried to present him as a hero. The brothers of Masoud came to power. And this puppet, non-democratic, regime has named a street in Kabul after him.

Still today people do not call the street by Masoud's name because they hate him. A hero is always made by the people, not by a foreign country. Masoud has been imposed on my people.

Whether a person is alive or not, we have this famous saying in Afghanistan, if you want to know a person well, ask who his or her close friends are. As long as Masoud was in power, his close friends were Rabanni, Qanooni, Abdullah Abdullah, Sayyaf, Fahim. You can look up the Human Rights Watch website. These dirty-minded elements were close friends of Masoud. So this is enough to know who Masoud was.

Malalai Joya in a girls' school in Afghanistan
Malalai Joya in a girls' school in Afghanistan. She believes if women are educated and play their role, many positive changes will take place

You grew up being inspired by Palestinian children who throw stones at those who have occupied their country. Do you draw strength from the Palestinians' struggle for the freedom of your own country?

Every day that I spend, I realise the meaning of a sentence which my father told me: Try to be a ‘Palestinian of your own country'. When you compare my country with Palestine, there are many differences, but also similarities. The main similarity is that in both countries, ordinary people are the victims. For example, there the Israeli regime is killing ordinary people by the gun; in my country America plus 40 other countries who have occupied Afghanistan, are bombing and killing people. But the difference is: In Afghanistan, the regime in power is 100 per cent under the control of the US; but in Palestine, Israel is still trying to establish such a regime.

In Palestine, the people are part of a movement against Israel, even with stones, to defend their country. But in my country it is a prolonged struggle. Why? Because Palestine is a country where most people are educated. In my country most people are uneducated, so it takes more time.

 

Given your fierce criticism of President Obama's Afghan policy, have you ever thought about arranging a meeting with Obama in the White House to explain your viewpoint?

If I were to meet Obama in the White House or outside, I will tell him to stop this war crime and end this tragic drama of a war on terror which is a war on innocent civilians. I will tell him to stop the occupation. No nation can donate liberation to another nation. These eight years have been enough for my people to know about the wrong policy of the US government.

I love what Patrick Tyler says. He says there are two superpowers in the world. One is the US government and other is public opinion. I will tell him you are hiding the truth. You are betraying the truth through the mainstream media. But you cannot deceive the people forever. One day world public opinion will stand up [for our cause]. I trust the power of my people and the world. If the truth is told, I am sure they will never sit silent.

Similarly, in the parliament I exposed the warlords. That is why they couldn't tolerate me, they expelled me and even wanted to eliminate me.

 

You are incredibly outspoken. Don't you feel scared?

I don't fear death. I fear political silence against injustice. One day everyone will die. But I hope to be alive. As I always say, I am young, I have lots of energy and want to do a lot for my people — especially for women. If they get education and play their role, a lot of positive changes will take place. I compare my country, every society, to a bird. One wing is the woman, the other is the man. If one wing is injured, it will be impossible for the bird to fly. Same is the case with society.

I always quote Samad Behrangi. He says death can come easily but I should not be the one to seek it. If it is my turn to go, it should not matter. What matters is whether my living or dying has a ramification on the lives of others. This is the only point I am always thinking about. I am sure if something happened to me, my people will not remain silent.

 

During Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan, he said: ‘The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something. You don't quit, the American armed services do not quit. We keep at it, we persevere, and together with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.' What gives you hope in light of Obama's determination to continue this war?

The resistance of my people is a big hope for Afghanistan. We are proud to have a history that we never accept occupation. The British wanted to occupy Afghanistan on three occasions but faced the resistance of my people. Russia, a superpower, wanted to occupy Afghanistan and faced the resistance of my people. Still the US government plays the role that the British did in the past — which was to divide and rule.

In front of every audience, I say no nation can donate liberation to another nation. Regarding Obama's comment, [I can say] as a democratic intellectual of my country, as a freedom-loving fighter, only this sentence is enough. In an interview before he came to power, Obama had said the war in Iraq was bad but the one in Afghanistan was a good war. Someone should ask him what is the difference between these two? He just deceives himself with such comments. He is a pro-war person, unfortunately no different from Bush.

[Because he was black,] some people even compared Obama with Martin Luther King. If King were alive today, he would have said, ‘Don't insult me.' King believed our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.

Blacks already had power in Bush's regime. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are examples. Black and white solve nothing. What matters is their policy. Unfortunately the foreign policy of Obama is quite similar to that of the criminal Bush, even worse. Why? Compare the number civilians killed in the short time that Obama has been power with the figures during Bush's presidentship.

It's a big question for my people. How does Obama recognise which terrorist is moderate and which one is not? Moreover, they have never apologised to my people. By making such comments, Obama is only deceiving himself, and maybe for a while, the people of the world.

He is the first president who in a short time — in one year — has lost lot of support. Do you know this extraordinary man John Pilger? In one of his speeches, he spoke about how Obama as a senator had voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pilger also exposed Obama with many other examples.

 

Syed Hamad Ali is a writer based in London.