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“End this disgusting war”: an interview with Malalai Joya

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Joya emerged on the international stage as a fierce anti-war figure and fighter for women's rights

Liz Walsh, Socialist Alternative, November 19, 2010

Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya speaking in the Afghan parliament

For nine long years the United States and its allies have been tearing apart Afghanistan. And still their occupation grinds on. Few Afghan voices have emerged in condemnation of this barbarous war as forcefully as Malalai Joya’s.

Joya emerged on the international stage as a fierce anti-war figure and fighter for women’s rights when she was elected in 2003 to the Loya Jirga, which was convened to ratify Afghanistan’s constitution. It was here that she used her maiden speech to launch a blistering attack on the warlords present at the gathering.

Joya was elected to the Afghan parliament in 2005, which she used as a platform to continue her courageous denunciation of all who oppress the Afghan people, from Karzai’s corrupt puppet regime to the Taliban insurgency and the occupation forces.

In 2007, Joya was permanently expelled from the Afghan parliament. Not surprisingly, there have been no words of protest at this attack on democracy from the occupying powers.

Since her expulsion, Joya has travelled the world to bring the truth of the occupation to Western audiences. She is currently on a speaking tour in Australia, where she has addressed refugee rallies, anti-war vigils and university lecture halls. Willing to speak to whoever will listen, Joya found the time to speak with me about her political activism, views on the occupation and hopes for the future.

Joya was not always a political activist. “At first I was a social activist. I didn’t want to be a politician.” For much of the 1990s, while Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, Joya worked with the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC) to set up underground schools, teaching literacy to girls and adult women.

She herself was educated in a school run by the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), while her family lived in refugee camp in Pakistan, having been forced into exile by the 1979 Soviet invasion. It was here that Joya developed her staunch commitment to the importance of education for girls and women’s rights.

But in the aftermath of the 2001 invasion – faced with a mounting civilian death toll from the American warplanes that rained cluster bombs and white phosphorous from the sky, and a corrupt government filled with the very people responsible for terrorising and pillaging Afghanistan during the vicious civil war that erupted in the 1990s – Joya decided that she needed to intervene politically.

“When I was a social activist I talked a lot with the people. I loved with them. I cried with them. I heard a lot about their stories, about the crimes these criminals committed against them. In 2003 I decided I couldn’t tolerate it anymore.” But then she quips, “In the parliament they couldn’t tolerate me.”

Joya argues without hesitation for the troops to get out of Afghanistan:

The troops only double our misery. We are crushed between two enemies, the warlords and Taliban on one side. They both continue their fascism. And the occupation forces on the other side. They are bombing and doing massacres. In my province in Farah in one day they killed 150 civilians through bombs.

It would be much easier for us to fight one enemy than to have to fight two. The occupation gives more money and more guns to these warlords. They are getting more powerful.

She points out that the Australian government too has been directly aiding the warlords, with recent revelations in the media that senior militia fighters of Matiullah Khan, a powerful Oruzgan warlord, were secretly flown to Australia to receive training.

Barack Obama has brought no relief. Unable to crush the Taliban-led insurgency, this winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has escalated the war, beefing up troop numbers by over 30,000. After all, the prestige of American power is at stake. Never mincing her words, Joya denounces Barack Obama as “just another warmonger.” And she points out that “the worst massacres have been in the period of Obama”. Indeed civilian and military deaths are at record levels.

This is the hell to which our government wants to deport thousands of Afghan asylum seekers currently languishing in Australia’s detention centres.

Joya also rips apart another central justifications used by Western governments and numerous pro-war Western feminists for the invasion of Afghanistan: the “liberation” of Afghan women.

The US and NATO sent the troops under the banner of protecting “women’s rights” and “human rights”. But they’re occupying Afghanistan for their own geopolitical and economic interests.

Today the situation for women in Afghanistan is as disastrous as it was under the domination of the Taliban.

Indeed in 2009, to bolster his political position, Karzai gave his official stamp of approval to a law that legalised crimes against Shia women. To escape from these repressive conditions, thousands of Afghan women have committed suicide in the past year. Thousands more painfully survive self-immolation.

Joya rightly scorns Time magazine’s cynical use of the oppression of women to rebuild flagging public support for the occupation. Its front cover on July 29 featured a harrowing photo of Bibi Aisha, a young woman who had been brutally disfigured by the Taliban. Joya commented:

They say in the title “What will happen if we leave Afghanistan”. But they should have written, “What is happening to women right now while you are in Afghanistan”. But they never write about this.

Joya rejects the lie that this war is about promoting democracy or defending women’s rights; I ask what she thinks are the central motives for the occupation.

It’s because of the geopolitical position of Afghanistan. We’re in the heart of Asia. By having their military bases there, they hope to be able to control other Asian powers like China and Iran. And they will also have very easy access to the gas in the Central Asian republics.

To this we should add that the Afghanistan war was merely a useful opening shot in the broader goal of securing US hegemony throughout the Middle East. First Afghanistan. Then Iraq. Then Syria or Iran. Or so the plan went.

Joya scoffs at any suggestion that the Americans are fighting the Taliban out of any principled opposition. As she says, “They created the Taliban.” For Joya, the move by Karzai and the occupiers to engage the Taliban in negotiations is further proof that “democracy” is not on the US agenda; all they are interested in is “completing the circle of warlordism, druglordism and fundamentalism”.

Joya also questions the Taliban’s anti-imperialist credentials.

The Taliban was never against the US. When the Taliban say “Troops out of Afghanistan” they only say this from their own point of view. The only reason they’re fighting them now is because of money and power. Sometimes they negotiate with them. Already there are Taliban in the parliament. Mulla Salam did massacres and he’s now in power.

In September this year, there was another round of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. But this time Joya refused to participate. She explained:

We have a saying in my country, “It doesn’t matter who’s doing the voting. What matters is who’s doing the counting.” These elections were fraudulent and I didn’t want this non-democratic mafia government to take any credit from these elections. Any hope I once had for the ballot box to bring about changes has gone now. And my people agreed. Millions of people did not attend these elections.

Instead Joya places her hope in the grass-roots struggle of ordinary Afghans to bring genuine democracy.

Each time there is a massacre, people come on to the streets. The Afghanistan Solidarity Party, a democratic secular party, they called a demonstration and hundreds of people attended despite the fact that there is no security. But they don’t care. They still come out on the streets. They put the bodies in the truck and come out after the bombings of these occupiers. And they shout “US out of Afghanistan”. They never say “Australia out of Afghanistan” they never say “Canada” because they all do the same job.

Karzai and the warlords are afraid of the discontent of the people which is getting day by day stronger. They are afraid of the democratic-minded people [who] are the hope for Afghanistan.

Joya is now trying to build up a network of supporters on the ground. She is even considering launching her own political party. Having survived five assassination attempts, and faced with constant death threats, her work is necessarily underground. For protection, Joya employs a bodyguard and she is constantly on the move. Every night she changes the house where she sleeps. Displaying tremendous resolve to speak out no matter what, she says: “I know life day by day is getting more risky, more dangerous for me, it is getting more difficult for me. Even if I have to give up my life to my people, I am ready to do that.”

In Australia we don’t face these heavy consequences for raising our voices against our own warmongers in Canberra. We too have a responsibility to commit ourselves to anti-war activism. Joya agrees. She sees a central role for international solidarity:

These Western governments also betray their own people. They’re wasting the blood of their soldiers and their taxes. That’s why you must raise your voice against your own government’s wrong policy. They must end this disgusting war.

I say we are lucky to have the support of democratic, justice-loving people in America, Australia, and around the world. But we need more solidarity. Be more active. Put more pressure on your governments. Join anti-war organisations. And join hands together with those who are struggle and risking their lives in Afghanistan because your support gives us more courage, more determination and more hope.

I hope people are listening.

Malalai Joya has published an autobiography: Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out (Macmillan, 2009).