Pull out troops, politician urges

Canada is supporting a corrupt administration, says suspended parliamentarian Malalai Joya

Toronto Star, November 5, 2007
Isabel Teotonio, Staff reporter

Joya in press conference in Kabul
Afghan lawmaker Malalai Joya, shown at a Kabul press conference in May, speaks in Toronto tomorrow night on "Women and War in Afghanistan." (MUSADEQ SADEQ/AP)

Canada must pull its troops out of Afghanistan and no longer support a government full of "warlords, drug lords and criminals" if it wants to aid in rebuilding the stricken nation and avoid another 9/11, says a controversial Afghan politician.

"(Canada) must act independently and not follow the policy of the United States," says Malalai Joya, 29, a firebrand currently on a nationwide speaking tour that brings her to Toronto tomorrow night.

Canadian soldiers fighting the Taliban are unwittingly promoting U.S. foreign policy, which is propping up a corrupt government, says Joya, who has garnered a legion of fans for her advocacy work on women's rights. "This policy is a mockery of democracy and a mockery of the war on terror," the youngest member of the Afghan parliament says during a telephone interview from Vancouver.

Despite the likelihood that Afghanistan will collapse into civil war if foreign troops leave, she says their presence is making the country more unstable and will fuel "another Sept. 11."

Instead, Canada must lend moral and material support to "freedom-loving democratic parties" that can't even afford to print party literature, and non-government organizations, with a proven track record, that can't finish key projects aimed at rebuilding the nation.

"You can support them instead of giving billions of dollars to the pockets of this corrupt government," says Joya, whose incendiary comments about the government earlier this year got her suspended from parliament for three years.

"Today 80 per cent of the members of parliament are warlords, drug lords and criminals ... They have deceived people around the world. They have a democratic mask on but they do not believe in it."

Peeling back that mask has become her mission – one that has drummed up immense support, particularly amongst women, and fiercely enraged her detractors.

Yet she refuses to be silenced. This, despite repeated death threats, four assassination attempts and the need to travel in the shadows of armed bodyguards. She does not have a home because it was bombed and moves from house to house each night, unable to see her husband for months at a time.

"I've said to these fundamentalists, `Physically, one day you will kill me,'" says Joya, who fled Afghanistan with her family during the Soviet invasion and returned during the Taliban's rule. But, "I will never sit silent, I will never compromise."

In May, she sparked international headlines when she spoke out in parliament against mujahideen leaders, now legislators, whom she accused of human rights abuses. She was pelted with water bottles and was the object of death and rape threats. Two weeks later, she was suspended from parliament after comments she made to a local broadcaster were aired.

"A stable or a zoo is better (than the legislature), at least there you have a donkey that carries a load and a cow that provides milk," she said. "This parliament is worse than a stable or a zoo."

Today, she remains unapologetic. "When telling the truth there's no need to apologize, no need to regret. ... As long as these fundamentalists are in power I will continue with my struggle."

Joya will be speaking tomorrow at 7 p.m., at the Steelworkers' Hall, 25 Cecil St., near College St. and Spadina Ave.; tickets available at the door.