by Deepa Kumar
November 10, 2009
Malalai Joya has been called the “bravest woman in Afghanistan” for her outspoken opposition not only to the U.S. occupation of her country, but both the corrupt U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai and the Taliban-led insurgency.
Joya was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament from Farah province in 2005, but was suspended several years later after other representatives claimed she insulted them. She has continued to speak out against war crimes and warlordism, in spite of numerous attempts on her life.
Joya is on a speaking tour of the U.S. for her book A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. She talked to Deepa Kumar about the situation in her country and the message she hopes to bring to people in the U.S.
WHAT HAS been the impact of the U.S. occupation and its puppet government on women in Afghanistan? Has the U.S. liberated Afghan women as it claimed it would?
FIRST, LET me say that after September 11, the U.S. government threw us from the frying pan into the fire. Over the last eight years, the U.S., under the banner of women’s rights and human rights, has occupied my country, and millions of men and women have suffered from injustice, insecurity, corruption, joblessness, poverty, etc.
But women have suffered more–for them, it is almost as if the Taliban was still in power. After the war, the U.S. brought to power these misogynist warlords called the Northern Alliance, who are just like the Taliban. These were the same people who ruled between 1992 and 1996, and they attacked women’s rights and human rights.
This time, wearing suits and ties, they have again have come into power with the help of the U.S. That’s why today’s situation for women is worse, especially in many of the provinces. It is true that in some big cities like Kabul, Mazari Sharif or Herat, you will see that some women have been able to get jobs and an education. But in most of the provinces, women do not even have basic human rights–the situation is like hell.
Today, killing a woman is like killing a bird. Even in big cities, women do not feel secure, and so most of them wear the burqa. I believe that the burqa is a symbol of oppression. Yet women have to wear them just to be safe. So the disgusting burqa today gives life.
Over the last eight years, women in my country have not even regained the limited rights that they enjoyed in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. During that time, women could wear any kind of clothes they wanted to, and they had jobs, they could walk freely on the streets, and they didn’t have to worry about being kidnapped or raped.
Then, the warlords attacked women’s rights, and the Taliban continued this. The U.S. brought the same misogynist warlords back, and the only difference between the Taliban period and now is that all of these crimes are happening in the name of democracy. The warlord misogynists who are in power cover up, in the name of democracy, countless cases of rape, violence against women, domestic violence, suicide, etc. And these sorts of attacks are increasing rapidly.
Let me give you a few examples of the situation for women. I think it will help people in the U.S. to understand the situation better.
For example, recently in Jowzjan province, a 25-year-old girl burned herself in a hospital. These sorts of suicides are becoming common. We recently got a report that there have been 600 such suicides. Also, a 5-year-old girl was killed by a 40-year-old man in Sar-e Pol province as she resisted his attempt to rape her. A 14-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped by three men, one of them the son of a member of the parliament. And this member of parliament, his name is Haji Payinda Mohammad, changed the age of his son in documents to show him to be less than 18, so he won’t be punished.
There are many examples like this. This is a crime against women. It’s fashionable for the media to say that it’s the Taliban, but these are not all the crimes of the Taliban–there are warlords as well who are continuing their fascism.
Today, Sharia law is guiding the laws that parliament has made. This is quite similar to the Taliban, and that’s because the warlords are mentally like the Taliban.
WHAT DO you think of the recent elections and of the government of President Hamid Karzai? And what about the man who was runner-up to Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah? If they formed a coalition government, what do you think would happen?
FIRST, LET me tell you, the election was just a showcase for the U.S. government. International observers have talked about widespread fraud. The so-called independent commission for the election says that around 1.3 million ballots were fixed. The actual number is higher.
There is no question that an election is the main sign of democracy in a country, but in Afghanistan, they have been betraying democracy for the eight years of the U.S. occupation.
Abdullah is the main candidate of the warlords, and he is seen as a war criminal in Afghanistan because of his activities between 1992 and 1996. Abdullah has been a part of Hamid Karzai’s parliamentary system. Karzai has compromised with people like Abdullah and many other warlords who now have key posts in Afghanistan. Neither will bring positive changes to the lives of men and women of my country.
Let me say to the people of the U.S.: an election held in the shadow of Afghan warlordism, drug-lordism, awful corruption and occupation forces has no legitimacy at all. People in my country say that the result of this election will bring back the same donkey, but with a new saddle. As the old saying goes, “It’s not important who’s voting, it’s important who’s counting.” That’s our problem.
RIGHT NOW, the Obama administration is trying to decide whether to go with a Pentagon recommendation to send tens of thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan. What would you like to say to Obama, and what do you think will happen if more troops are sent to Afghanistan?
MORE TROOPS will bring more conflict and more war. Obama’s foreign policy regarding Afghanistan is quite similar to that of the Bush administration. Bush is a war criminal, and now Obama wants to approach the moderate Taliban to join the government as well. There are no moderate Taliban–they are putting a soft name on these terrorists in order to bring them into power.
I think that the people of the U.S. would agree with us–democracy never comes from the barrel of a gun or through war. Also, Obama is really not being honest with the Afghan people.
First of all, Obama should apologize to my people and put Bush on trial in the international criminal court. Obama should stop arming the warlords, and he shouldn’t negotiate with the Taliban. We have many democrats and democratic-minded people in my country, and Obama should support them instead. If Obama were really to be honest with the Afghan people, he, together with the UN, would stop working with countries like Iran, Pakistan and Russia, who support the Taliban and these warlords.
Let me give my condolences to those families here who have lost their sons in Afghanistan. I would like to send condolences on behalf of my people, but I also ask them to please raise their voice against the wrong policies of the U.S. government. The troops are the victims of the policy of their government. The U.S. is spending taxpayer money and shedding the blood of its soldiers in support of an undemocratic corrupt mafia system.
WHAT DO you think about people in the antiwar movement in this country who now say that we shouldn’t speak out for U.S. immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan? They say that the U.S. should stay longer, because if it pulls out, the situation for women will get worse. What’s your message to them?
I THINK the people who are saying that should know that the people of Afghanistan do not want more troops in Afghanistan.
First of all, it is the right of my people to say that. Secondly, we believe that no nation can bring liberation to another nation. Today’s situation, this eight-year disaster, is a good example of what war and occupation does.
People also say that if the U.S. withdrew, there would be a civil war. My message to people who say that is that there already is a civil war, and as long as these troops are in Afghanistan, the worse the civil war will be.
The occupation forces are even bombing wedding parties. In Nuristan, 47 people, including the groom and bride, were killed. In a bombing in May in Farah province, 150 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. In Kunduz province, 200 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. After all of these war crimes, why haven’t they apologized?
We want occupation forces out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. They must end this tragedy of the so-called war on terror, which is war on innocent civilians. In the last eight years, fewer than 2,000 Taliban have been killed, and more than 8,000 civilians by U.S. forces. The occupation forces are not protecting my people or women–they are doing more harm.
They say they are bringing democracy to Afghanistan. In reality they have brought warlords and drug lords to power. They have allowed my country to become the center of drugs today. Even the White House says that the Taliban have become more powerful since the 2001 war. These medieval-minded men of the Taliban are destroying the country.
Today, we have two enemies in Afghanistan–the occupation forces, and the Taliban and warlords. If one of them is gone, it makes our task easier. Then we will have only one enemy to fight.
WHAT DOES the resistance or resistances to occupation look like in Afghanistan?
THERE ARE two kinds of resistances in Afghanistan. One is of ordinary, democratic-minded people, and the other is of the Taliban. Most ordinary people hate the Taliban, and so their resistance is not the resistance of the people.
Ordinary people have resisted in many provinces. They are demonstrating both against the occupation and against the Karzai government. For instance, I mentioned that in May in Farah province 150 people were killed by occupation forces, most of them women and children. In response to this, thousands of students in various provinces came out onto the streets to express their solidarity with the victims and to protest their killing. There are many such examples of students and others are resisting the occupation. This is happening in big cities–people are coming out onto the streets in Kabul and also in other provinces.
So there is resistance, but it isn’t that big. Why? Because people are tired from war, and they hate the warlords and the Taliban. But today, there is more resistance than there was eight years ago. People are starting to stand up against war crimes, and with the passage of time, I think they will stand up and resist more.
CAN YOU describe some of the secular and democratic groups and forces of the resistance in Afghanistan?
THERE ARE a lot of parties and democratic intellectuals who are risking their lives and struggling to challenge the corrupt warlord government.
RAWA [the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan] is one such group. I met a member of RAWA, Zoya, who told me about the problems and risks they take, and how they have to be underground. There are many such groups and people, but I would not reveal their names because of a lack of security. There have been many attempts on my life, and I don’t want to risk the life of anyone else. But it is these people who are the hope for the future.
WHAT HAS been your experience here in the U.S. as your speaking tour gets underway?
THERE IS a lot of support among people who have come to the meetings. People in the U.S. haven’t been told the correct story through the media. They’re told that Iraq was the bad war, and that Afghanistan is the good war. When they hear about the suffering of my people, some people cry–some have come up and hugged me and shown their support.
This isn’t my first trip to the U.S. When I was here earlier, I met a group of mothers who lost their sons in Afghanistan. They, too, hugged me and cried. Sometimes, people apologize for what their government is doing to my people. And I reply to them that they should not apologize, because it is their government that is responsible for this, and the government should apologize to them for its war crimes.
I have also come across rich Afghans–people who are enjoying their lives here in the U.S. They support the occupation and claim that the U.S. is bringing democracy and freedom to Afghanistan. They are wrong, and they don’t know what is really happening in Afghanistan. There are also some corrupt NGOs that support the occupation because they don’t want to lose their contracts and their projects. But most of the people at the meetings support the cause of my people.
My main message to the democratic people of the U.S. is that you are not the same as your government. You can support the Afghan people and ask Obama to do four things. First, end the occupation immediately–this is not a war on terror, this is a war on innocent civilians. Second, Obama must apologize to my people and deliver Bush to the International Criminal Court. Third, he should stop arming the warlords, and not negotiate with Taliban. Fourth, he should tell Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and other countries that support Taliban and the warlords to stop.
My message to people in the U.S. is to put pressure on their government to support democratic-minded people in Afghanistan.
Transcription by Rebecca Anshell and Meredith Reese