Malalai Joya is, at age 29, the youngest person to become a member of the Afghan Parliament. She was one of 68 women elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in 2005. But after she spoke out against the fundamentalists and former warlords in parliament, she was suspended.
Joya first gained international attention in December 2003 when she spoke out publicly against the domination of warlords. Since then she has survived four assassination attempts. She now travels in Afghanistan with armed guards. Joya one of 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, was selected by the World Economic Forum among 250 Global Leaders for 2007, and later was nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. An award-winning documentary film about her, A Woman Among Warlords, was shown in the U.S. on most PBS stations. Currently, Malalai Joya heads the non-governmental group Organization for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC) in the west of Afghanistan. This past September she was in Berlin, Germany where I was able to interview her.
RASSBACH: Why did you come to Germany and what did you hope to achieve here?
JOYA: The Left Party parliamentary group in the German Bundestag invited me to give them an update about the disastrous situation in Afghanistan, about the terrible problems of women there, and about the role of foreign troops, including German troops, in Afghanistan. My message for the German people was clear: I hope that Germany will completely separate its Afghanistan policy from the wrongful U.S. policy. The “war on terror” is a mockery and so is the U.S. support of the present government in Afghanistan, which is dominated by Northern Alliance terrorists. The U.S. government is fighting the Taliban under the name of the war on terror, but is working with and helping Northern Alliance terrorists who are just as much killers and rapists as the Taliban. It was Northern Alliance leaders like Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, and others who gave shelter to Arab terrorists in Afghanistan for the first time. But the U.S. government tries to paint them as being “democratic-minded” and “liberators of Afghanistan.”
If the German government and German troops want to prove themselves to be friends of the Afghan people, then they will act independently of the U.S. We should remember that it was the U.S. who originally supported the Taliban and built them up. The U.S. also supports the Northern Alliance. The U.S. could easily get rid of the Taliban if it wanted to do so. It seems strange to the Afghan people that a superpower is unable to get rid of a bunch of medieval-minded, illiterate, and ignorant rulers like the Taliban. The U.S. is not serious in its fight against the Taliban. It just needs an excuse to prolong its presence in Afghanistan to threaten Iran, China, Central Asia, and other Asian powers.
What was the response to what you said in the German Bundestag?
Here in Germany, I had warm support from the people. Many even cried as they told me of their support for the liberation of the people of Afghanistan. But the Foreign Affairs Commission in the Bundestag refused to meet with me. Why do they invite warlords and politicians, who do not tell the truth, to speak in the Bundes- tag, instead of hearing a voice from the Afghan people? They have German troops in Afghanistan so it is their responsibility to try to understand what is happening there.
In the Bundestag the (multi-party) Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Economic and Social Development did meet with me. One member said that the German government was supporting projects, such as schools. But they didn’t give me a chance to say that most of the money is going to the warlords and that the Taliban is burning schools and killing school children.
We need a democratic government to stop this. The projects alone are not enough. Giving money to the current mafia government will change nothing and will fill the pockets of drug lords and warlords. Germany needs to try to influence neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Russia, etc. to stop sending arms and support to terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
I am sorry to see that many in the German Parliament are not interested to hear from someone who represents the voice of Afghan people. When, despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops, Afghanistan produces 93 percent of world opium—then that is enough to know that the international efforts have failed and alternatives must be considered.
What would you like the U.S. to do?
The U.S. must stop its support of warlords and must help us bring people like Sayyaf, Rabbani, Khalili, Qanooni, Fahim, Mohaqiq, Ismael, etc. on trial as war criminals rather then installing them in top positions. The U.S. and its allies must seriously consider disarming all illegal armed groups who are imposing their fascism on our people across Afghanistan. But no one takes notice of this situation, as these criminals are either governors, police chiefs, or in other high posts. The people of Afghanistan do not support the Northern Alliance war criminals and warlords in our government and publicly burn their pictures.
The U.S. must respect the Afghan people and the U.S. must stop its war crimes. Far more civilians have been killed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan than were killed in the U.S. in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. More Afghan civilians have been killed by the U.S. than were ever killed by the Taliban. When I spoke in the U.S. earlier this year, people who had lost loved ones in Afghanistan came to me to hug me and cry and to say that they understand more and more that the U.S. policy in Afghanistan is a mockery of democracy. We need the helping hand of peace- loving American people.
Would you like the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan?
Yes, as soon as possible. We need liberation, not occupation. The U.S. occupation has further complicated Afghanistan’s crisis. They came under the name of liberating Afghan women, but today the women’s rights situation is catastrophic. Every month dozens of women commit self-immolation to end their desolation. Afghans have a long history of fighting foreign occupation and, if the U.S. occupation lasts longer, we may witness many mass resistance movements against it.
What faces you when you return to Afghanistan and how can we help you from the U.S. and elsewhere in the world?
Joya at Afghan Parliament before her suspension—photo from www.malalaijoya.com
The security of all the people in Afghanistan is at risk. My life is at risk more and more each day because I do not compromise and will not stop my fight while I have blood in my body. I do not keep silent and I expose the masks of the present rulers in Afghanistan and in the U.S. to the world. I say, “We will not be silent. Truth is like the sun, you cannot hide it.”
We need moral and material support to help educate Afghan women and girls. As martyred Meena said, “Afghan women are like sleeping lions who, when awoken, can play a great role in any social movement.” [In 1977, at the age of 20, Meena launched the Revolutionary Association for the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) for the restoration of democracy, equality for men and women, social justice, and the separation of religion and state. She was later kidnapped and killed.] Your help will enable me to educate these sleeping lions to know their rights.
Elsa Rassbach is a U.S. citizen living in Berlin.