(May 3, 2010) – Outspoken Afghan activist and former member of the Parliament, Malalai Joya has been one of the most vocal opponents of the US and NATO war in Afghanistan. In a recent op-ed she called on the US to "stop murdering my people."
Joya was suspended from the Afghan Parliament nearly 3 years ago for challenging warlord domination and lives in constant fear of her life. She has survived several assassination attempts but chooses to live in Afghanistan. Her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords with Derrick O’Keefe was published late last year (Simon and Schuster). Last week Malalai Joya was named one of Time Magazine’s "100 Most Influential People" of 2010. I reached her for an interview via satellite phone in Afghanistan on May 3rd 2010.
Sonali Kolhatkar: You were just named one of the 100 most influential people of 2010 by TIME Magazine. But author Hirsi Ali, who wrote the announcement, said "I hope in time she comes to see the U.S. and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country." How do you respond to this statement?
Malalai Joya: I am very angry with the way they have introduced me. TIME has painted a false picture of me and does not mention anything at all about my struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO, which is disgusting. In fact every one knows that I stand side-by-side with the glorious anti war movements around the world and have proved time and again that I will never compromise with the US And NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots in Afghanistan. What TIME did was like giving an award to someone with one hand and getting it back with another hand. I have sent my protest through my Defense Committee, but TIME did not bother to even answer than protest letter. Perhaps this is the kind of freedom of expression exercised by TIME and the US. But I’m happy to see that many of my friends and supporters have objected to the write-up and expressed it by posting their comments on TIME’s site or sending me many emails.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Earlier this year some journalists were able to confirm that US troops had killed two pregnant women during a night-time raid. How common are such occurrences in Afghanistan today?
Malalai Joya: Yes, the US and NATO often lie when they kill innocent people and also stop media from reporting civilian casualties. Most of the civilian casualties take place in remote areas of Afghanistan where there is no media to report it, so no one notices it. In many cases after killing people NATO [releases] statements saying that many insurgents were killed. When you try to find out from the local people, they are actually women and children killed, not insurgents. Afghan media are also mostly in the hands of the Afghan criminal bands. They rarely report civilians killed by the US and NATO. In Afghanistan most media outlets, especially TV channels, are a tool for warlords of the Northern Alliance. For example warlords like Atta Mohammed, Qanooni, Mohseni, Mohaqqiq, Rabbani and others, each have their own TV channel and they naturally do not want to report civilian casualties by their US and NATO masters.
The US Embassy in Kabul has an office that carefully monitors all media in Afghanistan and if they find any of them reporting against US interests, they try using different means to stop it. Bribes are a very common means used. For the US it’s not just fighting a war through military means, but also on the propaganda front. I think propaganda plays a major role. They are trying to show the war is justified. When they kill civilians they immediately deny it and say that all the people killed are Taliban. When there is no chance for any independent confirmation, the lies are the only things reflected in the world media. There are only a few cases where some brave and justice-loving journalists like Jerome Starkey have come forward to unmake their shameful lies.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Much has been made recently of Karzai’s statements in favor of the Taliban. How close is the Afghan central government to forging a peace with the Taliban? What will that mean for the US/NATO war? What will it mean for the people of Afghanistan?
Malalai Joya: I think Karzai cannot dare to make such a statement or try to meet the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s party leaders without having an "OK" from the White House. Actually it is the US that asks him to make peace with the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s party or at least share power with them. Also the US government needs to show the people of NATO countries that it is not a war-monger and is in favor of peace talks with the Taliban. But it is just a show. The US doesn’t want to fight the Taliban forever as it needs them as an excuse to continue the occupation of Afghanistan in the implementation of its strategic, regional, and military interests. I think some of the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s leaders are already part of Karzai’s regime. One of the main leaders of Hekmatyar’s party called Hadi Arghandiwal is now the Minister of Economy under Karzai.
This is what the US wants. These brutal and inhuman leaders have been created by the US in the past and are ready to work for the US as long as their pockets are filled with dollars and high posts are offered to them in the government. Actually the US government is trying hard to empower reactionary forces and individuals in Afghanistan as they can use them to stop the emergence of pro-democracy and nationalist forces and groups in my country.
Sonali Kolhatkar: You recently wrote in an op-ed in the Daily Beast that there are a lot of anti-US protests happening in Afghanistan today that go unreported. Tell us more about these protests – where are they happening, who is protesting, and are they also against the fundamentalists or just the US/NATO?
Malalai Joya: Yes, we have witnessed the protests of people especially in the Eastern and Western parts of Afghanistan over the past year. They are mostly reactions to civilians killed by the US and NATO. With every bombardment by NATO, angry people come to the streets to raise anti-US slogans. But unfortunately they are not organized and in some cases the Taliban uses them. We have seen most of these protests in Nangahar, Ghazni, Loghar, Herat, and Helmand provinces but they are usually not reported. A few days ago angry protestors burned about 20 fuel tankers of NATO in Loghar which was one out of many such protests reported by the world media.
These protestors are not only against the US and NATO but also against the Afghan government. People see that this government is deeply corrupt and in the hands of looters and murderers of the Northern Alliance. So they are deeply fed up. Last month a large crowd of thousands of workers in Baghlan province protested against Mahmood Karzai [vice chairman of the Afghanistan chamber of commerce and Hamid Karzai’s younger brother], head of the "economic mafia" of Afghanistan who has his hold on some previously state-owned factories. The US and NATO and the Afghan government usually ignore people’s protests. But I believe that given enough time, such protests will become even more organized out of people’s anger. Afghans are on the verge of uprising but poverty, destitution, and the non-existence of powerful democratic-minded forces in our country stops them from a very serious uprising. I’m sure in the next few years such forces will emerge and these protests will turn more powerful to shake the Afghan puppet government and the occupation forces.
Sonali Kolhatkar: The US has made no secret for many months that it is about to launch an offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar. What do you think will happen this summer as a result of this offensive?
Malalai Joya: As I said before, the US does not want to fight the Taliban forever. They only fight with them here and there to show the American people that the US is at war in Afghanistan and their presence is necessary here. The offensive in Kandahar will not be different from Marjah and other areas of Helmand where they had such operations in the past. They make such a hue and cry about their military actions but in fact they just push the Taliban to other areas and then install some corrupt officials and police forces who are worse than the Taliban. In a few days the Taliban return as we experienced in the past. They declared Marjah as a Taliban-free district but in fact the Taliban has a permanent presence there. They had just left the area for a short time.
After the Marjah operation, a spokesperson of the Afghan Defense Ministry was asked at a press conference why they allowed the Taliban to leave the area and why the Taliban were neither killed nor arrested in Marjah. He answered that the purpose of the operation was not killing or arresting the Taliban, instead it was to push them out of the area.
So we expect that they will do the same thing with Kandahar. They will launch the operation and then allow the Taliban to go to another area and then later start an operation there. This is a battle for show, not a real war against terrorism. Otherwise for the US and NATO, it is a task of only a few days to uproot the Taliban and defeat them forever. But then everyone will ask them to end the occupation of Afghanistan.
The only outcome of the Kandahar operation will be civilian casualties. Poor and innocent people are the only ones killed in the war. But the Taliban do not experience any defeat or even major casualties. Afghans know very well that the US will neither bring democracy nor peace to Afghanistan. They know that the US and NATO are empowering the enemies of democracy. But it is the duty of the Afghan people to fight for their values and understand that the occupation will only drag us more deeply into slavery. As always I pass this message to justice-loving people around the world that no nation can donate liberation to another nation.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Can you tell us what the status of your own parliamentary position is right now, since you were stripped of your elected position by the fundamentalists some years ago. Have you ever been made to face a court? Can you run again for parliament in the next elections?
Malalai Joya: In the last stage of the Interparliamentary Union meeting, a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians promised that they would end my suspension so I could return to Parliament. But it was just a lie and they did not stand by their promise.
I received a letter from the court some months ago and I answered truthfully what my strong position was against the warlords. They asked me to apologize [for my statements made in a TV interview –and said that they would allow me back to the Parliament. But I stressed the truth of my statements and said that I would never apologize to criminals and looters. However, I still can run for elections which are due to happen later this year. But I have not made up my mind to run.
But whether I serve in Parliament or outside it, I will continue my fight for justice, democracy and against the occupation. Parliament was just a small part of my struggle but I still have many other options and fields. Going to a Parliament of criminals was a big torture for me. It was a torture everyday to see the faces of these brutal men such as Qanooni, Sayyaf, Mohaqqiq, Piram Qul, Haji Almas, Haji Fayeed, etc there. But I accepted the task on behalf of my people.
I think the next election will be even more disgusting and full of fraud. The new chief of the election commission is a known warlord of the Northern Alliance and he will try to bring all these warlords to the Parliament and stop the emergence of democratic-minded people like me. Many people think that at this point they will never allow me to win the election as they can’t bear to have me inside the parliament once more. But I will continue the struggle as long as these criminals are in power, these sworn enemies of democracy, women’s rights, human rights, and as long as these occupation forces are bombing from the sky, and supporting the enemies of my people and killing innocent people of my country.
For more information, visit malalaijoya.com.
Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that funds health, educational, and training projects for Afghan women. She is also the host and producer of Uprising Radio, a daily morning radio program at KPFK, Pacifica in Los Angeles.