Recently named one of ‘100 most influential people in the world’ by Time magazine, Malalai Joya was called ‘Afghanistan’s most famous women’, by BBC. A strong critic of US occupation, Taliban and Mujahedeen-dominated Karzai government, Joya is youngest Afghan MP. Owing to her blunt criticism of warlords allied with Karzai, she was suspended by a majority vote in the Afghan parliament. Recently, she visited Sweden and in an interview with Farooq Sulehria, she discusses the situation in her country.
Question: There is lot of press about proposed NATO operation against Taliban in Kandahar while recently Marjah was successfully secured. How would you evaluate these offensives against Taliban?
Joya: First of all, let me say that despite the presence of thousands of US and NATO troops, millions of Afghan people keep lacking security and keep suffering from hunger, poverty and disease. Regarding Marjah and Kandahar, I would say Marjah was not the first operation and Kandahar will not be the last one. The so-called ‘war on terror’ is not just ‘a war on terror’, it is also a war of propaganda. Marjah and Kandahar constitute a part of their propaganda war where they want to show that war against Taliban is going successfully. Before NATO attacked Marjah, Taliban had escaped to other places. But the USA claims to have secured Marjah. Later on, they handed the town over to Afghan police which is extremely corrupt. Afghan people hate Afghan police more than they hate the Taliban. But, also the Taliban will bribe the police and will re-take the town. This keeps on happening. This is a cruel joke.
Similarly, let’s not forget that the USA is not in Afghanistan for the sake of fighting the Taliban. She is there because of her strategic interests in the region. If they had been fighting Taliban, they would not have invited Mullah Omar and Gulbadin Hekmatyar for talks. Earlier, Hekmatyar was declared a terrorist by the USA. Recently, the names of five Taliban leaders including Taliban-era foreign minister Mullah Mutwakil, have been removed from UN’s list of terrorists. Now we are told that there are ‘moderate’ Taliban that the USA wants to engage through Karzai’s puppet regime. I wonder who and how one will determine that one is ‘a moderate’ Talib while the other is not. I ask if Mullah Omar is a ‘moderate’. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘moderate’ Taliban. The fact is the US is ready to deal with every dirty minded element in Afghanistan to stay and keep hold on Afghanistan.
By the way, they also want to attack Helmand province. In fact , both Great Britain and the USA are trying to outdo each other in Helmand because uranium has been discovered in Helmand province.
Question: President Obama has announced a withdrawal plan. There are big fears of civil war when foreign troops leave. What you say about these fears?
Joya: Nobody is talking about today’s civil war. There is already a civil war going on in Afghanistan. Right now my people are fighting three enemies. There are warlords backed by the USA, there are Taliban, and there are the foreign troops. The occupation forces are bombing them with cluster bombs. Phosphorus is being used against women and children. Only in 2009, 2400 innocent civilians were killed. In last about eight years, 8000 civilians have been killed while 2000 Taliban were killed. Last year, Germans bombed 200 civilians in Kunduz. The US troops keep bombing and they have bombed even wedding parties. If occupation troops withdraw, at least Afghan people will have one enemy less to fight against.
Also, the US presence is not making my people’s fight against warlords and Taliban any easier. In the last eight years, the USA has not merely armed and funded criminal minded warlords who are ruling in collaboration with Karzai but Washington has also directly or indirectly helped sustain the Taliban. For instance, Mullah Rocketi is now member of the parliament. He was a Taliban commander. He is living a decent life in Kabul. Another Talib commander, responsible for massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif back in 1990s, now heads a district administration. Mullah Rehmatullah, who oversaw destruction of Buddha’s statues in Bamiyan, has been co-opted. Karzai has invited Mullah Omar , many times over, to join his government. Similarly, a key person in Hekmatyar’s party Hadi Arghandiwal was aappointed Finance Minister by Karzai. Hekmatyar’s son-in-law is part of Karzai’s regime. Almost two dozen members of his party are members of parliament while Mullah Rehmani, a Talib , was appointed by Karzai himself as Senator. Remember, according to Afghan law, war criminals cannot contest elections but all these Taliban and members of Hekmatyar’s Hizb e Islami have been welcomed in the parliament.
Let me point out here: There is two kind of resistance. One that is in my view not even resistance but is presented as resistance by mainstream media which tries to make something out of nothing. This is the so called resistance of Taliban. Another resistance is coming from ordinary people, democratic forces, women, intellectuals, students. This resistance is result of the political knowledge people have gained in last thirty years of civil war. These forces are weak and need a helping hand.
Question: India and Pakistan have locked horns in Afghanistan. Iran has been intervening for many years. Even if the USA leaves, do you see peace has any chance when these regional powers are not giving up their role in Afghanistan?
Joya: This is like a chess game. The ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) along with the CIA supported and patronized the Mujahedeen. Now the ISI is supporting the Taliban. India has been supporting the Northern Alliance and is still supporting them and Karzai. Unfortunately, the victims in this India-Pakistan war in Afghanistan are ordinary Afghans. There was a suicide attack on Indian embassy in Kabul. Similarly, early this year Indian officials were attacked in Kabul when there was an attack on the guest house where they were staying and both times Pakistan was blamed. In every attack, ordinary Afghans were killed. Similarly, the fascist Iranian regime is supporting the Taliban, to keep the USA busy in Afghanistan, and also has a puppet in the Karzai regime. For peace in Afghanistan, these countries neighboring Afghanistan must stop their proxy war.
Question: If Taliban accept the offer to join the government, what impact it will have on Afghan women’s situation?
Joya: The warlords ruling Afghanistan under the leadership of Karzai are a photocopy of Taliban. The only difference is that instead of religion, they use democracy to oppress women. This way, they are also discrediting democracy in peoples’ minds. And if Mullah Omar joins them too, it will be a catastrophe for Afghan women. After September 11, women’s situation was a good excuse to occupy Afghanistan. Some symbolic steps were taken. For instance, today there are 60 women MPs in parliament: that is almost 25 percent. There is a Ministry for Women Affairs. Also, in big towns women are going to jobs or higher education. But the security situation remains grim while sexual harassment is a great problem. Hence many women wear this disgusting burka. Meantime, domestic violence is a big issue. More and more women are committing suicide because they think their voice is not heard. The Afghan woman is sandwiched between a misogynist regime and a patriarchal system. If we have a democratic system, at least there is a chance that patriarchy is challenged a little bit. Now if the Taliban join the warlords, there will be more restrictions on women.
Question: Would you support UN peace troops in the event of withdrawal of US troops?
Joya: In the last eight years, the UN has been very passive. As I said, the names of Taliban on the UN list of terrorists have been removed. Similarly, the UN was involved in the Bonn Conference soon after September 11. The UN has been involved in many other processes in Afghanistan but it never raised a voice against injustice. No doubt, we will need a helping hand. But if this is what UN has been doing, playing a second fiddle to the USA, than we don’t see any UN role.
Farooq Sulehria is a journalist based in Sweden.