Those who still support Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan should read Malalai Joya’s new book, A Woman Among Warlords. Joya was suspended in 2007 from the Afghan Parliament for denouncing the presence of warlords in government. However, Joya doesn’t just stop at opposing the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai or the Islamic Fundamentalism of the Taliban. She is also an outspoken critic of Nato’s (including Canada’s) occupation of Afghanistan. Rather than siding with any of the above parties, Joya chooses to support grassroots democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, which she argues can only come about once Canadians, and other Nato forces, exit the country.
While Joya lives in Afghanistan—under heavy protection of armed body guards due to several assassination attempts—she is currently touring North America to promote her new book, co-authored with Vancouver activists Derrick O’Keefe.
I interviewed Joya by phone yesterday.
You’ve been touring all over North America promoting your new book—how has the response been so far?
There is a huge difference between the responses from the people and from policymakers. But I’m so honoured that, on behalf of my people, I’ve received strong solidarity and support. Of course not from everyone—a few that attend my talks stand up and express pro-war sentiments, but most people stand up and cry and show their support for the people of Afghanistan.
Two weeks ago I was in the U.S. and some people said “Apologize for what your government is doing” and I said, “This is your government’s doing, your government should apologize to you and my people and stop the war crime in my country.” I’ve received different forms of support, which gives us more hope, courage and determination, but we need more than your support and solidarity. We need you to put pressure on your government to stop this wrong-doing, this dirty business of politics. And also I’ve told some good politicians—I had an appointment with some Members of Parliament—that the silence of good people is worse than the actions of bad people.
So you think that Canadians should pressure the government to stop the military presence in Afghanistan?
Yes, of course. There is no question that we need a helping hand, an honest hand, a practical hand after the domination of Taliban. But unfortunately under the banner of women’s rights, human rights and democracy they pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. They replaced the Taliban with fundamentalist warlords who are a photocopy of the Taliban and the civil war in Afghanistan. In Kabul alone these warlords have killed more than 65,000 innocent civilians. If you want to know more about this go to the Human Rights and Amnesty International websites and the many books that have been written about this issue. But they were imposed on my people; that’s why my country is a safe-haven for terrorism.
They—the U.S. and Nato including the Canadian government—made my country the center of the drug trade. For example, even the New York Times wrote about the brother of Hamid Karzai, Ahmad Wali Karzai, which my people call the small Bush of Kandahar, being a famous drug trafficker and receives millions of dollars from the CIA. Your government sends taxpayer money and troops to such a mafia system. Eight years is enough to know that this current policy is wrong—even with the presence of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, we don’t have security. And millions of Afghans suffer from injustice, corruption, joblessness and poverty and the situation of women in most provinces is hell. The killing of women is like the killing of birds. I can give you many examples that show how the current government is mentally like the Taliban. The situation is getting much worse—even in Kabul there is no security, even the UN office has been attacked—so it better that the foreigners leave us alone. My people are sandwiched between two powerful enemies: from the sky NATO occupation forces bombing and killing civilians under the guise of democracy, most of them women and children, and on the ground from the Taliban and warlords. These occupation soldiers themselves are the victims of their governments’ wrong policies. Democracy never comes about through war—by the barrel of gun—you should know better than that.
But the Canadian government, as part of Nato, is unjust because they follow the policy of the U.S. government. They invaded Afghanistan for their own strategic, economic and regional interests, not to bring democracy. We have many justice-loving, democratic people in Afghanistan. Since there is no honorable job for them, they are underground activists. And I think that you’ll agree that fighting against one enemy is much easier than fighting against two. So with the withdrawal of the troops it is easier to fight one enemy. No question that we need your helping hand from the justice loving people of this country and the anti-war organizations, we just don’t need these wrong policy makers, this foreign muscle like Prime Minister Harper.
Mr. Harper says that this Afghan election, which was a farce and a non-democratic election, was a successful one and congratulated Hamid Karzai for winning. Hamid Karzai compromised with misogynist warlords and negotiates with the Taliban. But the Harper government has not raised its voice against that, against the corrupt system of Hamid Karzai. Harper follows the U.S. policy in Afghanistan instead of serving my people, he’s serving the criminals, the misogynists, the terrorists. It is better to leave—we don’t need this so-called “helping hand.”
You’re still suspended from the Afghan Parliament, is that correct?
Yes, the parliament is against freedom of speech, which is an elementary part of democracy and in the mean time illegal. I’m an elected member of parliament, not appointed. People voted me in. And also, they were able to stop me from getting into the Parliament again because, as they say, it doesn’t matter who’s voting, it matters who’s counting. They haven’t allowed me back and their cheating is clear.
In another interview someone asked, if the troops leave Afghanistan, what will happen to you, as a woman, an activist woman? And I replied, let’s talk about what’s happening today. Today we already have a civil war. Today, my life is more in danger despite having bodyguards, compared with the time during Taliban rule. There have been assassination attempts on my life.
So you’re saying it’s worse now?
Yes, not only is it worse, it will be even worse if this occupation continues because they will make these misogynist terrorists even more powerful. And now they’re negotiating with the Taliban. The situation now is not only more risky for me as a person, it is also more dangerous for millions of people in Afghanistan, especially the women of my country. The only difference between the Taliban period and now is that day by day they make their crimes legal, as you saw with the disgusting law against Shi’te women that was recently passed. All of these crimes are happening in the name of democracy. That’s the only difference. Now they all negotiate with each other and have no problem—all of them are puppets of the CIA, and the more than 40 countries that are occupying Afghanistan continue this wrong policy.
You’re suspended, but what kind of work are you able to be involved with in Afghanistan? What are you currently doing there? Do you have to stay at home all the time because of security concerns?
Yes, I am an underground activist; I am risking my life for this cause. One day together with my people we will bring them [the warlords and the Taliban] to the international criminal court. My message to brave people, especially those that fight for human rights, is that I’m documenting the crimes of these warlords and the Taliban. In the meantime I’m trying to bring awareness to my people, especially women, whom I meet underground and who have often times been raped, complaining that the government does not listen to them. And you can see by the clips on my webpage that I’m trying to give them hope. The media in Afghanistan has banned me but when foreign media enters Afghanistan, I am able to talk with them. When you speak the truth against the occupation and against the warlords and Taliban, people join you if you’re honest. In the mean time, it’s risky. They want to eliminate me, as you’ve seen with the assassination attempts. I’ve had to move from safe-house to safe-house and not lead a normal existence, but I’m glad. Everyday I say I must be tireless and fearless because I have the support of my people and I carry a heavy responsibility on my shoulders. As always I say, I don’t fear death—I fear political silence against injustice. And I’m glad that we have so much support from people outside Afghanistan. But we need more.