Malalai Joya, a former MP and one of Afghanistan’s best-known democratic leaders, recently survived the sixth attempt on her life. Taliban gunmen attacked her office at 3 am on March 10, wounding two of her guards. In an exclusive interview, she told Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman that “such terrorist acts will never stop my fight for freedom, democracy and justice”.
Joya will visit Australia in April to speak at the Marxism 2012 conference in Melbourne and a Stop the War Coalition public meeting in Sydney on April 11. Read more of Green Left's coverage of the Afghan war.
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The US says it will start withdrawing its troops by the end of 2012. The Australian government is refusing to specify a date, saying there is a lot of “training” of Afghan soldiers still needed. What is your response?
Australia’s policy is to find an excuse to service the United States. The Afghan national army and police haven’t been created to look after the welfare of our people. They are being trained to be the cannon fodder so that the occupiers’ causalities decrease.
Furthermore, the army and police units mostly consist of criminal bands connected to the warlords in government including Yunus Qanuni; Haji Almas, Amrullah Saleh, Atta Muhammad Nur, Abdul Rusal Sayyaf, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Karim Khalili, Fahim, Abdul Rashid Dustom and Abdullah Abdullah.
There are hundreds of security companies connected to these criminals. The government claims to be closing them down, but very few are. A real national army and police need to be independent of these corrupt elements.
Since US soldiers’ were caught burning the Koran, the Afghan protests demanding the US-NATO forces leave have become a lot more visible in the West. To what extent do these protests represent the views of ordinary Afghans?
These protests have been strong for some time. They continue but the national security agency of Afghanistan, KHAD, is doing all it can to try and stop them. Even so, many people take great risks — including jail and being tortured to death — to continue the public demonstrations against the occupiers.
Is the democratic movement growing stronger?
Afghanistan is one of the most oppressed, devastated, closed and poorest nations in the world. You could say the US and its allies chose a good time to occupy. From the ruthless Soviet occupation, followed by the horrific war of the fundamentalist Jihadis and the cruel rule of the Taliban, we are a very tired nation. Thirty years of war has trampled our energy to resistance, to hope and to struggle.
The democratic movements do have to reorganise and strengthen themselves, otherwise the democratic anti-occupation and anti-fundamentalist uprisings will remain spontaneous and therefore more easily suppressed by the government.
But there is also hope. As Belquis Roshan, the only MP to raise her voice against the fundamentalists, said: “People have a lot of hatred for the foreign troops and these protests will finally become an armed struggle against the foreign occupiers and the local criminals who have collaborated with them.”
With the US under pressure from global opposition to the war in Afghanistan, it is now pushing the Hamid Karzai government to make a deal with the Taliban. Is such a deal likely and what will this mean for ordinary Afghans?
Of course — and this isn’t a new development. Former Taliban figures such as Mullah Zaeef, Mullah Rakiti, Maulvi Wakeel and Ahmad Motawakil helped create this regime in 2001. Members of the criminal Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s party also have seats as so-called technocrats, ministers, ambassadors, governors and commanders. This hasn’t stopped them committing crimes against our people.
Karzai is the main negotiator between the US and Taliban. To make the latter happy, he is supporting a bunch of misogynist Ulemas, so-called religious scholars, to pass a code that includes preventing women from walking on the streets without a male companion.
These same reactionaries have just announced that Nawroz is prohibited. Yet the New Year festival, one of the oldest celebrated, is part of our nation’s culture.
There is an Afghan proverb that, roughly translated, asks: “Is there something blacker than black?”
Afghans answer, “Yes, and that is the unity of Taliban, Jihadis and the agents of Iran and Pakistan led by the US occupiers”. They know it will bring even more grief, poverty and destruction.
What will this mean for women's rights?
Women have been the prime victims — subjected to extreme kinds of violence — during the 30 years of war.
Today, a Taliban-like jungle law, including the public flogging of women, stoning to death, public strangulation and execution, is still carried out in many provinces. But one day women will rise up and become a determining force.
What are the political alternatives?
First, the foreign troops should leave Afghanistan immediately. The US occupiers have made life hell by massacring innocent civilians and supporting this brutal regime of warlords and fundamentalists.
History shows that nations liberate themselves. Democracy and justice can’t be imposed by a foreign power — especially by the US with its history of overthrowing democratic regimes and imposing dictators and murderers on countless nations since World War II.
The Karzai regime has to be uprooted and the criminals of the past 30 years must be brought to justice for their unforgivable crimes. Only independent, democratic and pro-women’s rights forces can bring peace and liberation, and this will only be possible through our own struggles.
Despite widespread opposition to the war, there is still a chorus in the West who argue that women's rights have improved. Is this true?
No. Afghanistan is the worst place in the whole world to become a mother. In 2011, 50 women died every day while giving birth.
Recently, a 22-year-old girl from Ghor province was hanged after having been a victim of domestic violence. An 18-year-old teacher in Baghlan province was gang-raped by armed men.
Two small girls, one of who was six years old, and a woman were raped by local commanders in Takhar province. A man axed his wife to death by chopping off her fingers and toes. Fifteen-year-old Sadat, a newlywed, committed self-immolation to escape her misery.
This is just the tip of the iceberg: such crimes are increasing. But because the media is owned by misogynist criminals who kill, kidnap or threaten journalists who report on such atrocities, the facts are not reported.
There is the story of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who was cruelly tortured by her husband. He locked her up in a windowless room and used pliers to pull out her nails, clumps of her hair and big chunks of her flesh.
Twenty-one-year-old Gulnaz was raped by a relative and, when she complained, was accused of adultery and sentenced to 12 years’ jail. The rapist was sentenced to just three years.
Gulnaz gave birth in prison and when a foreign journalist publicised her case, the court told her she could be freed in three years if she married her rapist. The case went public and Karzai intervened to get her released. Meanwhile, thousands of other women in similar situations suffer in Afghan jails.
The Pakistani military has close ties with both the US and the Taliban. What do you think of the Pakistani military’s role in the war in Afghanistan?
The close ties between the Pakistan military and the US is an open secret. But elements in the Pakistani military are more under the influence of Pakistani fundamentalists and they want to destroy the father-son connection between it and the US. Neither situation is good for freedom-loving Pakistanis.
Zia-ul-Haq, one of Pakistan’s dictators, once said that Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan was a blessing because when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan received a lot of US support. More than 50% of CIA funding went to the Afghan mujahideen through the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This is how Pakistan managed to make the mujahideen its hired hand.
Zia-ul-Haq also encouraged the brutal Jamaat-i-Islami — a party that became the godfather of these criminals.
The ISI and Jamaat-i-Islami have these criminals in their pockets and after [former Afghan president] Mohammad Najibullah’s downfall in 1992, these criminals came to power in Afghanistan. After four years of not being able to form a government, Pakistan was forced to bring in its other lackeys — the Taliban.
Although Pakistan government sometimes has disagreements with its lackeys, the connection to the Taliban remains strong. Pakistan failed to keep the Jihadis united and it is careful not to repeat the same mistake with the Taliban. It is determined to keep their devoted agents and maintain their interests in Afghanistan.
Last December you took part in a conference of progressive parties from Afghanistan and Pakistan. What’s the level of collaboration?
Both countries are ruled by reactionary and anti-people governments. To expand our democratic rights, independent and anti-fundamentalist alliances need to be set up.
We have a Farsi proverb that says: “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” Forming a sort of progressive South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which includes Iran, would help.
It’s also our duty to expose the brutal Iranian regime, which while pretending to be “anti-imperialist” commits unimaginable crimes against its own people.
To what extent are Afghans inspired by the “Arab Spring” revolts?
The “Arab Spring” revolts are synonymous with breaking the chains of fascism and overthrowing dictatorships. But reactionaries, such as Abdullah Abdullah, Amrullah Saleh, Qanooni, have polluted its meaning by saying that Afghanistan will also rise up like the Egyptians.
A true Arab Spring for Afghans will come only when people rise against all the criminals, including these ones, and force them to face justice for their crimes.
Although Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt, his regime has not been annihilated. Meanwhile, the US installed its puppet. So the Egyptian people must continue their struggle against this traitor government.
Muhammad Qaddafi, the anti-people dictator in Libya, should have been overthrown by the Libyans themselves and not by foreign invaders.
The US is also trying to sabotage the revolution by freedom-loving and democracy-seeking Syrians. It wants to install a puppet government to drag Syria back to the Middle Ages — just as it did in Iraq and Libya. Bashar Assad is a dictator and needs to be overthrown — but by the Syrian people’s initiative, not an invasion from the US, Saudi Arabia or Turkey.
Syria’s revolution is taking longer to be victorious because the US and Saudi Arabia — the new “human rights” champions — are meddling. In addition, Britain and France have their own plans and traitor agents in Syria.
The Gulbuddini terrorists [mercenary militias of the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who went to fight in Bosnia and Azerbaijan], Jihadi criminals and Taliban killers have been mobilised to lead terrorist operations against the Assad regime. The Syrian people are aware of the treacherous crimes by these foreigners, and so are forced to support Assad.
One of the reasons the Arab Spring revolts were left incomplete comes down to a lack of organisation — without which revolution is not possible. The revolts came about through conscious grassroots movements: they will rise again to uproot these regimes.