Malalai Joya interview: Occupation making Afghan lives worse

November 13, 2010
People at the Malalai Joya event.
More than 50 people listened to Afghan democracy activist, Malalai Joya (pictured second from left).

Malalai Joya is an Afghan feminist and anti-war activist who opposes the US-led occupation of her country. An opponent of both the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban and the equally fundamentalist and corrupt warlords in the US-backed regime of President Hamid Karzai, Joya was the youngest member elected to Afghan parliament in 2005. She was suspended after she said the parliament was full of warlords. Joya is touring Australia and will speak at UTS in Sydney on November 16.

This year is set to become the year of the highest casualties for occupying forces since the 2001 invasion. US pilotless drone strikes, on targets in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, are at a higher rate than ever. During a parliamentary debate on Australia’s participation in the occupation, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia could be occupying Joya’s nation for a further 10 years.

The administration of US President Barack Obama, which has sent an extra 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, backed away from its stated July 2011 timeline to begin withdrawing its military from Afghanistan, the Sydney Morning Herald said on November 11.

With no end in sight to the war further devastating one of the world’s poorest nations, Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman and Tony Iltis spoke to Joya about the occupation and its effects of on her country.

* * *

Every time an Australian soldier is killed in Afghanistan, Australia’s two major parties and media claim they died to bring freedom, democracy and stability to your country. After nine years, is there any evidence to support these claims?

Freedom, democracy, stability and independence do not come with occupation. The soldiers are victims of this disastrous war in Afghanistan.

The war on Afghanistan is not only a military war but also a propaganda war. The media buries the truth and throws dust in the world’s eyes.

Thousands of innocent women, children and men have been killed in these nine years by US/NATO air strikes and bombardments, but the media sidelines the truth by decreasing the death toll and calling them “insurgents”. Yet when even one soldier from the occupying forces gets killed, there is a lot of hype.

The sad truth is they are not only betraying Afghan people, but also their own people.

Why didn’t you run in the parliamentary elections this year, and what is your assessment of the results?

I received invitations to run from many provinces and it was hard to say no to these friends and supporters.

According to many assessments, the elections were the most fraudulent of any election held so far in my country. My participation in such a mockery would be taken as a credit to the government.

For several months, I was threatened that I should not take part in the elections or else myself and my campaigners would be killed. I am not scared of these death threats, but in the current atmosphere, I was very afraid for my campaigners.

I was warned, including by a friend in the government, that this time, Karzai and his fundamentalist accomplices were determined to stop me winning at any cost.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has foreshadowed Australian troops remaining in Afghanistan for 10 years. What do you think are US intentions?

The US is occupying Afghanistan for its own strategic, economic, political and regional interests and unfortunately Australia has followed this treacherous policy. They have only empowered a bunch of warlords and drug lords and pushed Afghanistan into a deep pit of corruption, drug trafficking, violence against women, extreme poverty and increasing civilian deaths.

Rich copper, lithium and uranium mines have been discovered in Afghanistan and US/NATO have their greedy eyes on them. Furthermore, they are expanding their military bases in Afghanistan everyday so they can easily control the gas and oil of the Central Asian republics.

Karzai and his US backers have put out peace feelers to the Taliban. Are the Taliban likely to respond? Will it make any difference for ordinary Afghan people?

I have always said that there is no difference between the Taliban and Northern Alliance (those now in power) criminals. Fundamentalists are ready to be part of any kind of government except an independent and democratic one, with or without the Taliban’s inclusion.

I think the US government, under popular pressure at home, wants to get out of Afghanistan so that it doesn’t become another Vietnam. And just like it said during the Vietnam War, it is searching for an “honorable solution”. This had been the US policy from the start and there has been no essential change.

The US helped create the Taliban. When the Taliban took power, it signed a mutual agreement with the US, particularly to allow US company UNOCAL build a gas pipeline. The US even gave the Taliban financial help. So if now the US is compromising with the Taliban, it’s not something new.

The Taliban themselves are not fighting against the US for the freedom of Afghanistan, they simply want a share of power in the puppet government of the US.

The main conflict between the Taliban and [US-backed] Northern Alliance is also over the sharing of power. But for this “honorable solution” to work, the US first wants to deliver some blows to the fundamentalists, especially the Taliban, so that its reconciliation with them doesn’t seem to be out of weakness.

For the US, the only important thing is that its political and economic interests in Afghanistan are kept intact and are not replaced with Iran or China. It’s not of any significance for the US if an even more corrupt and mafia-ridden government comes to power and Afghanistan remains backwards.

For the US, it is essential that through its domination of Afghanistan, its competitors in the region are intimidated and that the US has access to the oil and gas of central Asia without the intervention of Iran and Russia.

Despite all this, the US will not be successful in reconciling with its past stooges any time soon. The only difference for ordinary Afghans would be more disasters. The situation for women, especially,will worsen.

What democratic forces exist in Afghanistan?

Rather than democratic forces as such, we have democratically-minded individuals. These people face death threats and many challenges, but despite all these risks, they are active underground. There are some progressive parties and organisations, such as the Afghan Solidarity Party, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan and some non-corrupt, financially weak NGOs.

As the occupation continues and civilian deaths and casualties increase, more people join these forces and their role becomes vital for Afghanistan. As a bright alternative, they should be supported for a stable future.

Time magazine ran a picture of gender-based violence victim Bibi Aisha and the headline “What happens if we leave Afghanistan?”. How do Western pro-war propagandists manipulate the story of Afghan women?

In these nine years, much treason has been committed against Afghan women. The US and its allies misused their plight to occupy Afghanistan and now to justify their ongoing presence. The Timecover story with Aisha is just an example of how they use the oppression on women as war propaganda.

The headline should have been: “What happens while we are in Afghanistan?”. As long as these occupiers stay in Afghanistan and nurture these misogynist warlords and Taliban, such tragic stories as Aisha’s with continue.

Some members of the militia of Uruzgan warlord Matiullah Khan have been given military training in Australia. What do you know about Matiullah Khan? What would you like to say to the Australian government and people about this?

Matiullah Khan is one of those who have been accused of corruption and human rights violations. That he and his commanders have been trained by Australia proves how dishonest the occupiers are towards their own people. Despite the story of Matiullah Khan becoming international, they continue to support his.

But there are many other warlords, the same or much worse than him. Only they are in power wearing the masks of democracy. Instead of being behind bars, they sit on high posts in this puppet regime and get more powerful day by day with the support of their foreign masters.

There is a huge difference between the government and the people of a nation. The Australian government supports these terrorists, so my message to the justice-loving people of Australia is to put pressure on their government to withdraw their troops. I am sure they agree with us that democracy does not come with the barrel of gun, cluster bombs or white phosphorus therefore I would like to ask all peace-loving, justice-seeking and democratic organisations, groups, parties and individuals to support progressive and democratic-minded forces as a real alternative for a positive change in my country.

They can empower my people educationally because education is a key towards emancipation.

Most Australians want Australian soldiers brought out. They know the war is wrong, but are worried that if the US-NATO troops come out, the Taliban (and warlords) will get stronger. How do you respond to these concerns?

The only solution is the troops should withdraw because their presence is making the situation worse. Troops are daubed by Afghans as “enemies” rather than “friends”. Afghan people are squashed between three enemies: the Taliban, the fundamentalist warlords and foreign troops.

If the foreign enemy leaves Afghanistan, my people would only face two internal enemies and it would be easier to combat them. All the war criminals of the past 30 years should be put on trial and punished for their unforgivable crimes against the men, women and children of this nation. There are some that say the Taliban may get back to power, but my people, despite being wounded and tired of all the war, may lead a decisive combat against these dinosaurs with the extreme hatred that they have for them.

And then, a democratic, independent and secular government should be installed, free of all kinds of fundamentalist, mafia and criminal germs.

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