Former Afghan Member of Parliament Malalai Joya, who has survived five assassination attempts, is an outspoken critic of the occupation of her country. While on a speaking tour of four cities across Canada last month, she sat down with Toward Freedom in Vancouver to discuss the state of Afghanistan.
Miles Ashdown: Ms. Malalai Joya, thank you for your time. Let’s start by talking about NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan. You’ve called for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from your homeland. Tell me why.
Malalai Joya: Because now my people, they’re squashed between two powerful enemies. From the sky, occupation forces are bombing, killing civilians – mostly women and children. On the ground, Taliban and warlords together continue their fascism. The US and NATO occupy my country under the name of all beautiful banners of democracy, women’s rights, human rights. And for this long time, they shed the blood of our people under the name of war on terror but now they invite Taliban, these terrorists, also to join the government, as now they have secret meetings with these terrorists. It’s better [for the US and NATO] to leave Afghanistan then; it’s much easier for us to fight one enemy instead of two.
MA: General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in late August that the Taliban are expanding their footprint across the country. Do you expect the Taliban would re-gain control of the country?
MJ: Professor Marc Herold recently gave a report that about in almost 80 percent of Afghanistan, Taliban are already in power. But US is also happy that now, for example, Pakistan government support Taliban and also Iran’s fascist regime. Mainly through Pakistan, they support the Taliban these nine years and still they do. Because as much as the situation of Afghanistan will be more insecure and there will be more disaster then they will have good excuse for people around the world to stay long in Afghanistan, because of their own strategy, regional and economic trust.
MA: In your talks, you’ve been saying that the Taliban should not be in power and neither should the US and NAT O forces be occupying your country. However, a poll conducted late last year by the BBC showed 70 percent of Afghans do support the presence of American troops. How do you explain this?
MJ: You know it’s not only a military war in Afghanistan. This is a war of propaganda as well. Because mainstream media in the hand of these wrong politicians, war mongers, so-called politicians who always try to give to the people a picture that this is a good war in Afghanistan. As always, they say war in Afghanistan is good war, war in Iraq is bad. So this kind of survey, only these so-called politicians, or the journalists who they send out – just a couple in some big cities – they ask for some people from the pro-war people of Afghanistan. These are dishonest politicians who, from this occupation, got fame and wealth. So they never say the truth.
MA: The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, has spent more than four billion dollars on development projects since 2002. Has it made a difference?
MJ: Most of this money went into the pockets of the war lords, drug lords, these criminals, and even directly and indirectly to the Taliban. Now for example this dramatization is another new enemy of our people that day by day makes wider the gap between rich and poor. There are a lot of Afghan and foreign NGOs. Most of these NGOs are also corrupt. So through different ways, they are receiving millions of dollars from the so-called international community under the name of orphans, widows, reconstruction. But most of the money goes into the pocket of them and that’s why today more than 80 percent of people of Afghanistan live below the poverty line and they don’t have enough food to eat. In this kind of situation, millions of dollars are spent for non-democratic elections as we had [in September].
MA: You’ve spoken out against President Barack Obama, and he has pledged to start withdrawing NATO troops in July of next year. Do you expect him to fulfill that promise? Or will there be a situation like Iraq, where foreign troops remain as so-called “non-combat troops” yet are still involved in combat?
MJ: You know, these are empty promises. As we know the history of the US government that not only in Afghanistan but in many other countries since Second World War, that the US the destroyed democratic regimes, governments, and brought to power dictators. They have their own evil plans in Afghanistan. They will not leave Afghanistan anytime soon. We wish [them] to leave Afghanistan, even now is better than tomorrow, because democracy never comes by war, by cluster bombs, by occupation, by bombings, especially with the support of the sworn enemy of these values. These nine years they shed the blood of their own soldiers, but now they invite these terrorist Taliban under the name of peace to bring them also in power, which makes no sense.
MA: There are some positive signs coming out of Afghanistan. Since 2001, there’s been a seven-fold increase of children going to school – from one million to seven million. More than 90 percent of Afghans now have access to healthcare; in 2001, it was just 10 percent. The constitution grants men and women equality, at least under the law. The children and maternal mortality rates have also been steadily dropping, thanks in part to midwife training programs. Some say a NATO withdrawal means abandoning Afghan women and human rights. What’s your response?
MJ: You know there are those people who support the war in Afghanistan who are pro-war, who got fame and wealth from this occupation. Of course, to have good excuse for their occupation, they build some schools [which] we didn’t have in the dark period of the Taliban. They build some hospitals while billions of dollars were given under the name of health, reconstruction, etc. But some money they use, through their TVs, to show to the people around the world and to mainstream media that we are doing a good job. There’s no question we need helping hand. We need hospitals. We need clinics. We need streets. We need reconstruction of Afghanistan, especially education. We have a lot of orphans and widows. But the money does not go in the right direction. The money does not go to benefit these millions of poor, suffering people of my country.
MA: Can this development continue without security?
MJ: Of course, security is even more important than food and water for our people. But by presence of tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, even in Kabul we don’t have security.
MA: Do you think that conditions for women will improve or deteriorate if Taliban take over Afghanistan?
MJ: You know at least the troops will leave Afghanistan. As long as these troops will be in Afghanistan, their government [will] continue … to do the wrong thing, giving more dollars, more power, more guns to these misogynist terrorists, so the situation of the women will be more disastrous, more bloody. Now they invite these terrorists to join the government.
MA: Ms. Joya, you’ve been called the bravest woman in Afghanistan and you’re certainly one of the most outspoken women in your country. Why do you speak out – here in Vancouver and elsewhere around the world?
MJ: I’m coming here as my supporters invite me and they pay all expenses, organize public events especially, [and] do some interviews with some democratic-minded journalists that tell the message of our people; to condemn this war…and now it becomes open secret for people around the world. But it’s not enough. We need more solidarity and support. Just for one or two days we are coming and bringing the message, but we are leaving. And [the people in the countries I visit] are the ones who should continue to this struggle, put more pressure on their government and meet with some democratic politicians of their country.