By Zia Ur Rehman
Malalai Joya is an Afghan activist, writer and an outspoken critic of the Afghan warlords, the Karzai government and the US role in her country. In 2003, Joya became famous by speaking out publicly, as an elected delegate to the Constitutional Loya Jirga, against the domination of warlords. In September 2005, she became a member of the parliament (Wolesi Jirga) when she received the second highest number of votes in her home province Farah.
However, she was suspended on May 21, 2007, for continuing to criticise the warlords and drug barons for destroying her country. Joya wears a burqa to disguise her identity after surviving six assassination attempts and lives in different safe-houses.
In 2010, Time magazine called her one of the world’s 100 most influential people, Foreign Policy magazine listed her among its Top Global Thinkers and BBC termed her ‘the bravest woman of Afghanistan’.
Joya was born in 1978, and is married with no children. At her safe-house in Kabul, The News on Sunday got an opportunity to talk to her on issues relating to security situation, parliamentary development and women’s rights in Afghanistan.
The News on Sunday: How did you enter politics in a war-ravaged country like Afghanistan?
Malalai Joya: I belong to a middle-class family of Farah province. Because of the worse security situation, my family migrated to Iran and then Pakistan to live as refugees. Due to financial problems, I got education till grade 12 in Peshawar. In 1998, we came back to Herat province of Southern Afghanistan where I started teaching. At that time, it was a dangerous venture as Taliban strictly forbade educating girls beyond the age of eight. For those who broke the rules, extreme punishments were meted out. I still remember some horrific memories of the Taliban rule. Along with running an underground school, I was also active in social activities which helped me in my election as a member of parliament in 2005 from Farah province.
TNS: Why was your parliament membership suspended?
MJ: I contested the elections because I wanted to highlight the sufferings of Afghans. Women and children suffered the most during the civil war and the Taliban rule. But I found the parliament a drama and not a democratic institution. I knew from the very first day in the parliament that it is a meeting place for the worst enemies of the Afghan people. Majority of the MPs are warlords, drug lords and human rights violators. It has not brought anything positive to the Afghan people in the past years and it will not do anything for the Afghan people in future.
In May 2006, my membership from the parliament was suspended just because I criticised the warlords and drug lords sitting in the parliament who were involved in destruction of my country and killing of thousands of innocent people. I was physically and verbally attacked by fellow members of the parliament.
TNS: How has Afghanistan changed since the fall of Taliban?
MJ: The current situation of Afghanistan is a disaster and is getting worse. The US and its allies occupied Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, under the pretext of bringing peace, democracy and women’s rights. But they replaced the barbaric Taliban with the brutal Mujahideen associated with Northern Alliance who look different but are mentally similar. They were in power before the Taliban and in Kabul alone they had killed more than 65,000 innocent people.
The US destroyed Afghanistan for taking revenge from the USSR. Today, Afghanistan is not only a safe haven for terrorists, it is a mafia state and is ranked at the top of the most unstable and corrupt countries in the world. Afghanistan produces 93 per cent of the world opium and even some ministers are involved in this dirty business.
TNS: What is the state of women in Afghanistan today?
MJ: The situation for women is as terrible today as it was before. In some big cities, some women and girls have access to jobs and education, but in most provinces women’s lives are hell. In rural areas, most women do not even have a human life. Forced marriages, child brides and domestic violence are very common.
TNS: How do you see Afghanistan after the US and Nato forces withdraw in 2014?
MJ: In my opinion, al-Qaeda, Taliban, Mujahideen, drug lords and warlords are products of the White House’s cold war. The announcement of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is the Obama’s administration’s political gimmick which they used to deceive the American people in order to win the upcoming US elections. No nation can liberate another nation.
On the one hand, the US is talking about pulling out its troops from Afghanistan and on the other they are busy signing new strategic agreements and increasing military bases in Afghanistan. The US would not withdraw troops from Afghanistan as announced, because they have geo-political and strategic interests in the region. Unfortunately, all neighbours of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China, are their enemies and all of them want to occupy the natural resources and minerals of the country.
The level of our people’s political consciousness and awareness has raised and they do not accept the domination of foreign invaders or local criminal forces any more. This gives me hope for a bright future.
TNS: How do you see the ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban?
MJ: All the key leaders of Taliban are present in Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil and Mullah Rahmatullah Hashmi, all are roaming in Kabul freely. The Afghan people want to put them (Taliban) in the cages, but the Karzai government is busy appeasing them by calling them ‘brothers’ and ‘moderate Taliban’ and deceiving Afghan people.
TNS: What is your opinion about the Afghan presidential elections 2014?
MJ: Talking of elections in the world’s most corrupt, mafia-ridden, and occupied country like Afghanistan is ridiculous. The Afghan parliament is working as a mouthpiece for the imperialist forces. The Afghan people have no interest in the elections where such infamous elements are candidates. That is why millions of Afghans don’t exercise their voting rights, and this truth is also corroborated by international independent election monitoring organisations. People know well that there is no difference between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah.
TNS: What security precautions have you taken after life threats?
MJ: Since I was expelled from the parliament, life has been very difficult for me inside Afghanistan. I have been restricted from free movement and meeting people in different parts of Afghanistan, so I have tried to advance my efforts on international platforms. I change places often and can’t have an office. I wear a burqa outside and travel with private bodyguards. I don’t attend public meetings. But I still don’t feel safe. The expenses of bodyguards are paid by contributions of my local and international supporters, anti-war and leftist groups.
(The writer conducted this interview in Kabul where he was part of the Pak-Afghan Media Exchange Programme. Email; zia_ firstname.lastname@example.org)