Malalai Joya is an Afghan human rights activist, writer, and former member of the Afghan National Assembly. In 2010, she was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
How has Afghanistan changed since the fall of the Taliban? In particular, how have women’s lives changed?
The US invaded my country under the banner of the war on terror, women’s rights, human rights, and democracy. But even with the presence of tens of thousands of troops, not only women—also Afghan men—suffer from war, terrorism, injustice, the rule of drug mafia and warlordism, insecurity, joblessness, poverty, unprecedented corruption, and many other problems. While it’s true that the women’s rights situation may have improved when you compare it with the barbaric regime of the Taliban—some women now have jobs and education—it is used to justify the occupation. In most places, particularly in the villages, the condition of women is still like a hell.
Right now, rape, domestic violence, the killing of women, the burning their schools, and many other kinds of violence and injustices against women are increasing rapidly, even historically. For example, recently in Kunar province a young woman was brutally beaten by her husband in a case of domestic violence. She escaped from her house and went to the Ministry of Women office. The Ministry of Women handed her over to the head of the Provincial Council, who is a brutal and infamous warlord. He raped this woman twice. When a local brave lawyer wanted to fight her case, he received death threats from this warlord. And this is only one example out of thousands.
Also, 68 members of the parliament are women, more than even the US Congress, but most of them are just symbolic and have links with the warlords, so they do not represent Afghan women. Crimes against women are increasing and there are tens of self-immolation cases every month, and it’s because of this misogynist regime which provides no protection to women.
So why do you think the United States has, as you say, adopted a policy of supporting warlords and fundamentalists since 2001?
It is an open secret today that the US is the god-father of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. All terrorist fundamentalist groups from Al-Qaeda to the Taliban and our warlords of the Northern Alliance were created, funded, and nourished by the CIA during the cold war. The green belt of extremism and Jihad concept, which was funded and implemented by the CIA through ISI of Pakistan, has caused all of the current problems, and the US still needs these groups to advance its long-term war agenda in the region.
The US has invested billions of dollars in them over the past decades. Through them, the US and their allies occupied my country. Through them, they keep Afghanistan lawless and unsafe to the media as part of their strategy to justify their long presence. Through them, they changed Afghanistan into the world capital of opium, which was one of the objectives of the occupation of Afghanistan.
Through these medieval groups the US and allies continue to supress democratic-minded groups and individuals in my country, who are regarded as dangerous to interests because, unlike the fundamentalists, they want an end to occupation and fight for an independent, free, and democratic Afghanistan. While the warlords are most hated in Afghan society, the progressive groups have better grounds to use the overall dissatisfaction of Afghan people in mobilizing them for a grassroots movement.
Unlike democratic-minded groups, the fundamentalists are ready to sacrifice our national interests to serve the interests of foreign countries if money is pumped into their pockets. Day-by-day the US/NATO are expanding their military bases in Afghanistan. Through Afghan warlords, the US exports fundamentalism to the Central Asian republics, too.
Would Afghanistan have been better off, in your opinion, if the US had not invaded?
I think occupation has tripled our problems and miseries. After ten years of war, destruction and killing of tens of thousands of innocent people, we are still where we were in 2001. In 2001 Afghans had to face one major enemy, the Taliban, but today, we have to fight the warlords, the Taliban, the occupation forces, and the drug-mafia. In the long run, the last of these especially makes our future bleak.
Today, not only US and its over 40 allies have a free hand in Afghanistan, but also the neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Iran have their bloody hands in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and continue to send weapons, funds, and support to brutal and criminal groups.
My people are squashed between three enemies: occupation, the Taliban, and the warlords. It is true that our people are wounded and tired from all the wars, which is a hopeful point—they hate these two internal enemies. Meanwhile, my people are saying to the occupiers, “Stop the wrongdoing. We don’t expect anything good to come from you.” It is clear they have occupied my country; we have a history of occupation. If the US and their allies do not leave Afghanistan, I’m sure with the passage of time they will face the resistance of my people more.
There is no question we want the troops out of Afghanistan, but in the meantime we are asking for solidarity—the helping hand of the justice-loving people of the US, peace-loving people from around the world, human rights organizations, and many other organizations around the world. Although the US government and other Western governments impose war and destruction on us, we are so happy and proud for the people of these countries—those intellectuals, parties, and organizations—that stand in solidarity with us. We need their solidarity and support. We need their educational support, because education is the key to resisting the occupation and ignorance.
You said in your talk at Harvard University yesterday that the only difference between US forces and the Taliban is that US forces have killed under the banner of human rights, women’s rights, and democracy. What do you make, then, of President Obama’s commitment to fund humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan? Does that not make you more hopeful?
There is no question we need that kind of help instead of military occupation. But unfortunately, under the beautiful banners of democracy, women’s rights, and human rights, the US supports the misogynist warlords. These warlords and the Taliban are carbon copies of each other. Apparently the US and other Western countries have given over $62 billion in the past ten years for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but due to an awful level of corruption in the Afghan government, national and international NGOs, and even in UN and US offices, a very tiny part of the fund actually reaches the needy people. Afghanistan is the second most corrupt country in the world, and the foreigners are equally engaged in it. A large part of the fund goes back to the donor countries. Even the US media has exposed some small parts of the corruption and lootings going on in Afghanistan. From President Hamid Karzai to his ministers and other officials and their family members—all are implicated in looting and corruption. Due to such corruption, hundreds of millions of dollars end up in the hands of the criminal Taliban, to be used for killing our innocent people.
The US government imposed on my people a cartoon of democracy with bloody hands. That’s why today Afghanistan is like a hell. When Obama took office, unfortunately the first news for my people was more conflict because he surged the troops’ level, which brought more massacres, more violence, more miseries, and more tragedies. And now Obama’s administration has invaded Libya under the same banner of human rights. For my people, Obama is as dangerous as Bush. He has proven himself a warmonger by his support of his warlords. Through them, the occupiers have pushed my country into the dark ages.
In the struggle for democracy in Afghanistan, what challenges are posed by the country’s conservative, Islamic culture?
Afghanis have no problem at all with democracy. Our people experienced all Islamic fundamentalist groups and witnessed their brutalities, looting, slavery to foreign countries, and ignorance. Such groups have completely lost their bases among people, and democratic ideas have much chance to gain ground. But in the past few years the US and allies gave a very bad name to democracy among common Afghans. They do all their wrong-doings under the name of democracy, and some people say if this is democracy we don’t want it! Democracy without justices is meaningless; there is no justice for our people today. They call for people around the world to support their rights against a non-democratic, misogynistic government. We are very proud of some very positive aspects of our culture. Our problem is not with Islam at all but with the so-called Islam of Bin Laden, Mullah Omer, and the misogynist warlords, who misuse Islam as a weapon for advancing their evil plans.