'The Afghan People Are Fed Up': An Interview with Malalai Joya
by Elsa Rassbach
January 10, 2013
Malalai Joya, 34, first gained international attention in 2003
when she spoke out publicly against the domination of
warlords. She was at that time serving as an elected delegate
to the Loya Jirga that was convened to ratify the Constitution
of Afghanistan; in 2005 she became one of 68 women elected to
the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, and was the
youngest member of the Afghan parliament.
In 2007 she again spoke out against former warlords and war
criminals in the Afghan parliament and was thereupon suspended
from the parliament. Since then she has survived many
assassination attempts. She travels in Afghanistan with armed
guards and has worked tirelessly on behalf of Afghan women and
to end the occupation of her country.
She has received broad international recognition. In 2010,
Time Magazine placed Malalai Joya on their annual list of the
100 most influential people in the world, and Foreign Policy
Magazine in listed her in its annual list of the Top 100
Global Thinkers. In March, 2011, The Guardian listed her
among "Top 100 women: activists and campaigners." Her most
recent book is "Raising My Voice."
I first met Malalai in 2007 in Berlin, after she was invited
to speak in the German Parliament (see
http://www.zcommunications.org/the-war-on-terror-is-a-mockery-by-elsa-rassbach), and we've met again during some of her
further visits to Europe. This interview is based on our
conversation during her most recent visit to Berlin and
subsequent email correspondence between us.
The above text and following interview is by Elsa Rassbach, a
US journalist and filmmaker based in Berlin, Germany.
RASSBACH: Last month in Paris representatives of the Taliban
for the first time met with their former enemies of the
Northern Alliance, the collection of militias that fought them
in the 1990s and eventually helped the U.S. to oust the
Taliban regime. Now President Obama has invited Afghan
President Hamid Karzai to meet with him in Washington on
What do you make of this?
JOYA: To make the current puppet regime in Kabul more
powerful, the U.S. and NATO have been trying to bring together
three groups that emerged during three criminal periods of war
in Afghanistan: the warlords, the Taliban, and some of those
who served the hated Russian occupation.
Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance warlords are long-
time allies of the West. These groups are criminal, dark-
minded, and reactionary to the core. In their lust for power,
they are ready to sacrifice national interests of Afghanistan
to any foreign power.
The Taliban and the Northern Alliance warlords are responsible
for much of the suffering of the Afghan people. They are like
a wolf and a vulture and can never be regarded part of a
"solution" to Afghanistan's tragedy. Our people want them
prosecuted as traitors and war criminals. But the West wants
to "unite" them and impose them on our nation. Joining this
dirty mafia regime are some of the ex-Russian puppets, the
Khalq and the Parcham, who tortured and killed countless
innocent democratic-minded people. Such "unity" may serve the
U.S./NATO interests in Afghanistan, but will lead to another
reign of terror and brutalities upon our poor people.
As history shows, the U.S. has relied on criminals, dictators,
human rights violators, and reactionary forces in many other
countries of the world. Recently in Libya the U.S. and NATO
supported fundamentalists who are worse than Qaddafi; in Syria
they are supporting Al-Qaeda and other such dirty groups. So
it is not surprising that they are once again working with the
Taliban and with Hekmatyar and other criminals in my country.
It was the U.S. that brought the warlords into power in Kabul,
and the U.S./NATO puppet Karzai is even more shameless than
previous Afghan puppets of the British and the Russians. While
the puppets of Russia and Britain negotiated behind closed
doors, Karzai is publicly selling Afghanistan to a foreign
master. The so-called strategic agreements like the Bilateral
Security Agreement provide for long-term U.S./NATO military
bases in Afghanistan. The U.S. wants to remain in Afghanistan
because of its geopolitical location: to be able to control
other Asian powers like Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China.
Karzai and Obama are working on an outline of an agreement for
legalizing permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But as
long as we have foreign military bases in our country, we have
no independence. And when we have no independence, we have
nothing, and all talk of democracy, human rights and women's
rights is a joke. Afghanistan is the second most corrupt
country in the world. And Afghanistan is the worst place to
be a woman, according to a recent international study. They
are looting our rich mineral deposit mines worth three
trillion dollars, and they are raking in money from the drug
For the U.S. government, the wellbeing of the Afghan people
has no value at all. The U.S. elites just want relative
stability in order to continue the occupation and maintain
military bases in Afghanistan without much trouble. If
"stability" can be achieved by empowering the worst enemies of
Afghan people, they are ready to do this. After all, the U.S.
schemes to interfere with and control Afghanistan did not
begin with 9/11. They go back for decades.
** What means has the U.S. used to interfere with and control
The warlords who were put into power in Kabul by the U.S. are
extremist fundamentalists. In the 1980s, during the Cold War,
they received much financing and support from the ISI (the
Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan) and from the
CIA to fight the Soviets. The warlords were known to be
misogynists; for example, one of their leaders was Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar (founder of Hezb-e Islami), a fanatic who in the
early 1970s ordered his followers to throw acid into the faces
of Afghan women who refused to wear burkas in Kabul.
The U.S. government supported and nourished these
fundamentalists to kill democratic, leftist, secular and
progressive people in Afghanistan. Eight fundamentalist
parties were created -- seven in Pakistan and an eighth in
Iran -- and each of them wanted to be the one in power. After
they ousted the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, they
conducted a brutal civil war among themselves in Afghanistan
from 1992 to 1996. Alone in Kabul the warlords killed more
than 65,000 innocent people and turned the city into ashes.
In the 1990s, the CIA provided financing to the ultra-
fundamentalist Taliban and encouraged Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia to support the Taliban in their drive to power; in
1996, the Taliban defeated the warlords and ruled Afghanistan
for five years.
In 2001, after ousting the Taliban regime with the help of the
warlords, the U.S. government announced that it had learned
from past mistakes and would not empower Islamic
fundamentalism again. But in reality they are still helping
the brutal fundamentalists and imposing the old criminals and
looters upon us. Islamic fundamentalism is once again the main
tool in the hands of the U.S. to control Afghanistan, to
suppress progressive and freedom-loving forces of my country,
and to stop the emergence of a powerful democratic anti-
The power of media has been another effective way for the U.S.
to mislead Afghans, especially the youth, to say "yes" to the
occupation and to the continuing presence of foreign military
bases in Afghanistan. Over the past eleven years, the U.S. has
promoted media in Afghanistan and has spent large sums of
money on propaganda and "soft war." Almost all the major media
outlets in the country are under U.S. control. A large
majority of the Afghan people is illiterate, and we have no
independent, progressive media to neutralize and counteract
the pro-U.S. media.
The NGOs are another tool of the U.S. and other NATO countries
in Afghanistan. Through financing NGOs, they buy the loyalty
of some Afghans and use them as their puppets to advance
their. agenda in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there are many
Afghans, especially intellectuals, who are paving the way for
a continued U.S./NATO occupation.
** There are many reports that the U.S. and NATO want to keep
a significant "troop presence" in Afghanistan well after 2014.
But if all the foreign troops were to leave, would there be
civil war in Afghanistan?
There is already a civil war, a dangerous civil war. Whether
the foreign troops stay or leave, war is going on. The
presence of foreign troops only makes our struggle for justice
harder, because the occupiers empower reactionary warlords --
and now also empower Taliban, along with killers from the past
Russian puppet regime. At least if the foreign troops leave,
one of the biggest evils will be gone. Then we will face
internal enemies. If the occupation leaves, at least the
Taliban will not get more powerful. If the troops honestly
leave, the backbone of these terrorists will break. They will
become like orphans, because their godfather is the U.S.,
which was also the godfather of Al Qaida.
We are fed up with the so-called helping hand of the U.S. and
NATO that is used to justify occupation. The mother and
father of all these tragedies is the occupation itself and the
U.S./NATO support of the killers of my people. When the
occupation leaves, these fundamentalists will get weak. They
have no roots in the heart of the people, and their backbone
will break. If the U.S. stops helping terrorists and killers,
then they may not be in a position to wage a civil war and
destroy Afghanistan like they did in 90's.
So the first request of the people is: Leave Afghanistan and
stop supporting our enemies.
** Have you seen any improvements at all for the people under
the U.S./NATO occupation, for example in the situation of
The situation of women in Afghanistan was used as an excuse
for the U.S. and NATO to occupy our country. But it is clear
they were not fighting on behalf of women, because they have
put into power the reactionary warlords who are sworn enemies
of women. If your family were bombed in a wedding party or
your daughter raped by Taliban, what would be your reaction?
And you want to negotiate with them?
There is no question that some schools and universities have
been built during the U.S./NATO occupation, and some money has
been given to the Karzai regime for projects on behalf of
women's and human rights. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of
civilians, most of them women and children, have been killed
during these eleven years of occupation. They even used white
phosphorous; they even bombed wedding parties.
In comparison to the dark period of the medieval-minded
Taliban, today there is now a Ministry of Women, and 25% of
the representatives in the parliament are women. But the
female representatives have mainly a symbolic function, and
little is done for ordinary women. In the larger cities like
Kabul and Herat, women have some jobs and education, but in
most of Afghanistan their lives are hell. The media don't
write much about the many women who are raped or stoned to
death in public. Hundreds of schools have been closed, and
even in Kabul women don't have security going to school; in
many provinces acid is thrown in their faces. In most places
killing a woman is still as easy as killing a bird.
Due to lack of justice and pressure on women, last year 2300
suicide cases were recorded among Afghan women, which has no
parallel in our history.
These warlords are misogynists, just like the Taliban, and
they don't want women's rights in Afghanistan; a few token
fundamentalist ladies wearing beautiful clothes should not
fool people. And many of the women who have positions, who
run NGOs, are corrupt and have received money from the
occupation; they betray the truth and justify the U.S.
occupation and are even ready to negotiate with the Taliban.
Through this, the situation of women will become more bloody
and more of a disaster.
Under the U.S./NATO occupation, there is day by day a widening
gap between rich and poor. A small percentage of drug-lords,
warlords and corrupt officials have everything in their hands
while a large majority of the people suffers from poverty and
unemployment. Under the occupation, Afghanistan has become the
biggest producer of opium and heroin in the world. With the
efforts of the U.S. and NATO, Afghanistan has become the
capital of the world drug Mafia and also now tops the list of
the world's most corrupt countries (according to a recent
study by Transparency International). All of the
"achievements," if any, that can be attributed to the
occupation are spoiled by these shameful epidemics that have
had and will continue to have a long-run disastrous effect on
the whole society.
** Where do you place your hopes for the future of
I tell people, don't just see two fronts like the Taliban vs.
the occupation or the warlords vs. the occupation. There is a
third front of democratic-minded intellectuals, activists,
parties, organizations, groups, and individuals. Focus on
The Afghan people are fed up. Fundamentalism and occupation
are no longer accepted among the common people because of the
brutalities and savagery they have experienced over the past
decade. There is more openness, now, to progressive and
democratic organizations and ideas. With the passage of time,
I hope for the emergence of a powerful justice-loving
alternative in Afghanistan. The U.S. is the main obstacle
towards the development of such democratic forces.
Some people are deceived by the anti-imperialist banner of the
Taliban, and education is in fact the key to get rid of all of
these miseries, all of this ignorance. I remember someone
called me when I was in Kabul and said, "Oh my sister, I am in
the mountains. I support you. I agree with you. You are
against occupation. You are against these warlords. I went to
the Taliban to take my revenge against the warlords" -- and he
told me a long story on the telephone. I said, "Please come
down from the mountains. Don't go with the Taliban. Going with
one terrorist to take revenge on another terrorist makes no
sense. They are deceiving you." He said, "Yes, I agree with
you, but there is no way for me." And I discussed with him.
This is part of the important role of democratic-minded
When women learn to read and write, many of them become
extraordinary activists, and these brave women are running
projects and organizations that are really working on behalf
of women's and human rights, like RAWA, like OPAWC, like the
Social Association of Afghan Justice Seekers, and a few others
that I know who are also justice-seekers. And now women are
even coming onto the streets and demonstrating, wearing the
burka, in resistance against the U.S. and NATO and also
against the Islamic fundamentalists. This is a positive
example and a source of hope. In the history of Afghanistan,
we have never before seen this kind of activism by women.
In different parts of Afghanistan there are small protests --
in Kabul, in Jalalabad, in Helmand Province and in Farah
Province, and in many other places -- and for the first time
women are joining these protests. I hope that with time,
there will be a broader movement in Afghanistan like in many
of the Arab countries. It will take time.
As the great German writer Bertolt Brecht said, "Those who
struggle may fail. Those who do not struggle have already
** If you were invited to speak to the U.S. and NATO
officials, what would you say?
Stop this criminal war in my country as soon as possible. Your
war, waged under a fake banner of human rights and democracy,
is in fact a war against poor Afghan people. You are not only
traitors to the Afghan people, but to your own people as well.
You are stealing from the pockets of poor Americans and
Europeans and wasting billions of dollars on killing and
looting in order to safeguard only the interests of a very
small, elite minority. You have a massive war and propaganda
machine to sell your lies. But the world's conscience, which
includes a large number of U.S. antiwar veterans, is against
you: you can't overturn it by any means. So your war machinery
is doomed to fail, and the toiling people of the world will
[Elsa Rassbach is US citizen, filmmaker and journalist, who
often lives and works in Berlin, Germany. She founded American
Voices Abroad Military Project, an initiative to support GIs
who resist in Europe, and she is active in DFG-VK (the German
affiliate of War Resisters International, WRI), Code Pink, and
the International Committee of United for Peace and Justice
(UFPJ). Her award-winning film, "The Killing Floor," set in
the Chicago Stockyards, has been re-released this year.]
[Thanks to the author for sharing this with Portside.]
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