Raising a voice

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Malalai Joya, 30, was elected to the Afghan Parliament from Pashtun dominated Farah province. In May 2007, she was suspended from the parliament on the grounds that she had insulted fellow representatives in a television interview. She was later expelled. Her views on Afghan warlords in the parliament and Purdah besides calling US Troops in Afghanistan an occupational force have earned her many enemies. The daughter of a former medical student, who had lost a leg while fighting Soviets, Malalai, escaped many attacks on her life in her country. She made it to the Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. Talking to Kashmir Life on the sideline of an international conference in South Korean city of Gwangju, Malalai said, she was working underground or moving out only in an Afghan veil with armed body guards. Excerpts of her interview:

KL: Afghanistan is a highly religious society. Doesn’t it look a bit weird for as a woman holding such radical views which are bound to isolate you in your country?
MJ: Prior to 1977 or 1979, Afghanistan was a normal country. It is wrong to say, we were always blood thirsty and war loving people. We are a Muslim country! I am also a Muslim woman. I call myself secular. I also pray, and wish, there will one day be peace and security in our country. But the warlords are using the name of Islam for their own benefit. They are not real Muslims. They are not real jehadis. They are the enemies of our country. After the Russian puppet regime they committed all kinds of crimes under the name of Islam. Now our people know the difference. They elected me to the Parliament. It was a slap on these warlords. I won the second-highest number of votes.
 
KL: What kind of threats did you receive?
MJ: My life has completely changed. They have expelled me from the Parliament despite being elected by the people. Former president Sibgatullah Mujadidi even decreed against me calling me a communist. They have called me a prostitute, infidel, communist, etc. But most of the women support me. Some men of the Loya Jirga also agree with me.
But I promise that while I am alive and have energy — you know that I am young — I will work more.
I have to be in the house with bodyguards! I hate guns. The guns destroyed our country and killed a lot of people. But now I have to… I have to wear a burqa! I have to take care of my security. I am very ashamed that I have special bodyguards. I want you to tell the American people, what kind of security is their government giving and what kind of Afghanistan they want.
 I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all, you need to know about the “democracy” backed by Nato troops.

KL: Afghan parliament is now going to polls soon. What are your expectations and hopes?
MJ: In presence of warlords, occupation forces, Taliban drug money and guns, Afghans have no expectations form the forthcoming parliamentary elections. No one can expect a legitimate or fair vote. Even international observers have been speaking about widespread fraud and intimidation and, among the people on the street, there is a common refrain: the winner has already been picked by the White House.

KL: Afghanistan has a tribal system and tribal heads command great respect and support. You seem  to be against this system?
MJ: No, I have nothing against this system. I am against warlords and those receiving money from outside to contest elections. Hamid Karzai was America’s choice and Abdullah Abdullah was being supported by Iranians. Afghanistan is still being strangled by the hands of “Northern Alliance.” These are a camp of fundamentalist bands notorious for their terrible crimes in the years of 1992 to ’96. After 9/11, America and its allies helped these criminals occupy Kabul and dominate the entire country. Thus in a country under such religious fascists, holding free and democratic elections is out of the question. Elections in such conditions are widely rigged.

KL: You have been calling Americans an occupation force. But as per the assessment of all the experts, Taiban will regain power if US withdraws from Aghnaistan?
MJ: At times, I do believe Taliban is the US creation. It gives them an excuse to stay in the country. Regrettably, the US administration revived the warlords in the first place, it is continuing to support and rely on them. It is not at all bothered by which criminal band will rule the country. Such a band would be acceptable to the US as long as it is obedient to Washington, no matter how cruel, corrupt, and anti-democratic it is. That is why many in Afghanistan are of the opinion that even the U.S.’s very trumpeted “war against drugs and terrorism” and campaign to “promote democracy” are bogus because the US has forged a unity with the most infamous, anti-democratic, religious terrorists and drug-mafia forces in the history of Afghanistan. It seems that the US government has its own strategic agenda in our country.

KL: You mean there is no change in policy even after Barack Obama’s take over?
MJ: So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women, seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to suicide by self-immolation.
Some say that if foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.

KL: What is your message for India, which is spending a large amount of money on development projects in your country?
MJ: I don’t believe it is in your interests to send your taxpayers’ money to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug lords in power in Kabul. You need to spend judiciously and target common Afghan people directly. I suggest your government not to back these warlords and criminals. In the run up to contain Pakistan, India supported Northern Alliance against Taliban. My plea is not to make my country turf to fight your battles.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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