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Afghan Women's Rights Activist and Loya Jirga Member Malalai Joya Discusses Continuing Violence and Upcoming Elections in Afghanistan

StorySeptember 13, 2004
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We speak with Afghan women’s rights activist Malalai Joya, an elected representative to the December 2003 Loya Jirga convention in Kabul to create Afghanistan’s new constitution. She received numerous death threats for speaking out against fundamentalist leaders–including from Ismail Khan–the governor of Herat who was recently fired by President Karzai, sparking demonstrations and violence. [includes rush transcript]

The US military has announced it killed 22 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in a gun battle in southern Afghanistan late Sunday.

The BBC reports American troops and helicopters fought the insurgents in the Shinkay district of Zabul province which is widely regarded as a Taliban stronghold. He said about 40 militants armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades had attacked American troops on patrol.

Meanwhile, in the west of Afghanistan, about 50 UN staff and aid workers are preparing to leave the city of Herat following clashes between troops and angry demonstrators Sunday.

At least seven people were killed and up to 50 injured when U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai fired the powerful governor of Herat, Ismail Khan. Protests against Khan’s removal turned violent when supporters torched buildings in a U.N. compound in the city.

Khan is a veteran mujahideen leader and a critic of U.S.-backed government and Washington’s policies in Afghanistan. Karzai fired Khan and appointed a replacement as part of his campaign pledge to rein in warlords.

Reuters reports the city of Herat accounts for 8 percent of the more than 10 million Afghans who have registered to vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election, which pits Karzai against 17 challengers.

We are joined in the studio by Malalai Joya, an elected representative to the December 2003 Loya Jirga–or Grand Council–convention in Kabul to create Afghanistan’s new constitution. At the convention, Joya spoke out against the council chairman’s proposal to appoint high clergy members and fundamentalist leaders to guide planning groups.

She objected saying several of those religious leaders were war criminals who should be on trial–not hailed as national heroes to influence the new government. As a result of her speaking out, Malalai Joya received numerous death threats–including from Ismail Khan. She continued at Loya Jirga under U.N. protection.

Since then, Joya has continued to press her case against the former rulers of Afghanistan. Since 1998, Malalai Joya has worked in Afghanistan as a social worker establishing an orphanage and a health clinic and speaking out against the Taliban.

  • Malalai Joya, elected representative to the December 2003 Loya Jirga (Grand Council) convention in Kabul to create Afghanistan’s new constitution. Since 1998, Mailali Joya has worked in Afghanistan as a social worker establishing an orphanage and a health clinic and speaking out against the Taliban.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Malalai Joya, an elected representative of the December 2003 Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, which is a convention in Kabul to create Afghanistan’s new constitution. At the convention, she spoke out against the council chair’s proposal to appoint high clergy members and fundamentalist leaders to guide planning groups. Our guest Malalai Joya objected, saying several of those religious leaders were war criminals, who should be on trial, not hailed as national heroes to influence the new government. As a result of her speaking out, she received numerous death threats, including from Ismail Khan, the governor of Herat, who has just been removed. She continued at the Loya Jirga under U.N. protection. Since then, she has continued to press her case against the former rulers of Afghanistan. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

MALALAI JOYA: Amy, thanks you a lot. Also that you gave me opportunity to have some speech with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much. We’re also joined by Amina Massoud, who will help with any English translation if Malalai Joya needs it. Can you respond to what happened in Herat, to the removal of Ismail Khan?

MALALAI JOYA: Could you translate?

AMINA MASSOUD: [translating to Dari]

MALALAI JOYA: It was I got news that I heard about Ismail Khan, that he fled from power. He was one of the famous criminal of western Afghanistan. He is against women’s rights, human rights, against democracy, and always he didn’t obey from Mr. Karzai’s order. So it was the result that he was a criminal person, so the government of Afghanistan decided to replace him from the power.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe in your own words the day you stood up at the Loya Jirga, and what you said?

MALALAI JOYA: Yeah. I said in the Loya Jirga that — I said to my people that why are you allowed to the criminals that to take attendance in this famous Loya Jirga because we want to make — we want to — we want to make our country — I want to translate. [in Dari]

AMINA MASSOUD: She says that she argued that why we have all these people with criminal pasts as our leaders, and as our — in our elections, people would have negative and violent backgrounds.

MALALAI JOYA: I wanted to say that why a criminal people, they are taking attend in this Loya Jirga because we want to make our country [in Dari].

AMINA MASSOUD: We want to have a new beginning with new people, not people with terrorist and violent backgrounds.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much. We have to wrap up the show, I’m sorry to say. But I want to thank you for joining us, Malalai Joya, elected representative of the Loya Jirga that was set up to create Afghanistan’s new constitution.

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