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“A Woman Among Warlords”: Afghan Democracy Activist Malalai Joya Defies Threats to Challenge US Occupation, Local Warlords

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To talk more about Afghanistan, we are joined by Malalai Joya, one of Afghanistan’s leading democracy activists. In 2005, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan parliament. She was suspended in 2007 for her denunciation of warlords and their cronies in government. She has just written her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Afghanistan, we’re joined here in our firehouse studio by Malalai Joya, one of Afghanistan’s leading democracy activists. In 2005, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan parliament. She was suspended in 2007 for her denunciation of warlords and their cronies in government. She has just written her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out. It was written with Derrick O’Keefe.

I welcome you to Democracy Now!, Malalai. When you hear in all the US media “bloodiest month of the eight-year war,” of course they’re talking about US soldiers killed in Afghanistan. How does that make you feel? How do we know how many Afghans have died over these last eight years?

MALALAI JOYA: Yeah, first of all, thanks for this interview. And let me say in the beginning, on behalf of my people, condolences to those American mothers who lost their sons recently in Afghanistan and also these eight years, and other moms that belongs to these NATO countries, as their government unfortunately these eight years, they waste the blood of their soldiers in Afghanistan and their taxpayers’ monies by supporting these warlords, these drug lords and these terrorists who are like a photocopy of Taliban — means that mentally same, only physically has been changed after 9/11 and they come in power.

So, this eight years, about less than 2,000 Talib has been killed, more than 8,000 innocent civilians has been killed. That’s why, day by day, we believe that this is not war on terror, this is war on innocent civilians, as they even do massacre in Afghanistan, what they did on May, that — in Farah province, more than 150 civilians has been killed, most of them women and children. Even they used white phosphorus and cluster bomb. And also, 200 civilians on 9th of September in Kunduz province has been killed, again most of them women and children. You can see the website of Professor Marc Herold, this Democrat American man that — to know better about war crime in Afghanistan they impose on our people.

And at least today’s reporters in have to know that even by presence of thousands troops in Afghanistan, there is no security in Kabul. How — but around Afghanistan, while the government has no control, now my people are sandwiched between two powerful enemies: from the sky, occupation forces bombing and killing innocent civilians — as I said, these troops themselves are the victim of this wrong policy of their government; on the ground, Taliban and these warlords together continue to deliver fascism against our people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about the latest news, Malalai Joya, about the brother of Hamid Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the New York Times revealing today that Ahmed has been on the CIA payroll for much of the past eight years. Who is he?

MALALAI JOYA: You know, my people call him “Small Bush” in Kandahar province, this brother of Hamid Karzai. But he’s — this is not the first time that New York Times wrote. Recently also, I wrote that he’s a famous drug trafficker. And many others who have high posts in Karzai’s government, sometimes his ministers, expose each other that they — for persons who had high posts in Karzai government, they are drug traffickers. And the government says stop planting of opium, but the governor commanders of the same province is drug traffickers. This eight years, $36 billion the government of Afghanistan received, while they themselves give report. Most of this money went into pocket of warlords, drug lords, [inaudible] lords, these donors and officials themselves. And at least this example should be in of that right now. Even some important media is writing and sometimes exposing these drug lords and these warlords in Afghanistan, that right now I say that, for example, brother of Hamid Karzai is receiving millions of dollars through dirty business of opium.

And this was the main project of the CIA in Afghanistan, that under the banner of women rights, human rights, democracy, they occupied my country. They imposed these terrorists, blood and creed of the Taliban, on my people. And also they changed my country to the center of drug. Only [inaudible] have to know about the deep tragedy of Afghanistan and wrong policy of the US, that even UN gave report, that recent report of the UN. Right now — oh, my god, I think you also got this report. Anyway, that right now, as I said, that they changed Afghanistan to the center of drug. They received millions of dollars that has been looted. Situation of women is getting worse. And security, how much important — day by day, it’s worse for my people, especially for the women. And that’s why, because of all of these main reasons, we — day by day, we say this is the mockery of democracy and mockery of war on terror.

AMY GOODMAN: Does Ahmed Karzai have a relationship with Mullah Omar?


AMY GOODMAN: With Mullah Omar?

MALALAI JOYA: You know, these warlords, they have, of course — that, as I said, they are blood and creed of each other, they have links with each other, as now they are negotiating – are ready to negotiating with each other. Karzai himself called Taliban these dinosaurs’ brothers, as — during the election. And also, Abdullah Abdullah, this main candidate of the warlords during this so-called free election —-

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s running for president against Karzai.

MALALAI JOYA: Yeah, they -— yeah, both of them. They betrayed a lot my people. And now they are running for the election, as my people, even they use this power, that the result of this election will be like the same donkey but with new saddle. Anyway, both of them call Taliban brothers, these terrorists. And both of them ready to do negotiate and invite Mullah Omar, this fascist man, to join the government. Both of them are puppets. And both of them, that they are busy with this dirty business of opium. And at least you know better about them. I think only this eight years is enough to know better about them.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the upcoming runoff election scheduled for November 7th. Earlier this week, the presidential contender, as you were talking about, Abdullah Abdullah, called for the dismissal of Azizullah Ludin, the chair of the Independent Electoral Commission. Ludin is a former Karzai adviser.

    ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Dismissal, immediate dismissal, of Mr. Ludin from the Election Commission. He has left no credibility for the institution and, unfortunately, for he, himself, in order to be trusted by the people of Afghanistan as the head of an independent body.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Malalai Joya, to what Abdullah Abdullah is calling for, to his being removed from the Electoral Commission?

MALALAI JOYA: You know, this election is just a tragic drama, I think the most fraudulent and also ridiculous election in the world, as election under the shadow of gun, warlordism, drug lordism, awful corruption, and occupation forces has no legitimacy at all. As a famous saying, it’s not important who is voting, it’s important who’s counting. Even my people, before of the result of the election, they discussed among each other, people on the streets, that the winner will be picked out by White House, as now you see that one puppet can be replaced with another puppet. Now, between two puppet fighting because of the power, $250 million they spent for this election. They waste the money. And they want to more waste — to waste more money in Afghanistan.

And also, millions of people did not attend in the election, because they know that their word will be betrayed, same like in the past, and also their wishes has no role in this election. As I say, that both of them invite Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and also Mullah Omar to join the government as a moderate. And both of them want more occupation forces in Afghanistan, which will bring more war and more conflict. So both of them betrayed a lot my people, especially women of my country.

To know better about Abdullah Abdullah, it’s in of that — he did civil war from ’92 to ’96. He and other brothers of him, like these other warlords who are right now in power, like Dostum, like Sayyaf, Rabbani, Qanooni, Ismail Khan, Mohaqiq, these dirty-minded elements, who accused as war criminal. And Karzai, he choose two cruel men, like Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili, as vice president. Even Human Rights Watch said Karzai insulting the people of Afghanistan. But in spite national and international condemnation, he didn’t change the mind. But I am saying he’s betraying my people still more.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a very brave woman, Malalai Joya. I wanted to go to a clip of you saying essentially this years ago. You called — we’re going to go to the Enemies of Happiness. The film begins in December 2003 in a meeting of Afghanistan’s newly elected constitutional assembly, the Loya Jirga. A then-unknown twenty-four-year-old woman steps to the microphone to deliver a speech that will make international headlines and draw threats on her life.

    CHAIRMAN: [translated] What are you saying?

    MALALAI JOYA: [translated] We kids can’t get a word in. I would like to say a few words, Mr. Chairman.

    CHAIRMAN: [translated] Wait a minute. Stay in your seats. One sister says that she has traveled far. She insists that we haven’t given the kids enough speaking time. You have three minutes, please.

    MALALAI JOYA: [translated] My name is Malalai Joya from the Farah province. With the permission of all those present and in respect of the martyrs who were killed, I would like to speak. I wish to criticize my compatriots in this room. Why would you allow criminals to be present at this Loya Jirga, warlords responsible for our country’s situation? Afghanistan is the center for national and international conflicts. They oppress women and have ruined our country. They should be prosecuted. They might be forgiven by the Afghan people, but not by history.

    CHAIRMAN: [translated] Sit down! Sit down! The sister has crossed the line of what is considered common courtesy. She is banished from this assembly and cannot return. Send her out! Guards, throw her out! She doesn’t deserve to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malalai Joya, who was standing up, what many have called “Afghanistan’s bravest woman.” Malalai Joya, in our firehouse studio, who has written her memoir called A Woman Among Warlords. Describe what you were thinking at that moment and how dangerous it was for you.

MALALAI JOYA: Yeah, as my people was not sure that I will be alive until now, same my supporters around the world. But the reason that today I am alive, because of the strong support of these voiceless, suffer, poor people of my country. As two years before these warlords, drug lords, these criminals, they expelled me from the parliament, which was quite illegal act and anti-freedom of speech.

AMY GOODMAN: You were elected?

MALALAI JOYA: I were elected.


MALALAI JOYA: Yeah, in 2005, for the second time. People voted, and as I was very famous in Afghanistan and around the world, and if they do not allow me, as all the boxes was in the hands of this mafia, they’re cheating was clear for the world, not only for my people.

But few Democrats in the parliament, me and others, that in the beginning, as they made amnesty law that criminals forgive themselves, we raised our voice against this disgusting law, which gives impunity to criminals. As much as they can, they continue to their fascism. But despite we raised our voice, nobody listened the voice. And Karzai also signed this disgusting law. And one reason that they expelled me from parliament was that, because I never did compromise with them, even they beated inside of parliament, they threatened me to rape inside of parliament, and many threats like this.

AMY GOODMAN: They threatened to rape you in parliament?

MALALAI JOYA: Inside of the parliament. And also, all of these threats you can see on my websites. But now, after when they expelled me from parliament, now, as in Kabul, I’m changing safe house to safe houses. Even with burqa and bodyguard, it’s not safe. When you compare my life with the dark period of Taliban, these terrorists, as an activist, that I was underground activist, on that time, it was risky, but now, under the name of democracy and by presence of these thousands troops, it is, even with burqa and bodyguard, not safe. Many assassination attempts. And I am a person, on behalf of those Democrat and voiceless, innocent people of my country, in front of you. But many others like me, there is no security for them. They are underground activists now.

AMY GOODMAN: The big debate in the United States is this surge. Now the discussion is not how many troops will President Obama — how many more troops will he send to Afghanistan, or will he send more troops, but how many more. That’s what the debate has become. What is your thought? What should happen to the US soldiers now?

MALALAI JOYA: You know, that as I said, these troops are the victim of the wrong policy of their government. They send them for a bad cause: for war. They say war of Afghanistan is good war, war of Iraq is bad war, while war is war and impossible to bring democracy, women rights, human rights by war. And unfortunately, Obama’s policy and Obama’s message for my people is quite similar, like his foreign policy like Bush administration. He wants to surge more troops in Afghanistan, which will bring more conflict, more war.

Obama is going to decorate barbaric Taliban as a moderate, to give them a chance to bring them also in power, put soft name on these terrorists, while we have no moderate Talib. And also, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, they invite this fascist man to joint he government. This terrorist also come in power, situation will be more bloody. If really Obama honest for my people, at least they apologize to my people and first of all try to put to the court the criminal Bush to the ICC, and also many Bushes in my country that, this eight years, they changed Afghanistan to the safe haven for terrorism and center of drug.

AMY GOODMAN: But so often in this country, the argument is actually used that it’s the women of Afghanistan who benefit most from the US occupation and the war.

MALALAI JOYA: They’re betrayed more. Opposite. Quite opposite. The first casualty in my country is the truth. Still they betray the truth, especially mainstream medias, put dust on the eyes of the people around the world. As after 9/11 that they occupied Afghanistan, they say women for the first time do not wear burqa and they are free, while it’s a big lie. And today, most of women are wearing burqa because of security. I wear a burqa just to be alive, this disgusting burqa, which is symbol of oppression, I think. And it’s like a shroud for life body most of women are wearing to be alive. Rape cases, domestic violences and also [inaudible] on the face of the girls and killing of women increasing rapidly.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you fear for your life when you go home? And why do you return to Afghanistan, finally, Malalai?

MALALAI JOYA: Of course, I go, because we have lots of responsibility. Responsibility of Democrat men and women is a lot, as we believe no nation can donate liberation to another nation. And we are ready to build our country, if US and its allies let us a little bit breathe in peace. Now we’re between two powerful enemies, with the withdrawal of one enemy occupation forces as their government supporting warlords, and also now Taliban. They stop supporting them, then it’s much easier to fight one enemy instead of two.

If really Obama honest for my people, support the democratic-minded people of my country, we have a lot. But he not only support democratic-minded people of my country, he’s going to start war in Pakistan by drawing attack in the border area of Pakistan. And I think the survey that they did of civilian casualty, those people, innocent people, who has been killed, more has been killed in the Obama period than even criminal Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Malalai Joya, one of Afghanistan’s leading democracy activists. In 2005 she became the youngest person ever elected in the Afghan parliament. Her memoir is now out; it’s called A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out. It was written with Derrick O’Keefe.

Speaking of drones, when we come back from our break, we will talk about the situation of drones in Pakistan. Stay with us.

MALALAI JOYA: Thank you.

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