Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOW on PBS
Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Act NOW
Week of 3.2.07

Interview: Malalai Joya

This week, NOW interviewed Malalai Joya to learn how she's been faring in her parliamentary position and get her thoughts on Afghanistan's struggle toward democracy.

NOW: In "Enemies of Happiness" we watch you being banished in 2003 from the Loya Jirga for denouncing the presence of "warlords" in the assembly. You also received many death threats. Has that continued?

Yes, my security problems are more critical than ever and the fundamentalists are counting days to eliminate me and silence my voice. Especially these days, the criminal fundamentalist leaders who have been named by the Human Rights Watch as war criminals are trying to pass a new law which will provide amnesty to all war criminals of the past 25 years and provide them immunity from any court. I have raised my voice against this bill in the parliament and through interviews, TV shows, etc.

"When I travel to and from the parliament I have to use the disgusting burqa to hide my identity."
I've received reports from a number of sources that they are trying to make a plot to kill me so I am very careful. Even ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] notified me to be careful.

Although I hate guns, in the past few years I have been forced to live under gun protection and I am always being guarded by armed men. I don't live in a single house everyday and have to change my place day by day and live with relatives and supporters. When I travel to and from the parliament I have to use the disgusting burqa to hide my identity; I have to leave the parliament after everyone else leaves it. These are some of the measures I've taken to protect myself from the barbaric enemies who are thirsty for my blood.

But I will never give up and will continue to be the voice of millions of voiceless Afghan people who are still being brutalized and smashed by fundamentalists like the Northern Alliance and Taliban.

NOW: Have you made any progress in your hopes of having the warlords removed?

It seems that the U.S. government and its allies want to rely on them and install them to the most important posts in the executive, legislation and judicial bodies. Today the whole country is in their hands and they can do anything using their power, money and guns. They grab billions of dollars from foreign aid, drugs and precious stones smuggling.

The U.S. wants a group or band in Afghanistan to obey its directions accurately and act according to the U.S. policies, and these fundamentalists' bands of the Northern Alliance have proved throughout their life that they are ready to sacrifice Afghanistan's national interests for their lust for power and money. The U.S. has no interest in the prosperity of our people as long as its regional and strategic interests are met.

Today, surveys show that over 90 percent of our people want the prosecution of the fundamentalist leaders for their role in the destruction and killings of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. I think only the emergence of a powerful democratic and freedom-loving force can challenge the fundamentalist warlords. But these forces are very weak now as they are not supported and backed by any government or institution. But I am sure [that] the more the truth behind the U.S. policies in Afghanistan is uncovered and felt by people, the more people will join democratic forces and resist U.S. policies.

I am hopeful that the warlords have no footing among people and they are strongly hated by our people. If the foreign support to these reactionary groups is stopped, they can't continue their fascism for a day.

You were elected as a delegate to the Wolesi Jirga, or National Assembly, in 2005. How has it been working day-to-day in the parliament since then?

The Afghan parliament is the most disgusting and corrupt parliament in the world. Over 85 percent of the MPs [Members of Parliament] are those who should first of all appear in the court for their crimes against our people. They are trying to use this body for their own interests and benefits. Most of the time the warlords present are arguing to increase the benefits given to MPs. They are bargaining for their salaries to be increased, but they have no intention or willingness to work on laws for the betterment of Afghan people.

"Once they even physically attacked me inside the parliament and one of them said 'take and rape this prostitute.'"
The voice of me and a number of other democratic-minded MPs is not heard and we are not given time to speak. My microphone has been cut off a number of times when I criticize this situation and want to express my point of view. Once they even physically attacked me inside the parliament and one of them said "take and rape this prostitute."

Parliament is just a showpiece for the West to say that there is democracy in Afghanistan, but our people don't need this donated B52 democracy. I am very fed up with the parliament and have no hope for it to do anything for our people. It is a parliament of killers, murderer, drug-lords and traitors to the motherland. The only reason I am there is to have the opportunity to expose the nature of the parliament and the policy makers and become the voice of my people in it. Being an MP gives me the opportunities to raise my opposition, and my voice is heard by others in Afghanistan and outside.

NOW: What do you feel has been your greatest achievement since you were elected?

I think my great achievement is to be the voice of my people and expose the current rulers and the warlords through the parliament and in my international tours. Through my voice, people come to know about the realities of life in Afghanistan and to know that the U.S. is playing game with the destiny of my crying nation. My voice tears apart the lies of the Western media about so-called democracy and liberation in Afghanistan.

Another achievement is that I have been backed and welcomed by suppressed people of Afghanistan in every corner of the country. They see me as their real representative which is a source of inspiration and honor to me. Many people from far-away provinces come to meet me in Kabul and share their problems and feelings with me and announce their support to me.

I am very honored to see that [support] in the traditional society where women are seen as second degree citizens and the fundamentalist preach day and night that "woman should be in her house or in the grave", but as a woman I challenge the most powerful people in the country who only speak in the language of guns, and my voice is echoed and welcomed by the gross majority of my people.

"My voice tears apart the lies of the Western media about so-called democracy and liberation in Afghanistan."
A few days ago all Jihadi parties jointly spent millions of dollars to gather 100,000 people in Kabul and show their power and press Hamid Karzai to sign the warlords amnesty bill. In the end they could only gather 20,000 people. One of the slogans they were chanting was "Down with Malalai Joya!" I was very happy to hear this; it showed the warlords regard me as their number one enemy. It showed that I have been successful to put a red line between me and the enemies of my people.

NOW: What are you most hoping to achieve in the future?

My greatest hope is to bring the war-criminals to an international court. I am working for this on the behalf of my people.

NOW: Do you believe that the NATO troops in Afghanistan are helping to improve security?

The U.S. is not concerned with the main cause behind terrorism in Afghanistan. That is why our people don't consider the U.S. as the "liberator" of our country. Even they have killed thousands of our innocent civilians during its so-called "war on terror" and continue to target civilians.

Apparently the U.S. troops are here to fight the Taliban but on the other hand they are fully supporting the Northern Alliance commanders, who, according to recent reports, are the main sellers of weapons and ammunitions to the Taliban and have made life terrible for people in the north of Afghanistan.

I think that no nation can donate liberation to another nation. Liberation is not money to be donated; it should be achieved in a country by the people themselves. The ongoing developments in Afghanistan and Iraq prove this claim. People of other countries only can give us a helping hand and support.

Unfortunately, other countries involved also play a very passive role in Afghanistan. They are exactly following the foot path of the U.S. government and have become a tool in the hands of the U.S. to implement its strategic, regional and economic interests.

Today Afghan people are deeply suspicious about the "war on terror". I think if Spain and other governments really want to help Afghan people and bring positive changes, they must act independently, rather than becoming a tool to implement the policies of the U.S. government. They must align themselves to the wishes and needs of Afghan people and stop any kind of support of the warlords and reactionary and ignorant element within the system. Only then can they gain people's trust and will prove themselves as real friends of Afghan people.

NOW: Britain announced this week that it will send some 1,400 additional troops to Afghanistan after NATO commanders said they needed more soldiers to tackle an expected spring offensive by the Taliban. Have you witnessed a resurgence of the Taliban?

Yes, the Taliban have renewed their attacks and are regrouping. They use the anger and disappointment of people. In this regard, I completely agree with what Human Rights Watch wrote on Sep. 27, 2006: "The Taliban and other anti-government groups in Afghanistan have gained public support due to the Afghan government's failure to provide essential security and development, and have used the presence of warlords in the government to discredit President Karzai's administration and its international backers."

NOW: What would you like Americans to know about your country?

I want them to know that Afghan people have been victims of the U.S. government's wrong policies in the past three decades following the Cold War. They should know that Afghanistan is not "liberated" at all as trumpeted by the Western media. They should know that their government is playing a chess game with our country and is not interested in its stability. They should now that worse enemies of the Afghan people, those who brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan and slaughtered our people and committed unbelievable crimes against its unfortunate women, are now in power and backed by the U.S. government. They should know that Afghan people are facing a 9/11 everyday. They should know that under the U.S. occupation, Afghanistan has become the world's number one opium producer and a large part of it is smuggled to the U.S. Finally they should know that, like all human beings Afghan people love democracy and freedom and dream of a prosperous life. While we hate the war-mongering and criminal-fostering policies of the U.S. government, we feel, acknowledge and thank the sympathies and support of the U.S. people and learn from their humanism and dedication.

NOW: In the "Enemies of Happiness" we met 13-year-old Rahela, who was being pursued by an older man against her wishes. What has happened to her?

"...While we hate the war-mongering and criminal-fostering policies of the U.S. government, we feel, acknowledge and thank the sympathies and support of the U.S. people and learn from their humanism and dedication."
Rahela and her family have fled to Iran following the pressure on them and inability of the police to help them.

NOW: What is it like to fight for women's rights in your country?

To fight for women's rights in a besieged and benighted country like Afghanistan is accepting a big risk with many challenges. It is like going against water current. But it is a proud and shining struggle and through it we can teach the dark-minded misogynist elements that women are capable to change the world when they move into action.

NOW: You traveled to America to talk about women's rights in Afghanistan. What was your impression of the United States and Americans?

I felt that, unlike the U.S. government, its people are kind and caring and have great sympathy with Afghan women and try to help. I was very much impressed by their show of solidarity and support.

I also found that the media plays a very negative role in the U.S. and keep people in the dark about the events going on in other parts of the world and especially in Afghanistan. Most of the facts and realities I was talking about, were quite new to them. They had a completely different and bright picture of events in Afghanistan.