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A woman against Afghani narco-traffickers and warlords

1 July, 2008

picture courtesy of On May 21, 2008, the anniversary of the irregular expulsion from the Parliament of Malalai Joya occurred. Mrs. Joya, 29 years old, a woman, was the youngest Member of the Afghani Parliament, elected in the first democratic elections in Afghanistan in 2005, as a representative for the province of Farah. Her life suddenly changed in December 2003, when she spoke at the Loya Jirga.

The Loya Jirga is a “great assembly”, summoned at irregular intervals by the Afghani Parliament, participated by members of the royal family, deputies, religious leaders, mujaheddin and tribal leaders. The establishment of Afghanistan meets to discuss upon diverse matters, such as the foreign policy, declarations of war, introduction of new laws or new leaders. The Jirga is not resolved until the assembly reaches an agreement concerning the matters treated.

As a girl, Malalai Joya worked at the Organization for the Promotion of Afghan Women’s Capacity. As a girl, she taught to read and write to those who could not afford to attend school, and women and their rights have always been the centre of her life. A life spent between the people, in touch with hunger, poverty, violence suffered and denied rights. Worried for the underdevelopment of her province, Malalai decided to take part in the “great assembly” on December 17th 2003, and to become a spokesperson for her fellow citizens. Since that day, her life radically changed.

She took the floor and spoke for three minutes. She was 26 and she held the microphone in the presence of elders and political, territorial and religious authorities. Many had rifles with them. She spoke and said unheard-of things. She thanked God and the attendees for the occasion given to her, and asked the assembly why the assembly was attended by “war criminals”, responsible for the situation in Afghanistan, centre of national and international conflicts. She blamed them and told them they deserved to be put under trial, because “the Afghans may forgive them, but History shall never do”. For a moment, the silence under the large tent was deafening. Then the yells began, the accusations of “unfaithfulness” and “communist”. She was expelled by the assembly and never allowed to take part again.

Two years after that public offence, during the elections in September 2005, Malalai was elected as the representative of the province of Farah in the Parliament, with more than 7,000 votes. Her people loves her (many others hate her) and offers her the honour of bringing their voices to the Palace. Notwithstanding death threats, Malalai persists in her battle: women are the centre of her thoughts, but also the corruption, the strict collusion between warlords, drug dealers and deputies. Until May 21st 2007, when – following another blame from her – the Parliament suspends her from her charge until the term of the mandate. Since that day, the death threats become countless. The government even suspends her passport, but her staff is anyway able to make her get out of the Country – to stay would be like signing her own death sentence.

Now, Malalai continues doing what she has always done: speaking, without hesitations. Conventions, interviews, meetings, in Europe, Asia and North America. I met her on May 22nd in Turin, Italy, on the event of one of such meetings organized in Northern Italy. She was coming back from the European Parliament, accompanied by the MEP Vittorio Agnoletto. Small, black-haired, tired but not subdued, lively eyes, Malalai might be working for any NGO and earn thousands Euro per month. Instead, she frenetically goes around the world and when she can – and the situation allows for it – she goes back to Afghanistan and speaks harshly to the deputies. She is calm, shy of a considerate shyness, and she is happy to answer our questions.

How did your interests in politics begin?

Just like Palestinian children, Afghans too were born and raised in civil war times 30 years ago. To avoid politics in such conditions was impossible. Now I’m 29 and as a kid I used to study in the refugees camps of Iran and Pakistan. Once I got back to Afghanistan, in 1998, Talibans were on power and the only way to work with and for Afghan women was to do it undercover. I wanted to be with the people, my people, to share their problems and difficulties.

What does your family have to say about your continuous fight for human rights?

My family is a very lucky one. Despite dealing daily with enormous problems they have always been open-minded, liberal and pro-democracy. After the Loya Jirga that changed my life forever in December 2003, my family kept staying at my side, their support even increased as they understood and shared my struggles for my own country’s good.

One year ago you were expelled from Parliament. What are your tights now with politics in Afghanistan?

In fact that expulsion changed my position only formally. I am still very active politically also due to the fact that my exclusion was issued illegally and against every democratic act. Luckily there are people who support me either within and outside the country, and internationally Afghanistan has had never caused so much interest before. My will to come back to Afghanistan, however, is motivated by the intention to keep doing my job rather than to re-gain my seat at the Parliament.

How accountable do you think USA and UK are for the present situation in Afghanistan?

USA and its allies have occupied Afghanistan in the name of human rights and women rights but without attempting to change the situation. The intervention of the occupying coalition has brought to power the Northern Alliance, which is likely to be more accountable for the present situation. No one is concretely working towards security in Afghanistan, neither do the Americans, and without that it is nonsense to speak about human rights and democracy. Yet those who support my efforts can do very much. For instance they can perform social and political pressure in order for the “Allies” and the Afghani government to stop with the policies they have been following so far, that is – for instance – to seize the weapons that Talebans and Northern Alliance are carrying: if not, there is likely for a civil war to occur between the two parties after the American occupation is over. If the Italian government wishes to do anything useful, they should work independently from USA, who nothing want but a mere representation of the so-called democracy.

You are known for your courage when speaking to Afghani MPs. What criminal activities can they (many of them) be blamed of?

It is not difficult at all to understand what their crimes are. For instance, when the new Parliament went on power a Human Rights Watch report stated that 80% of MPs are or were either warlords, narco-trafficker or regular criminals. Take Ishmail Kahn: he is considered a wanted international criminal but he is still there. An other one is charged of having raped a 14 yrs old girl and today he is still doing his job; an other has been found guilty for the murder of two young boys thrown into a river with their pockets full of rocks. People demonstrated on the streets demanding his arrest but the government replied that there is no time fur such things.

What is the influence of opium and of the Talibans to the present situation in Afghanistan?

Just to understand the whole situation: president Karzai’s brother is a well known narco-trafficker. I believe opium is a symbol USA’s policies complete failure. If you attempted to make some very simple inquiry you will understand that Karzai is considered nothing but the “major” of Kabul; he has no powers at all in the rest of Afghanistan. Opium cultivations continue and have even increased. It cannot be other way in a country where many Regional Chiefs are narco-traffickers themselves. General Daoud for instance, he is today at the head of the anti-drug ministry: his position simply allows him to do his own good in the drugs-smuggling business.

As for the Talibans, it is hard to believe that Americans are concretely fighting them, for the simple fact that Talibans themselves allow the US to keep staying in their country. As a matter of fact, the fight against Talibans does not exist. The Northern Alliance and the Talibans do have the same approach: neither of them is sensitive at all about human rights, civil rights and women rights: this all go obviously in favor of the satellite countries where fundamentalists are on power.

According to what you say, there are no reasons for US to be in Afghanistan. What is it then?

The occupation has to be read from a wide perspective. Americans do have reasons to stay in an area which is at the core of Asia, so close to their opponents such as China, Iran and Pakistan. Besides, as well as for the Iraqi oil, opium represents a very relevant economical factor, as well as firearms. Where is was there is a high demand for weapons: a complex of politic and economical interests that make Afghanistan a convenient place to be for Americans after all.

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