Afghan legislator: Country’s improvement has stalled since Taliban was overthrown

Joya has survived several assassination attempts and continues to receive death threats.

Fosters Daily Democrat, Dover, New Hampshire

March 12, 2006

By Julie Masis, Staff Writer

DOVER — One of Afghanistan’s most famous woman told a crowd at the Quaker Meeting House Saturday that the situation in her country has not improved much since the fall of the Taliban.

Malalai Joya, 27, was recently elected to the Afghan Parliament and was called by the British Broadcasting Corporation “the most famous woman of Afghanistan.” She addressed about 100 people in a crowded room of the small church, during a tour of the United States to describe to Americans the true situation in her country.

The Taliban were replaced by similar fundamentalist warlords “with blood on their hands,” she said.

“In the name of God, democracy and peace, from my sisters — the women of Afghanistan — Taliban may have gone, but abuses are not over,” she said, “This democracy brought the Afghani people out of the pan but into the fire. The United States is supporting fundamentalists more than ever. It supports the Northern Alliance — the most brutal and ignorant fundamentalists.”

Despite the millions of dollars in aid the country receives, there has been no improvement — people still have no electricity, no education, no medical care, and no security, Joya said. Despite the 6,000 U.N. troops in Kabul, people are still killed in broad daylight, she said. Drug trafficking continues while poor farmers are stopped from growing poppies and sometimes have to “sell their daughters” to survive.

Joya said there is rampant misuse of public funds by government officials.

“Dear friends,” she continued, “Such a country cannot be free and liberated. My country is not free. The presence of U.S. troops is not to establish democracy: it is only for its own strategic interest. America was never concerned about the establishment of democracy.”

Joya also said that the situation for women in Afghanistan has not improved much, despite the fact that women are no longer forced to be covered head to toe with a burka. She said women and girls who attend school still receive threats, and as a result the majority are still illiterate.

Joya has survived several assassination attempts and continues to receive death threats.

She took questions after her speech, speaking in English but using a translator’s assistance.

The first question came from Natalie Healy, of Exeter. Healy said her son Dan was killed while serving in Afghanistan last year, and she wore his army photograph pinned to her jacket.

“What do you want? How do you hope to achieve it? What’s your alternative?” she asked Joya.

Joya did not immediately understand that the woman’s son was killed in Afghanistan. She repeated that the United States should stop supporting the Northern Alliance and other similar fundamentalist organizations.

When Joya understood the woman’s son was killed in Afghanistan, she said, “On behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I’d like to express my condolences.”

Joan Sergio, who was seated in front of Healy, said, “Just because I speak out against the war, doesn’t mean I don’t support the people who are fighting — for whatever they think they’re fighting for.”

“For our protection!” screamed Healy, and someone told her to calm down.

After the questions, Healy went up to talk to Joya, and the two women gave each other a hug.

Joya said she learned to speak English while attending a refugee school in Iran and Pakistan. She returned to Afghanistan in 1998.

Tom Jackson, with NH Peace Alliance and the Seacoast Peace Response, invited Joya to Dover after noticing that she was coming to speak in Cambridge, Mass. Jackson said Joya might return to New Hampshire for a talk at Dartmouth College before going back to Afghanistan on March 25.

This is Joya’s first visit to the United States since her election.

Joya said her people need moral and material support. For more information about Joya and her American tour, visit Donations will be used for Joya’s U.S. tour and for the Hamoon Clinic, a free health center Joya runs in the Farah Province of Afghanistan.