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Q&A: "Karzai Assigned a Rabbit to Take Care of the Carrot"

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Chris Arsenault interviews MALALAI JOYA, author and Afghan parliamentarian

IPS-Inter Press Service, November 20, 2009

Malalai Joya in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, Canada - In the aftermath of national elections widely condemned as fraudulent, the United States and its allies are wondering what to do about Afghanistan.

Malalai Joya, an Afghan parliamentarian deemed "the bravest women in Afghanistan" by the BBC, has some unsolicited advice for Gen. Stanley McChrystal and other U.S. commanders. "They must leave my country today, it is much better than tomorrow," she said.

McChrystal is reportedly advising the Barack Obama administration to send 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan, on top of some 68,000 already in the country.

"They say a civil war will happen [if the foreigners leave]," said Joya between sips of green tea, "but nobody talks about today's civil war."

The Afghan conflict claimed 1,000 civilian lives in the first half of 2009, a 24-percent increase from the previous year, according to the Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA). October 2009 was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops during eight years of war.

Joya is the youngest woman ever elected to Afghanistan's parliament. An unflinching critic of both foreign occupation and Taliban-style fundamentalism, she has escaped five separate assassination attempts.

"I'm a little tired," she confessed as we sat down in a hotel restaurant, "but we must be tireless."

Joya spoke with IPS Canada correspondent Chris Arsenault prior to the Vancouver launch of her memoir, "A Woman Among Warlords: the Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice".

IPS: In the West, the standard debate on Afghanistan goes something like this: If foreign troops leave, the Taliban will return to power, girls won't go to school and the country will become a launching pad for extremist attacks around the world. How do you respond to this?

MALALAI JOYA: Democracy never comes from war, from the barrel of the gun, from cluster bombs. Liberation never comes from occupation. After the 9/11 tragedy, the U.S. and its allies pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. They replaced the Taliban with Northern Alliance fundamentalists who are a photocopy of the Taliban.

They occupied our country in the name of women's rights, but today the situation for women is as catastrophic as under the Taliban. The only difference is that all these crimes are happening under the name of democracy, freedom, human rights, and women rights. Women's rights can't be donated from abroad or forced at gunpoint.

They [occupying forces] say if troops leave, the Taliban will eat us. But they are supporting the Taliban today, supporting warlords. Both of them are eating us. To fight against one enemy is easier than two. We are between two enemies [the occupiers and the extremists].

IPS: The New York Times recently reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai's brother and a well-known drug trafficker, has been on the CIA's payroll for years. Foreign troops indirectly fund the Taliban by paying them to protect supply routes, according to The Nation. Do average people in Afghanistan talk about this sort of collusion?

MJ: People know very well. Many others, including Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who ran for president in the election, their bums are on the lap of the CIA. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [another warlord] is said to be using his old CIA-generated [drug] trafficking network to fund the current insurgency.

If [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper is honest, why is he silent in supporting this mafia system? These people are criminals; but with suits and ties they are in power.

If this [CIA funding war-lords] isn't bad enough, [President Karzai] appointed Izzatullah Wasifi as Afghanistan's anti-corruption chief [in 2007]. Wasifi is a convicted drug trafficker who spent almost four years in Nevada state prison for selling heroin, but he was an old friend of the Karzai family. As Afghans often say, "Karzai assigned a rabbit to take care of the carrot."

IPS: In March 2001, Rahmatullah Hashimi a top aide to then Taliban leader Mullah Omar, reportedly met officials in Washington to discuss the proposed Trans-Afghan Pipeline or TAP, which would carry natural gas from Central Asia through Afghanistan to India, bypassing U.S. adversaries Iran and Russia. Negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban broke down over a dispute over transit fees, according to Asia Times reporter Pepe Escobar. How important are Central Asian energy reserves in motivating the current occupation?

MJ: They occupied my country because of geopolitical aims: Afghanistan is in the heart of Asia. China and Russia are becoming more powerful and the U.S. doesn't want that. Afghanistan is a good transit point to easily access the gas and oil resources of Central Asia. The superpower is using and occupying our country as part of a big chess game. Afghanistan has many other natural resources: China recently successfully bid billions of dollars for the right to exploit our copper deposits, estimated to be worth 88 billion dollars.

IPS: Canadians and some Europeans pride themselves for not formally invading Iraq. While touring these NATO countries with your new book, how does this sentiment strike you?

MJ: When your government says the war in Iraq is a bad war and the one in Afghanistan is good, you should ask them the difference.

The war in Afghanistan has fostered terrorism, even though the stated goal is to fight it. The biggest beneficiaries of the conflict have been extremist groups who take advantage of legitimate grievances against NATO.

I send condolences to those Canadian moms who lost their sons and daughters in Afghanistan under the name of the so-called war on terror. They are the ones who must put pressure on the government; change their fears and sorrows to strength and raise their voices against this war crime. They themselves are victims of wrong policies of their government.