BBC News, July 25, 2009

Afghan woman MP lists 'enemies'

But she dismissed next month's presidential election as a "deception"

By Becky Branford

Malalai Joya
"The election is a showcase for the US government to deceive people around the world," she told the anti-war meeting in London.

Afghanistan's people are trapped between powerful enemies, according to Malalai Joya, an outspoken member of the Afghan parliament.

Ms Joya named those "enemies" as Nato forces who bomb from the sky, the resurgent Islamists of the Taliban, and the country's "warlords".

Speaking to anti-war activists in London she insisted Afghans were capable of governing themselves.

But she dismissed next month's presidential election as a "deception".

Ms Joya technically remains an MP, but has been suspended since 2007, on charges of insulting the parliament after she compared it to a zoo.

She has been called "the bravest woman in Afghanistan", and is well known for her opposition both to the Taliban and to the warlords who backed the American-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban in 2001.

She says she has survived five assassination attempts.

In her address to supporters of the UK's Stop the War Coalition in London, Ms Joya was scathing about Nato operations in Afghanistan. She said the actions of Nato were serving only to further the misery of ordinary Afghan people.

She called for Western taxpayers not to support a situation which she said was causing the death of Afghan civilians and emboldening the Taliban.

She said that under the watch of Nato, drug production in the country had flourished - and that its proceeds were funding the Taliban.

'No functioning democracy'

Ms Joya first came to prominence for a controversial speech to the National Assembly in 2003, when she denounced many of those present as "criminals".

That resulted in her being physically assaulted inside the assembly hall.

Ms Joya has now written a book, Raising My Voice, the aim of which - she says - is to "open the eyes and minds of democratic people around the world".

She says proceeds from the book will go to humanitarian projects in Afghanistan.

These include a medical clinic in Farah province where she used to work.

Despite her own rise within the Afghan electoral system, she says there is no functioning democracy in Afghanistan under current conditions.

"The election is a showcase for the US government to deceive people around the world," she told the anti-war meeting in London.

"We have a proverb - an old donkey but a new saddle," she added, to laughter from the audience.

"It's not important who is voting, but who is counting the votes."

She said her own case was indicative of the poor state of the democratic system in Afghanistan.

She pointed out that she had been barred from parliament, effectively shut out from the Afghan media, and was in constant danger - so much so that she needed to wear an all-encompassing burka when in public in Afghanistan, to hide her identity.

But at the same time, she said, many parliamentary seats were occupied by "criminal warlords" who should never have been allowed to stand for election in the first place.

And she said the advances claimed for women following the overthrow of the Taliban were largely illusory.

Ms Joya was asked by a member of the audience if she thought Afghanistan would descend into civil war if Nato forces withdrew.

She insisted a civil war was already under way, and foreign troops were doing nothing to stop it.

"No nation can donate liberation to another nation," Ms Joya said, to loud applause from the audience.

"Only nations which liberate themselves can be free."

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