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By Kathy Kelly
Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people, working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers and a few visiting internationals like myself, to discuss world hunger. Our emphasis was not exclusively on their own country’s worsening hunger problems. The Afghan Peace Volunteers, in whose home we were meeting, draw strength from looking beyond their own very real struggles.
APV’s learn about world hunger. Photo by Abdulhai Safarali
With us was Hakim, a medical doctor who spent six years working as a public health specialist in the central highlands of Afghanistan and, prior to that, among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan. He helped us understand conditions that lead to food shortages and taught us about diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are caused by insufficient protein or general malnutrition.
We looked at UN figures about hunger in Afghanistan which show malnutrition rates rising by 50% or more compared with 2012. The malnutrition ward at Helmand Province’s Bost Hospital has been admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition — four times more than in January 2012.
A recent New York Times article about the worsening hunger crisis described an encounter with a mother and child in an Afghan hospital: “In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying.”
Photos of Fatima and other children in the ward accompanied the article. In our room in Kabul, Hakim projected the photos on the wall. They were painful to see and so were the nods of comprehension from Afghans all too familiar with the agonies of poverty in a time of war.
As children grow, they need iodine to enable proper brain development. According to a UNICEF/GAIN report, “iodine deficiency is the most prevalent cause of brain damage worldwide. It is easily preventable, and through ongoing targeted interventions, can be eliminated.” As recently as 2009 we learned that 70% of Afghan children faced an iodine deficiency.
Universal Salt Iodization (USI) is recognized as a simple, safe and cost-effective measure in addressing iodine deficiency. The World Bank reports that it costs $.05 per child, per year.
In 2012, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) announced a four-year project which aimed to reach nearly half of Afghanistan’s population - 15 million Afghans - with fortified foods. Their strategy was to add vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, folic acid, Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin A to wheat flour, vegetable oil and ghee, and also to fortify salt with iodine. The project costs 6.4 million dollars.
The sums of money required to fund delivery of iodine and fortified foods to malnourished Afghan children should be compared, I believe, to the sums of money that the Pentagon’s insatiable appetite for war-making has required of U.S. people.
The cost of maintaining one U.S. soldier has recently risen to 2.1. million dollars per year. The amount of money spent to keep three U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2014 could almost cover the cost of a four year program to deliver fortified foods to 15 million Afghan people.
Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein, who is overseeing the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, has referred to the operation as “the largest retrograde mission in history.” The mission will cost as much as $6 billion.
Over the past decade, spin doctors for U.S. military spending have suggested that Afghanistan needs the U.S. troop presence and U.S. non-military spending to protect the interests of women and children.
It’s true that non-military aid to Afghanistan, sent by the U.S. since 2002, now approaches 100 billion dollars.
Several articles on Afghanistan’s worsening hunger crisis, appearing in the Western press, prompt readers to ask how Afghanistan could be receiving vast sums of non-military aid and yet still struggle with severe acute malnourishment among children under age five.
However, a 2013 quarterly report to Congress submitted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan shows that, of the nearly $100 billion spent on wartime reconstruction, 97 billion has been spent on counter-narcotics, security, “governance/development” and “oversight and operations.” No more than $3 billion, a hundred dollars per Afghan person, were used for “humanitarian” projects - to help keep thirty million Afghans alive through twelve years of U.S. war and occupation.
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction Oct. 30, 2013, Quarterly Report to Congress, Available at www.sigar.mil. Note: This graph shows total U.S. spending on “relief and reconstruction” in Afghanistan up to a given year. It does not account for the U.S. military operations, said to cost $2 billion per week.
Funds have been available for tanks, guns, bullets, helicopters, missiles, weaponized drones, drone surveillance, Joint Special Operations task forces, bases, airstrips, prisons, and truck delivered supplies for tens of thousands of troops. But funds are in short supply for children too weak to cry who are battling for their lives while wasting away.
A whole generation of Afghans and other people around the developing world see the true results of Westerners’ self-righteous claim for the need to keep civilians “safe” through war. They see the terror, entirely justified, filling Fatima’s eyes in her hospital bed.
In that room in Kabul, as my friends learned about the stark realities of hunger -- and among them, I know, were some who worry about hunger in their own families -- I could see a rejection both of panic and of revenge in the eyes of the people around me. Their steady thoughtfulness was an inspiration.
Panic and revenge among far more prosperous people in the U.S. helped to drive the U.S. into a war waged against one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet, my Afghan friends, who’ve borne the brunt of war, long to rise above vengeance and narrow self-interest.
They wish to pursue a peace that includes ending hunger.
Editor Comment: In Official Washington, the gap between image and reality can be wide, but there is a virtual canyon separating the mainstream’s awestruck regard for Robert Gates as a “wise man” and his record as a deceitful opportunist known to his former colleagues.
By Ray McGovern
In the early 1970s, I was chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch in which Robert M. Gates worked as a young CIA analyst. While it may be true that I was too inexperienced at the time to handle all the management challenges of such a high-powered office, one of the things I did get right was my assessment of Gates in his Efficiency Report.
Sherif Samir, writing from Egypt
In the past year, during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, when the darkness of fanatical Muslims beset Egypt, and when it seemed that the spirit of resistance was fading, and people were giving up, I was observing women, wondering how the new situation was affecting their looks, their clothes, and their make-up, and I kept hope as long as women kept wearing tight pants, and lipstick, as long as I saw girls and boys walking together and laughing out loud. “Fanatical groups will never own the heart of Egypt,” I thought to myself, “as long as women in tights are guarding the spirit of life.” And I was right.
You know that women are half of the human race, and they can change the future by raising a free new generation. Now you might be saying "Nonsense" - women in the west wear hot shorts but people there are still suffering under capitalism. Right, but remember, I'm Egyptian. The majority of women here are told to cover all their bodies all the time. Many are treated as though they are nothing but a piece of meat, and taught that they hold the honour of men between their legs. Religion sees women as a threat, dictatorship sees women as a threat, and parents see their daughters as a threat. Husbands see their wives as threat, and treat them as property with support from religion, law, and masculine society. They see in women a dangerous revolutionary potential. Sadly, almost 99%of Egyptian women face this oppression.
You see the point here? Women have got to realise how important and effective a free woman is. The reality now is, however, a sad one: many women ironically defend the misogynous values of masculine society. Even educated women still expect to be owned by men and to cultivate in their children the same beliefs that oppress women today. That's how women are supposed to be in a devout Islamic country. So, I’m looking up to Egyptian women, wanting them to revolt, to change their destiny and thereby help change the world.
Dr Hakim, writing from Afghanistan
Once, her eyeliners darker than usual, she complained indignantly about a girl who had misquoted her,” Ei…ei…either she..she goes, or I go!”
She works hard, weighing out the synthetic wool which 60 Afghan ladies use to make winter duvets. Her movements are more determined than that of most men. She is as ready to agree as she is to disagree.
One afternoon in Afghanistan, where music was once banned, she attended a music program. Two professional Afghan singers were invited, a Hazara and a Pashtun, both male. There were about 20 girls and just as many boys in the medium-sized, L-shaped room, the singers at the corner, and the girls on rows of duvets placed on the short arm of the L.
“Would anyone in the audience like to sing?”
Heads turned away. Eyes gazed down. Then…”Me!” she gestured. Her mouth wasn’t smiling. Her face was looking quite serious.
She took the microphone. A Pashtun music enthusiast, a drummer boy, sat down near her with the Afghan drum, the ‘dol’.
From outside, like a cloak, conservative public opinion seemed to weigh down on the roof, and to push against the windows : Patriarchs ask, “ A girl singing?”. The religious council delivers an edict stating that women are second to men. Over the airwaves, a conservative American militarist proclaims, as if in jest, that the most powerful army in the world is here to protect the rights of Afghan women like her, while more than 2500 women had committed suicide in a year.
She took the microphone, which was larger than her hand. Her eyelids were half-drawn, in momentary meditation, with a slight rhythm swaying in her neck.
She took the microphone…
The room paid attention. The audience hesitated. The‘dol’ and the ‘dambura’ ( an Afghan two-stringed, banjo-like instrument ) were played by two men, as accompaniment.
With a scattering of tone-deaf notes, but with no stammers, she sang!
It appeared to me that the whole world broke out clapping.
Sherif Samir is an Egyptian writer and an Arabic teacher. He was the 2012 winner of the International Contest of Microfiction, awarded by Museo de la Palabra in Spain
Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.
If it were proved to me that in making war, my ideal had a chance of being realized, I would still say ‘No’ to war. For one does not create a human society on mounds of corpses. — Louis Lecoin, “Paix immédiate”
By John LaForge
After so much blood and destruction in Afghanistan, a lot of people dream of Secretary of State John Kerry reviving his monumental 1971 question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
A July ABC News/Washington Post poll found only 28 percent of North Americans think the war is worth fighting. “… a steady drumbeat of bad news” like these poll numbers forced Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of occupation forces in Afghanistan, “to turn his attention to the home front” to try and combat the viral realization that the war is lost.
Last year, Gen. John Allen, Dunford’s predecessor, put the chances of victory this way, “Let me make sure I’m clear on this: Nothing is sure.”
Former Pentagon Chief Leon Penetta has said that corruption in Afghanistan’s government and safe havens in Pakistan for the resistance fighters were major US problems. “None of those are likely to be fixed with American firepower,” he said. One thing “fire” power could fix is the million-dollar-per-month CIA cash deliveries to the offices of Afghan President Hamid Karzai — just fire the CIA delivery boys.
Because of the persistent strength of the Taliban, the slow-paced drawdown of US troop numbers is accompanied by fear that imperial gains made through US bombing and invasion will be lost. “[M]any areas in the south and east where troop pullouts are under way have had only tenuous security gains at best, despite years of hard-fought [US]-led advances,” the New York Times said last summer.
Some of the General Staff’s fears harken back to the bloodier war in Vietnam, where the US propped up similarly corrupt regimes. “Alliance commanders acknowledge that one of their greatest fears is an insurgent offensive on Kabul,” the Times reported last May. Even if such an offensive failed technically — “like” as the Times put it, “the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War” — it would so humiliate Afghan, US and NATO forces that their governments would face bolder demands for immediate withdrawal.
US Needs to Concede on Status of Forces
“Status of forces” negotiations are ongoing over how and how many US troops are to stay in country. The Orwellian “pullout” may leave 12,000 soldiers forever. One sticking point is Afghanistan’s demand that US troops not be granted immunity from prosecution for crimes committed there.
With US atrocities blaring from front pages, radios and TVs, it’s easy to understand Afghanistan’s indignation. There is the video of US Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, the burning of a truckload of Korans taken from prisoners by US soldiers, hundreds of civilian deaths caused by US jets, thousands of terrifying nighttime house raids by US commandoes, and the recurrence of massacres, one of 16 civilians by Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
Atrocities committed last winter moved the Afghans to ban US commandoes from an entire province. Reports had it that US Special Forces commanded Afghans troops in torturing and killing civilian villagers. A statement by President Karzai hinted that the crimes “may have been committed by Special Operations forces and not just Afghans.” Karzai called US forces “occupiers” with “little regard for the lives of ordinary Afghans.” After Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich — the ringleader in the massacre of 24 civilians in Iraq — was sentenced to three months in jail and a reduction in rank (he had faced 152 years in prison), one can see why Afghan negotiators are holding fast against immunity.
In another echo of the US war in Vietnam, battlegrounds in Afghanistan once called “vital” have been abandoned to the Taliban. One example is the Pech Valley, formerly referred to gravely as “central to the campaign” against the Taliban and al-Qaida. More than 100 US soldiers died there and hundreds more were wounded, but it’s now been deserted by the Pentagon. In 1971, John Kerry, who was then a combat veteran, told a panel of senators, “We watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the hill for reoccupation by the North Vietnamese.”
The Pech Valley symbolizes the whole of the Afghan quagmire, where it is only vital that the bloodshed be ended. It’s as Dr. King said of Southeast Asia: “The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”
John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, edits its quarterly newsletter, and writes for PeaceVoice.
“The political and economic mafia of Afghanistan and the world run this country with their guns and bombs,” says Abdulhai, a 17 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer. “We the people are rather helpless, unless we stand together.”
Abdulhai’s sentiment helps to describe what is needed in the Borderfree movement : ordinary people of our human family from all walks of life and from every country standing together to build non-violent alternatives under the same blue sky (symbolized by the Borderfree Blue Scarves), relating and working for a better, more equal world.
Today, 60% of Afghan children are malnourished. At least 2500 Afghan women committed suicide in 2012. And over the past four decades, Afghan families have lost at least 2 million loved ones to wars.
Abdulhai and the Afghan Peace Volunteers wish to address these crises by abolishing wars, sharing resources and taking care of the earth. No more war! No more economic exploitation by the 1%! No more destruction of the earth and climate! No more systemic hunger and homelessness! No more thought-numbing bias from the media!
Taking up Prof Noam Chomsky’s challenge to build a world free of borders, we hope for people and friends to work together around climate change, socioeconomic inequalities, militarism with its wars and other global challenges facing humanity today, organizing solidarity actions as a strong 99%!
We believe that an immediate way to be a strong 99% is to get to know one another through arranging Skype or telephone connections across all borders. The Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul can connect with you on any day of the week except Fridays. Please arrange a suitable date and time of connection by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
We wish to speak via Skype or telephone with ordinary folk, youth, students, farmers, labourers, teachers, musicians and artists, environmentalists, social workers, indigenous communities, friends and activists from every single country in the world, thus catalyzing the most powerful force in the world – love.
Please send this request to your family, friends and acquaintances.
Love from Afghanistan,
Toorpikai, Khalida, Sonia, Razia, Sadaf, Zerghuna, Basir, Abdulhai, Ali, Ghulamai, Zekerullah, Faiz, Raz, Khamad, Barath, Feroz, Hikmat and Hakim, with the Afghan Peace Volunteers
By Kathy Kelly
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. ... A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. – “A Time to Break Silence (Beyond Vietnam)” Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967
This month, from Atlanta, GA, the King Center announced its "Choose Nonviolence" campaign, a call on people to incorporate the symbolism of bell-ringing into their Martin Luther King Holiday observance, as a means of showing their commitment to Dr. King's value of nonviolence in resolving terrible issues of inequality, discrimination and poverty here at home. The call was heard in Kabul, Afghanistan.
On the same day they learned of the King Center's call, the young members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, in a home I was sharing with them in Kabul, were grieving the fresh news of seven Afghan children and their mother, killed in the night during a U.S. aerial attack - part of a battle in the Siahgird district of the Parwan province. The outrage, grief, loss and pain felt in Siahgird were echoed, horribly, in other parts of Afghanistan during a very violent week.
My young friends, ever inspired by Dr. King's message, prepared a Dr. King Day observance as they shared bread and tea for breakfast. They talked about the futility of war and the predictable cycles of revenge that are caused every time someone is killed. Then they made a poster listing each of the killings they had learned of in the previous seven days.
They didn't have a bell, and they didn’t have the money to buy one. So Zekerullah set to work with a bucket, a spoon and a rope, and made something approximating a bell. In the APV courtyard, an enlarged vinyl poster of Dr. King covers half of one wall, opposite another poster of Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffir Khan, the "Muslim Gandhi" who led Pathan tribes in the nonviolent Khudai Khidmatgar colonial independence movement to resist the British Empire. Zekerullah's makeshift "bell' was suspended next to King's poster. Several dozen friends joined the APVs as we listened to rattles rather than pealing bells. The poster listing the week's death toll was held aloft and read aloud.
"January 15, 2014: 7 children, one woman, Siahgird district of Parwan, killed by the U.S./NATO. January 15, 2014, 16 Taliban militants, killed by Afghan police, army and intelligence operatives across seven regions, Parwan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Kandahar, Zabul, Logar, and Paktiya. January 12, 2014: 1 police academy student and one academy staff member, killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul on the road to Jalalabad. Jan 9, 2014: 1 four year old boy killed in Helmand, by NATO. Jan 9, 2014: 7 people, several of them police, killed in Helmand by unknown suicide bombers. January 7, 2014: 16 militants killed by Afghan security forces in Nangarhar, Logar, Ghanzi, Pakitya, Heart and Nimroz."
We couldn't know, then, that within two days news would come, with a Taliban announcement claiming responsibility, of 21 people, 13 foreigners and eight Afghans, killed while dining in, or guarding, a Kabul restaurant. The Taliban said that the attack was in retaliation for the seven children killed in the airstrike in Parwan.
Week after bloody week, the chart of killings lengthens. And in Afghanistan, while war rages, a million children are estimated to suffer from acute malnourishment as the country faces a worsening hunger crisis.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we can and should remember the dream Dr. King announced before the Lincoln Memorial, the dream he did so much to accomplish, remembering his call (as the King Center asks) for nonviolent solutions to desperate concerns of discrimination and inequality within the U.S. But we shouldn't let ourselves forget the full extent of Dr. King's vision, the urgent tasks he urgently set us to fulfill on his behalf, so many of them left unfinished nearly forty-six years after he was taken from us. One year to the day before his assassination, he said:
... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just."... The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
We must never forget the full range of Dr. King's vision, nor the full tragedy of the world he sought to heal, nor the revolutionary spirit which he saw as our only hope of achieving his vision - making do with everything we have to try to keep freedom ringing, despite the pervasiveness of the evils that beset us, and a world that needs vigorous effort to save it from addictions to tyranny and violence practiced by reckless elites.
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) While in Kabul, she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com) All quotations are taken from Dr. King’s speech given at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967
- Criticism in the memoirs of former secretary of defence Robert M. Gates of President Barack Obama’s lack of commitment to the Afghan War strategy of his administration has generated a Washington debate about whether Obama was sufficiently supportive of the war.
But the Gates account omits two crucial historical facts necessary to understanding the issue. The first is that Obama agreed to the escalation only under strong pressure from his top national security officials and with very explicit reservations. The second is that Gen. David Petraeus reneged on his previous commitment to support Obama’s 2009 decision that troop withdrawal would begin by mid-2011.
Gates makes only the most glancing reference in the newly published “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War” to the issue of the beginning of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The former defence secretary refers to “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers” by both Obama and vice president Joe Biden. And he describes a Mar. 3, 2011 National Security Council meeting in the White House situation room which Obama opened by criticising the military for “popping off in the press” and vowing to push back against any military delay in beginning the withdrawal.
Gates quotes Obama as saying, “ If I believe I am being gamed . . .” and says he left the sentence “hanging there with the clear implication the consequences would be dire.”
Gates writes that he was “pretty upset,” because he thought “implicitly accusing Petraeus” of “gaming” him at a big meeting in the Situation Room was “inappropriate, not to mention highly disrespectful of Petraeus.”
“As I sat there,” Gates recalls, “I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
But Obama’s distrust of Petraeus was clearly related to the sequence of events related to Obama’s policy decision on Afghanistan and Petraeus’s signaling his desire to undermine it – all of which Gates omits from his account.
Obama was extremely wary of the military’s request for 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan on basic geopolitical grounds from the start, as documented by notes of National Security Council meetings used for Bob Woodward’s accounts of those meetings in “Obama’s Wars” and in an earlier account by Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter.
Both Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden argued in the meetings in September and October 2009 that the primary U.S. concern should be Pakistan, not Afghanistan, whereas Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen were insistent that Afghanistan be the priority, according to Woodward’s account.
The military leaders argued that the Taliban would welcome Al-Qaeda back to Afghanistan unless it was defeated. But Biden, acting with Obama’s encouragement, repeatedly attacked the argument and got CIA official Peter Lavoy to admit that there was no evidence to support it. Obama challenged another key argument by the military, asking why a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would not harm Pakistan’s stability.
It was clear to the officials supporting ISAF Commander Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops that the White House was not going to agree unless something was done to tip the scales in the other direction.
In a White House meeting on Oct. 5, Petraeus argued again that the Taliban movement would invite Al-Qaeda back if it took over, and Mullen, Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all spoke up in support of that general theme, according to Woodward.
Six days later, McClatchy newspapers reported the White House had been “minimizing warnings from the intelligence community, the military and the State Department about the risks of adopting a limited strategy focused on al Qaida”. The story cited interviews with 15 “mid-level or senior military, intelligence and diplomatic officials” who said they agreed with what were described as “new intelligence assessments” that if the Taliban were to return to power, it would allow Al-Qaeda back into the country.
In fact the intelligence community had not prepared any national intelligence estimate on that issue. Obama’s principal national security officials were putting their own twist on intelligence reporting.
The leaking to the news media of a politically damaging version of internal debate between the White House and the coalition pushing for a major escalation was nothing less than shot across the bow from Obama’s principal national security officials, including Petraeus, Mullen, Gates and Clinton. They were signaling to the president that he would incur a significant political cost if he rejected the McChrystal request.
In November 2009, Obama compromised with his national security team. He agreed to 30,000 troops instead of the 40,000 that McChrystal had requested, but not for a national counter-insurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban as Petraeus had wanted. The military effort would be only to “degrade” the Taliban.
And crucially, an evaluation in July 2011 would determine not whether a withdrawal and transfer of responsibility could begin but what it’s “slope” would be, according to the meeting notes cited by Woodward. Obama even insisted that the military not occupy any area that could not be turned over to the Afghan government.
On Nov. 29, Obama met with Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus to get their formal agreement to the compromise plan. Mullen pledged that he would “fully support” the decision. Petraeus said he would do “everything possible” to get the troops on the ground “to enable…the transfer [to Afghans] to begin in July 2011.”
But danger signs appeared almost immediately that the pro-escalation coalition would seek to alter the policy in their favour. The day after Obama publicly announced in a speech at West Point Dec. 1, 2009 that U.S. troops would begin to withdraw in July 2011, Gates and Clinton suggested in Senate Armed Services Committee testimony that the president was not locked into beginning a withdrawal in mid-2011.
Obama responded by insisting that his press secretary tell CBS News that the July 2011 withdrawal was “etched in stone”. After hearing about that Obama comment, Petraeus told Sen. Lindsey Graham that was “a problem” and said, “You need to fix that,” according to Woodward. Petraeus added that he would let Gates and Clinton “deal with this one”.
After taking command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan in mid-2010, Petraeus was asked on Meet the Press on Aug. 15 whether he might tell Obama that the drawdown should be delayed beyond mid-2011. “Certainly, yes,” Petraeus responded, openly threatening to renege on his agreement with Obama.
In September 2010, John Nagl, a retired colonel who had been on Petraeus’s staff and now headed the Centre for New American Security, told IPS that Obama would be forced by Republican pressure to “put more time on the clock”. And in December, Petraeus revealed to Obama’s main White House adviser on the war, Gen. Douglas Lute, “All we have to do is begin to show progress, and that’ll be sufficient to add time to the clock and we’ll get what we need,” according to Woodward.
Whatever Petraeus did in the early weeks of 2011 to raise the ire of Obama in regard to the withdrawal issue, it was against the backdrop of repeated indications that Petraeus was hoping to use both his alliances with Gates and Clinton and pressures from the Republicans in Congress to push back the previously agreed date for beginning withdrawal and handoff of responsibility to the Afghan government.
Gates knew, therefore, that Obama was reacting to a history of having already been “gamed” not only by Petraeus himself but also by his bureaucratic allies maneuvering to remove the restrictions on the Afghan War that Obama had imposed. The self-serving Gates account conceals the dishonest tactics employed to get Obama’s agreement to the Afghan War escalation.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, will be published in February 2014.
Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law.
By Kathy Kelly
Kabul--The fire in the Chaman e Babrak camp began in Nadiai’s home shortly after noon. She had rushed her son, who had a severe chest infection, to the hospital. She did not know that a gas bottle, used for warmth, was leaking; when the gas connected with a wood burning stove, flames engulfed the mud hut in which they lived and extended to adjacent homes, swiftly rendering nine extended families homeless and destitute in the midst of already astounding poverty. By the time seven fire trucks had arrived in response to the fire at the refugee camp, the houses were already burned to the ground.
No one was killed. When I visited the camp, three days after the disaster, that was a common refrain of relief. Nadiai’s home was on the edge of the camp, close to the entrance road. Had the fire broken out in the middle of the camp, or at night when the homes were filled with sleeping people, the disaster could have been far worse.
Even so, Zakia, age 54, said this is the worst catastrophe she has seen in her life, and already their situation was desperate. Zakia had slapped her own face over and over again to calm and focus herself as she searched for several missing children while the fire initially raged. Now, three days later, her cheeks are quite bruised, but she is relieved that the children were found.
Standing amid piles of ashes near what once was her home, a young mother smiled as she introduced her three little children, Shuba, age 3 ½, and Medinah and Monawra, twin girls, age 1 ½. They were trapped in one of the homes, but their uncle rescued them.
Now the nine families have squeezed in with their neighbors. “We are left with only the clothes on our body,” said Maragul. She added that all of the victims feel very grateful to their neighbors. “We cook together,” she said, “and they offer us shelter at night.” Three or four families will sleep together in one room. Asked if their neighbors were all from the same clan, Maragul, Nadiai and Zakia immediately began naming the different ethnic groups that are among their neighbors. Some are Turkman, some Uzbek, some from Herat or Kabul, others are Pashtun, and some are Kuchi. The women said that they begin to feel like brothers and sisters, living together in these adverse circumstances.
The Chaman e Babrak refugee camp spills over the grounds of a large field formerly used for sporting events. With 720 families crowded into the camp, it is second in density and size only to the Charahi Qambar refugee camp, on the outskirts of Kabul, which is twice as large and more than twice as full as the Chaman e Babrak camp.
Years ago, before the Taliban originally captured Kabul, some of the families in this camp had rented homes in the area. They had fled to Pakistan to escape the fighting, hoping to find a future with security and work. After the U.S. invasion, with President Karzai’s accession to power, they’d been urged to return, told that it was safe to go back.But upon their return they’d learned their old homes and land now belonged to victorious warlords, and they learned again that safety is painfully elusive in conditions of poverty and the social disintegration that follows years, and in their case decades, of war.
Asked about prospects for their husbands to find work, the women shook their heads. Nadiai said that her husband has occasional work as a porter, carrying materials in a wheelbarrow from one site to another. Sometimes construction projects will hire him, but in the winter months construction projects are closed and already scarce work vanishes altogether. And war, in a sense, brings its own winter along with it: Next to the camp is a construction project that has been dormant since 2008. It had been intended to become an apartment building.
There was never any plan announced to house these families, even before the fire. And since the fire, there has been no offer of aid aside from those seven fire trucks, rushing in to contain an immediate threat not only to the camp but of course to neighboring businesses, several wedding halls and a plastic surgery hospital, up against which, in a city no stranger to glaring contrasts of wealth, the camp finds itself pressed. I came to the camp with young activists of the Afghan Peace Volunteers there to distribute heavy coverlets, (duvets), manufactured with foreign donations by local seamstresses, precisely for distribution free of charge to Kabul’s neediest people in the winter months. The UK sister organization to my own group, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, will distribute food packages in the camp during the coming week.
We’ll never know who the fire might have killed, because when the old or the young die from the pressures of poverty, of homelessness, of war, we can’t know which disaster tipped the balance. We won’t know which catastrophe, specifically, will have taken any lives lost here to this dreadful winter. Many will be consumed by the slow conflagration of widespread poverty, corruption, inequality and neglect.
As many as 35,000 displaced persons are now living in the slum areas in Kabul alone. “Conflict affects more Afghans now than at any point in the last decade,” according to Amnesty International’s 2012 report,Fleeing War, Finding Misery. “The conflict has intensified in many areas, and fighting has spread to parts of the country previously deemed relatively peaceful. The surge in hostilities has many obvious consequences, among them that families and even entire communities flee their homes in search of greater security. Four hundred people a day are displaced in Afghanistan, on average, bringing the total displaced population to 500,000 by January 2012.”
The vast expenditures of the U.S. government and its client here simply can’t be designated as contributions toward “security.” These funds have contributed to insecurity and danger while failing to address basic human needs. The realpolitik of an imperial power, as utterly disinterested in security here as it seems to be in its own people’s safety at home, will not notice this camp. As we pull together in our communities to enkindle concern, compassion, and respect for creative nonviolence, we are in deep winter hoping for a spring. We are right to work and to hope, but faced with the spectacle of winter in Chaman e Babrak I can’t help remembering Barbara Deming’s lines: “Locked in winter, summer lies; gather your bones together. Rise!”
Photo credits: Abdulai Safarali
From Sherif in Egypt
My dear enemy, I kill you with love…
As my mind was growing, by reading and opening my eyes, my enemy took different shapes. At first, I thought he was the guy who beat the teenager pride out of me in a train fight over a girl, but that went by, forgotten and forgiven, leaving no scars, but rather a smile.
Then there was my neighbour on the farm land who was moving the border between us towards my land about five centimetres every year. He had the determination of an ant, but with time he couldn't drive me crazy any more. In fact, I feel pity for him, for I now know his sickness and what causes it.
Then Bin Laden became an icon for terrorism and hatred, so as a civilized human, I hated him and wished the marines would kill him, as I considered him my enemy. But after reading about history and politics, I realized the purpose he existed for, and whom he served, and then I couldn't hate him anymore. I couldn't see him as my real enemy. I saw him as someone's mad dog; you don't hate a mad dog, you may kill it, but you don't hate it.
After reading more about economics and capitalism, I thought America and the West and Israel were my enemies, blood-sucking my natural resources, preventing me from real development, which is true, but not the whole truth.
More reading, more thinking, and shaking the foundations of the old absolute beliefs in my mind. Now I think I got it – yes, there are many people and countries that hurt, robbed, fooled, abused, occupied, and enslaved me, but who let them? Who killed the corpse they are feeding on? That is the one I can point at as my enemy, and I think that enemy is me.
By closing my eyes, by turning off my mind, I'm my enemy.
From Dr Hakim in Afghanistan
Who is my enemy? Satan? Terrorists? ‘The other person’ of ‘another’ faith or ethnicity?
In 2002, Najib, about 12 years old, already had the ‘profile’ of what some of us, particularly political and religious elites, may consider the ‘enemy’: orphaned, poor, Afghan, Pashtun, Muslim, and from Kandahar, the supposed heartland of the Taliban.
Najib befriended me on the streets of Quetta, Pakistan, where he collected trash to find bread.
Najib, his grandma and myself
On a Tuesday, the President looks at digital ‘intelligence’, and signs, “Eliminate Najib.”
I counter-propose, “Love Najib.”
As someone whose life Najib had helped to heal, I’ll gladly stand in any court to say, “Sir, it is the responsibility of conscientious human beings to love him, not eliminate him. You can’t change him or others by killing him. It’s your policies, not Najib, that need the enacting of your slogan, ‘Change’. ”
The last time I saw Najib, he had come around to say good-bye, stating that, “Life here is difficult.” He was going to leave Quetta in hope of a better refuge in Iran.
Najib cried. I faltered.
I regret to this day that I didn’t offer him any alternatives: enroll him in literacy classes, find him work as a carpentry apprentice ….
Worse, I justified to myself that should I have offered help, I may have fallen short of funds to assist him, or that others may have accused me of favoring Najib over the other street kids.
Those decisions and non-decisions separated us - I’ve not seen Najib since.
And while the Afghan Peace Volunteers and I run a street kid program in Kabul under the banner ‘Help us Find Najib the Afghan orphan boy’, I’ve been wondering if my ‘enemy’ wasn’t the war that’s still going on today in Afghanistan, or the Taliban fighting the ‘foreign invaders’, or the U.S./NATO forces targeting the natives.
Then I realized that among my ‘enemies’ was my own time schedule – I was too pre-occupied to commit myself to working out options for Najib. Another ‘enemy’ was my vanity in worrying that others may have thought I was biased towards one of the poorest people on earth?!
‘Saving my time and saving my face’ were more pressing to me than his fate.
My own darned busy-ness and face are my ‘enemies’.
Sherif Samir is an Egyptian writer and an Arabic teacher. He was the 2012 winner of the International Contest of Microfiction, awarded by Museo de la Palabra in Spain
Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.
[This is a re-posting -- with slight alterations, images and links added -- of a piece that appeared in Z Magazine, January, 2014.]
“As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region... As the United States enters a new phase of engagement in Afghanistan, we must lay the foundation for a long-term strategy that sustains our security gains and protects U.S. interests...” --US Senator John Kerry, Chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, December, 2011.
…A fuller reflection on the last eleven years should include the perverse twist about how in its almost single-minded effort to promote state-building, political tolerance and good governance in Afghanistan, just next door the West [sic] has left a trail of repression, graft and unfulfilled commitments to Central Asia’s fledgling civil society. — Central Asia analyst Alexander Cooley, “Afghanistan’s Other Regional Casualty”
Despite the projected 2014 “drawdown” of most of its troops from Afghanistan, the US is not about to exit strategically vital and resource-rich Central Asia.
By Kathy Kelly
Kabul, Afghanistan is “home” to hundreds of thousands of children who have no home. Many of them live in squalid refugee camps with families that have been displaced by violence and war. Bereft of any income in a city already burdened by high rates of unemployment, families struggle to survive without adequate shelter, clothing, food or fuel. Winter is especially hard for refugee families. Survival sometimes means sending their children to work on the streets, as vendors, where they often become vulnerable to well organized gangs that lure them into drug and other criminal rings.
Last year, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), a group of young Afghans who host me and other internationals when we visit their home in Kabul, began a program to help street children enrol in schools. They befriend small groups of children, get to know the children’s families and circumstances, and then reach agreements with the families that if the children are allowed to attend school and reduce their working hours on the streets, the APVs will compensate the families, supplying them with oil and rice. Next, the APVs buy warm clothes for each child and invite them to attend regular classes at the APV home to learn the alphabet and math.
Yesterday, Abdulhai and Hakim met a young boy, Safar, age 13, who was working as a boot polisher on a street near the APV home. Abdulhai asked to shake Safar’s hand, but the child refused. Understandably, Safar may have feared Abdulhai. But when Abdulhai and Hakim told Safar there were foreigners at the APV office who were keen to help, he followed them into our yard.
Sitting next to me, indoors, Safar continued shaking from the cold. We noticed that he had an angry red welt across his right cheek. Safar said that the previous day he had tried to warm his hands over an outdoor bar-b-que grill, and the cook hit him across the face with a red hot skewer to shoo him away. Safar clutched a half-filled small plastic Coca-Cola bottle in his hands. Asked why he was drinking cold soda on such a cold day, he said that he had a headache.
He was wearing a hoodie, light pants, and plastic slippers. He had no socks or gloves-- hardly adequate attire for working outside in the bitter cold all day. On a “good” day, Safar can earn 150 Afghanis, a sum that amounts to $3.00 and could purchase enough bread for a family of seven and perhaps have some left over to purchase clothes.
Kathy Kelly with Safar, an Afghan “street child”
Abdulhai and Hakim asked Safar to come back the next day with some of his friends. One hour later, he arrived with five friends, two Pashto boys and three Tajiks, ranging in age from 13 to 5. The children promised to return the next day with more youngsters.
And so this morning seven street children filed into the APV home. None of them wore socks and all were shivering. Their eyes were gleaming as they nodded their heads, assuring us that they want to join APV’s street kids program.
Here in Kabul, a city relatively better off than most places in Afghanistan, we have electricity every other day. When the pipes freeze and there’s no electricity, we have no water. Imagine the hardships endured by people living with far less. Even in the United States, thousands of children’s basic needs aren’t met. The New York Times recently reported that there are 22,000 homeless children living in New York City.
Thinking of how the U.S. has used its resources here in Afghanistan, where more than a trillion has been spent on maintaining war and occupation, I feel deep shame. In 2014, the U.S. will spend 2.1 million dollars for every U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Convoys travel constantly between US military bases, transporting large amounts of fuel, food and clean water -- luxury items to people living in refugee camps along their routes – often paying transportation tolls to corrupt officials, some of whom are known to head up criminal gangs.
While the U.S. lacks funds to guarantee basic human rights for hundreds of thousands of U.S. children, and while U.S. wars displace and destroy families in Afghanistan, the U.S. consistently meets the needs of weapon makers and war profiteers.
Even so, the inspiring activities of my young Afghan friends fuel a persistent hope. Heavy coverlets, called duvets, are bulging out of several storage rooms in the APV home. Talented young women have coordinated “the duvet project,” now in its second year, involving 60 women who produce a total of 600 duvets every two weeks for distribution to impoverished families. The seamstresses are paid for each duvet they make. In asociety where women have few if any economic opportunities, this money can help women put food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet. The women equally represent three of the main ethnic divisions here in Kabul, --Hazara, Pashto, and Tajik -- an example that people can work together toward common goals. The young people work hard to develop similarly equal distribution amongst the neediest of families. Today they delivered 200 duvets to a school for blind children. Later in the day they will hike up the mountainside to visit widows who have no income.
This afternoon, 2 dozen young girls will be compensated for embroidering 144 blue scarves that proclaim “Borderfree” in Dari and English. The blue scarves, which are now being distributed in various parts of the world, symbolize the reality that there’s one blue sky above us. Activists in numerous peace and justice campaigns have been wearing the blue scarves.
Here in Kabul, our young friends gathered together on the evening of the winter solstice for music and celebration. At one point, they sat quietly, their faces illuminated by candle light, as each person in the circle said what they hoped would change, in the coming year, to help bring the world closer to peace. The visions danced – I hope children will be fed… I hope we won’t buy or sell weapons… I hope for forgiveness.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The collective yearning and longing of children who deserve a better world may yet affect hearts and minds all over the world, prompting people to ask why do we make wars? Why should people who already have so much amass weapons that protect their ability to gain more?
I hope we will join Afghanistan’s children in begging for change.
Afghanistan War Poll Shows Support Falling To Below Iraq, Vietnam Levels
More than 12 years after the United States invaded Afghanistan, support for the war is dipping below levels of support for American intervention in Iraq and Vietnam, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released Monday.
CNN found that 17 percent support the effort in Afghanistan, down from 52 percent in December 2008. Eighty-two percent disapprove of the conflict. Americans' assessment of the war is gloomy -- 57 percent said the war is going badly, and about a third think the United States is winning.
United States troops are scheduled to be in Afghanistan for another year -- until Dec. 31, 2014. A recent National Intelligence Estimate predicted that gains made by the United States would be significantly lost by 2017 if the United States and Afghanistan do not make a new security pact allowing troops beyond the deadline. However, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has been reluctant to sign such a deal, and U.S. efforts to impose an ultimatum to sign by the end of this year have failed.
Unlike Iraq and Vietnam, which were started under dubious pretenses, the rationale for invading Afghanistan as a response to 9/11 was seen as reasonable by nearly all of the American public. However, approval figures for Vietnam and Iraq were higher than those found in the recent poll. President Lyndon Johnson's approval on Vietnam reached a low of 27 percent in Gallup polling, and Nixon's nadir was even higher. A high of 61 percent of Americans thought Vietnam was a mistake, according to Gallup polling. Support for George Bush's handling of Iraq dipped to 26 percent in USA Today/Gallup polling in January 2007. A high of 63 percent of Americans thought Iraq was a mistake in April 2008.
Other recent polling has shown that most Americans believe the war in Afghanistan to be a mistake. A December AP poll found that 57 percent of Americans thought it was the "wrong thing to do" to invade, and 66 percent said it was not worth fighting for in a recent Washington Post - ABC News poll.
With 196 nations in the world and U.S. troops already in at least 177 of them, there aren't all that many available to make war against. Yet it looks like both Syria and Iran will be spared any major Western assault for the moment. Could this become a trend? Is peace on the horizon? Are celebrations of Nelson Mandela's nonviolence sincere?
The glitch in this optimistic little photo-shopped storyline starts with an A and rhymes with Shmafghanistan.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible" for years now. We're spending $10 million per hour, and $81 billion in the new annual budget, on an operation that many top officials and experts have said generates hostility toward our country. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this operation is suicide.
And now, at long last, we have an important (and usually quite corrupt) politician on our side, responding to public pressure and ready -- after 12 years -- to shut down Operation Enduring ... and Enduring and Enduring.
Oddly, this politician's name is not President Barack Obama. When Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama's war than President Bush's. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond."
Sadly, the politician who has taken our side is not in Washington at all. There are a few Congress Members asking for a vote, but most of their colleagues are silent. When Congress faced the question of missiles into Syria, and the question was front-and-center on our televisions, the public spoke clearly. Members of both parties, in both houses of Congress, said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before.
But on the question of another decade "and beyond" in Afghanistan, the question has not been presented to Congress or the public, and we haven't yet found the strength to raise it ourselves. Yet someone has managed to place himself on our side, namely Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Like the Iraqi government before him, Karzai is refusing to agree to an ongoing occupation with U.S. forces immune from prosecution under Afghan laws. Before signing off on an ongoing military presence, Karzai says he would like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people's doors at night. He'd like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He'd like Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. (Of the 17 still there, 4 have long since been cleared for release but not released; none has been convicted of any crime.) And he'd like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections.
Whatever we think of Karzai's legacy -- my own appraisal is unprintable -- these are remarkably reasonable demands. And at least as far as U.S. public opinion goes, here at long last is a post-invasion ruler actually engaged in spreading democracy.
What about the Afghans? Should we "abandon" them? We told pollsters we wanted to send aid to Syria, not missiles. Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan -- or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country -- would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations (51.4% of the new federal budget), and could quite easily make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we'd favor that course of action if we were asked -- or if we manage to both raise the question and answer it.
by Hakim (Dr. Teck Young, Wee - mentor, Afghan Peace Volunteers)
On the 16th of November, 2013, eight-year-old Hashim s/o Abdul Hamid and nine-year-old Zukoom s/o Abdul Majid were on the streets of Kabul polishing boots when a suicide bombing ( in opposition to the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement ) killed them.
Johnny Barber, a peace activist from New York, and Ronya, an independent, freelance journalist from Germany, accompanied the Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ) to Hashim’s and Zukoom’s funeral in an Internally Displaced Persons ( IDP ) camp two days later. We had a conversation with Hashim and Zukoom’s classmates, Kahar and Naseem, which you can view at “At least 13 Afghan civilians killed, including Hashim & Zukoom”
The daily struggles of ordinary people against elite-driven injustices hovered in the mud-walled room, like a scent.
I was swept up by voices both personal and familial.
War had not become less cruel with time.
Afghans, like Syrians and many others since time immemorial, are smothered in the cross-fire among the Powers, in declarations and Agreements for more war.
Over the past four decades of war, Afghans have lost at least 2 million loved ones.
Media reported ‘at least 13 killed’, but as Kahar and Nazeem remembered Hashim and Zukoom, these news flashes lost their de-humanizing hold, and the 13 became the two, and the two became us.
Hashim at extreme left with eyes closed,
Naseem and Hazrat in front
Zukoom in his tent-school,
partially hidden in the middle,looking back
8 years he lived, each year yet another 12 months of war.
“He rejected my rules for playing hide and seek,” Kahar recalled,
his instinct to survive,
to dodge the bullets and bombs of the Taliban
AND the U.S./NATO night and air raids,
to play for yet another moment, till last Saturday.
“I couldn’t believe it. I cried.”
“Zukoom,” Naseer affirmed, “was a good boy, not a naughty boy” of nine years,
finally owning a new school bag, a rucksack!,
So he went to the tent-school energetically,
while polishing boots,
till he came to the gates of adults
who would rather spend
on bases and the methods of brute, competitive force.
entered the room with her widowed mother.
They must have attended the funeral we had been at briefly.
Gul Jumma may have been amazed
that these ‘foreigners’ were offering comfort
when their governments behaved like armed local criminals,
busy, target-killing and randomly-shooting,
collaterally eliminating farmers irrigating their fields,
like they did to her late father.
These sharp, young minds may have remembered
‘experts’ surveying in their home province, Helmand,
“Have you heard of September 11th, the two buildings….?”
Another occasion in Kandahar, Karzai asked, “Are you happy or unhappy for the operation (offensive against the Taliban) to be carried out?”
Operation Moshtarak ( Joint ) and Operation Enduring Freedom proceeded anyway,
trapping and occupying the 99%
Naseem said, “They wanted to be teachers.”
the special wishes or body bags of commoners
aren’t counted in the game plans
of the Taliban or the U.S./NATO elite or
those signing another ‘bilateral’ war agreement.
‘Stay for tea!”
We thanked everyone, and rose to go.
In the eyes of Rahmatullah the camp elder,
was a protest,
“Billions of dollars later,
Our women can’t go out at all.”
Kahar, Naseem, Hazrat and Gul Jumma,
our friends, our humanity,
should not have to ply the street economy
of polishing boots,
They, like Hashim and Zukoom,
should be our teachers,
re-informing our books,
telling their stories after work,
of how the streets have always been screaming.
Hazrat, Kahar and Naseem with their new school bags
Zukoom at bottom right with pen & open book,
looking at Afghan Peace Volunteer Abdulhai
Johnny said during the funeral-visit, “I’m really grateful to be here in order just to learn their names, & to learn a little about them because, you know, whenever you read about it in the press, it’s always civilians. You never have a connection to who they were, & what they meant to the community.”
Naseem, Hazrat, Kahar, Gul Jumma and the Afghan Peace Volunteers hope for the global silence to be broken, for 2 Million Voices to resound from around the world in remembering Hashim, Zukoom and the 2 Million Afghan victims of war.
On the 10th of December, the International Day of Human Rights, they launch their ‘2 Million Voices’ campaign, appealing to you and the people of the world: Please Sign our Petition to be One of 2 Million Voices that will say to the Afghan Peace Volunteers ‘We remember them too’.
Text of Petition
Dear People of the World,
Salam! We are the Afghan Peace Volunteers, a nonviolent multi-ethnic community working for peace in our war-stricken country. We wish to hear 2 Million Voices breaking the silence on the 2 Million loved ones Afghans have lost to war.
Every morning in Kabul, like yourselves, we wake up to the same old noise.
The same old rich getting louder and the poor remaining unfed and unheard.
The same old firing of weapons and use of brute force to defend thieves and warlords, both local and foreign.
The same old suffocating of Mother Earth, as her desertified land fills with trash and grey fumes.
We the people of Afghanistan, like yourselves all over the world, are hurting.
Because we find hope and healing in friendship, we’d like to hear 2 Million of your Voices remembering our 2 Million loved ones lost to wars.
On signing this petition, please arrange a Skype or phone connection, by sending us the message ‘We remember them too’ in one of these ways:
- Twitter @afg_borderfree (with the hashtag #2millionvoices)
We look forward to hearing your voice! We will keep a Tumblr photo-blog on the connections we’ve made.
Whatever our race, religion or silly politics, under a common borderfree blue sky, we ask you to extend your love to us and to one another.
Keeping our dignity and equality as ordinary folk who seek simple, decent livelihoods, we need to hear from you.
Surely, every voice of friendship is a song for freedom!
Love from Afghanistan,
The Afghan Peace Volunteers
While catching up with one another over the challenges facing ordinary Afghans and Egyptians, Sherif Sameer and I talked about how ‘opening our eyes’ could go a long way to building a better world. We decided to co-write this piece, from Ismailia, Egypt and Kabul, Afghanistan.
Sherif and I in Cairo, 2006
Open Our Eyes in Egypt
The truth is there, clear and burning like a sun. We only need to open our eyes and take a look. ‘Our eyes’ means ‘our minds’. The mind is that big thing on top of our necks inside of our heads, and it has a function called ‘thinking’.
Just last year, I was taken from my village in Egypt to spend some time in Spain, because I wrote a short story and won a prize. There, I noticed that I was walking around with a belief in the cleanliness and accuracy of everything. I was drinking tap water believing it was so pure and clean, eating food as if it was coming from heaven, even after I got diarrhoea and had to take medicine. I believed that the medicine will cure me like magic. I had faith in absolutes and that meant that my mind was dysfunctional.
Now, that was a very small example of what is happening on a world wide scale that hurts us more than diarrhoea.
A few rich people benefit from the natural resources of the majority of human race, and they don't have to kill you for it. They only have to turn off your thinking machine, and then not only will you let them take your life, but you’ll also fight for them against those who work to free you. I know Egyptians who are poor and sick and ready to sacrifice their lives and their children's lives to help those who abuse them last richer and more powerful for longer, under absolute beliefs like religion, just as the Muslim Brotherhood members do every Friday while their leaders ‘perform’ the American agenda.
Now, I know this sounds so complicated and mysterious, and that you are really enjoying the peaceful and secure feeling of the absolute beliefs, but in fact, you really need to suspect and think through every claim and cause, not so much the new ones, but the old ones, for those are the most dangerous.
A golden rule for all of us: welcome every idea however strange it seems as long as it doesn’t claim to be the absolute good, as soon as it doesn’t refuse differences, and let go of every idea that shuts the door for creation and progress.
Vice Deputy Under Elf for Hearts and Minds: Good Afternoon, this is the Vice Deputy Under Elf for Hearts and Minds, how may I bring you joy?
Anonymous Pentagon Official: Cut the crap, Nils, you know why I'm calling.
VDUEHM: You've got me confused with the big man, Chuck. I can't see you even when you're awake.
APO: We're providing your sled with fighter jet escort in a $3 billion promotional video, Nils, and this is the 218th -- count 'em, Nils -- the 218th defective puppet you've given us, under warranty, and your people -- if I may call the little goblins "people" -- are not helping.
VDUEHM: What is the name and serial number of the puppet?
APO: The hell you think his name is? Hamid Frickin Karzai, you third-rate bureaucratic ... you can't even see over a bureau, can you? You know what, Nils, if your big man had given us a reasonably small sack of coal instead of each and every puppet we've ever picked up on Christmas morning, we'd ... we'd ... well, we'd have had to think up an entirely different reason for our wars, that's what!
VDUEHM: Please state the difficulty you are experiencing with the puppet.
APO: I don't have all damn day here, Nils. You want the full list? Let me put it to you this way. Remember that last puppet, Maliki, who you claimed was not under warranty ...
VDUEHM: When you intentionally, maliciously, or negligently destroy the puppet's primary or temporary nation or society, the warranty is voided in its entirety, as found in rule number ...
APO: You can imagine where I might suggest you stick that rule book, Nils. Tell me this: who is your best customer in the entire world?
VDUEHM: The innocent child who wishes good only for others and experiences a depth of gratitude ...
APO: Who's your second best customer?
VDUEHM: We give presents, Chuck. Did you think you'd dialed Saudi Arabia? I can have someone connect you. Please hold ...
APO: Hold on! Hold on! My god! Whose chestnuts do you have to roast to get some service around here?
VDUEHM: Please state the difficulty you are experiencing with the puppet.
APO: He's refusing to sign on for 10 more years and beyond.
VDUEHM: Beyond what?
APO: Beyond the next 10 years.
VDUEHM: So, why don't you just call it "indefinitely"? Why mention 10 years if you're going to add "and beyond"?
APO: You wouldn't understand marketing, Nils. You give stuff away, remember?
VDUEHM: It is my understanding that he said he would sign on if you changed a few things. Is that true?
APO: Yeah, yeah. Just a few little bitty things like turning the sky upside down. We had Kerry try to get one of Karzai's underlings to sign on, but Karzai blocked that. Talk about an aggressively defective puppet. This is asymmetric warfare, Nils!
VDUEHM: Kerry? John Kerry? The guy who is opposed to and in favor of every war? The guy who tried to sell missiles-on-Syria as a radical overthrow by violent pacifist fanatic moderate secular extremists that would change everything and have no effect whatsoever? That guy? That guy? Wait, and you're the expert on MARKETING? Oh my god, wait a minute, hang on, I gotta tell Rudolph this one ...
VDUEHM: Chuck, I've got an answer for you from Rudolph. He says you'll go down in history.
VDUEHM: No, not really. Listen, this is what your puppet Karzai said to you: stop killing civilians, stop kicking people's doors in at night, engage in peace talks, free prisoners from Guantanamo, refrain from sabotaging next April's elections, and he'll sign your paper. Now, you had this conversation on the big man's knee. He asked you if you were sure you wanted the democratic puppet and not the monster puppet. No, no, you said, you wanted the democratic puppet. You were all about spreading democracy, Chuck.
APO: That wasn't ME! That was the guy before the guy before the guy before the guy before me!
VDUEHM: It's the same warranty, and your puppet is performing as required. If you'd like to submit a complaint ...
APO: I'll tell you what I'll submit, Nils, I'll submit that melting ice isn't healthy for elves. I'll submit that the guy after the guy after the guy after me is going to get a call from you begging for a bit of terra firma, and I'll submit that he's going to remember the exact number of defective damn puppets you will by that point have provided. Do you like freezing water, Nils?
VDUEHM: I'm transferring you to my boss.
APO: I thought so.
Cross-Posted from Frack the Media
By Hakim (Dr. Teck Young Wee) mentor for the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Writing from Afghanistan, recently ranked by Australia’s University of Queensland as the most ‘depressed’ county in the world, I understand that the ideas and experiences of happiness are varied and elusive.
Even in one of the poorest countries of the world, where 84 percent of households are multi-dimensionally poor, T.V. adverts and consumer culture persuade us that an i-phone is more valuable than a tree.
We don’t relate with trees and forests, so the denuded hills and mountains in Afghanistan can wait. We don’t miss water when it is depleted from our underground water tables in Kabul or imprisoned in years of drought in Afghanistan.
We behave as if we can survive happily alone, without Mother Earth, just as long as we have our cars to bring us to concrete shopping complexes.
Living in landlocked Afghanistan, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) don’t think about the oceans much, so when the international 30 were arrested trying to stop oil drilling in the Arctic Sea, the APVs wondered, “Why?”
Do the oceans grieve? Do the penguins and polar bears feel sad?
We risk being seen as esoteric when we relate with nature. Some people are prompted to talk to the trees, to the flowers and to other living creatures. But it wouldn’t be so curious if we extended to the wild our long-standing domestic friendships with cats and dogs.
The crisis of global warming has precipitated a time for humanity to free our idea of relationships to include the Earth.
That was what we began considering as Abdulhai encouraged the APVs to dye the water in several basins the color of the ocean-skies, to specially ask a friend in Kabul to make two blocks of ‘Arctic’ ice with his refrigerator, to learn about how our consumption of oil is changing the face of more than the North Pole, and to be in solidarity with the 30 stranger-friends behind bars for loving something bigger than themselves.
When, as part of a video project, Abdulhai and the youth were shouting ‘Free the Arctic 30!’ they were learning to free the Earth from human exploitation.
Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young Wee), is a medical doctor from Singapore who has lived for the past 12 years in Afghanistan. In Kabul, he is the mentor for the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an interethnic group of young people dedicated to finding alternatives to war.
Many thanks to the Greenpeace activists and so many people who are joining hands the world over to urgently address climate change, despite the profit-driven opposition from oil-extracting governments and corporations.
We take heart in Mother Earth, who beckons for us to build a world free of the borders separating homo-sapiens from the rest of the natural world.
She is coaxing us to free ourselves from the material domination of happiness, from the old ideas of relationships.
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama's war than President Bush's. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He'd like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people's doors at night. He'd like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He'd like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he'd like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai's legacy -- my own appraisal is unprintable -- these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations' concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai's.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible" for years and years. We're spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan -- or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country -- would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we'd favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn't stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn't get the aid that we favored.
We aren't asked about the drone strikes. We aren't asked about most military operations. And we aren't being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven't learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We'd have invented a new disease. They'd replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he's "ending" out for another decade, establishing that there's very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won't allow them to roll right over us.
Washington, D.C.—In light of the newly public draft security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan suggesting the possibility of an American troop presence in Afghanistan past 2014 and into 2024, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Walter Jones, Jr. (R-NC), and Jim McGovern (D-MA), have sent a letter today to President Obama calling for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops and asserting Congress’ role in approving any further presence.
“This revelation is outrageous. The possibility of a military presence into 2024 is unacceptable. There is no military solution in Afghanistan. After 13 years and more than $778 billion invested in an unstable country and the corrupt Karzai government, it’s time to bring our troops and tax dollars home. The American people have had enough of the endless, open-ended war. It is time to focus on bringing our brave men and women in uniform home and transition to full Afghan control,” said Congresswoman Lee.
The letter reads, “While many of us would support removing all U.S. troops and military contractors out of Afghanistan with no permanent bases left behind by the end of 2014, we want to underscore that if any long-term commitment of U.S. troops beyond 2014 is made, it must have congressional authorization. The U.S. simply no longer has compelling security interests in Afghanistan that justifies the maintenance of troops beyond December 2014.”
Full text of the letter is below.
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
November 20, 2013
Dear Mr. President:
The war in Afghanistan has just entered its 13th year, and the need to bring our troops home could not be any more clear. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan suggested in a recent interview that he would be willing to see the permanent exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. President Karzai has also repeatedly stated that he sees no potential security benefit from an enduring U.S. security mission. Indeed at times President Karzai has claimed U.S. and NATO troops are the cause of insecurity in Afghanistan.
We believe that President Karzai’s comments raise serious doubts about the justification for a long-term military presence in Afghanistan. Lacking a supportive and viable political partner in Afghanistan, there simply is no military solution American troops can achieve, and extending U.S. troop presence will not serve vital U.S. security goals. Our men and women in uniform are immensely capable, but they cannot succeed with an openly hostile Afghan regime.
While many of us would support removing all U.S. troops and military contractors out of Afghanistan with no permanent bases left behind by the end of 2014, we want to underscore that if any long-term commitment of U.S. troops beyond 2014 is made, it must have congressional authorization. The U.S. simply no longer has compelling security interests in Afghanistan that justifies the maintenance of troops beyond December 2014. Furthermore, as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, U.S.-funded reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars will soon be inaccessible for safe inspection, raising serious questions about our responsibility to conduct vigorous oversight of taxpayer supported efforts.
There is a growing bipartisan sentiment in Congress and across the country for an expedited end of military activities in Afghanistan. After twelve years of war, thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, it is time to bring an end to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
______________________ ______________________ ______________________
BARBARA LEE WALTER JONES JAMES P. MCGOVERN
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
By Kathy Kelly
I’ve been a guest in Colorado Springs, Colorado, following a weeklong retreat with Colorado College students who are part of a course focused on nonviolence. In last weekend’s Colorado Springs Gazette, there was an article in the Military Life section about an international skype phone call between U.S. soldiers in Kandahar, Afghanistan and sixth grade girls at a private school in Maryland. (“Carson Soldiers Chat With Friends” November 17, 2013 F4)
Soldiers from Fort Carson’s Company C Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division had been receiving care packages and hand-written letters from sixth grade girls at a private school in Brooklandville, MD. The project led to a late October video chat session which allowed the soldiers and students to converse.
I read in the article that one of the U.S. soldiers in Kandahar assured the girls in Maryland that girls in Afghanistan now have better access to education than they did before the U.S. troops arrived. He also mentioned that women have more rights than before.
On November 21st, I’ll participate in a somewhat similar skype call, focused not on soldiers in Afghanistan but on the voices of young Afghans. On the 21st of every month, through Global Days of Listening, several friends in the U.S. arrange a call between youngsters in Afghanistan and concerned people calling or simply listening in from countries around the world. I long to hear the optimism expressed by the Fort Carson soldier reflected in the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ words. But our young friends in Afghanistan express regret that their families struggle so hard, facing bleak futures in a country racked and ruined by war.
According to Ann Jones, who has reported from Afghanistan since 2002, UNICEF’s 2012 report states that “almost half the “schools” supposedly built or opened in Afghanistan have no actual buildings, and in those that do, students double up on seats and share antiquated texts. Teachers are scarce and fewer than a quarter of those now teaching are considered “qualified,” even by Afghanistan’s minimal standards. Impressive school enrollment figures determine how much money a school gets from the government, but don’t reveal the much smaller numbers of enrollees who actually attend. No more than 10% of students, mostly boys, finish high school. In 2012, according to UNICEF, only half of school-age children went to school at all. In Afghanistan, a typical 14-year-old Afghan girl has already been forced to leave formal education and is at acute risk of mandated marriage and early motherhood. A full 76 percent of her countrywomen have never attended school. Only 12.6 percent can read.”
As for conditions among women in the area where the Fort Carson infantry are stationed, it’s worth noting that Kandahar is one of several southern provinces in Afghanistan where the UN reported, in September, 2012, that one million children suffer acute malnourishment.
Looking beyond southern Afghanistan, where the Fort Carson soldiers are based, the grim statistics persist. As of March 31, 2013, a total of 534,006 people were recorded by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as internally displaced by conflict in Afghanistan. Increasing numbers of IDPs are moving to cities and towns, where they are co-settling with non-displaced urban poor, poor rural-urban internal migrants, and returning refugees. In Kabul there are 55 such informal settlements, housing about 31,000 individuals, and conditions are dire – especially with respect to shelter, access to water, hygiene and sanitation. I’ve personally visited some of these squalid, desperate camps, in Kabul, - one of the largest is directly across from a U.S. military base.
Outside Kabul and a few other major cities, almost no-one in Afghanistan even has electricity. (The World Bank estimates that 30% of the population has access to grid-based electricity.) Only 27% of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and 5% to adequate sanitation.
Photo: Gul Jumma, originally from Helmand, who fled from the war there after her father was killed in a NATO air raid. She goes to a tent-school run by Aschiana in an IDP camp in Kabul.
Recently, I studied the U.S. SIGAR (Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction) report and puzzled over a chart which showed that even though U.S. non-military expenditures there approach 100 billion dollars spent since 2001, only 3 billion has been spent on humanitarian projects. And the military expenditures far outstrip these logistics expenses. The U.S. is now spending 2.1 million dollars per soldier, per year as part of expenses incurred by the drawdown of U.S. troops, while the Department of Defense maintains 107,796 security contractors, with the state department and USAID hiring several thousand more. The Pentagon’s request for operations in Afghanistan in 2013 is $85.6 billion, or $1.6 billion per week.
In Afghanistan, prospects may be looking up for U.S. corporate control of crucial oil pipelines in the region; for early military encirclement of anticipated superpower rival China; and for unrivalled access to some 1 trillion dollars’ worth of copper, gold and iron ore, and perhaps 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements vital to Western industry, all of it awaiting extraction from the earth beneath Afghans’ feet.
While mainstream media in U.S. locales with a strong military presence may suggest that the U.S. has convincingly promised enlightenment for Afghan people, regarding women’s rights and girls education, many Afghans wonder how they will fare caught between Western nations ruling the skies above their heads and the mineral resources which those nations are so uncontestably eager to bring out of darkness and into the light. Do they have a resource curse, they wonder, as other countries will want to avail themselves of these resources and jockey for control. Why is the U.S. so intent on maintaining security in Afghanistan? Whose interests do they want to secure?
I think it’s important to establish skype connections between people living in the U.S. and people who are in Afghanistan. Toward that purpose, I want to encourage people in Colorado Springs and beyond to search for hope and security by listening to young people in Afghanistan tell about their experiences longing for a better world, a world wherein women and children can survive hunger, disease, pollution and illiteracy. Please visit the Afghan Peace Volunteers at ourjourneytosmile.com and/
Late at night, I sit alone in the office of The Afghan Peace Volunteer’s house in Kabul. The mountain cold wrapped itself around me. I finally got the Internet to work and found a message from Rashad, a good friend of mine in Sudan. I feel all the muscles in my chest tighten. Rashad wrote that in the protests in the streets of Khartoum our dear friend Mousaab had been shot and murdered by the police. I froze. Below his words is a picture of Mousaab bathed in his own blood in the back of a pickup truck. I stared at the picture and heard Mousab’s voice. I closed my eyes but the tears kept flowing down my cheeks as I saw the image of Mousab sitting next to Eddy in the Circle of Peace we built together in Khartoum. My memories transported me back to the some of the most truly human sessions, unforgettable moments with Unity House, our poetry family. I see Mousab showing me what he was drawing while everyone else was writing poems. His smile. The picture of him shot through the back bleeding uncontrollably. I was sobbing. I can’t remember crying like that for years. The tears just kept coming.
They seemed to pour out in protest of this injustice, out of love for this young brave artist brother, the tears poured out in rage against the Sudanese dictatorship and the authorities willing to murder their neighbors. I could barely breathe but felt I didn’t have a choice, my mind was rushing and I just let the tears flow out for his fellow painters and beloved friends- for Eddy and Muni’im, for Enas and Amani and everyone in Unity House who I know is hurting so much right now.
Finally, the tears stop. I sit still alone in another warzone thousands of miles away from my friends in Sudan. I take a deep breadth. I remember ending every session of Unity House by saying together in one loud voice, “One Family” and then “We Are Together”. That one family always extended beyond the limits of our circle and even far beyond the borders of Sudan. Without a doubt it reaches here in Afghanistan where people are murdered everyday by any number of armed groups- the military, the NATO forces, the Taliban, the US forces and more are responsible for the deaths of young men like Mousaab. People who are acting peacefully and simply demanding dignity. As I reflect, I’m surprised by the sound of the door to the office opening because it’s the middle of the night. Abdulhai appears in the doorway and smiles. Even though I try to return the smile, he sees my tear soaked face and his expression turns immediately worried.
-“My friend was murdered by the police in Sudan,” I told him. He cringed and tears welled up in his eyes. I was surprised he was so emotional. But soon I came to learn that he has lost loved ones in his country’s war. His father had been murdered years before. I’m sorry, he says. He put’s his hand on my shoulder and sits down next to me. Abdulahai stays there keeping me company while I write to my family from Unity House. With tears in our eyes for another fallen brother, our collective chant feels so real: We Are Together. With compassion, with commitment, with longing for justice and peace- we are together. And even though it was hurting me to not be physically present in Sudan with my people at this moment, I knew that they could feel the love I was sending them and that I had all of them right here with me in this cold night in Kabul.
I heard from Rashad again a few days later. Emanating from his words was the certainty that Moesia’s spirit was alive and with us. I could feel it too. Unity House had gathered together and decided that they would organize an exhibition of Mousab’s artwork. It was a dream he had always spoken of that his family was now going to make real. As I wrote these words, tears came again. But that must just be the presence of love, the power of our connection and fearlessness settling into my chest for the long hard struggle to make our dreams of come true- while we are still alive.
While I do pray that our brother rest in peace, I also have the sense he is already inciting restlessness in me. Thank you Mousaab, I hope I can honor the courage and goodness and love you left within us.
The next morning I don’t say anything to the other community of young people I’m staying and working with here in Kabul. Instead I somehow get into a conversation with one of them, Raz Mohammad. He is telling me the story of his two classmates being murdered by drone attacks. He trembles as he recounts the story. “I just remember the day before walking to school with them. They were such good boys, my friends, so good…”
Talking to Raz I felt the closeness to death that I haven’t had recently. It comes at times when a lot of people you know pass away or you’re in a place like Kabul where everybody has been cut somehow by war’s relentless blades. In many ways, it’s good to dwell close to the funerals. It allows us to sit with our mortality and the reality of war and suffering that so many people in our family are living through.
Raz then describes his family to me. Heart warming stories of his littlest brother who only wants to play with him when he goes home to visit and then always falls asleep in his arms. And of course, more heartbreaking stories: his older sister who was so full of life and laughter until another drone attack killed her husband. Now she is quiet. When he calls on the phone she cries. His little sister who only dreams of studying but there is no school for her to go to. Raz Mohammad says everything like it’s extremely important. At some point during our conversation I realize- It is.
He could stop the war. He’s a big jolly bear of a young man. Picture a dude with his hair always in his eyes a little who swings magically back and forth between serene and ecstatic. He is excitable and affectionate. If music is playing anywhere in the house, it’s only a matter of seconds before he’s on the scene shaking his belly and swirling around his hips, invariably inciting yells of celebration from whoever is present. A smile of pure joy shines forth as he dances. You gotta love him. I can’t see how anyone could resist his warm kindness. That’s why I think he could stop the war.
The Afghan Peace Volunteers and Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets
(Group spoken word piece)
Live from Kabul, October seventh, 2013
The 12th Anniversary of the United States War in Afghanistan.
As the war turns 12
Me and other Youth in Afghanistan worry we will not make it alive to visit our families
As the war turns 12,
Women in Afghanistan are still sold and traded, beaten and degraded
We are still demanding our education… but over two thousand and five hundred
Afghan women have committed suicide so far in 2013
As the war turns 12,
Drone attacks still kill kids like they did my two classmates and my brother in law
Night raids terrify the people praying
For a chance to sleep through the night in peace
As the war turns 12, We, the young people are 75 percent of society,
But we struggle for basic education.
We are searching for a peace and unity we have never seen.
We want to design the future ourselves… because as the war turns 12
The US military says they should have total impunity for their crimes-
But We ask why!
Why do they think they should not be held responsible?
As the war turns 12
We hope it will not be possible for the US to leave 9 permanent bases the way they want
As the war turns 12, American people protest imperial violence
And demand their government stop this war, respect the human rights of everyone in
Bagram and Guantanamo bay, WE say Salaam Alaykum, peace to all people, As the war
The people of Afghanistan WANT
Enough peace to hear the music of their land,
The laughter of their children,
The sound of a man laying a brick to build a home that he can know is not
Going to be destroyed
But war turns people into enemies
Schools into battlefields
Homes into badly built bomb shelters
War turns, us against, each other
But we turn, toward each other
To love all sisters and brothers
We will turn this war torn nation
Back into a place where we can dance
And that is our dream,
We are hoping
This war will never turn thirteen…
Luke Nephew, Co-Founder and Artist Educator of thepeacepoets.com is writing from Kabul where he is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. (ourjourneytosmile.com) He travelled there on behalf of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. (vcnv.org)
By Luke Nephew
The flight from Dubai to Kabul:
It’s a flight full of Afghan people and soldiers. And me. And surely a handful of other curious characters. The tension is palpable in the waiting area by the gate. Eye contact between the warring parties is avoided let alone any dialogue. I think about the time when we were in the Bahrain airport where all men and woman sit it different waiting areas and I took out the guitar and played Akon’s “Ain’t nobody wanna see us together but it don’t matter no, because we gonna fight, yah we gonna fight, fight for our right to love.” Against all odds that went over great, this particular moment however just didn’t feel like it was asking for a song. But then as the bus brought us across the runway to board the plane, an American soldier helped an Afghan family carry their bags up the stairs and store them above their seats. The other people watched with quiet suspicion. That’s what it is I think, as I sit myself down in the middle seat between two Afghan men, it’s a deep dark sense of distrust. Distrust dangerous ground to build anything on, let alone a country, much less nine military bases or a prison like the one at Bagram Air Force Base outside Kabul where people are kept without charges for months or years. Very dangerous ground. The plane shutters itself awake and rolls out onto the runway. The lights go off. The babies seem to all break the silence in unison. Some of us don’t have the option of distrust they cry. Their wailing for food or sleep or to be held sounds so beautiful to me in the harsh air of the old plane. “Where are we going?” they seem to be asking.
The Safi Airways flight lands safely. Victory counted. The babies are quiet. Through the dusty windows I see lines of old grey bomber planes standing quietly in line on the asphalt. They seem like guilty children, waiting in fearful anticipation to be reprimanded for something they knew was wrong but did anyway… It wasn’t our fault, they whisper, they made us do it.
There’s no line at the customs desk. I walk up, get my passport stamped and then the young soldier barks at me, “right thumb.” For a real brief second, I thought it was the Afghan way of saying thumbs up and this guy was giving me a general affirmation and his tone didn’t match the sentiment, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Ok, I’ll admit it. I actually gave him the thumbs up sign. At that point, he face seemed to ask: are you serious bro? He tapped the window to the side where I realized there was a little machine with outlines of fingers… it was a fingerprint machine. “Right thumb”, he said again… ahhh. Right. Got it. As this guy is taking my fingerprints I feel like I’m back in a precinct uptown. Why do I get the feeling the Americans had something to do with this? And that’s that. Customs, check. I walk right out the door into the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. A few tired looking taxi drivers are looking at me unimpressed. Salaam Alaikum, I say. Without a thought they instinctively respond, solidifying an important connection where one hadn’t existed seconds before, “Walaykum Asalaam.” Good to be back in a land where that works. A few hundred yards away on the other side of a couple parking lots, my welcome party awaits.
There was someone there waiting for me. They just weren’t sure who I was. I stood there for a few minutes and then I noticed three guys wearing matching blue scarfs. Ahh yes, the color of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. I met eyes with one of the young men. He raised his eyebrows, took a step forward and said, “Luke?” Yes. My peoples. It turned out they saw the website and something in the communication at some point made them think that out of the five Peace Poets, there we’re expecting the big dark skinned one with locks. So when I rolled through the parking lot, not even my bright Bolivian guitar case was enough of a reason for them to assume I might be the peace poet. But, eye contact and instincts are lifesavers. So Dr. Hakim, an amazing peace activist and medical doctor who lives and works with the community of Afghan youth, flashed his brilliant smile and it was big hugs all around. Abdulhai and Raz Mohammed were the youth from the community who had made the early morning trip to the airport with Hakim to pick me up. Good to be together, we hop in a cab and into the streets of Kabul.
Taxi Drivers should be News Reporters…
The streets of Afghanistan’s capital are tore up and full of dust. We bounce around the back seat of the cab. As for my first taxi driver, I gotta say this: Taxi drivers should really be news reporters. They carry the wounds of the wars and the weights of daily lives, interviewing people all day who rush around with a world of problems and joys. These guys know the deal. They should at least have a section in the paper. If my first taxi driver in Kabul had a section, he would have one article about how over 70 percent of Afghans have psychological disorders from the stress of all these years of war. Facts. And that’s why he makes wrong turns sometimes. Right. And he’d definitely report on having been run up on in his village by armed groups who simply offered him and his friends different options for being killed, axe, blade, or club. No bullets to be wasted on him. Why? He had no idea who they were or what they wanted. But still they were going to kill him. He was beaten badly. His friend died. He lifts his pant leg as he drives and unveils a scar. Of course, we’re a little crazy he nods. And then he smiles. I’m in the back seat still tripping over having to choose the weapon of your own order murder. But he wakes me back up, his radiant eyes bunched up, his chest bellowing laughter. Breaking News: joy survives the impossible and is as stunning as ever amidst the early morning Kabul traffic. You seen that in the Times? Welcome to Afghanistan.
I walk into the humble home of the Afghan Peace Volunteers to a gentle barrage of hugs and warm smiles. I put my bag down and was breaking bread and drinking tea within 30 seconds. It goods to sit down on the other side of the world and realize you’ve made it home.
12 YEARS OF WAR
(spoken word piece)
While in New York they cut Head Start to feed our hungry children breakfast
They spend billions as Afghan kids see heads cut off and learn to expect this,
I need to see a politician repent this,
Hang his head and cry that this many people have died
In 12 years of war
while the people of Des Moines, Iowa don’t even know there is a drone command center being put there that will tear brothers and sisters to pieces with chemicals that char the body turning everything black and exploding the head off the body… Raz tells me how it looks and shudders in unbearable disgust
Remembering 12 years of war,
The streets of Kabul beg in the dust,
Distrust and revenge a city, a country, a people condemned
After 12 years of war, some estimate 78% of Afghans have psychological disorders, the taxi driver says its more, says we Afghans can’t think right anymore, he shows us scars on his knees from the day he almost died, he sighs, ‘so many stories of pain…
But who are we to say we’re sane? When we remain entrenched after 12 years of war? I dare you to come here and still say you want more?
Another day, another year, then leaving 9 military bases here,
America has smashed the windows of people’s sanity,
People are demanding we leave, nobody wants to hear Obama make a pretty speech
In Kabul I’ve see anger rise like armies
in young men’s eyes that say you have harmed me and my family for the last time,
I wanna know what will be the last crime committed in the name of freedom,
more marines relieving themselves on corpses of murdered kids,
12 years of blood that did not have to get spilled,
12 years of mothers gone mad from mourning, what have we become?
Afghanistan is a nation of American made guns and American made widows,
Hearts crumbling like bombed out windowsills
Wondering where they’ll find the will to teach their son not to kill
When inflicting death is the lesson they’ve best learned from us,
12 years of dust on boots and the truth being covered in mud,
But what will we do now…
Are we hoping a nation of 30 million will forgive and forget, would you let it go if an occupying army broke into your house killed your father and didn’t even say sorry, or admit it was a mistake, how many more years will it take Americans to wake up and say I will not live in debt while my government pays millions of dollars a day to make people hate me for my passport, want to cut my life short for my birth country’s flag, 12 years of war and not enough body bags to hold the soldiers, not enough words to say the funeral masses, not enough mass graves to hold the lives that 12 years of wartime has taken,
and when I ask a young Afghan woman named Zuhal, why she wants an end to the occupation,
She says, “12 years of war is too many, it’s time for the soldiers to go home to their families. They must miss them.”
Luke Nephew, Co-Founder and Artist Educator of thepeacepoets.comis writing from Kabul where he is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. He travelled there on behalf of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
By Francis Boyle
Thank you. I'm very happy to be here this evening once again at the Illinois Disciples Foundation, which has always been a center for organizing for peace, justice and human rights in this area ever since I first came to this community from Boston in July of 1978, and especially under its former minister, my friend Jim Holiman. I also want to thank Joe Miller and Jeff Machotta of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War for inviting me to speak here this evening. People of my generation still remember how important it was for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War to be organized and to speak out against the Vietnam War. They continue to serve as a voice for peace in the world for the past generation.
I want to start out with my basic thesis that the Bush administration's war against Afghanistan cannot be justified on the facts or the law. It is clearly illegal. It constitutes armed aggression. It is creating a humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Afghanistan.
It is creating terrible regional instability. Right now today we are having artillery barrages across the border between India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars before over Kashmir and yet today are nuclear armed. The longer this war goes on the worse it is going to be not only for the millions of people in Afghanistan but also in the estimation of the 1.2 billion Muslims of the world and the 58 Muslim states in the world. None of them believe the Bush administration's propaganda that this is not a war against Islam.
Now let me start first with the facts. As you recall, Secretary of State Colin Powell said publicly they were going to produce a “white paper” documenting their case against Osama bin Laden and their organization Al Qaeda. Well of course those of us in the peace movement are familiar with “white papers” from before. They're always laden with propaganda, half-truths, dissimulations, etc. that are usually very easily refuted after a little bit of analysis. What happened here? We never got a “white paper” produced by the United States government. Zip, zero, nothing.
What did we get instead? The only “statement of facts” that we got from an official of the United States government was mentioned in the October 3 edition of the New Speak Times [a.k.a.: New York Times] that described the briefings by the U.S. Ambassador who went over to brief our NATO allies about the Bush administration’s case against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as follows: “One Western official at NATO said the briefings, which were oral, without slides or documents, did not report any direct order from Mr. bin Laden, nor did they indicate that the Taliban knew about the attacks before they happened. A senior diplomat for one closely allied nation characterized the briefing as containing ‘nothing particularly new or surprising,’ adding: ‘It was rather descriptive and narrative rather then forensic. There was no attempt to build a legal case.’” That’s someone who was at the briefing!
What we did get was a “white paper” from Tony Blair. Did anyone in this room vote for Tony Blair? No! That “white paper” is in that hallowed tradition of a “white paper,” based on insinuation, allegation, rumors, etc. Even the British government admitted Blair’s case against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda would not stand up in court. As a matter of fact it was routinely derided in the British press. There was nothing there.
Now I don't know myself who was behind the terrorist attacks on September 11. It appears we are never going to find out. Why? Because Congress in its “wisdom” has decided not to empanel a joint committee of both Houses of Congress with subpoena power, giving them access to whatever documents they want throughout any agency of the United States government, including F.B.I., C.I.A., N.S.A., D.I.A.. To put these people under oath and testify as to what happened under penalty of perjury. We are not going to get that investigation.
Now let's look at the law. Immediately after the attacks President Bush's first statement that he made in Florida was to call these attacks an act of terrorism. Now under United States domestic law we have a definition of terrorism and clearly this would qualify as an act or acts of terrorism. For reasons I can get into later if you want, under international law and practice there is no generally accepted definition of terrorism. But certainly under United States domestic law this qualified as an act of terrorism. What happened?
Well again according to the New Speak Times, President Bush consulted with Secretary Powell and all of a sudden they changed the rhetoric and characterization of what happened here. They now called it an act of war. Clearly this was not an act of war.
There are enormous differences in how you treat an act of terrorism and how you treat an act of war. We have dealt with acts of terrorism before. Normally acts of terrorism are dealt with as a matter of international and domestic law enforcement.
In my opinion that is how this bombing, these incidents, should have been dealt with: international and domestic law enforcement. Indeed there is a treaty directly on point. Although the United Nations was unable to agree on a formal definition of terrorism, they decided to break down terrorism into its constituent units and deal with them piece-wise: Let's criminalize specific aspects of criminal behavior that we want to stop.
The Montreal Sabotage Convention is directly on point. It criminalizes the destruction of civilian aircraft while in service. The United States is a party. Afghanistan is a party. It has an entire legal regime to deal with this dispute. The Bush administration just ignored the Montreal Sabotage Convention.
There was also the U.N. Terrorist Bombing Convention that is also directly on point. Eventually the Bush administration just did say, well yes our Senate should ratify this convention. It's been sitting in the Senate for quite some time, lingering because of the Senate's opposition to international cooperation by means of treaties on a whole series of issues.
Indeed, there are a good 12 to13 treaties out there that deal with various components and aspects of what people generally call international terrorism that could have been used and relied upon by the Bush administration to deal with this issue. But they rejected that entire approach and called it an act of war. They invoked the rhetoric deliberately of Pearl Harbor -- December 7, 1941. It was a conscious decision to escalate the stakes, to escalate the perception of the American people as to what is going on here.
Of course the implication here is that if this is an act of war then you don't deal with it by means of international treaties and agreements. You deal with it by means of military force. You go to war. So a decision was made very early in the process. We were going to abandon, junk, ignore the entire framework of international treaties and agreements that had been established for 25 years to deal with these types of problems and basically go to war.
An act of war has a formal meaning. It means an attack by one state against another state, which of course is what happened on December 7, 1941. But not on September 11, 2001.
The U.N. Security Council
The next day September 12, the Bush administration went into the United Nations Security Council to get a resolution authorizing the use of military force and they failed. It's very clear if you read the resolution, they tried to get the authority to use force and they failed. Indeed the September 12 resolution, instead of calling this an armed attack by one state against another state, called it a terrorist attack. And again there is a magnitude of difference between an armed attack by one state against another state -- an act of war -- and a terrorist attack. Terrorists are dealt with as criminals. They are not treated like nation states.
Now what the Bush administration tried to do on September 12 was to get a resolution along the lines of what Bush Sr. got in the run up to the Gulf War in late November of 1990. I think it is a fair comparison: Bush Jr. versus Bush Sr. Bush Sr. got a resolution from the Security Council authorizing member states to use "all necessary means" to expel Iraq from Kuwait. They originally wanted language in there expressly authorizing the use of military force. The Chinese objected - so they used the euphemism “all necessary means.” But everyone knew what that meant. If you take a look at the resolution of September 12 that language is not in there. There was no authority to use military force at all. They never got any.