Archive for the 'Afghanistan' Category

Peace Without Justice: A Strategy for Carnage in Afghanistan

“It seems that the U.S. and NATO cannot imagine any other options for getting out of Afghanistan other than to kill their way out or buy their way out,” Fabrizio Foschini, who is with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, tells me.

Under Petraeus, the U.S. tried the strategy of killing their way out, with the night raids being a prime example of this approach, he explains. “They’ve killed a lot of people, some innocent, some guilty. It has not made for good public relations with Afghans.  And the insurgency did not collapse; in fact, the kill or capture operations are often cited as a major grievance, especially among people in rural communities in the south. These tactics are a huge factor in the increased grassroots support for the insurgency. The U.S. may have temporarily weakened the command and control functions of the Taliban. But they cannot kill all the insurgents.”

Now, he says, the U.S. is trying the other approach: to buy their way out, as exemplified by a new program in rural areas called Afghanistan Local Police, or ALP. “The U.S. is creating community-based groups designed to increase security on the ground, while at the same time using the program to persuade Taliban members and other disaffected persons to change sides and support the government. But the ALP often behave like militias. Rural communities are reporting rapes, killings, extortion and other crimes by the ALP. And,” Fabrizio declares, “without U.S. forces, the Afghanistan government might not be able to control the ALP.”

The Afghanistan Communist government tried the exact same thing in the late 1980s, he explains; arming locals in an attempt to dilute ideological opposition, the government ended up creating militias. Three years after initiating the program, the government ran out of money with which to pay the local armed groups it had built and funded. No longer getting paid, these local militias joined with the Mujahideen and destroyed the country in a violent civil war that caused untold numbers of deaths. The war lords holding power in the government today are beneficiaries of that program, and Fabrizio worries that history is repeating itself.

“If you take people who are active against the state, give them official authority without proper vetting or training—all that does is increase their power. The communities assess these groups differently from the military,” Fabrizio adds drily.

Reconciliation and Transitional Justice

The key buzz words in Afghanistan related to peace are “reconciliation” and “transitional justice.”  The ALF program is seen by the U.S. as part of “reconciliation,” that is, persuading insurgents to change sides.  Transitional justice means creating mechanisms to address past human rights violations.

In Afghanistan, these two concepts are often diametrically opposed.

A human rights worker explains the dilemma. “Justice and peace are linked,” he says. “You cannot have a stable peace without justice.” He then points out that the Taliban have committed massacres and that everyone in the country—including him—has lost family members and been victimized in other ways by the Taliban. “If the Taliban join the government,” he says, “how can the Afghan people support it?” And yet “reconciliation” seems to be heading in that direction.

When I ask another analyst about justice and reconciliation, he says flatly about both, “There is none. These are all pretexts to spend money. It’s all fake.” This is something I have heard from several people—that the $50 million the U.S. spent on the big “Peace Jirga” last summer was another giant rip-off.

This analyst sees the various international players–especially Pakistan, Iran, India, and the U.S.—as much more important than the Taliban in determining the outcome of the war. “They are fighting each other in Afghanistan. For example, Iran is providing guns and training to the Taliban to foil the U.S. Meanwhile, Pakistan sees the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan as counter to its interests, particularly since India provides support to a Baluch minority in southwest Afghanistan and Pakistan views this as a cover for Indian activities in support of Baluch rebels inside Pakistan. So, Pakistan supports the Taliban as a way to counter Indian influence. The Taliban are puppets, tools. Those playing the game are sitting outside. So, how can a peace conference reach a settlement if it includes only Afghans? The war is not about a few local Taliban fighters. Unless you involve all the international stakeholders and resolve the issues among them, you will not achieve any kind of peace.”

And “transitional justice”?  A human rights group that is trying to gather information on past massacres worries about personal safety and desperately tries to maintain a low profile. With the massacres having been perpetuated by current government ministers and police commanders, it is remarkable that employees of this organization have so far escaped major retribution—a staff member was, in fact, arrested because of his work to uncover the truth about one massacre, but the organization was able to get him freed. Transitional justice is a nice concept, but in Afghanistan, that is all it is.

What About Women?

Women, of course, constitute half the population of Afghanistan. Their oppression under the Taliban government was used by the Bush administration as a way to garner sympathy and support for the war. At first, women seemed to have benefitted from the invasion. In Kabul, anyway, following the overthrow of the Taliban, women could leave the house without being accompanied by a male family member, work outside the home, and go to school. In the rest of the country, though, very little changed for women.

“Reconciliation” is viewed with alarm among women in Kabul; they worry that the limited human rights they now have will be taken from them if the Taliban joins the government.  In fact, the Taliban has set three preconditions that the government must agree to prior to any discussions taking place:

  • Women must not be allowed to go to school;
  •  Women must not be allowed to go out of the house unless accompanied by a man; and
  • All foreign troops must leave the country.

Women I spoke with in Kabul emphasized that support for the basic human rights of women on the part of the Afghan government is extremely shallow.  A high proportion of both the legislators and the ministers are former war lords and Mujahideen,  and their views on women differ very little from those of the Taliban. One women’s advocate told me that Afghan government leaders say they support human rights for women only because of the desire to continue the flow of international money. As soon as the money dries up, the “support” for women will disappear.

Reconciliation at What Price?

The killing of Osama bin Laden has brought with it stronger calls from the U.S. government for talks with the Taliban and for “reconciliation.” But the people of Afghanistan that I have spoken with are worried that they will be sold out once again in this process, and that the peace they long for will be purchased at the price of justice. If that proves to be the case, how shameful for the U.S. and how tragic for the people of this benighted land.


On the Way to Kabul

Dubai Airport

I am fortunate to have been invited to accompany Fahima Vorgetts of Women for Afghan Women (WAW) on a trip to visit the projects funded by WAW in Kabul and nearby villages. Fahima is an extraordinarily impressive Afghan woman who has lived in the US for many years now. She sells Afghan carpets and handicrafts, and with the proceeds, funds projects for women’s education, health care, and other critical needs. I will have the opportunity to talk to the beneficiaries of these projects first hand.

In addition to the women from the WAW projects, I plan to interview a wide variety of individuals, each of whom has a special and distinctive perspective. Friends who have visited Kabul on earlier trips have given me introductions, and so once I arrive, I will be able to set up appointments. My goal is to learn as much as possible in the short time I have.

Why Go to Kabul?

I am taking this trip in order to become a more effective peace advocate.  There is no better way to acquire knowledge and an in-depth understanding of a country than to visit it. Obviously, a two-week stay in only one city will not make me an expert on Afghanistan, but I believe it will give me a much better sense of the complexities of this war and of the country itself and will lend credence to my statements.

I especially hope to learn more about Afghan women.  I was very moved by Ann Jones’ descriptions of Afghan women she has met, as described in her stunning book, Kabul in Winter.

I want to make the war become more real to me and to people at home, with whom I will share the stories when I return. It is far too easy to ignore this war. It seems to be happening in another dimension, far removed from anything connected to our daily lives. And yet, it is OUR government that has further destroyed an already-devastated country—and OUR tax dollars that are paying for the bombs, drones, and bullets to continue the destruction.

A few years ago, I was arrested in the office of Sen. Barbara Mikulski for sitting-in as a protest of her continuing votes to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the arresting officer said something surprising to me: “If you believe the war is wrong, you have a moral imperative to do everything you can to stop it.”  I agree with him. Interviewing people on the other end of our violence will, I hope, help me to do a better job of meeting that moral imperative.

Some Questions I Have

What stories are rarely, if ever, covered in our own media?  For example, the film Rethink Afghanistan shows a very large refugee camp on the edge of Kabul where people from all over the country have come to escape the fighting and where they live in appalling conditions. Nowhere else have I seen anything about this refugee camp, and yet, thousands of people live there in horrendous conditions, according to the film; children die frequently in this camp from exposure, for example. What can I learn about this refugee camp?  Another issue that doesn’t get any attention in our media:  under what conditions do women receive, or not receive, medical care? And who are the women in the women’s prisons and why are they there?

What ideas do Afghans have for the best way forward?  Numerous studies and proposals have been put forward in the U.S. about next steps, but Afghan voices are rarely heard. I don’t expect that all Afghans will speak with one voice. I know that there is a diversity of opinion—not surprising in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country, with urban-rural and religious differences; however peace comes, it will bring gain to some groups and loss to others. So, it will be instructive to see what different people, from different groups, advocate.

How is corruption manifested? We have heard that the current government is hopelessly corrupt, and yet we are fighting to strengthen and further empower this government. How do ordinary Afghans experience corruption and what do they propose as the way to counter it?

What is the best way to advocate for women and children? We have learned that the “warlords” are just as oppressive towards women as the Taliban–the same warlords that largely compose the Afghan legislature and for whose benefit we are fighting. How can we design a strategy to move to peace, while protecting women and children from the warlords we have funded and empowered and from the Taliban that we fight? Which civil society organizations  are doing the most for women and children and how can we support them?

Random Thoughts

My flight was from Dulles to Dubai, where I am now waiting for a connecting flight.  Dubai Airport is probably the most beautiful, modern airport I’ve ever seen. The atrium features many large palm trees, and the ceiling in the departure lounge is three stories high. I was surprised to see kiosks for Cinnabon and Cold Creamery.

With eight seats across, the plane was big, and it was almost full and mostly male. I’d bet that 80% of the passengers were American contractors. One guy had on a Blackwater tee shirt. The man sitting in front of me on the plane was going to Kabul to do “human resources” work for three weeks for DynCorp. I wonder how much money is going to pay salaries and expenses of just those people on my flight.

My husband and I had some electrical work done on our house last week, and I mentioned to the electrician that I was going to Afghanistan in a few days. He said that his neighbor, a construction worker, has had a job in Afghanistan for three years, at the rate of $130,000, tax free, for every six month stint. How many contracting firms there are, I have no idea. I read that there are 800 NGOs in Kabul—an astonishing number—most run by foreign consultants. What’s clear is that a lot of people are making a lot of money off of this war, and most of them are not Afghans.

I find myself here in the airport closely studying women’s clothing. In preparation for the trip, I struggled over what to pack. Because I am bringing medical supplies in my baggage for the WAW clinics, I had extremely limited space for clothes. The few clothes I packed needed to be appropriate, by which I mean, clothing that would help me fit in. So, a scarf—yes, no problem. Long sleeves and no scoop neckline—okay, I have a couple of things that fit both criteria. But then, I read that the tops to go over pants should be long, mid-thigh length. Hard to meet all the requirements with what I had on hand, and it is possible that in the end, I’ll buy something in Kabul.

Here in the airport, where people come from all over the Gulf and other places, quite a few women are wearing chadors, the total black cover-up costume, and a veil with just a slit for the eyes—very similar to a burqa. I have a visceral, furious reaction when I see them.  The chadors look hot, bulky, difficult to see through, hard to walk in, awkward and generally uncomfortable. Initially and inexplicably, my fury is directed at the woman for wearing such a thing and then I remind myself that it is extremely unlikely that it is her choice. My rage is more appropriately directed at whatever patriarchal society she comes from and the men who control her life.

Some chador-covered women wear stylish high heels, even high heel platform shoes, that you can see peeking out below the hem of the chador.  I imagine that these women feel that dressing stylishly under the chador is a way to express their individuality and modernity. To me, such shoes are a different form of oppression from the black chador, one that originates in the West, and seeing these shoes reminds me that the oppression of women is worldwide. How sad to see someone exhibiting BOTH the Eastern and Western forms of oppression of women, as reflected in apparel.

In a couple of hours, I’ll get on the plane to Kabul. Electricity there is supposedly sporadic and Internet access uncertain. I hope to have the time and ability to send this blog post right away and another one soon.

“We Were Arrested for Speaking” and more at the Progressive Parade 10.5.2009

What happens when three different law-“enforcement” agencies converge on over 500 peaceful, nonviolent protestors in front of the White House?

Some get arrested by the National Park Police; others get physically assaulted by the Secret Service.

In unprecedented style, the Obama-occupied White House’s personal dudes with boots, batons, and bullets waited impatiently for the National Park Police to waffle over whether or not to arrest an additional 24 people (including Peace Action Montgomery’s own Jean Athey and Dave Kunes!) for its “special’ one-way service to Anacostia Jail (the verdict’s still out on whether or not this route will be offered more during the Obama years. Perhaps DC public transit is benefitting from the stimulus!).

Photo Credit: UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Photo Credit: UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Though Park Police had arrived with a variety of green modes of transit (horses decked out in riot gear, cops on bikes), as well as an additional two police vans, the SS apparently grew tired of them letting people pretend to be dead on the sidewalk. With three less warnings than the required three warnings before initiating an arrest or action on peaceably assembled American citizens (for the math-challenged, that’s ZERO), SS officers descended on the protesters and pushed, shoved, and dragged them beyond the National Park Police “crime scene” line. Then they walked away.

I’m still confused by the actions of the SS. Why did they step into the middle of three-hour negotiations between the peaceful protesters and the National Park Police? Why didn’t they give any warning or demand before violently removing them from the sidewalk? Why were 50 protestors arrested less than 100 feet away–and then released without charges or citations?

And why aren’t more of us “mad as hell” about this?

My opinion? Most aren’t angry because they haven’t tripped the triggers yet themselves. In an age where “non-lethal” weapons are being used on everyone from University of Pittsburgh students to 82-year old grandmothers, where activists get arrested for using Twitter to evade police orders to disperse (effectively dispersing the crowds for the police, eh?) at a G20 protest, you’d think it’d be easy to see how much harder it’s becoming to resist the ruling elite in the U.S. However, most don’t try to resist the ruling elite…and there-in lies the problem. They have no idea what happens when they stop cooperating with the oppressors.

I’d love to hear others thoughts on why Americans can so easily identify repression in other countries–fraudulent elections in Iran, violence against women in Afghanistan, the abuse of executive powers in Venezuela, the limitations on free speech in China–and yet remain so adamantly assertive of the rights and “freedoms” of Americans, to the point where they think it acceptable that thousands of Americans be enlisted and trained to kill-or-be-killed for our “freedom”? What freedom? The freedom to choose between Suave or Pantene? Between denim and suede sofas? Between H3s and Hybrids?

What freedom is that compared to all this:

Election fraud in Ohio in 2004, in Florida in 2000, and so on…
The “tasing” of unarmed University of Florida student Andrew Meier at a “Constitution Day” event with Senator John Kerry in 2007
Criminal charges for using Twitter as a communication tool at the G20 summit last week

And the thousands of youth whose skin is any shade darker than light tan that constantly face police brutality and the risk of arbitrary detention, citation, and violence in America…

Or the Philadelphia youth whose rights and lives were sold to detention centers by judges accepting bribes…

Or the Colorado University professor who lost his job for calling attention to US Imperialist responsibility for the attacks on 9/11..

The list goes on…

and on….

and on….

Read David Swanson’s “We Were Arrested for Speaking” for a break-down of the day’s actions–and the subsequent arrests…

Read “Substitute ‘Obama’ for ‘Bush’ and ‘Afghanistan’ for ‘Iraq’ in the Washington Post…

And sign the CODEPINK petition for an exit strategy from Afghanistan:

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