What Afghans would say to British MPs ...."If the UK Government claims to be humanitarian, then why do they bomb the people?"... "Syria will be a copy & paste of Afghanistan"…. "Why did the US bomb me, I was serving the sick."... plus the refugee crisis and peace building with street kids.
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VCNV in Kabul: "Don't Bomb Syria"
Newsletter December 2015

On the eve of the British Government voting on whether to bomb Syria we carried out some vox pops in Kabul to find out what Afghans would say to British MPs. Like the opinion polls carried out in the UK, Afghans also say "Don't bomb Syria."
Plus, we report from the Emergency Hospital in Kabul, just ahead of the publication of the US report on the October 3rd bombing of the
Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz; read what medical aid workers and a survivor of the bombing have to say.
Ellis Brooks writes about his peace building workshops with Kabul street kids, and we speak to 'Stop Deportation to Afghanistan' about the refugee crisis from Afghanistan to Europe.

Zuhul Ata, student, aged 17

"The example of the war in Afghanistan has shown that using war to end war only makes conflict last longer; weapons can not create peace. People who have lost family members will want revenge, what happened in Paris will happen in Britain. If Britain bombs Syria the impacts of violence will spread across the world."

Ghulamai Hussein, age 19, APV

"It would be a mistake for the UK government to bomb Syria, we know from Afghanistan that many of the people killed in bombings are the ordinary people.  The decision makers are not thinking about the benefit of the people, but of the benefit to their own power.

I think these decision makers should go and live in Syria so they know how it feels to live under bombs."

Zarghuna, age 23, APV

"We have had the experience in Afghanistan of bombings by international forces and we know it doesn't work, it's the people who are often killed, especially the women and children who have no role in the conflict. Waging war creates poverty in the country being bombed. If the international Governments want to help the people of Syria then give them bread to survive, not bombs which kill."

Michela, Italian Nurse and Coordinator at the Kabul Emergency Hospital

"To bomb a country is not a solution or a way to finish anything, it is not a solution to conflict. We can clearly see this method has not worked over the last 14 years  in Afghanistan."

Abdulhai Darya, age 19, photographer

"I feel so sad that many people will die in the bombing of Syria, especially the children. Families should not be separated by killing, bombing is not the solution."

Khalid Ahmed, age 20, hospitalised after the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz.

"Why did they bomb the MSF hospital in Kunduz? I was in the hospital serving sick people, but I was nearly killed in the attack. I saw people burning in their beds, I feel like god has given me another chance to live. Like in Afghanistan, the bombing of Syria is about these [US/NATO] governments wanting to be the empire of the world, they will destroy the people to achieve their goals."

Kabul Taxi Driver

"The root of war is about increasing profits, a war between the super powers, it's not about helping people, it brings the people nothing except suffering, and if we complain, they kill us. If the Government of the UK claims to be a humanitarian Government, if it wants to help the world, why then would they bomb the people?"

Abid Jamzada, age 19, law student

"I feel angry about the US/NATO actions in Afghanistan. They came here with the excuse of helping the people of Afghanistan, but they have destroyed our country. The UK Government shouldn't bomb Syria as bombing kills people both directly involved and civilians, essentially they'll be killing humans, which is wrong."

Luca Radaelli, Emergency Hospital Coordinator in Kabul

"If you consider war like a disease, to fight war by war you will kill the patient. Since 2008 the situation in Afghanistan has steadily got worse, every year we treat more and more people, every year we think we have reached the maximum of people we can treat, but the number keeps increasing. Syria will be a copy and paste of the war in Afghanistan: removing what was once there and leaving chaos and war. The problem (or disease) is not ISIS. We need to ask why it exists, why it has grown up, why people from Europe are heading to Syria to fight."

“Why did they attack us?  We were trying to serve people.” 
Khalid Ahmad, age 20, a survivor of the U.S. Attack on Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Kunduz Hospital. 

Following the October 3rd U.S. attack on MSF’s hospital in Kunduz which killed 31 people, rescuers rushed 91 survivors to the Emergency hospital in Kabul. Two months later, Voices and APV activists visited the Emergency hospital to donate blood, interview Luca Radaelli, the hospital coordinator, and visit Khalid Ahmed, age 20, a Kunduz hospital employee who nearly lost his life during the attack.  Relatives found him bleeding to death in a ditch near the entrance to the Kunduz hospital. Two hospitals close to Kunduz couldn’t handle Khalid’s injuries, and so the relatives rushed him to Kabul’s Emergency Hospital where he is now recovering from a severe injury after shrapnel hit his spine.  

Sitting in a wheelchair in the Emergency Hospital garden, looking frail and thin, Khalid Ahmad said that he is relieved to be alive. When the attack began, at 2:05 in the morning on October 3rd, he was sleeping in the pharmacy. When he and the pharmacy manager went to see what was happening, they discovered that the ICU was in flames and patients were burning.  They went to the room where four security guards were staying, and all of them decided to make a run for the hospital entrance, hoping to escape the attack.  Khalid ran amidst the bombing and strafing by a U.S. AC-130 gunship, and just as he reached the hospital gate, a shrapnel hit his back. Khalid fell, unable to move his legs, and bleeding profusely, he crawled into a ditch for shelter. Half conscious, he laid in pain, convinced he would die.  He had managed to call his father, seeking forgiveness for any wrongs he ever did, and his father immediately sent relatives to find him. He remembers hearing footsteps and then the voices of people who rescued him.  

Luca Radaelli, medical coordinator for all of Emergency’s facilities in Afghanistan, told us that their Kabul hospital was already full when they quickly opened new wards to begin receiving traumatized survivors of the October 3rd U.S. attack on the Kunduz hospital. 

Luca has worked in Afghanistan for close to seven years. Each year, he and his colleagues have said that the situation is worse than ever before. “And now I’m telling you,” Luca said, “never have we seen so much suffering. Health care systems in the provinces are collapsing. We expend a lot of energy, but it seems more and more like a drop in the ocean.” His colleague, Michaela, medical coordinator for  Emergency’s Kabul hospital, told us how difficult it has been, emotionally, for all of the staff to know, amid the stress of working in a war zone, that the U.S. military could destroy their facilities, kill and wound their colleagues, incinerate their patients. 

When asked what he thought about UK plans to bomb Syria, Khalid Ahmad said that these governments want to be the Empires of the world and will destroy the people to achieve their goals.

“If we care about people,” said Luca, responding to the same question,“we cannot choose war.”

Above: Kabul refugee camp, there are 600,000 internally displaced people who will be facing a rough winter in Afghanistan 

Seeking Refuge, Needing Advice

Here in Kabul, for security reasons, U.S. Embassy staff travel only by helicopter between the Kabul International Airport and their Embassy headquarters.  At Kabul’s German Embassy, staffers aren’t allowed to reside outside Embassy walls, and so the Embassy rotates about half of the staffers out of the country every two weeks, allowing the other half to reside within the Embassy.  At the EU compound in Kabul, British diplomats arrived at a recent meeting wearing body armor.  

Given the extraordinary measures taken to protect their staffers from danger, it’s remarkable that European officials have commented that many Afghans who claim they aren’t safe in their own provinces can find safety in Kabul. 

Abdul Ghafoor, who voluntarily coordinates the Afghanistan Migrant Advice Support Organization, says that 146,000 people have left Afghanistan during the past year. The majority are under 18 years of age, and the main reason people leave is because they lack security.

Hakim asked if Ghafoor had come across any ISIS fighters or militia members wanting to leave.  The answer was “No.”

Nevertheless, a perception exists, in Europe, that Taliban and ISIS fighters could be among the refugees.

Steven Killea, who chairs the Institute of Economics and Peace, notes that

 “Ten of the eleven countries most affected by terrorism also have the highest rates of refugees and internal displacement,” says Steven Killea, who chairs the Institute for Economics and Peace.  However, Killea notes, “In 2014, five countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria—accounted for almost eighty per cent of the deaths caused by terrorists.” 

Our young friends in Kabul understand the dangers of terrorism they face, but they readily accept Abdul Ghafoor’s advice that they work hard to help stabilize Afghanistan, campaign consistently to abolish all wars, and build constituencies seeking security through economic justice and respect for human rights.

Peace Education with Kabul Street Kids
a postcard from Ellis Brooks

With Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK, I have had the opportunity to practise peace education in Afghanistan for a few days. We are delivering workshops in conflict resolution and mediation with street children, and some 'train the trainer' sessions with Afghan Peace Volunteers. The APV have a team of nine young men and women who are coordinating work on conflict resolution.

The great thing about doing peace education with children and young people is that it comes naturally, no matter where you are. Young people get the need for fairness, the need to be heard, the need for justice.

That said, there are lots of challenges to doing this work compared with Britain. Translating not just the words but the ideas is not easy. A metaphor I often use is the “conflict escalator”, carrying you up out of control; as far as I can tell there’s only one escalator in Kabul (donated by a penitent of Bin Laden's family), and the city’s street children are not so familiar with it. Gender norms, family, school and the balance between the individual and the group: all these are different. Moreover, violence is present in homes and the streets. Most if not all of the children we’ve spoken to have witnessed violence, making the idea that conflict and violence are not synonymous, hard to grant.

As a teacher, there are concepts and tools I want to convey, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers are teaching me about the conflict resolution they already do. Other Afghans have been surprised at how APV bring together Hazari, Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbeks under one roof. Afghanistan of course has an ancient tradition of conflict resolution, but I suspect Kabul's young people have innovations of their own. So really, I'm the student.

Peace education is already happening here as well. Besides APV, we’ve been in contact with Sanayee Development Centre, the US Institute and Jesuit Relief Services, all of which are reaching young people with different elements of peace education.

Ultimately, I will be happy if we have fun together. Solidarity is a big motivation for being here. Whatever the intent, many of the interventions by my country and others have made Afghans less safe and less free. But I want to picture Afghanistan as more than the home of drone strikes, illicit poppy cultivation and the marginalization of women. The Afghan Peace Volunteers have taken me beyond these headlines, showing that nonviolence can flourish even when there seems to be no space for it.

Conflict is experienced by everyone everywhere, so educating everyone in peaceful conflict resolution is not a "special" intervention that Afghans need more than others; it is a universal right. The work of Afghan Peace Volunteers says to the world that they are not giving up on this or any other rights for their young people, and I hope I can stand with them in that.

In solidarity, Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK, currently in Kabul

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