Tag Archives: Afghan Peace Volunteers

kathy and shoba

Locked in Winter

Kathy Kelly with Shuba, young girl saved from the fire
Kathy Kelly with Shuba, young girl saved from the fire

by Kathy Kelly

Photo credits:  Abdulai Safarali

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.

Zakia with bruised cheeks
Zakia with bruised cheeks

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.

girls

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.

View of the camp
View of the camp

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.

Refugees who lost their homes, standing among the burnt debris
Refugees who lost their homes, standing among the burnt debris

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.  This week VCNV UK will be present when £3,200 worth of aid will be delivered to the camp in the form of flour, oil and sugar. Funds have been raised by UK peace groups and fundraising activities, the supplies will see families at the camp through the toughest months of the year.

Kathy Kelly and Maya Evans with new friends at the camp
Kathy Kelly and Maya Evans with new friends at the camp

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!”

Hope, circle of peace
Hope, circle of peace
Street kids visiting to APV compound

Afghan Street Children Beg for Change

Street kids visiting to APV compound
Street kids visiting the APV compound

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.

Kathy and Safar
Kathy and Safar

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.

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.

Street kid Abi, aged 5
Street kid Abi, aged 5

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.

A duvet distribution on the first day of snow if Kabul
A duvet distribution on the first day of snow if Kabul

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 a society 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.

Young girls collecting scraps of rubbish in a Kabul cemetery
Young girls collecting scraps of rubbish in a Kabul cemetery

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.

The Duvet project at the APV compound

Winter Warmth and Seasonal Greetings from Afghanistan

The Duvet project at the APV compound
The Duvet project at the APV compound

“After 10 years of a large international presence, comprising about 2,000 aid groups, at least $3.5 billion of humanitarian aid and $58 billion of development assistance, how could children be dying of something as predictable — and manageable — as the cold?” 
 New York Times, Feb 2012

by Maya Evans with Ali

For the second year running the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ duvet project is well underway. VCNV UK has been able to contribute £3,000 this year with the support of anti-war groups and many individuals, to date $30,000 has been raised internationally. In the middle of Kabul’s brutally cold winter, the venture provides an income for some of the poorest women in Kabul who are paid to make the duvets, and it brings warmth to disadvantaged families who live in some of the worst conditions in the world.

Completed duvets brought back by seamstress
Completed duvets brought back by seamstress

Over the next three months, around 3,000 duvets will be made by sixty women and distributed to families in Kabul who most need the extra warmth they provide.

The duvet project is run entirely by the young men and women APVs who work entirely voluntarily. In the last few months they have put a lot work into the project, researching which households will benefit most from the duvets, as well as recruiting local seamstresses who are in need of the work to help support their families.

The process starts with referrals from local NGOs of poorer households who are at serious risk in winter from the cold. These can include refugees, the disabled, the visually impaired, the families of drug addicts and street kids. When the APVs visit the homes they have an eligibility criteria to look for which include, for example, the number of people in a family, the number of bread winners, any individuals with special needs and whether the house is rented or owned.

Last week the seamstresses started to arrive at the APV compound to collect the materials to make the duvets. Twenty Pashtu, twenty Tajik and twenty Hazara women will make around 3,000 duvets for providing families with extra warmth for the next three months where temperatures can plummet to around minus 16 degrees celsius in the night. Each woman receives 150 Afghanis for each duvet she makes (equivalent to $2.67), usually taking enough material to make ten duvets at a time.

DuvetsThe yard of the compound has suddenly become a hive of activity with large bails of synthetic wool dotted about what is usually a makeshift football pitch for the APV. The bails are cut open and portions precisely weighed out for the duvets by Zekrullah, a long term APV member who is “approximately 17 years old” but I suspect a few years younger. Each portion of weighed out wool is bundled into a pre-made duvet coverlet, ready to be taken away and stuffed and quilted into a ready to use duvet by the women.

A duvet consists of a cheap coverlet purchased from the Mandaee Bizarre in Kabul town centre. They are probably from China and usually portray cartoon or comic characters such as Batman and Sponge Bob. These materials are the cheapest way of making the duvets. The APV looked into using local materials and making the duvets from scratch but the cost came up more expensive this way, which is another indication of how the long conflict has disrupted local manufacture and now the market is flooded with cheaper mass produced Chinese and Pakistani goods.

Seamstresses sign with a thumb print
Seamstresses sign with a thumb print

The seamstresses usually arrive with some of their children to help, some take the materials away in wheelbarrows and others hire taxis or get friends or relatives to drive away bundles of synthetic wool and coverlets. After a week they return with the completed duvets pilling them high in the yard. The APV account for the made duvets in a ledger, pay the seamstresses for their work and get them to sign it, or for those who are illiterate, a thumb print also suffices.

Shakira, long associated with the APVs and one of the seamstresses, described the importance of the project: “lack of money is one of the main causes of violence towards women in the home, if women can make an income that helps to relieve the problem”.

The main APV co-ordinators of the project are Ali, aged 17 and Holida, who is around 23 years old. Ali describes his role and the importance of the project: “I handle the accounts and part of the overall co-ordination of the project. When I was involved last year I was very affected and moved by the plight of needy families. I remember on one assessment we visited a family on a hillside in Kabul, they were living in extreme dire poverty. I feel very happy to be involved in the project.”

Holida helps with the distribution of materials and ensuring the records of payment are kept in order. She said: “I wanted to do something for the people. Afghans are so desperately in need due to the current poor economy.”

Tomorrow the duvet distribution to poor families will begin.

Read more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/world/asia/cold-weather-kills-children-in-afghan-refugee-camps.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/afghanistan-cold_n_1262289.html

i have a dream

APVs light candles commemoration of Hashim and Zukoom

Another Day in Kabul

Commemoration of Hashim and Zukoom
commemoration of Hashim and Zukoom

by Beth Tichborne

For the first time in my life I heard a bomb today. It was a long way away, and it turned out to be a ‘controlled explosion’ by the Afghan National Army, so nothing to worry about, although a lot of people must have been scared, and a lot of windows must have been shattered. I was working on the ‘2 Million Voices’ campaign with Hakim, mentor of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, in one of the upstairs rooms in the APV compound. There was a sudden rumble and a gust of wind swept up the side of the house and shook the windows. It was nothing scary from as far away as we were, just an eerie, window-rattling blast of wind out of a calm blue-skied day. I wondered if it was a bomb, but it seemed like a silly thing to say somehow. So we got back to work. Ten minutes later someone came upstairs and said it might have been a suicide bomb near us, so we went on facebook and looked up the news, and discovered it was the just the army, apparently blowing things up on purpose. I can’t see how that’s a good idea in a city full of worried people and heightened political turmoil, but at least no one was killed in Kabul today.

It’s the third explosion since we’ve been here: the first was a suicide attack on a NATO convoy at the airport, that failed to kill anyone but the teenage bomber, the second was some strange kind of accident near the embassies, and then this one. I still can’t imagine what it’s like to be close to a bomb, I’m one of the many people in the world lucky enough not to know. I’ve only seen the video of the aftermath of a bomb near the APV’s previous compound. Just watching the video tears at my heart, to see my friends, pale and laughing shakily in a room full of broken glass. The failed suicide bomb, the accident and the controlled explosion are a reminder that explosions are common here, a constant possibility, barely news when no one has been killed.

Friends of Hashim and Zukoom.
Friends of Hashim and Zukoom.

And barely news even when people are killed. Today the APV held a commemoration for two of the ‘civilians’ killed in the attack outside the Polytechnic. Hashim and Zukoom were at the scene because they work in the streets after school, polishing boots. Three of their classmates are supported by the APV, with some necessities each month, and help with stationery and study materials. This support means that their families can afford to let them go to school, as it frees them up from having to work on the streets full time.

These little classmates came to the compound today and told us about their friends who had died. We held candles, and a dictaphone was passed around for everyone present to record their thoughts and feelings about the 2 million lives lost in Afghanistan. The first man to talk was Basir, a friend from our last trip, one of the people I’d been most looking forward to seeing again in Kabul. He’s a writer and a poet, blogs about women’s rights, a non-violence activist, and always has something interesting (and often provocative) to say. He spoke about his family members that had been lost to war. I didn’t even know before today that he had such a personal reason for his activism.

Other friends’ stories I had heard before, the childhood memory of seeing a brother shot, growing up orphaned… each loss unbearable and momentous, as every death is. There have been more than 2 million of these unbearable, terrible, undeserved deaths. The 2 million voices campaign isn’t about lobbying a politician to fix it, people have lost hope in that approach. It’s about connecting human beings around the world to share their pain at the world as it is, at the losses of innocent life in Afghanistan, and to share their friendship and hope for the future. Bombs shouldn’t be normal, children’s deaths shouldn’t be statistics, entire nations of people shouldn’t be written off as less deserving of life and safety. Through connecting, person to person, we can start to dismantle the systems telling us not to care, not to notice, not to remember. The APV are asking people around the world to sign the petition, and then to contact the group, through Skype or social media to say ‘we remember them too’.

Nassim, street kid who is being sponsored by the APV which means he can attend school rather than work the streets
Nassim, street kid who is being sponsored by the APV which means he can attend school rather than work on the streets
Horse adn group

Fly Kites Not Drones 2014

kites not dronesINTERNATIONAL Weekend of Action 21st- 23rd March 2014

Watch the Fly Kites Not Drones video recently made in Kabul

APV Ghulamai fixes string to the kite
APV Ghulamai fixes string to the kite

Afghans celebrate New Year on the 21st March, Voices for Creative Non-Violence is holding a weekend of solidarity with Afghans who will be facing uncertainty and the probable escalation in conflict during the renegotiation of the international presence within Afghanistan.

Kite flying has become synonymous with Afghanistan as a well loved pursuit which was banned under the Taliban, now Afghans are more used to the presence of UK and US armed and surveillance drones flying overhead. In the last 5 years there have been 547 UK drone strikes on Afghanistan, which is now the “drone capital” of the world.

We are encouraging concerned citizens, peace groups and those from the Muslim and Afghan community to fly kites in solidarity with Afghans who now have to live under the mental pressure and physical destruction which British and American drones now inflict upon Afghanistan.

The issue of drones has heightened in the last few weeks as Pakistani drone witness Kareem Khan was kidnapped and tortured -he was set to give evidence in the European Court, in addition a Yemani drones witness has also been harassed. Meanwhile British Courts threw out the case of Noor Khan due to fear of causing bad relations with the US, while new drone bases are set to open if not in Afghanistan then elsewhere in Asia and Britain co-operates directly with the US on launching drone strikes . Currently the cost of life by drones is unknown as the MoD refuse to release names and numbers due to “national security”.

Drone warfare is set to continue, we must resist now and make our voices heard.Afghan Peace Volunteers fly kites of a Kabul hillside

Make your own kite, especially fun to do with groups of children.

See a short Afghan Peace Volunteers video on drones

THINGS YOU CAN TAKE PART IN

Kites and Horses1) FLY A KITE in your area Friday 21st- Sunday 23rd March

Take a photo and send us a mini report of your action. Make signs saying “In solidarity with peace for Afghans”, “Fly Kites Not Drones” etc and give out leaflets. VCNV UK will be returning from it’s third peace delegation to Kabul with a number of Afghan kites which you can order from us.

DRONE WATCH WADDINGTON2) DRONE WATCH WADDINGTON  1 to 3pm, 21st March

Bring a kite, banners and another other resources. The watch will be at the main gate on the A607- down a track off to the left before you reach the village of Waddington, coming from Bracebridge Heath. The  no. I bus to Grantham via Waddington leaves from near Lincoln train station at 12.35 and returns again at 14.58 –There will also be a live Skype link up with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul

Boys with Kites3) FLY KITES NOT DRONES Saturday 22nd March 2pm LONDON

Join a mass kite flying theatrical event in central London led by the feminist protest group ‘The Activettes’ who will be making props and costumes for a flamboyant daring and never forgotten action!

Another boy with a kite4) GLOBAL DAYS OF LISTENING Skype the Afghan Peace Volunteers on the 21st March, share messages of solidarity and peace, an activity especially suited for young people and groups. Global Days of Listening <GlobalDaysOfListening@gmail.com> www.globaldaysoflistening.org

ORDER leaflets & your genuine Afghan Kite or for further info CONTACT: kitesnotdrones@gmail.com

Kites Not Drones

From Afghanistan, thank you Bradley Manning!

An appeal from Afghanistan to whistle-blow on war

From Afghanistan, thank you Bradley Manning!

From Dr. Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Recognition that 95 million human beings were killed in World War I and II has helped the people of the world understand that the method of war is not cost-effective. An awakened world hoped the United Nations could, as determined in the UN Charter, eventually ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’.

The scourge of war in Afghanistan continues, with the United Nations reporting that more than 3,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and wounded in the first five months of this year, a fifth of whom were Afghan children. So, ordinary people should seize opportunities to tell the truth about war.

The 75,000 Afghan War Logs, which Bradley Manning gave Wikileaks to ‘help document the true cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan’, can help all of us evaluate whether the Afghan war is cost-effective. Bradley Manning had also handed Wikileaks a video of the Farah/Granai massacre which occurred in May of 2009, in which 86 to 147 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in an airstrike. We can read about the Farah/Granai massacre here and here .

The Afghan Peace Volunteers ask for the Farah/Granai massacre video to be released.

These records report the truths about war, and reveal an obsession among those few people in power to use war in achieving their goals. Bradley Manning said, “In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists…”

How many more documents revealing loss of innocent life are needed to determine that war should be banned, that it should not even be a last resort of ‘defence’?

All weapons, not only nuclear weapons, should be banned. A safe life and secure work environment without weapons is very possible even in Afghanistan.   Consider, for instance, that the Emergency Surgical Centres  in Afghanistan operate all their health facilities without armed protection and that Dr.  Ramazon Bashardost, the third-placed candidate in Afghanistan’s 2009 Presidential elections, has no armed bodyguards.

We human beings are capable of living together without war. Billions of human beings all over the world live daily without killing one another, even when dealing with the most troubled or difficult of family members.

We are capable of an impossible love.

We can establish global norms of resolving all our problems through understanding and dialogue, and exclude war from the negotiation table. To do so, we should exclude from the UN charter the use of war as a last resort. We should disband the UN ‘Security’ Council.

Of course, accomplishing these actions hinges on us, on climate change citizens, Arab Spring citizens, Occupy citizens and the ‘awakening’ citizens of every country to free ourselves from the unequal dominance of corporate governments with their laws and weapons of self-interest.

They won’t free Bradley Manning. We need to free Bradley Manning.

They won’t support Edward Snowden. We need to support Edward Snowden.

They won’t free us. We need to free ourselves.

In Bradley Manning’s internal and better world, he is free! He testified, “I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan every day.”

Please take some time to listen to these ‘everyday’ tragedies in Afghanistan.

Please take some time to read and watch the thoughts of the Afghan Peace Volunteers below. Rather than chant the dirges of death, we want to sing out life-giving messages.

Then, without any trace of force, join us in asking for release of the ‘Farah/Granai massacre’ video.

Abdul Ali

I wish to share the pain of those killed in the Farah massacre, so I request Wikileaks to release the video. Thank you, Bradley, for your courage and sense of human responsibility in passing on this video. I support you!

Faiz Ahmad

As a human being and an Afghan citizen, I want to know the truth so that such violent tragedies will never be repeated again. It will show us how much we need the way of non-violence.

Abdulhai

We need to learn that killing, whether by the Taliban or the US/NATO forces, is not acceptable and cannot solve any problem. At this time, Bradley Manning needs us, and we need one another.

Raz Mohammad

It should be clear to the people how, for profit and power, groups like the Taliban and the US/NATO forces, kill without accountability. We want the voices of the people, like that of Bradley Manning, to be heard. We especially want the voices of children to be heard, including the voices of children who have been killed. We want their voices to haunt us. We should give a prize of conscience to Bradley Manning.

Basir Bita

The transparency and conscience that Bradley Manning and Wikileaks seek is so desperately needed in Afghanistan, in the context of governments and power-mongers openly and secretly betraying the people every day.

Barath Khan

We ask for the video of the Farah strike to be published so that the world will know how governments and all warring groups involved in the Afghan conflict have strategies and policies which go against the people, which kill the people. We want the governments and warring groups to be ashamed of their actions. Why should the world or any court of justice condemn and punish those who reveal truths?

Ghulam Hussein

Bradley has delivered truths which the world needs. We are against violence and killing by the Taliban and other Afghan war groups. We are also against violence and killing by the Afghan and U.S./NATO governments. Human beings were not born to abuse, betray or kill one another, but to learn to live together. We were not born to live selfishly, but to live for one another. If human beings want, we can live without war.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers in the video: “Thank you Bradley Manning”

Our sleeping conscience, awake!

Truth is not subject to the baton of the courts.

We are the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

According to the 19th Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states the right to freedom of expression, we want Bradley Manning to be free!

Truth is like the sun that cannot always be hidden by the clouds.

Thank you Bradley Manning!

Snowy morning in Kabul

Pandora’s Hope meets Afghan Action

 by Mary Dobbing

Snowy morning inKabul
Snowy morning inKabul

One morning we headed out to listen in on a joint meeting between the seamstresses at Afghan Action and Pandora’s Hope, the APV based seamstresses. The morning was bright and cold with freshly fallen snow covering the roads and buildings.  A deep blue sky spread above the snow covered mountains and the morning mist was dissolving in strong sunshine. From the car we could see men shovelling snow – with attention to the getting it off the roofs. Small avalanches of fluffy new snow fell onto the sidewalks from the flat roofs.

Afghan Action’s seamstresses are forming themselves into a cooperative and are starting to get contracts to make uniforms. The meeting was to explore whether they and Pandora’s Hope could collaborate in any way.

Two stoves were burning away with big brass tea kettles warming on top when we arrived with the Pandora’s Hope seamstresses. Afghan Action’s workshop has about thirty sewing machines and big windows looking out over a sunny courtyard with a garden and trees. There were two large cutting tables at the front and a pressing table with a sleeve press. It was a bright room with giant low energy light bulbs providing a good working light. The wood laminate floor was warm and clean, and steel girders held up the wooden roof.

VCNV with Afghan Action Carpets
VCNV with Afghan Action Carpets

Afghan Action is funded from donations from Britain, and some earnings from carpet weaving. Their seamstresses are salaried while they train for one year. Pandora’s Hope women train for a few weeks and do not receive any money. Their work space is used both as a classroom and sleeping room at other times of the day, so all the sewing machines have to be put away. There was a sense that Afghan Action’s women were better trained and they certainly had better equipment and conditions.  All the women had a sewing machine permanently installed with separate tables in a dedicated work space. Afghan Action’s seamstresses have had help forming a business making garments which it is hoped will become self-sustaining. Pandora’s Hope would like to do this for their seamstresses.

The meeting was being held between the seamstresses from both ‘firms’. After Salaam’s all round, the men from each firm introduced the issues which were not translated. There were about thirty young women aged 16-17 years and four or five older women in the meeting. There were some questions and answers between the two groups including some long statements by the women. And occasionally everyone giggled covering their mouths with an end of a scarf, and then looked more serious again.

Maya EvansPinned to the walls were samples of work and paper patterns. There were samples of women’s tops with gathered pleats and embroidered chest panels in several colours. There was a white lab coat and some black blouses. These samples were arranged to attract customers for contracts for uniforms.

There are specific challenges for Afghan women going into business. The Carpet Weavingwomen are unwilling to work from shop front premises in the bazaar. Being open to the public in a shop, and selling and displaying goods are social no-no’s for Afghan women. The culture dictates that women are confined to the domestic and family spheres.Making Afghan Carpets Families prefer women to work at home and all of the above are hard to do in a conservative society. Therefore their problem is how to market their products, take orders and deliver orders to customers.

Outside men were still shovelling vast amounts of snow off the flat roofs. It’s landing with resonant thumps on the walkways outside punctuating the discussion. We left the women to talk while we met with Samim (Manager of Afghan Action) in his office.

Talking with Afghan Action Manager
Talking with Afghan Action Manager

He explained that Afghan Actions’ seamstresses have had one year of training. The primary challenge is how to employ the women and promote independent and sustainable businesses after their training finishes. The first cohort of trainees has just finished and ten or fifteen of the women want to create a business together. They will need to be licensed to get investment from the Afghan Support Investment Agency (ASIA). They hope to get small contracts for uniforms for schools, hospitals, restaurants and hotels etc. As they graduate from their training Afghan Action wants to help the team to start a business. The greatest fear is that after training for a year the women will disperse back to their homes, with no work and no longer getting the training salary. Their training and the business opportunities may evaporate as though nothing had ever happened.

The global economic downturn has affected Afghanistan and the surrounding countries too, and now the orders have stopped. The options remaining for the newly trained seamstresses are:

  • Local marketing – design the garments themselves and get orders from friends and relatives.
  • Contract market – schools, hospitals, restaurants etc
  • Make up their own designs and bring them to the market and sell to the public – traditional Afghan clothes.

While the women had their discussion we heard about another of Afghan Aid’s projects. Afghan Aid also supports carpet weaving and training. The trainees get schooling in Information Computer Technology (ICT), business skills, accounting, literacy, and a bit of English. There is a health care nurse on site to help with minor ailments.

The carpet weaving project is in its seventh year. The sewing project is in its first year. Afghan Action has registered with the Ministries of Business, Economy, Women, and Education. The trainees get a certificate at the end of their training.

The economics of both carpet weaving and sewing garments is stacked against the new Afghan Action trainees. Apprentice made goods are relatively expensive compared to factory production or imports from China and Pakistan. The income from sales of trainees’ pieces is needed to fund more trainees sustainably. Selling the pieces locally means paying a margin to a middle person which also ramps up the item costs.

Afghan CarpetsThe carpet weaving graduates are finding employment in the Kabul carpet factories which is a significant achievement. But the trainees’ apprentice carpets which are sold to raise funds for further trainee places, are valued at $200 per square metre which is more than the carpets from the factories cost. Then there are problems with the expense of difficult and dangerous overland transport. Exporting the carpets costs $15 per kilo in transport alone, which adds yet more to the costs of marketing the carpets outside the country.

For British outlets selling Afghan Aid’s carpets look at www.afghanaction.org

We were called back in to the meeting in the sewing workshop to hear the upshot of the women’s discussion. There had been a searching conversation. Some of the differences emerging between the two groups were:

Working hours. There was a difference in availability between Afghan Action and Pandora’s Hope women about working hours. Afghan Action will come to work whether or not there is work to do. Pandora’s Hope would find that hard to do. Working 08:00-16:00 would not be acceptable to the families of the Pandora’s Hope women.

Separation from men. Pandora’s Hope need a work room where they can be separate from men. Afghan Action’s workshop arrangements cannot guarantee this.

Wages. In a single day they need to earn 500 Afghanis (or $10) per worker in order to help their families.

International Support. They request an international supporter to provide a foreign market for goods. They think they can get a better market for their goods abroad. The middle men in local Afghan markets take a cut and this reduces earnings.

At the end of this day’s discussions, Samim told to us that the seamstresses had agreed to share marketing. But Pandora’s Hope women need to decide whether to work at home or in workshops. They are clear that at the moment their families would not let them go out to work all day. They are needed at home for childcare and domestic duties. The Afghan Aid seamstresses are able to go to the workshop in the day.  The outcome of discussions on this day was that Pandora’s Hope and Afghan Action would stay separate for the time being aside from marketing.

Later, back at the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s community house we debriefed about the visit. It was explained to us that it is now the norm in Kabul for trainees get paid to do training.  International non-governmental organisations have introduced payment for training and created an expectation that payment will be made. Now people no longer value skills acquisition without the inducement of payment. As well as this, Afghan Aid has the added problem with dependency and how to get the trainees to move on to gainful employment when the training (and the training allowance) comes to an end. Unemployment is estimated to be 36% but there are no reliable statistics and no social security. This is just the male population,  there are no figures for women’s unemployment.

The women want to help with the family budget but they are hardly ever allowed to work. One woman from Pandora’s Hope said that coming to the sewing training was the first time she had ever been able to leave the home. The women said that there was a suspicion in their families that they will be seen by men, and that they were earning money, which can cause tensions at home. Contact with other women is important, however, for their personal and professional development. At the APV community the training space is ‘safe’ for the 5 months of the women’s training and it guarantees to the families that they will not be seen by men there.

The women come to sewing training for one hour at the APV community Mary with seamstresshome. They told us that if they were ever late home after training they stood the risk of being punished. Both of the women’s training groups are of mixed ethnicity. The women can get argumentative among themselves when resolving conflicts and this can divide along ethnic divisions and suspicions. For the women who have only just come out of the house, the prospect of starting a business is unthinkable, a huge leap in aspiration. The children of the women at the sewing training come to the community’s classes and learn in mixed (ethnicity and sex) classes which helps to broaden their horizons.

Mary with Pandora's Hope seamstresses
Mary with Pandora’s Hope seamstresses

The achievement of the women and the support of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Afghan Aid cannot be underestimated. For women to get together and to be able to thrash out their business models and plans without men or managers is unusual. The aim is to let them work it all out with minimal interference unless specific expertise is demanded. The objective is an economically sustainable project which benefits the women not only through learning skills in sewing garments for sale, but also increasing women’s confidence by letting them work out how to run their business themselves.

UK delegation with Pandora's Hope- women's seamstresses co-operative
UK delegation with Pandora’s Hope- women’s seamstresses co-operative

“I’m hurting too” Dr Hakim on Drones and Singapore

Hakim in snowThe hurt of militarized authoritarianism in Singapore, Afghanistan and the world

By Dr Hakim ( Dr Teck Young, Wee )

It’s hard for me, an ordinary citizen of Singapore, a medical doctor engaged in social enterprise work in Afghanistan and a human being wishing for a better world, to write this from Kabul.

But people are dying.

And children and women are feeling hopeless.

“What’s the point in telling you our stories?” asked Freba, one of the seamstresses working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers to set up a tailoring co-operative for Afghan women. “Does anyone hear? Does anyone believe us?”

Silently within, I answered Freba with shame,” You’re right. No one is listening.”

So, I write this in protest against my government’s presence in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan, as a way to lend my voice to Freba and all my Afghan friends.

I do so in dissent, against the global security of imprisoned minds.

I thought, “If no one listens as humans should, we should at least speak like free men and women.”

Singapore’s complicity in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan

It is clear that the Taliban, the many Afghan and regional warlords, militia groups and the Afghan government are responsible for the current humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan.

But Singapore is also responsible because it is one of the fifty U.S. /NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) coalition countries working with the corrupt Afghan government ( rated the most corrupt country in 2012 ).

While the Singapore government would never support any corrupt Singaporean leader even for a day, they have sent troops to support the most corrupt leaders on earth! If accountability is at all important, we cannot say, ‘Oh…never mind!”

Moreover, Singapore has inadvertently become a minor accomplice of the self-interests of the U.S. government in Afghanistan ; The U.S. Vice President , Joe Biden, spoke at the Munich Security Conference recently, “The United States is a Pacific power. And the world’s greatest military alliance ( NATO ) helps make us an Atlantic power as well. As our new defense strategy makes clear, we will remain both a Pacific power and an Atlantic power.”

American power and economic interests naturally do not include the best interests of ordinary Singaporeans or Afghans.

Hakim and kidsThe Afghan humanitarian tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should inspire the doubt and curiosity of Singaporeans that while the U.S. /NATO coalition was spending billions of dollars every week on the Afghan war ( the U.S. alone was spending two billion dollars every week ), Afghans have been perishing under one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. At least 36% live below the poverty line and 35% of Afghan men do not have work . The UN calls the acute malnutrition of nearly one million children in the Afghan south ‘shocking’ . Almost three quarters of all Afghans do not have access to safe drinking water .

On several occasions in the past few years, Afghanistan was declared the worst country for children and women, and yet, many of us still hold this warped presumption, “Afghanistan is the worst country for children and women but whatever we are doing over there MUST somehow be right!”

The Afghan war tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should at least matter to ‘result-orientated’ Singaporeans that the very expensive Afghan/U.S. coalition’s ‘war against terrorism’ has increased rather than decreased ‘terrorism’, with the Global Terrorism Index reporting that terrorist strikes in the region have increased four times since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

Even President Karzai said in the UK recently that the security situation in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan was better before British troops were deployed.

Adding to this cynical mess of increased ‘terrorism’ at the hands of global superpowers, the U.S. has established an epicenter of drone warfare in Afghanistan, with Afghans and Pakistanis and other ‘insurgents’ as their ‘targets’, and Singapore as one of their many allies. Singapore has had teams helping in drone reconnaissance operations, reconnaissance that may have eventually ended up with a U.S. /NATO decision to kill someone without trial.

I had raised this personal concern once in a meeting room at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ; I was appreciative of the attentiveness given to this issue, but sensed that there was no great interest in ‘investigating’ how Singapore’s co-operation in the drone operations in Afghanistan may be violating international law, as was suggested by the ex-UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, Mr Philip Alston.

A recent New York Times article highlights these ‘fears  for U.S. allies’, reporting on a lawsuit in the British courts that ‘accuses British officials of becoming “secondary parties to murder” by passing intelligence to American officials that was later used in drone strikes.’ My life has been changed by listening to Afghan friends like Raz Mohammad tell how ‘drones bury beautiful lives’.museum group pic

The U.N. is finally living up to its charter to ‘remove the scourge of war’ by duly investigating  drone warfare. Major U.S. newspapers are also asking for more transparency over Obama’s weekly, premeditated ‘kill lists’. There has been concern over unchecked Powers getting even more out of all jurisdictions with the appointment of ‘drone justifier’ John Brennan as Obama’s CIA Director nominee.

Even the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child has been “alarmed” at reports of the deaths of hundreds of children from US attacks and air strikes in Afghanistan since the committee last reviewed U.S. practices in 2008.

Singapore should be alarmed too.

Singapore’s own identity as a militarized, authoritarian country

Deep within, like most human beings, Freba yearns for a decent livelihood without war. Abdulhai and the Afghan Peace Volunteers wish for friends from all 195 countries of the world, a better world without borders!

What kind of identity do Singaporeans wish for their country, a peaceful and friendly country or otherwise?

Again, I’m concerned. We like pictures of be-medaled soldiers more than unsung ‘Mother Teresa’ heroines. Our government has a significant number of ex-military commanders.

According to the Global Militarisation Index released by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), Singapore has been the second most militarized nation in the world for years. The latest ranking puts Singapore just second to Israel and one brutal position more militarized than Syria.

What also worries me is that this militarized mindset may be behind Singapore’s enthusiasm in the drone show-business, and in ‘unintentionally’ being part of the U.S.’ ‘Asia pivot’ by hosting four U.S. littoral combat ships.

Even on the economic front, while Singapore has one of the higher Gini coefficients of income inequality in the world, not many people in Singapore are aware of or debating Singapore’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership , again a partnership that corporate America is pushing for.

What Singapore has aligned herself with in Afghanistan is militarized authoritarianism that concentrates profit and power in the hands of a few. While this follows global norms, such a system works mainly for the wealth and power of the 1% in the short term, but not for the daily needs of the 99% in either the short or long term.

I personally think that both the democratic and socialist practices of today are ‘non-progressive’ vehicles for the rule of the few ‘Kings, Emperors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers’ over the many presumably ‘ignorant, helpless and sometimes lazy’ subjects. These elitist systems tend to maintain control by ‘pacifying the masses’ through formal education, mainstream media and force.

I hope Singapore can steer itself away from this ‘norm’, an ugly ‘norm’ in which war becomes fun, like when Prince Harry described his combat pilot job in Afghanistan as “a joy … because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful.”

I believe that for effective defense and genuine security, we ought to be friends with neighbours and all peoples of other lands rather than militarists with superior weapons.

Perhaps these are differences in opinions which can be included in Our Singapore Conversation.

It’s hard for me to write this, but I am sincerely ashamed to be a citizen of the 2nd most militarized nation on earth, a country that has participated in the legally-questionable drone warfare in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, I have hope in Singaporeans like I have hope in humanity. There are alternatives. The world is awakening, the human race is revolutionizing, and so is Singapore’s electorate. Most ordinary folk in the world don’t want to send missiles or guns to kill strangers in other places! Human beings have always preferred otherwise.

My voice is not political. My voice is human.

Afghans are hurting very badly.

kids in refugee campAnd I am hurting too.

Raz Mohammed

Drones Bury Beautiful Lives

Raz Mohammed

Afghan Peace Volunteer, Raz Mohammad, speaks out on drones

By Dr Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

11th Jan 2013

Below is a transcript of an interview of Raz Mohammad, an Afghan Peace Volunteer, with questions prepared by Maya Evans of Voices for Creative Non Nonviolence UK.

Raz Mohammad : Salam ‘aleikum. I am Raz Mohammad. I’m from Maidan Wardak province and I’m Pashtun.

Kathy Kelly : Raz Mohmmad, what do you think about drones?

Raz Mohammad : I think drones are not good. I remember how, in my village, a drone attack killed my brother-in-law and four of his friends. It was truly sad. A beautiful life was buried and the sound of crying and sorrow arose from peaceful homes. I say that this is inhumane. Today, the idea of humanity has been forgotten. Why do we spend money like this? Why don’t we use an alternative way? The international community says that drones are used to kill the Taliban. This is not true. We should see the truth. Today, it’s hard to find the truth and no one listens to the people.

Kathy Kelly : How have drones impacted Wardak Afghanistan?

Raz Mohammad : Drones have a negative impact on the lives of the people of Wardak and other provinces in Afghanistan, because drones don’t bring peace. They kill human beings. Drones bring nothing but bombs. They burn the lives of the people. People can’t move around freely. In the nights, people are afraid. Drones don’t improve people’s lives, they limit the people’s lives. The people are not happy with drones. When they hear the sound of drones, they feel sad. Those who live in Kabul and those who live in the provinces especially in Pashtun areas feel differently about drones.  Those in Kabul don’t feel the pain of those in the provinces where there’s war and family members are being killed. It is those families of victims who should be asked and whose voices should be heard.

Kathy Kelly : Are drones making Afghanistan safer?

Raz Mohammad : No. Drones don’t protect the people of Afghanistan. Instead, drones kill the people of Afghanistan. You hear in the news and reports that every day, families, children and women are killed. Do you call this safety?

Kathy Kelly : Is there a mental impact on Afghans from the presence of drones?

Raz Mohammad : Yes, drones have a  negative impact on the mind. For me, when I go home, I recall the incident with my brother-in-law which affected me a lot and changed my life. I don’t have a peaceful mind. When I’m home and study at night, my father & mother are very worried and tell me not to stay up too late because they may make a mistake and bomb the house. When my younger brother knows of a drone incident, he says he won’t go to school or get out of bed early today because the drones may come.  See, how it affects the mind of a 5 or 8 year old child.

Kathy Kelly : What do you think about the use of drones after the 2014 withdrawal?

Raz Mohammad : I think that the use of drones today or in 2014 is inappropriate. Why has the international community sent drones to wage war in Afghanistan? Why have we forgotten the concepts of humanity and the love of humanity? War is not a solution. We can see this from the past 30 years of war in Afghanistan. Wars bring killing and enmity. Drones after 2014 will cause enmity between Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras because those in government use the people for their own benefit. For their own power and lives, they drop bombs on the people, and bring division and inhumanity. As I see it now and after 2014, innocent human beings will be killed.

Kathy Kelly : Do you have any other message to give?

Raz Mohammad : My message to the ordinary people of the world is to listen, and become aware of drone warfare because what international governments say about using drones to kill terrorists is not true. Friends who come here can see that innocent people and women are killed. We should listen to the voices of Afghans and promote and defend humanity and humane relations. My message to the governments of the world is : Why have you forgotten humanity and the love of humanity? You are killing human beings for your own monetary benefit. I demand that this ( drone warfare ) be stopped, especially the spending of so much money on drones in Afghanistan and the killing of so many innocent people. Isn’t it appropriate for you to help the people in alternative ways? We are human beings and are always your friends, thank you.

The Struggle for Justice

member of transitional justice network talking to vcnc uk delegation

By Mary Dobbing

“Why do you pay taxes?”

This was the answer we got from most of the people we met in Kabul when we asked “what do you want to say to British people?” The Afghans we met were well aware that the United States is spending nearly $2 billion a week on the war and the British around £1.6 billion a year since 2001.  Of this, 94% of (US) spending was on the military and only 6% on diplomacy and aid between 2001 and 2009.

Our hosts in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, have dedicated themselves to living non-violently and to helping the poor. Their witness for peace extends to a network of like-minded people who we were introduced to. Afghans are sick and tired of war and of living with fear and insecurity. In thirty five years of war two million Afghans have died and many more have been physically and psychologically maimed; more again have left the country and are living in exile as refugees. They long for more than an absence of war. We heard from everyone that they need jobs, education and health services for sustainable peace, and justice. Human rights activists say the country is doomed to repeat its violent past if abuses are not brought to light and prosecuted. Justice is something which all ethnicities, factions and religious persuasions can unite around and it offers a nonviolent way forward for resolving the conflicts and hurt.

As well as current grievances about government corruption and the perception that officials and politicians pocket all the foreign aid, there is also the problem of the past and the perpetrators of crimes against humanity – many of whom are allegedly among the politicians and government officials in post today.

We met a representative from the Transitional Justice Group (TJG) which is an umbrella group of forty grassroots organisations asking the Afghan government for a system of transitional justice. As well as this the TJG want a network for the victims of war to be formed to empower them to speak out about the crimes meted out to them. Some victims are beginning to speak out but do so in fear of retribution from the perpetrators. Outside of Kabul the victims have no voice to speak out. The same war criminals are in power in the regions as committed the crimes, so speaking out for victims can be lethally dangerous. The TJG’s hope is to work outwards from Kabul to empower the people to speak out and to make the provincial officials and politicians accountable for their crimes against humanity.

The TJG want all war criminals to be brought to justice and to ensure that none will be given positions of power. The Afghan government has responded to the evidence of the crimes by granting an amnesty to all war criminals for crimes committed before 2001. It was in 2001 that the transitional government lead by President Hamid Karzai was formed, and therefore the amnesty removes the threat of prosecution from those in power now.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) produced the report a year ago outlining their research into massacres and war crimes for the period 1978-2011. The report, “Conflict Mapping in Afghanistan Since 1978” was compiled from interviews with the families of victims of war by forty researchers over six years and was commissioned by the Afghan government. The findings in the 800-page document include evidence of 180 mass graves, killings of civilians and prisoners, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, and the destruction of towns and villages. The report gave rise to controversy because of the names it named and the Afghan government will not publish it. Many of the names mentioned in the report were Mujahedeen war criminals which are now in the government. The AIHRC is still demanding that the report is released into the public domain, locally and internationally.

The AIHRC’s report A Call for Justice (January 2005), was a vision for transitional justice from grassroots organisations and promoted peace with justice. But it has been met with only obstacles and challenges. The Action Plan for Transitional Justice (December 2005) was the government’s response to ‘A Call for Justice’ and upheld their four demands:

1. Acknowledge the suffering of the Afghan people.

10th December has been designated a special day for the recognition of the victims of war. Memorials have been established and museums created about the lives of the wars’ victims and their families.

2. Ensure credible and accountable state institutions.

The government should be able to set up processes to try the perpetrators/criminals. But this hasn’t happened to date.

3. Truth-seeking and documentation.

The conflict mapping report which documents the war crimes and the conflicts that have happened in the last three decades has been submitted but not published. It is still with the President’s office.

4. Promotion of reconciliation and national unity.

This would entail, amongst other things, a process being set up to hold war criminals accountable and to try them in court. Ideally it would be followed by a procedure between the families of victims of war and the war criminals whereby they could forgive the crime or demand the due process of law.

President Hamid Karzai has refused to extend the action plan for transitional justice which expired in March 2009 and which failed to achieve most of its targets, according to human rights groups. A “Catch 22” is that the war criminals are seen as needed in the negotiations to bring the war to an end, but threatening them with prosecution is an obstacle to getting them to the table.

In addition to this we were told that the Afghan government has pursued two ‘ineffective’ processes, with the support of the international community. Millions of dollars have been expended on these (including from Japan):

1)       Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR). AIHRC sees this as a failed programme adding that “no one has been able to disarm the Afghans”.

2)       The government has been releasing Taliban prisoners from Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is dangerous the TJG thinks because the Taliban’s ideology is still for an ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’. And this policy is bound to fail because these people are also guilty of terrible war crimes.

We also met with one of the member groups of the TJG which works with the families of victims of war called the Social Association of Afghan Justice Seekers. The woman spokesperson said that the biggest problem is that the people who perpetrated the crimes against humanity are still in positions of power in the Afghan government. She added that regrettably the US/NATO forces who have occupied the country for the last 11 years are complicit in these crimes and they themselves have committed war crimes in the provinces. She says that no conflict in any other country has been resolved by military force from foreign countries and no foreign force can bring peace to Afghanistan by military means. She added that it’s clear to her that no foreign force is in Afghanistan to bring peace, democracy and justice but only to serve their own interests.

Concerns for the draw-down of US/NATO forces in 2014 and why:

The Afghans sense that the international community is tired of waging war and they will pull out leaving them in the lurch. In the TJG’s view more and more options are being offered which will allow the Taliban to return to power, for example, by negotiating with them. The Taliban’s rhetoric is that negotiating a settlement with the international community will mean that they have ‘won’ and that this will sit well with the rest of the Islamic world. Then there is the added danger that the Taliban will get money and weapons support to regain power as well as getting regional kudos. We met people who remembered Kabul during the last Taliban regime and they were deeply concerned about a repeat of that reign of repression and terror.

What can British people do?

British people are asked to consider how their tax pays for pointless and ineffective military intervention and how it bolsters a corrupt government whose members are strongly implicated in war crimes.

We were asked to encourage the British government to look at a peace process which is good for the people of Afghanistan, and not just the ruling elite and the military. Internal prejudices and internal divisions have always been there and foreign military interventions have simply exacerbated the ethnic and religious divisions.

The people of Pakistan also need processes of justice. The British government should hold the Pakistan government accountable for training and sending increasing numbers of Taliban across the border into Afghanistan which exacerbates the conflict.

The Afghan Transitional Justice Group believe the people of Afghanistan want justice but there is not enough international support or active groups in Afghanistan demanding it.  On the one hand, Afghans differ greatly in how justice should be brought to Afghanistan, and on the other hand, the international community seems to think that weapons are the only way to enforce justice in Afghanistan. The TJG believes judicial processes are needed for a sustainable peace. Without justice there cannot be peace.