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Afghanistan: The Forgotten War & Britain’s Legacy

This is an overview of the Afghanistan – The Forgotten War: Britain’s Legacy conference held in London on Saturday 11th October 2014 by Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK (VCNVUK) to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the current war in Afghanistan.

Afghan Peace Conference 2014

by Aisha Maniar

British troops will vacate their final base in Helmand, Afghanistan, later this month and 31st December 2014 is the date set for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the NATO/ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) coalition from the country, effectively signalling the end of the current war.

Many Afghans are positive about and look forward to rebuilding their country in the post-conflict period. Having just elected not one but two new leaders, challenges lie ahead for both the leadership and ordinary Afghans.

Almost immediately upon the election of the new government, the US and Afghanistan signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) the previous president had refused to sign, whose terms include the retention of almost 10,000 US soldiers in the country after 2014 to work “on two important security missions: training and equipping Afghan forces and supporting cooperation against terrorism”. A similar agreement was signed with NATO, bringing the total number of foreign troops remaining in the country to around 12,000, 500 of whom will be from the United Kingdom.

The withdrawal of foreign soldiers, however, does not signal an end to fighting in the ongoing civil war between different ethnic and religious factions and war lords. With the focus on the US and NATO’s activities in Afghanistan, this war has been underreported in the international media.

The impact of the war on all parties will continue for many decades and in many ways. David Cameron’s visit to Afghanistan as the first foreign leader to meet new president Ashraf Ghani reflects this. While there, he reiterated the old fallacy that troops on the ground there prevented terrorist attacks here.

With the conference falling at the end of the annual Drones Week of Action (4-11 October) and the planned final withdrawal this month, the focus was very much on Britain’s military legacy and ongoing covert engagement in Afghanistan. The conference was hosted and introduced by Maya Evans from VCNCUK. Around 50 people attended.

The Toxic Remnants

Andy Garrity from the Toxic Remnants of War (TRW) project, which looks at the detrimental impact of military activities and materials on the environment and human health, spoke about the consequences of the NATO drawdown and the toxic environmental legacy of the war.

Andy Garrity
Andy Garrity from The Toxic Remnants of War Project

In the process of withdrawal, over 1200 bases will either be closed or handed over to the Afghan authorities. The BSA negotiated at the end of September does not provide adequate rules on how bases are to be dismantled or decommissioned in an environmentally and human health-friendly way. Although the 2014 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) complies with Afghan legislation, the level of environmental protection offered is relatively low and there is no guarantee of enforcement by any of the parties.

There are many sources of environmental and health risks and pollution. Practice firing ranges, used to train soldiers, are usually abandoned due to the cost of clean-up and the lack of legislation making it mandatory. Residues and unexploded munitions stay behind. While the US says that it could take up to 5 years and $250 million to clean up such ranges, there has been no discussion on actually doing this.

According to the UN, children are at greatest risk from unexploded ordnances (UXOs): explosive weapons that did not explode at the time they were used and can still be detonated decades later. This is due to children, in particular, scavenging for scrap metal among the discarded materials to sell to earn money for their families. In addition to the risk of explosions, they are also exposed to carcinogens and UXO contamination.

Other risks are posed by MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) Andy Garrity & Maya Evansvehicles designed to withstand IEDs (improvised explosive devices) which are often simply abandoned. The cost of returning MRAPs to the US is estimated at $500 million where they would be of no use. These vehicles contain harmful carcinogenic materials, including cadmium, chromium and lead.

Before abandoning bases, many materials are disabled for “security” purposes, such as computers, fans, turbines, etc. and are of no further practical use. This scrap waste is sometimes abandoned on roadsides and poses risks to children playing and rummaging for metals to sell. Other waste from bases is consigned to burn pits, including aviation fuel, chemicals and clothing. This takes place at most bases and emits low-level pollution. Local residents have complained of increasing rates of asthma and respiratory problems. US army veterans have complained about higher rates and risks of cancer. While some compensation has been paid to veterans, following campaigns, the US maintains there is no risk of harm and admits no liability. No civilian health studies have been carried to assess the risk to Afghans or possible compensation owed to them.

While NATO and ISAF troops already adhere to low levels of environmental protection, drawdown has meant their replacement by private military contractors, who often overlook existing regulations and are not subject to public scrutiny. Currently outnumbering foreign soldiers two to one, their use is likely to increase further and their actions lack transparency, posing a concern for the future.

The total cost of clean-up has been estimated at $5.7 billion by the US. TRW believes that NATO and ISAF must be held accountable for environmental damage and damage to public health. In addition, military and security agreements must include more strongly-worded environmental protection. Seeking accountability, however, is hindered by the fact that this could set a precedent for conflicts elsewhere and claims for compensation and clean-up. Dangerous in the longer term, the focus is only on avoiding the cost of cleaning up right now.

Droning Wars continue…

Chris Cole from Drone Wars UK
Chris Cole from Drone Wars UK

Chris Cole

Chris Cole from Drone Wars UK talked about the UK’s ongoing military involvement in remote control drone warfare in Afghanistan. Due to the secrecy surrounding operations, there is no data available to provide accurate statistics on strikes and casualties in Afghanistan; however, more drone strikes take place in Afghanistan than anywhere else. Cole called drones the “new form of warfare”, with remote control strikes being launched against targets from thousands of miles away.

The UK started using military drones in December 2004 along with the US as part of a joint taskforce in Iraq. Using its own MQ-9 Reaper drones, Britain has since become addicted to drone warfare; in spite of the drawdown of troops over the past few years, the number of drone strikes has multiplied. Britain has spent over two billion pounds on buying and developing drones. In 2014 alone, over £100 million has been committed to drone technology development.

Drones do, however, have certain advantages. With the war in Afghanistan longer than World Wars I and II combined, and increasing public hostility to war, especially the commitment of troops on the ground, drones offer governments a means of continuing their war games in a manner that bypasses public and media scrutiny: secrecy is a large part of the drone package.

In 2009/2010, almost half of all air strikes were by drones; that number is now over 80%. Virtually nothing is known about the impact on the ground. Following an investigation by the LA Times in 2010, only one incident in Uruzgan province, where 23 civilians were killed, including children, prompted a military investigation leading to compensation for the families. There were no prosecutions. Patchy media coverage is available; on the day of the conference, two people were reported to have been killed in a US drone strike near the Pakistan border.

An important point raised is that the secrecy surrounding the use of military drones is closely linked to a wide network of intelligences bases around the world, such as those revealed in Edward Snowden’s leaks about the activity of the US National Security Agency (NSA). With an increasing number of bases being used all over the world, the surveillance society and intelligence-gathering aspects of drones must not be overlooked. With an ongoing UN inquiry into the impact of drone warfare on civilians, it is clear that it offers no solution to global security problems.

The True Cost of War

Frank Ledwidge

Frank Ledwidge
Frank Ledwidge author of Investment in Blood: the True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War

Former military officer, barrister and author of Investment in Blood: the True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War, Frank Ledwidge spoke about the cost of the war.

The war has had a human cost for both the UK and Afghanistan; 453 British soldiers have been killed and more than 2500 injured, more than 600 seriously. Once they leave the military, they are only entitled to civilian support on the National Health Service (NHS), and not any special support, as is claimed. Although the remaining British army in Helmand have not been engaged in combat for most of 2014, the impact of their presence on the almost two million residents of the province is almost entirely unknown.

For most people in Helmand, however, the war is far from over with heavy fighting between local groups. While even NATO has recognised that most so-called Taliban are in fact local residents, as compared to the smaller contingent of asli (original) Taliban who ran the country before the war, many engaged in the current fighting are local people in gangs, drug dealers, war lords, etc.

An area now better known for its production of almost half the world’s opium harvest in 2013, at the time, the British army gave this rural area importance on the pretext of preventing domestic terrorism by placing troops on the ground to defeat the Taliban. In fact, there have been far more civilian casualties, even though official statistics are not broken down. Larger than the number of fatalities is the number of people injured or maimed. At the height of fighting between NATO/ISAF and Afghans in the province in 2010, in one month, one hospital admitted more than 4000 people.

Official government statistics have put the military cost of the war in Helmand at £25 billion, but the actual cost is over £35 billion, with fuel as one of the most expensive items. In the longer term, the single greatest cost will be care for veterans and wounded soldiers. Based on estimates for the US by experts there, Ledwidge has estimated a similar veteran care cost for the UK from Afghanistan of around £50 billion.

According to US experts, the cost of veteran care peaks 40 years after the conflict. In a freedom of information request made by Ledwidge to the MoD, he was informed that no budget has been set aside for Afghan veterans. There is only a £70 million fund for combat stress.

In conclusion, Ledwidge stated that there is no causal link between the Afghanistan war and domestic terrorism in the UK, even as this is being used as pretext right now for interference in Iraq and Syria. He stated that “we left Helmand a far worse place than we found it”. Looking at the human and financial cost of war, “going into the next war, we need to ask is this something we need to do?”

Afghan Women’s Voices

Skyping Kabul with Sabir, Maya and Farzana

Sabir, Maya & Farzana

Before concluding the conference and holding a set of afternoon workshops on issues such as Afghan women, drones and the war on terror, Kabul street children, and opportunities to build peace, a short Skype conversation was held with Afghan women in Kabul from the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), who work closely with VCNVUK. “Saving Afghan women” was one of the main pretexts for the war.

Asked about their views on the new government, some of the women said that it was too early to tell but that people were still optimistic; others said they were not optimistic as the current government included politicians who were involved in various wars over the past three decades. One woman there would be no real change until the style of leadership changes, eradicating nepotism and the culture of self-serving war lords who have no interest in the concerns of ordinary people.

Afghan Peace Conference 2014Asked their views about the retention of thousands of foreign soldiers in the country, all of the women were against this as soldiers and military strategies have failed to bring about peace. Asked about the effects of war on women, one said a major impact was the loss of their husbands and children. In 2013, most casualties in Afghanistan were children. They also spoke about being psychologically traumatised, making many afraid to leave their homes. With the focus on staying alive, support for families and building families and communities takes secondary importance.

With thirteen years of war focused on combat and not people, one of the major challenges identified by this second annual conference is how to stop Afghanistan falling off the radar completely at the end of this year. The war is not over and media and public lack of awareness and disinterest must not serve as a pretext for further abuses and atrocities.

The conference was supported by Drone Campaign Network.

Penny from DCN Maya Evans VCNV
Penny Walker from DCN Maya Evans VCNV
Fly Kites Not Drones at RAF Waddington 2014

Fly Kites Not Drones for Nao Roz 2014

Afghan Peace Volunteers say: Fly Kites Not Drones
Afghan Peace Volunteers say: Fly Kites Not Drones

FKND was inspired by the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul:
Watch the APV fly kites in Kabul

FKND campaign video with the APV

FLY KITES NOT DRONES across the UK:

RAF Waddington:

Outside RAF Waddington
Outside drone base RAF Waddington

Woman Flying KiteRAF WADDINGTON: UK drone base 1-3pm Friday 21st March Nao Roz, 35 activists came on coaches from Norwich and Sheffield with others coming from: Oxford, Coventry, Croughton, London, St Leonards on Sea and Hull. They gathered outside RAF Waddington and flew kites in solidarity with Afghans who have to live with the threat of UK drone strikes which are remote controlled and fired from the UK base. The UK protestors crowded around an amplified laptop rigged up in the back of a car which allowed them to Skype the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. The group of 35 spoke with Afghan youth from outside the base that bombs Afghanistan using drones, they talked aboutthe importance of international solidarity and how drones impact their lives:

One Afghan youth commented:”by your very stand, your witness, you give us strength” One of the youth who has lost Fly Kites Not Dronesfamily members to a drone strike said “As you make your stand, we will make our stand with you.”

They also discussed their thoughts on the upcoming Afghan elections, wished one another Happy Nao Roz and talked about what they were having for dinner!

The event attracted media coverage from the Lincolnshire Echo and local BBC. Drone Campaign Network and VCNV UK organized the event.

Bristol:

Every Afghan Has A Name, War is Not a Video Game
Bristol Fly Kites Not Drones Stall

BRISTOL: a pre kite flying workshop took place the weekend before at the Kebele Social Centre where local activists mixed with concerned families to talk about: the legality of drones; the threat of surveillance drones in the UK and the situation for Afghans who have to live with the impact of looming remote controlled killer robots.  The kite flying event attracted many young people with a flood of messages to the APV. Fine and colourful kite flying conditions and fun had by all. The event was organized by Bristol Against the Arms Trade, Bristol Stop the War Coalition, Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Child Victims of War and VCNV UK

Littlehampton:

Littlehampton Young Quakers
Littlehampton Young Quakers

LITTLEHAMPTON: 22 Young Quakers (aged 11-16), and 8 Quaker adults, took part in a short interactive workshop on drones finding out: what they are; discussing concerns; plus reading the stories of a former US drone pilot who was traumatised by his experience; as well as about the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ critical stance on drones. They made around ten homemade kites and took them to the beach. They also made a banner with the message ‘Kites Not Drones’, and some them watched the “excellent short film” of the APVs talking about the Kite Not Drones action. Organized by the Young Quakers.

Hastings:

Hastings fly kites on West Hill overlooking the sea
Hastings fly kites on West Hill overlooking the South Coast

Maya EvansHASTINGS: a pre kite making workshop was held at their local Friends Meeting House where exquisite peace doves and traditional handmade kites were crafted. A group of kite runners met on  Saturday and Sunday 10am on West Hill during which around 50 people took part in a weekend of kite flying Afghan solidarity. Genuine Afghan kites were flown on a sea breeze- borderfree. The event received local support from: Woodcraft Folk, Hastings Independent as well as a splash in the Hastings Observer. FKND Hastings was organized by Hastings Against War and VCNV UK.

London:

Illegal Protest- FKND Civil Disobedience in Hyde Park
Afghan kite commits Civil Disobedience in Hyde Park

LONDON: Saturday 22nd March saw 10 kite flyers and 4 professional photographers in Hyde Park Speakers Corner at 2pm. The group which included: The Activettes, Kingston Peace Council and Putney UNA did not comply with the legal process of seeking police permission to hold a kite flying anti drone protest in a Royal Park. The London Kite runners were adamant they would carry on despite police warnings. Leaflets were given out while banners and placards were visible to those passing-by. The event was organized by The Activettes and VCNV UK.

Bright kites, banners and placards mark the event in London
Bright kites, banners and placards mark the event in London

Chicago:

Volunteers at the Voices office in Chicago
Volunteers at the Voices office in Chicago

Community members and students met at the Voices house to celebrate Now RozCHICAGO: Saturday afternoon, community members and students met at the Voices house to celebrate Now Roz, the Persian new year, and to participate in the APV call to “Fly Kites, Not Drones.” We crafted our own kites and marched to the lake to fly them.  It was a perfect, windy day for kites. On the shore, we spent a moment in silence, mindful of all those victimized by drone warfare: the deceased, their families, the soldiers ordered to kill, and the children who live under fear of surveillance and unexpected attack. Then, we lifted our kites to the wind. Full grown women and men were running around and laughing like children. It was mostly the store bought ones that actually flew. Even still, we giggled and teased trying to get our home-made kites to fly if only for a second. Earlier, my friend Samah showed me videos of the Now Roz Fly Kites, Not Drones - Chicagocelebration in Iraq, where a thousand balloons lit up with candles are released into the air. In the video, the crowd cheered and waved. Samah told me that when people saw this, they cried. In times of surveillance, of fear, it is an act of bravery to gather in public and celebrate. The power of such communal creative acts is unquantifiable. Its threat to the stifling power of fear is undetectable, safely stored in the hearts of those who are uplifted by it. We would do well to learn from the people of the world, the people of Iraq and the Afghan peace volunteers, who refuse to stop celebrating even in times of great duress, and bravely let their kites soar. Organized by VNCV US, report by Sarah Stockdale.

HMP Wandsworth:

Fr Martin Newell in HMP Wandsworth
Fr Martin Newell in HMP Wandsworth

Fr Martin Newell (part of the Waddington 6) sends messages of support from HMP Wandsworth, he’s current imprisoned for non payment for 29 days for unpaid fines relating to protests against the Iraq & Afghan wars as well as Trident.

West Wales

Fly Kites, Not Drones - West Wales

WEST WALES: On a very windy kite-flying day in West Wales, preceded by a hail storm while we put the kite together. Although we were close to habitation, we felt exposed and pretty much at the mercy of what the skies chose to thrown down on us, so we held in mind and in our prayers those people in Afghanistan and elsewhere who live with this sense as a daily reality.  Julia Lim, West Wales

Cardiff

CARDIFF: Around 40 people gathered in central Cardiff in solidarity of those who have to live under the constant threat of drones. The action was organized by Palestine Solidarity Coalition and they made an outstanding short video (above) about their action.

Taunton

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Taunton

St Michael’s Mount- near Penzance

Fly Kites, Not Drones - St Michaels Mount

St Michael’s Mount: Banners and kites made by Wool not Weapons and a special Fly Kites Not Drones for Nao Roz art work was created. Over 30 people attended the event with fantastic Cornish flying conditions.

Oxford

Kite flying Bonn Square 22 March

OXFORD Bonn Street town centre, members of Fellowship for Reconciliation and CND Oxford

Edinburgh

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Edinburgh

EDINBURGH: ‘Fly Kites Not Drones’ event on Saturday 22nd March proved to be a massive success for raising awareness about those living under the threat of drones. It was a fun-filled day that included: crafting and flying kites, face painting, storytelling, a live samba band and a dazzling fire display.  About 150 people including many families and children gathered in the Meadows to take part in ‘The Day of Action’ that was called for by Afghan Peace Volunteers and Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK. Fifty kites were made on the day and many people brought their own kites. It was one of several events around the UK that was campaigning for the abolition of drones. Significantly, this included a demonstration at RAF Waddington – the UK base from which Drones in Afghanistan are operated. Organized by the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre.

Leicester

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Leicester

 

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Leicester 2Leicester: flew kites on Saturday 22nd March as part of the Greenlight festival. We gathered at the CND stall with a variety of hand made and bought kites and then went to nearby Bede Park. Local children joined in and we all had a great time.

 

Photos of all the events have been posted on Facebook

OTHER EVENTS: Norwich,  TavistockEdinburghLeicesterCardiffCoventryOxford,  BrightonBlackheathBurlingtonSouthamptonRochester, Littlehampton, Taunton, Lewes, Bournemouth will be sending photos soon.

SUPPORTERS of the event included: Drone Campaign NetworkNetwork for PeaceSmash EDOSTWCNDFoRCAAT, plus the WikiLeaks Party and many more.

Fly Kites Not Drones

Press Release: Fly Kites Not Drones

another boy with a kite

PRESS RELEASE

The biggest national UK anti drone action will be taking place this weekend when over 20 peace groups will be showing solidarity with Afghan peace makers who urge everyone to Fly Kites Not Drones for Nao Roz (Afghan New Year).

There will be a kite flying vigil at UK drone base RAF Waddington on Friday 1pm, and a London event at Speakers Corner Saturday 2pm, where activists will show solidarity with Afghans by joining in with the well loved Afghan  pastime of kite flying.

Maya Evans, anti drone activist, said: “I’ve just returned from living in Afghanistan for 3 months where I personally witnessed the destruction and havoc caused by drones, not only are they killing innocent civilians but they’re also degrading the fabric of Afghan society as they cause mistrust and enmity.”

The issue of drones has been heightened in the last few months when Pakistani drone witness Kareem Khan was kidnapped and tortured- he was set to give evidence in the European Court; in addition a Yemeni drones witness was also harassed. Meanwhile British courts threw out the case of Noor Khan with worries of causing bad relations with the US, while new drone bases are set to open if not in Afghanistan then elsewhere in Asia.

Britain has also been exposed for infringing rules of combat by co-operating directly with the US on launching drone strikes. Currently the cost of life caused by drone strikes is unknown as the MoD refuse to release names and numbers due to “national security”.

Evans added: “These robot killers are fuelling resentment towards foreign occupation as well as making security worse for the ordinary Afghan. The message I heard over and over again was that Afghans do not want drones, they want an end to foreign interference which has brought endless violence, moreover, they want peace.”

The action was inspired by the Afghan Peace Volunteers who want an end to war and the use of drones which currently plague their skies.

Contact: 07973 484 202

“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.