Tag Archives: Kabul

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

refugee camp

Internal refugees, motherhood, and illegal land grabs in Afghanistan

Refugee camp in the Perwan Dodo area of Kabul.

by Maya Evans with Hakim

A few days ago we visited a refugee camp, in the Perwan Dodo area of Kabul. The camp is relatively small compared to camps we’ve visited previously, with around forty families occupying an area about the size of a football pitch. Most of the families were from Pawan Province which is to the north of Kabul. They had become internal refugees after fleeing from their homes due to the fighting or lack of jobs.

It had been raining the night before and the road in front of the camp was flooded. There was a man in knee length wellies wading up to his shins in the water sucking it up with a large tube coming from a truck. We ducked under a curtain of ragged sheets which acted as a makeshift wall between the camp and the busy road. The little lanes which weaved around the camp leading to the various huts were a mud fest. As soon as we stepped into the camp our shoes became encrusted with mud.

Janey interviews a mother in a refugee campJaney had wanted to interview a mother in a refugee camp as part of her short film project about the life of mums in Afghanistan. We were introduced to Paiky, a 42 year old mother of six. Her home was a hut made from mud with a small porch area which seemed to be used for cooking and then a larger area where the family of eight lived. Our Afghan camerawoman Alka set up her equipment while Paiky arranged herself under a large green patterned blanket. We had yet to hear her story but it was already obvious that she was in a lot of pain.

Janey and I sat next to her while some of her children peeked from behind a curtain which led into the darkened main area of the hut. The interview initially started with some of the men present but after a few minutes Paiky requested that they leave. Once the men left the porch Paiky opened her heart and poured forth about her life and physical ailments. She had given birth to four of her six children alone. Her last birth was also unassisted and due to lack of medical care she is still in constant pain six years later. She says the discomfort is so extreme that she can’t wear trousers or any garment on the bottom half of her body. She lifted her blanket and dress to show me her swollen stomach with some extremely sore looking veins running across it. Janey later said she wasn’t in a position to see her stomach but my expression had said it all.

At the end of the interview I joked with three of Paiky’s children, my limited Dari allowed me to describe them as “dost” friends, and in replyRefugee Family they laughed and called me “holla”, aunty. When I looked into the soft eyes of Rafiq who was about eleven, his smile was so warm and sincere that I immediately felt a deep connection with him. Paiky explained that he was the main bread winner of the family. Every day he went out into the street and washed cars for a living, and my heart went further out to this eleven year old man.

Outside our male companions were talking to the elders of the camp. They were learning more about the political economics of the situation. Apparently, the site was previously occupied by another group of internally displaced people (IDPs) who have now been housed in a building development overlooking the present camp. The site is now part of the land grab racket which is currently gripping Afghanistan and is described by Barmak Pazhwak, at the US Institute of Peace,  as “the next big conflict” for the country, while the Afghan Land Authority have assessed that 197,266 hectors of public land has been grabbed.

In 2008 Oxfam published a report which described land issues as now being the main cause of dispute within Afghanistan. The problem lies with the recent falsifying of land ownership documents. Previously there was no legal documentation proving the ownership of land in Afghanistan and land just belonged to families and was passed down between generations. The land theft has given rise to what is locally described as a “land mafia” who are suspected to be a mixture of rich corrupt property developers, drug dealers and war lords – many of whom are currently within the Afghan Government. Kabul is now gripped by this land theft racket.

Refugee KidsIn the case of this camp’s site, the previous refugees had negotiated a deal with the owner of the land, a rich property developer who is said also to have land in Canada and Dubai. Furthermore it is alleged that the developer had struck a deal with a warlord who negotiated housing for the refugees in return for their loyalty as fighters. The buying of refugees’ loyalty is now becoming common place. Many refugees who last year were considered among the poorest in the country are now relatively well off and living in new housing.

Property prices boomed in Kabul up to a year ago with rocketing rents fuelled by the large number of internationals living in Kabul who are earning big money. Recently rents have stalled and are predicted to level out, but are still at massively inflated prices by local standards. Everyday we hear about the problems for ordinary people in Afghanistan – a country with the highest number of drug addicts in the world; the highest infant mortality, mental health problems, domestic violence and internally displaced people – the list goes on and on. Land theft is just another problem to add.

Read more: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/afghanistan-the-cost-of-war.pdf

http://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/land-grabs-in-afghanistan-1-nangrahar-the-disputed-o-rangeland

http://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/a-new-round-of-anti-sherzai-protests-in-nangarhar

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
Fire and bomb-damaged Darul Aman

Remembering Afghans

Trigger Warning: graphic pictures

fire and bomb damaged Darul Aman
Fire and bomb-damaged Darul Aman

Darul Aman is a palace in Kabul, which was grand in the 1920’s, but is now falling down after two fires and shelling. Large areas of the roof have collapsed, walls have caved in. There are wide stone stairs, that spiral up the wall and which must have looked gravity-defying even when they were new, and which are now crumbling at the edges. Puddles and piles of rubble and plastic rubbish fill the rooms.

soldiers looking at pictures of Afghan victims of war
Soldiers looking at pictures of Afghan victims of war

To mark the International day of Human Rights, the Social Association of Afghan Justice Seekers held a photography exhibition in the palace. Nailed to the crumbling walls were portrait photographs, on laminated A4 paper, of some of those who have died or disappeared in Afghanistan, from the Soviet era until today. Maya, Janey and I visited the exhibition, along with our friend from the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Raz Mohammed.

Ground floor of Darul Aman.
Raz Mohammed on the ground floor of Darul Aman.

The ground floor was the gallery of the victims of the Soviet occupation, with grainy black and white photos of grandfathers and fathers, some in old fashioned clothes, and some in rock star sunglasses and hats.  Above the faces were the photocopied ‘death lists’ that identified these men as targets.

A young victim of the soviet invasion
A young victim of the soviet invasion

Under the photos are the names and titles, many begin ‘Osted,’ teacher. Many others are prefaced ‘Shadid,’ martyr. Raz Mohammed explained that these were innocent men who didn’t know why they died. He said that his father had told him about the era of the Soviet occupation, about students at universities being given guns to kill their fellow Afghans, and if they refused then they were shot themselves. The ghoulish representation of Afghan ‘martyrs’ in our media, as aggressors not victims, hides the reality from us, makes us think that the young men who’ve died in the long wars of Afghanistan are somehow different,  less worthy of respect, than the young men who died in Europe in the Second World War. The only difference is that here the deaths continue.

One of the martyrs of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
One of the martyrs of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The gallery continued up the wall to the first floor, where the black and white pictures now showed the same smiling or solemn faces, but these ones were victims of the mujahedeen and civil war.  Up another flight of stairs the laminated sheets started to include colour pictures.  There were also, mixed in with the portrait photos, scenes of some of the deaths.  This was the Taliban-era gallery, and the pictures became a lot harder to look at.

There were pictures of car thieves hanging by the neck in Kabul

There were pictures of car thieves hanging by the neck in Kabul, and Hazara people by the feet in the provinces. There were women in blue burqas being beaten by police, and men with guns to their head at the side of a road. The most disturbing photograph was of a child, who at first seemed to have bleeding hands, but a smiling untroubled face. Looking more closely you saw that the child was holding a pair of someone else’s hands, recently severed at the wrist and still pouring blood. In this gallery for the first time women and children were as numerous as men.

Second floor of Darul Aman
Second floor of Darul Aman

Off to the side of this corridor was a circular room, the roof and windows so dilapidated that it was like an open balcony onto the city. Even from the entrance door you could see out, over parks and buildings to the mountains at the edge of the city. For a second it felt like a moment’s respite from the horror of the display. But this room was, for a visitor from Britain, the most horrifying part of the whole exhibition. Downstairs there had been a lot of people, journalists and groups of people talking, this room was nearly empty. I walked around it with Raz Mohammed, who told me what was happening in each picture, although many of them didn’t need an explanation.

There were rows of small bodies, with pale faces and feet protruding from blankets and sacking

There were rows of small bodies, with pale faces and feet protruding from blankets and sacking, looking as if they’d could have been tucked in for the night, except for the brown blood stains spreading out from the torso of each child. These children were among the many innocent victims of a drone strike, half of these remote-controlled murders are committed by the British military. In the next picture, a village going up in smoke.

Child with burnt face
Child with burnt face

In the next, the anxious brown eyes of a toddler peering out from a face burnt by sticky white phosphorus.  In the next, another child, face made homogenous, the eyes sealed shut by bubbling skin and mouth half burnt away. It went on around the room, adults and children, mothers and babies, families and villages.

Raid on an Afghan home
Raid on an Afghan home

The photographs of living victims were almost worse than those of the dead. A woman screaming at the loss of her sight to nerve gas; a prisoner, head covered and genitals cupped, naked behind barbed wire and laughing soldiers; children and babies in whole suits of bandages, only tiny patches of the pink skin of a shallow burn showing between their dressings; women trying to plead futilely with the soldiers violently raiding their homes.

NATO & ISAF gallery on the 2nd floor
NATO & ISAF gallery on the 2nd floor

On the far side of the room a picture was nailed up between two gaping windows. A white soldier, in dusty combat gear, holding the bleeding body of an Afghan boy, half his size, if that, trousers dragged down to his knees and head lolling. The soldier isn’t holding the boy as a human holds another human, he isn’t offering comfort or first aid, he is holding him like a trophy kill, grinning at the camera. I couldn’t find any words. Raz Mohammed, who, like many ordinary Afghan people, has lost family members to international forces,  his brother-in-law having been killed in a drone strike, was also silent, until we moved on to the next picture, when he glanced back once more at the picture of the grown man making a joke of the broken body of a child to say  “And they call us terrorists.”

Pictures of NATO/ISAF atrocities
Pictures of NATO/ISAF atrocities

The Afghan Peace Volunteers, our hosts in Kabul, are launching  a campaign to find 2 million voices to remember the 2 million Afghan war deaths, and to make contact with them personally (see the ‘why this is important’ section on the petition page).

Hakim's Pics: Bereaved Afghan Mother

For Mothers Everywhere, Bereaved by Senseless Violence

Hakim's Pics: Bereaved Afghan Mother

By Mary Dobbing

This is written following the news of bombs set off at the Boston Marathon on 15th April. So far three people are reported dead and dozens seriously injured with many suffering amputations of limbs. Amongst the dead in Boston was an eight year old boy. Last December we visited an Afghan mother and heard from her the effects of the sudden violent loss of her two sons in a suicide bomb in Kabul.

We were driven to a home on the outskirts of Kabul. The entrance to the typical Afghan courtyard house was through metal gates from a narrow alley of high mud brick walls. The neighbourhood was a maze of similar blank walled lanes filled with puddles and snow, and only as wide as a car.

Smiling Giggling Girls

The gates opened into a sunny courtyard full of smiley giggling girls, and chickens. With shy Salams from the women and girls we entered, taking off our shoes, and were ushered into a long empty room. There was no furniture, only an alcove of shelves with a curtain across it. A quilt hung over the door to keep in the warmth. At one end of the room, large windows let in the dazzling winter sun on two aspects, giving its warmth through the glass. Between the windows on the floor was a pile of quilts under which, unseen, was a wood-burning stove (called a kursi I think). On top of the pile of quilts, which was held up by a table top of some sort, was a dried circular cheese about twelve inches across and stuck with flies, which was the only object in front of us as we met the bereaved mother and her two remaining children.

In any other circumstances this would have been a delightful encounter. We were invited to sit around the unseen stove and we pushed our legs under the edges of the quilts. We sat around, warm and toasty, with the stove at our feet and the warmed quilts pulled up to our waists. Behind us on the outside window ledges curious chickens pecked at the glass.

Bereaved Afghan Mother with her 2 Children
Bereaved Afghan Mother with her 2 Children

At one edge of the table our hostess sat with a small girl and a small boy either side of her. Her eyes were dull and she looked depressed. She told the story of the loss of her children in a suicide bombing, mechanically, in a monotone voice racked by prolonged grief. There were long silences between her statements which we held respectfully, but I longed to know how we could comfort her. A crowd of girls and older women sat along the edge of the room like a Greek chorus watching and listening to the story and its translation.

Choir of girls
Choir of girls

The mother told us about her pain. She told us of the tragedy and shock of her young sons being randomly killed by a suicide bomber who had targeted one of the numerous NATO convoys in the streets of Kabul. The two boys had been walking to school and the suicide bomber triggered his device killing them along with other bystanders.  They went out to school on an ordinary day and never came home. She said that even now she still cannot bear to let the other children out of her sight, let alone go to school. She asked “what will become of them?” When we asked them, the girl said she wanted to be a teacher and the boy wanted to be a doctor.

APV Fais shares his experiences

It happens that one of our Afghan Peace Volunteer friends lost a cousin in the same suicide bombing attack in Kabul. He was able to tell the bereaved mother about his loss and they both looked very sad. Fais has recounted[1] elsewhere how he witnessed his older brother being murdered in the civil war when he was in Bamiyan Province. He has lost more than one close relative to the violence. These are but two of the untold thousands of stories of loss and trauma experienced by ordinary Afghans from the last thirteen years of war.

There is a wealth of latent talent and ambition among young Afghan men and women waiting impatiently for peace and some education provision so that they can realise their dreams. But this generation are being blighted by lack of opportunity and insecurity, as well as the struggle against the effects of psychological trauma from the endless violence.

Bereaved Afghan Mother with Beth & Mary

We asked the bereaved mother what message we could take back to British people. She answered “create peace and security so that Afghans can have a life”.

I would add, “so that we can all have a life” where ever in the world we are. Tanzeel Merchant wrote about how he was nearly among the casualties at the international meeting which was the Boston Marathon. He wrote

“The US, like many other countries in the world, must and will carry the consequences and responsibility of decades of interference and self-interest that have undermined the histories of other nations. But does wilfully killing innocent bystanders at an event, that is meant to bring people together, really further any cause? What ethic or religion condones matching blood with blood?

By the time the dust settles in at Copley Square, there will be a new enemy, new hatred, and new scars to add to the ones from last afternoon…. And the world will be no safer or better than it was when we woke up [to that] new morning of promise just 24 hours [before].

P.S: I encourage you to share your thoughts… Please be gentle, considerate and kind, both here and to those around you. Life’s too short to be otherwise.” [2]

The Afghan Peace Volunteers have as their logo a blue scarf which says for them “We are all human beings under the same blue sky”. Why not be friends?


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yufP1iRr0z4&list=UUqLgo4v6w-BJtv_00XTs70g&index=108

[2] http://forbesindia.com/search.php?writer=Tanzeel%20Merchant

“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.

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.

susan and faiz

Suicide Bombing in Kabul

Susan walking the streets of Kabul, with help from APV
Susan walking the streets of Kabul, with help from APV

By Maya Evans

We’re back in a taxi and heading to visit a woman who has lost two of her sons during a suicide attack in Kabul. The taxi travels along a narrow bumpy street. The snow has now turned to compacted ice. I recognise the area as being close to the Kuchi refugee camp we visited the day before. The district seems to be a fairly poor residential area with the common style of modest Afghan housing akin to the two-up two-down housing found in the north of England.

We exit the taxi and pick our way through a maze of side streets. The path is a typical Kabul dishevelled path, our partially sighted delegate Susan is led by one of the youth peace makers- around puddles, over potholes and into a side door set into a weathered mud wall.

We learn that terrorist attacks are almost daily in Kabul and more often than not, as per usual, it’s the ordinary people who suffer the most.

The two-up, two-down has a small yard with a few chickens stalking around, a line of washing with kids clothing. We step into a very basic home, the front room is barely furnished, but for the traditional form of heating, a stove under a frame covered in blankets. We sit on cushions around the heater and bury our feet under the warm blankets.

VCNV Group - Maya Evans, Rohila FamilyWe’re then introduced to Rohila, a woman in her early forties.  She sits down opposite us and also tucks her feet under the communal blanket. She ushers her small children to sit with her. A girl aged 11 and a small boy aged 7, they huddle in close to her, she wraps her arms tightly round them.

Her face carries creases of fear, worry and depression, her body seems enveloped with tiredness.  She starts her story.

The incident happened 2 years ago, her teenage sons aged 14 and 15 were walking home from school. Usually they would make their way back from school separately and at different times, but for some reason that day they were walking home together.

For some unexplained reason there was a military tank on the roadside where they were walking. At the same time the boys passed the tank a suicide bomber drove a car into the tank causing it to flip over and kill 12 people. The official story reported 2 deaths.

Rohila describes the day: “The explosion was so strong that we felt the vibrations in the house”

Since the incident she has become too afraid to let her other 2 children go to school. Her daughter Shazia says she wants to become a teacher and her son Roshot aspires to be a doctor. Neither have gone to school in the last year.

Rohila and kidsRohila’s mourning face describes her feelings: “I’ve spent so much of my life bringing up my sons, now I don’t know if I’m alive or not, I don’t know if it is day or night. Every time I pass a grave my heart breaks, I don’t know why this has happened, war hasn’t ended. Maybe god has bought this on us. Inshallah the foreign forces will stop the war”

By a strange coincidence one of the peace volunteers had lost his cousin in the same incident. He sat opposite Rohila and talked with intense seriousness about his cousin’s death. However unlike Rohila he doesn’t feel the responsibility for the war ending rests with foreign forces, instead he concludes:

“If the foreign military leaves Afghanistan that may stop some terrorist bombing, but we have the problem that other neighbouring foreign countries are also fuelling violence in the country.”

“People who commit suicide bombing have lost some of their family members and they want revenge for their anger, for example drones kills a family, some say: we don’t have anything for life because I lost all of my family, I don’t have a meaning for life anymore.  The political leaders have lost empathy with the people, they don’t feel their sadness.”

He ends his thoughts by summarizing: “War creates more war, it doesn’t stop the violence.”