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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
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.