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Challenging Drone Warfare in a U.S. Court

Gathering in Kasas City

Gathering in Kasas City

by Kathy Kelly

October 7, 2014

On October 7, 2014, Kathy Kelly and Georgia Walker appeared before Judge Matt Whitworth in Jefferson City, MO, federal court on a charge of criminal trespass to a military facility.  The charge was based on their participation, at Whiteman Air Force Base, in a June 1st 2014 rally protesting drone warfare.  Kelly and Walker attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the Base Commander, encouraging the commander to stop cooperating with any further usage of unmanned aerial vehicles, (drones) for surveillance and attacks.

The prosecutor, USAF Captain Daniel Saunders, said that if Kelly and Walker would plead guilty to the charge, he would seek a punishment of one month in prison and a $500 fine.  Kelly and Walker told the prosecutor that they could accept a “no contest” plea but were not willing to plead guilty.  The prosecutor then said he would recommend a three month prison sentence and a $500 fine.  The judge refused to accept a “no contest” plea.  Kelly and Walker then requested a trial which has been set for December 10, 2014.

Brian Terrell, who also attended the hearing, has previously been tried before Judge Whitworth on the same charge. In October of 2012,  Whitworth sentenced him to the maximum penalty of six months in prison.  His co-defendant, Ron Faust, also went to trial and was initially sentenced to five years probation which was later reduced to one year. Mark Kenney, also a co-defendant, had pled guilty and received a four month sentence.

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Kathy Kelly (right) explains her urgent actions

Kathy Kelly noted that drone strikes on October 7, 2014 killed seven people, in Pakistan and that this is the third day in a row of drone attacks in Pakistan’s Waziristan area. On October 6th, eight people were killed and six wounded. Today also marks the thirteenth year of U.S. war in Afghanistan, a country which was considered, in 2013, to be the epicenter of drone warfare.

“I feel we’re compelled by our conscience, “ Georgia Walker told a gathering of 35 people in Kansas City, the previous evening.  “We’re compelled by our own spirituality, to keep speaking up and to keep getting people to know that silence is complicity.  We have to speak out to say ‘Not in my Name.’”

“I’m sure that Georgia and I didn’t commit a crime,” said Kathy Kelly. “We tried to send out an alarm about a crime that’s being committed at the base.  Innocent people, including children are killed by the drone strikes.”

Kelly and Walker later met with supporters and attorneys to discuss plans for a vigorous defense on December 10th, International Human Rights Day.

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Afghanistan: The Forgotten War & Britain’s Legacy

vcnvuk_afghan_conf_11oct2014_webposter

A day conference to support peace and justice for Afghans 

11th October 2014, Friends House 10am-4pm

Hosted and facilitated by Maya and Farzana

SPEAKERS

Andy Garrity – The Toxic Ramifications of War Project

On the 30th of September 2104 the Afghan Government signed a bilateral security agreement with ISAF and the Status of Forces Agreement with NATO, which dictate the role of ISAF in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The Toxic Remnants of War Project was launched to consider and quantify the detrimental impact of military activities and materials on the environment and human health. As part of this process, the project is also reviewing gaps in existing state obligations for reducing the humanitarian and environmental harm from military-origin toxics, and examining parallel systems of protection based on environmental and human rights law and peacetime regulatory frameworks.

Andy Garrity will describe the environmental footprints of ISAF and NATO including what they are leaving behind through the closure of bases and firing ranges, as well as the waste disposal practises that pose a serious threat to civilian health.

Chris Cole- Drone Wars UK

Chris Cole is a tireless investigative campaigner, he will be outlining the case against drones from his research into the use of British military drones in Afghanistan and the environment of official secrecy and obfuscation. Over the past couple of months we have witnessed drone strikes in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq – and its likely that Syria and Libya may soon join that list. Whether such strikes are being undertaken under the umbrella of a UN resolution or carefully-crafted secret memos, it’s becoming clearer that drones are indeed making it easier for our political leaders to opt to use lethal force rather than diplomatic or political solutions.

Afghanistan has been the testing ground for Britain’s growing drone arsenal bought from US and Israel. We will hear about the co-operation between these countries and the global significance of the use of drones by focusing on Afghanistan, the “drone capital” of the world.

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

Frank is a barrister and former British military officer, his book sent tidal waves as he pieces together the colossal human and financial cost of the war in Afghanistan for Afghans and British, and weighs up what it was all for. His devastating indictment of the utter, unanswerable folly of Britain’s military intervention in southern Afghanistan includes calculations such as: by 2020 the Afghan war will have cost British tax payers £40bn – enough to run 1,000 primary schools for 40 years or to recruit 1,000 nurses and pay for their entire careers.

Like many in Afghanistan, he wonders how successful we will be have been in leaving behind a better country than the one we entered in 2001.

With regard to the cost in lives, more British soldiers have died in Afghanistan than in any other counter-insurgency campaign overseas since the Boer war. Moreover there are hundreds of thousands of unnamed Afghan civilians caught up in the conflict. As Ledwidge points out, Britain makes no serious effort to count, let alone identify, the thousands of Pashtun people killed, maimed or displaced by the fighting.

Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War has been described as “a masterpiece in miniature” by New Statesman.

Women from the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul

The conference has been inspired by the Afghan Peace Volunteers who have a clear and independent analysis of what Afghans need and want for their country. Since forming in 2012 Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK has focused it work on supporting the Afghan Peace Volunteers grassroots activists who are based in Kabul. Our peace delegations involve staying with and learning from the group and their friends in the community. With the APV we have produced articles to reflecting the lives and perspectives of ordinary Afghans. This Skype connection will enable us to hear the inspiring women Afghan peace activists who have chosen to reject the status quo of violence and look for alternative solutions for their war torn country.

There will be an opportunity to address questions to the women who will speak about the impacts of war and what is needed for Afghan women to secure better rights.

Focused Sessions 

Building Afghan Peace

A workshop facilitated by Afghan community organiser Sabir Zazai who works with asylum seekers in Coventry. It is likely that Dari will be the main language spoken as the workshop will talk live with men and women in from the Afghan Peace Volunteers. They will make a case for the importance and value of international Afghan solidarity.

Sabir will also speak about his experiences and insights as an Afghan community organiser in the UK, the problems Afghans face here, the recent fallout following the Afghan elections and how we can work as a united movement to support the non-violence campaign in Afghanistan. The session will provide a foundation for future campaigning and perhaps start a coalition of activists wanting to work  on what can be done in the future.

Perspectives of Kabul Street Children

Photojournalist Guy Smallman will talk about the Street Angels Project which he worked on with Azim Fakri, a Kabul based artist who has long viewed the children working on the streets on his home city with a heavy heart. Doing menial and often dangerous work, the children are robbed of their childhoods and dignity by crushing poverty. Guy and Azim are working together to raise awareness about the plight of the children, not by telling their stories for them, but by empowering them to tell us themselves. Guy will talk about the pilot project they ran in Spring when they worked with five street children to teach them the basics of photography and issue them with disposable cameras. The result is an exhibition showing the underbelly of Kabul through the eyes of its street children. Their photography shines a light on the people living on the margins as well as showing off their own skill and ability to learn. The project has proved that street children possess just as much talent and potential as any other child regardless of their circumstances.

The Challenges for Afghan Women

When Britain backed war with Afghanistan in 2001 we heard from our politicians that the international community would not turn its back on the plight of Afghan women. Thirteen long and bloody years later we will hear from Afghan women about their lives today and the challenges they face. The workshop will include testimonies from Farzana and Yagana, two Afghan women who have recently made their way to the UK after fleeing for their lives from Afghanistan.

Participants will see the premier showing of “Afghanistan: A Difficult Birth”, a short documentary by Janey Moffatt who made the film while visiting Kabul last year on a VCNV delegation.  Her unique footage records the difficulties Afghan women face from childbirth, to equality.

Joining the Dots – Drones, Gaza and the War on Terror

With investigative journalist and campaigner Ewa Jasiewicz and VCNVUK’s Maya Evans, both of whom visited Kabul and the APV earlier this year.

Ewa and Maya aim to make the connections between all the factors which are making these wars possible, linking the common causes and drivers, and attempt to join the dots to link peace campaigners together in a combined effort.

They will explore how the arms industry is enriched by lucrative government contracts which is fuelling the wars on terror; how Britain’s drone arsenal was purchased from the Americans, how Britain uses Israeli drone technology and tests it on Afghanistan and how British drones will likely be used against Iraq and across the wider Middle East.

Ewa Jasiewicz spent 9 nine months in Iraq during 2003 and has visited Gaza and the West Bank several times. Both Ewa and Maya are very active in the anti-arms campaigners. In August this year they participated in a rooftop occupation the of UAV Engines Ltd which shut down the Israeli owned factory in the Midlands for 2 days.

WHAT NEXT?

At last year’s conference we launched the campaign action Fly Kites Not Drones, inspired from the testimonies of Afghan children who are too frightened to participate in kite flying because of the fear of drones which also favour the conditions of clear blue skies. The Fly Kites Not Drones actions at Afghan New Year on the 21st March this year saw international participation from the US to Australia, Kabul to Cerdigion and across the UK with over 30 peace groups getting together to make and fly kites in solidarity with Afghan peace makers. The concept is now being made into an education resource pack to be used in British schools.

We encourage everyone to Fly Kites Not Drones again in 2015 and make it an even more widespread event as we reclaim our skies for fun and not war.

This conference will also help form campaigning ideas and strategies for the future.

2015 is the year to unite with Afghanistan and reclaim the power.

Register now: vcnvuk@gmail.com

FOOD

Friends House has a marvellous cafe with soup, sandwiches, hot drinks and snacks available. There is also the yummy possibilities of Drummond Street (near Euston Train station) which has loads of Indian cafes and tasty snack shops.

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Afghanistan 2014 – The Forgotten War: Britain’s Legacy

A day conference to support peace and justice for Afghans

vcnvuk_afghan_conf_11oct2014_webposter

Saturday, 11th October, 2014 10:00am to 4:30pm 

 Friends House, 173 Euston Road,

London NW1 2BJ

The NATO/US war with Afghanistan is currently in its 13th year and no closer to bringing peace and justice for Afghans.

The war has however provided Britain with a testing ground for its growing armed drone fleet which will now likely be redeployed to the Middle East or Africa. It laid the foundations for the global war on terror and the justification to invade many other countries.

As the ‘global war on terror’, as it is characterised by Western powers, rolls on and expands to more and more countries we will not forget the people of Afghanistan and how the long war there has shaped global politics today.

The conference will foreground Afghans living in Kabul, and the UK, and their experiences of the present and expectations for the future as international forces withdraw from the country at the end of 2014 and the election of a unifying government for Afghanistan is mired in confusion and uncertainty. .

Women from the Afghan Peace Volunteers will speak with us from Kabul by live video link, and Sabir Zazai and Farzana will lead a workshop about the problems Afghans face in the UK and how they are overcoming them.

Key note speakers include Frank Ledwidge, author of Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War and Chris Cole, Director of Drone Wars UK.

Frank Ledwidge, a barrister and former British military officer, pieces together the colossal human and financial cost of the war in Afghanistan for Afghans and British, and weighs up what it was all for. While Chris Cole, a tireless investigative campaigner, outlines the case against drones from his research into the use of British military drones in Afghanistan in an environment of official secrecy and obfuscation.

In smaller groups participants can join focused sessions – Joining the dots – Drones, Gaza and the War on Terror with investigative journalist and campaigner Ewa Jasiewicz and VCNVUK’s Maya Evans.

Journalist and photographer Guy Smallman, who has extensive experience working in Afghanistan, showcases his collaboration with street children in Kabul – displaying their photography from education projects with cameras. The story the children tell of their world through the lenses of cameras is extraordinary is premiering in London this Autumn.

Film maker Janey Moffat with Yagana will show her film Afghanistan: a difficult birth. Janey travelled to Kabul with VCNVUK in 2013 and recorded the challenges Afghan women face from childbirth to equality.

Please join Voices for Creative Non Violence UK and friends for their second annual conference.

To register, and for more information about the conference contact vcnvuk@gmail.com

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A Teacher in Kabul

zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan

by Kathy Kelly

August 26, 2014

Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the 8th grade although he is an18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.

Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime.  In between these tasks the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.

And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten.  When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding ten more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit sixty times in one day.   Dreading the next day when the number would rise to seventy, he ran away from that school and never returned.

Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students.  But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.

Zerkrullah reading in his spare time

Zerkrullah reading in his spare time

Much to the surprise of his environmental studies teacher, Zekerullah has a strong grasp of issues related to the environment.  For the past two years, living with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, he has occupied himself with presentations and conversations about global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation.  He cares deeply about the issue.  Last winter, I was with him as he watched the entire BBC Blue Planet series of videos, and realized that he hungers for more information and deepened understanding about issues hitting far beyond his own beleaguered country.

When his new teacher, a teacher accustomed to beating pupils, asked the class elementary questions about the environment, Zekerullah had definitely done his homework.  But among his other recent studies were the history of nonviolent movements, led by people like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, to resist oppressive forces.   So without calling any attention to his plans, Zekerullah decided to join the line of students singled out for punishment, in his environmental studies class, even though he wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve to be punished.  The teacher was befuddled.  Zekerullah so clearly knew the answers.

Zekerullah calmly explained to the teacher that he also knew, from experience, that beating students doesn’t help them learn, that he himself had lost four years of studies because he could no longer bear the beatings.  He respectfully asked the teacher to beat him instead of the next seven students in the row.

The teacher obliged, administering blows to Zekerullah while his fellow students began to wonder about and admire Zekerullah’s unusual stance.  Perhaps for the first time in a long while, everyone in that class was learning something.

For several weeks, the teacher was confronted with Zekerullah’s quiet insistence that he be allowed to take the blows in place of students who hadn’t studied.  The teacher tried to ignore him and belittle him. Once, the teacher punished him and a few others with the escalated punishment of using a rattan cane to inflict the blows.  Adding salt to the wound, the teacher even failed Zekerullah in the mid-year exams, though Zekerullah said he knew the answers and had no trouble finishing the exam.

I asked him what other students thought about his choices.  He said that some of them wanted to spare him from being punished, and so they began to study more and complete their homework. He isn’t sure what impact his actions have had. Zekerullah isn’t inclined to brag.  But he surely has affected me.

He is also affecting other vulnerable young Afghans.  Over the past two years, Zekerullah has worked hard to improve his studies, and with the literacy he has acquired, he now volunteers to teach a literacy class at the APVs Borderfree Center for about 20 street kids who have not had the opportunity to go to school regularly.  He and several companions have organized other aspects of the “Street Kids” program, visiting children in their homes and helping distribute oil and rice to each family so that the children can stop working on the streets.

Zekerullah tells me that the current education system in Afghanistan is not a good learning environment. His story alerts educators, officials and the international community to understand that the relatively small funds spent on badly-constructed new school buildings won’t suffice to provide a good education for the young Afghan population. Moreover, the predominantly militarized approach of aid and development, even in the field of education, reinforces the prevalent methods of teaching by force and punishment.

Zekerullah yearns for knowledge as well as justice, and he’s willing to sacrifice for both.  I want to learn from him.

Zerkruallah and Faiz on tidy up Friday shaking out the carpet

Zerkruallah and Faiz on tidy up Friday shaking out the carpet

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Borderfree

Borderfree_Community_Centre_of_Nonviolence

by Kathy Kelly

August 15, 2014

Here in Kabul, Sherri Maurin and I are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ recently formed live-in community for young women.  Hollyhocks in the garden reach as high as the second floor of our living space.  Rose bushes, morning glories and four-o-clocks have bloomed, and each day we eat tomatoes, mint and green onions plucked from the well-cared for garden. The water source is a hose and tank outside, (there’s no indoor plumbing) so dishes and clothes are cleaned outside. The latrine is also outside, –and unfortunately we’re sharing it with playful kitties, but otherwise  Zarghuna, Zahidi and Zahro have managed to efficiently manage almost every detail of housekeeping, each day, by 7:00 a.m.

A group of local seamstresses also have two rooms here, but lately they have been with their families as Ramadan came to a close followed by Eid celebrations.

The men’s community, separate now from the newly launched “Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence,”where projects and programs take place, also has a fine garden and similar room arrangements.  An added plus, – their yard has four trees!

Going and coming from our communities to “the center” is a 35 minute walk through village-like streets if you take the back ways.  The Borderfree Community Center, when it was first rented, needed considerable rehab and repairs. Hakim, Faiz, Zekerullah and Abdulhai worked very hard to shape it up.  Now, guests enter an attractive space, neatly painted, with plenty of classroom and meeting space.  Plants, curtains, photo exhibits, and choices for rugs and carpets have all been carefully chosen.  Sadaf, one of the APV women who has been very active Borderfree scarf production, organized art students from local Universities to paint images on the walls of a children’s classroom as well as the reception area.  Painted on a wall inside the center’s gate is a playful graffiti with lots of floating bubbles. Letters floating in some of the bubbles spell out “We love Peace,” although certain bubbles have wafted up and down, making it a challenge for linear thinkers.  Another artist, a well-known cartoonist, painted an image on the outside wall of the Borderfree Community Center, (a wall that can be seen by anyone passing by), of a figure shooting a slingshot at a drone, but instead of a rock, a red heart breaks the drone in half. 

Love will end drone attacks

Love will end drone attacks

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence

Classes and programs keep the center lively.  Earlier this week, the center invited a small group of people to the first session of a four week course orienting people to better understand nonviolence and the APV history and goals.  We also gathered for the weekly Global Awareness sessions which focus on a wide range of topics related to militarism, environmental concerns, and socioeconomic inequalities.  Hamidullah Natiq, a seasoned practitioner of conflict resolution in Afghanistan, meets with the group once a week. Local children who are part of a “street kids” project come once a week for Dari and math classes, guided by Hadisa and Farzana, two capable young volunteer teachers.  And, once a month, the “street kids” receive, for their families, large sacks of rice and containers of cooking oil. These donations allow them to attend school rather than work as vendors on the streets of Kabul.

Rent for the center costs $500 per month. The APVs hope that by selling the borderfree sky blue scarves they can help cover this cost. Sherri, I and other internationals will encourage people in our home locales to assist with the center’s expenses. 

During a recent visit to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, here in Kabul, the staff shared with us news that they get about what’s happening around the country.  They rely on reports from staff working at several dozen clinics and the two main hospitals they run in two additional provinces.  Much of our conversation pointed to the reality that Kabul is “a bubble.”  Full scale wars are being fought by heavily armed sides in eastern and southern Afghanistan, but generally the only news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan pertains to Kabul.  The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. Clearly, the Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable. 

I asked Faiz what he most appreciates about the center.  He immediately spoke of the graffiti outside, saying that it gives him hope and suggests a sense of freedom.  The heart of love that breaks apart the drone, propelled by a slingshot converted into a peace-making tool, points all of us in a direction, sorely needed, that aims to abolish war. I hope the Bordefree Centre, like the live-in community’s gardens, will flourish.

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Afghan Perspectives on the Presidential Election

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Politician hugging a child, photo of girls at school underneath.

by Beth Tichborne

The Afghan elections did not go well, and it’s hard to imagine how they could have gone well, although you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage. You might know that there were Taliban threats and violence. There were thousands of news stories written about the threat of violence even before the assassination attempt on Abdullah. You’re less likely to have heard that half of the election commission staff were sacked between the first and second rounds because of suspected participation in fraud. Only a handful of media outlets covered that story. There are stories that fit the narrative and those that don’t. This emphasis serves a political purpose. A functioning democracy in Afghanistan is offered to us as proof that the long occupation, and its huge cost in lives, has been worthwhile.

The elections represent something different for everybody involved, and needless to say the coverage in Afghanistan has a very different emphasis to the coverage in Britain or the US (did any Western media mention the Durand line, a major topic in the presidential debates, but a forgotten relic of empire to most British people?). Even the medium is different: low literacy rates, poverty and unreliable electricity supplies make radio and mobile phones a much bigger part of communications than television or newspapers.

One of the many refugee camps in Kabul, home to some of the 600,000 Afghan IDPs

One of the many refugee camps in Kabul, home to some of the 600,000 Afghan IDPs

I spoke to some young peace activists living in Kabul before the first round of the elections. They are well placed to understand different perspectives on its significance. They live in the city, but mostly come from a rural background. They work alongside people from across the deep ethnic and class divides, from refugee camps and street kids through to teachers and NGO directors.

Nasrullah is 17 years old, and already a veteran campaigner. He’s also a budding photographer, although his sensitive portraits and evocative scenes of Afghan street life are only shared on his Facebook page with his friends. Alongside his peace activism he goes to school, although he doesn’t feel that he learns much there. I asked him what he thought about the presidential candidates. “If someone does politics I don’t trust them, I don’t trust politics at all. There was one person that I trusted, Malalai Joya. She defended the voice of the people. But in the end she was pushed out of parliament.”

Have previous elections been democratic? “I don’t think the last election was right, and it can’t be right this time. Whoever wants to be president has to get a pen and sign a paper [the Bilateral Security Agreement]. And the people of Afghanistan have no choice. If you [in the West] want Abdullah to be president then he will be president.” He said that young people want to change things, but have no one to inspire them, and that on the whole “people are busy with their own daily lives, everyone works to find bread, no one has anything to do with politics at all.”

Kabul Street Scene

Kabul Street Scene

Bayat is a 16 year old who would have voted in the parliamentary elections if he was old enough, but not in the presidential elections, “because there isn’t anyone to vote for!” He, like Nasrullah, grew up in rural Bamyan, and spoke about what democracy looks on the ground in much of the country. “It’s less easy for someone to read the news and see what’s going on. There are some places in Bamyan you can go and watch the news on TV, some people do work during the day and go watch the news at night if they can.” He also talked about fear and bribery around the process “the ordinary workers aren’t going to dare go out and say you need to do this or that, even though they’re unhappy. I remember [at a previous election] some candidates attracted people by giving out free food on campaigning day, I saw this happen. I think that they just did that to make people support them. When it came to it they didn’t help anyone. Changes don’t happen.”

What about the international presence in Afghanistan? “They say that their goals for being here are for democracy and freedom, but when you look at the last 10 years all you see is more violence, more war, more rape. Well I say that their goals are purely political. They just want some power and control. When you think about it you realise that Afghanistan has nothing: it has no money, it has no power. I see for myself that these days everything comes from America. Even if everyone in the whole country, from a soldier to the president, put their efforts towards one thing… Americans are the ones putting the money through, you realise it’s not us that has the choice, we’ve handed it over to someone else. The politicians don’t have any freedom, they are pressured to sign things, they tell them that if you don’t sign this we will cut funding.”

"When you think about it you realise that Afghanistan has nothing: it has no money, it has no power"

“When you think about it you realise that Afghanistan has nothing: it has no money, it has no power”

Salim is 16, and met the others when he was working in a chip shop where they used to meet and talk about their plans. He started working as a street vendor when he was about 11 years old. He shared this cynicism about the intentions of outside powers “There are all these politicians… they think it’s all about them, and they all think about their own pockets. They think about everything from the perspective of what benefits them. They come here and say things like ‘we defend women’s rights!’; or ‘Democracy in Afghanistan!’;” And is there democracy in Afghanistan now? “Democracy? I haven’t seen any…” He pretended to think, while everyone laughed “No…really, I haven’t!”

Asif is Nasrullah’s older brother. His earliest memories are of going to school and enjoying learning. A little later, as a 10 year old, he carried his younger brother across the snow-covered mountains in winter, to escape from the Taliban. He doesn’t tell the story himself, but his friends and family talk about how after the long trek Abdulhai’s infant body was frozen, and he had to be thawed out by a fire for two days. As Asif grew up he felt that the worries of war and premature responsibility clouded his mind and he now finds learning is much more of a struggle. In the daily life of the community he’s quiet, cheerful, and hard-working. He likes walking in parks to relax, although green space is hard to come by in Kabul, and he dreams of going back to Bamyan, but stays in Kabul with his brother to study and to work for peace. He finds hope in the group, with its mix of ethnicities working together. He says that he doesn’t know if change will come in his lifetime, but that being human means keeping on trying. I asked if he would be voting in this year’s election.

“In the past I used to take part in voting, but my heart has become cold, and I don’t like voting. I’ve become numb to this whole subject. Whether I vote or not the same thing will happen. There is no meaning to it.”

Is that how many young people feel? “My friends don’t really understand anything about the current situation. If they have a good day, they have a good day.”

And why are other countries involved in Afghanistan? “To be honest, I don’t understand. What I do understand is that every single country that has come to Afghanistan has done corrupted work, and it’s very evident that they have corrupted goals. War has been going on for so long. If things could change then war wouldn’t have gone on for so long already. The people of Afghanistan could have changed things themselves. The work that is done here is not transparent, people lie. War has been going on for so long… with all of these interventions the people of Afghanistan have only seen more war.”

Scratching a living:  40-60% of men in Afghanistan are unemployed

Scratching a living: 40-60% of men in Afghanistan are unemployed

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Guide to the Afghan Elections

By Beth Tichborne

Abdullah_Abdullah_in_October_2009Abdullah Abdullah: In contrast to some of the other presidential candidates, warlords and deputy warlords, Abdullah Abdullah is presented in some media as an urbane and guilt-free man. However his short political career has given him opportunity to reveal where his own interests lie. He stood by the war criminals of the current government in 2007 when the “National Stability and Reconciliation” bill was discussed, and passed, granting themselves immunity from prosecution for past war crimes. If ever the waters of Kabul politics seem muddied with compromise and a confusion of alliances, votes like this one reveal the starkness of the issues at stake, and the unity of the elite power players on certain matters. Of all the harm done by the Western-installed government of Karzai, this vote must be one of the more damaging single events. It institutionalizes the turning away of the elite, whether they were directly involved or not, from the wounds in Afghan society.

 

ashraFAshraf Ghani Ahmadzai is certainly not a warlord. But the proud banner on his website “Global Thinker. Economist. Anthropologist. Politician.” doesn’t tell the full story either. He has received extravagant praise from Western think tanks, politicians and the media, for his financial ‘wizardry’ during his time in Karzai’s government.

His expertise is in the apparently politically neutral ‘technocratic’ measures of financial reform and institution building. He developed this expertise in and academic career in the US and subsequently in working for the World Bank. His absence from the country gives him the advantage of a clean record in terms of war crimes, dealings with warlords and complicity in the barbarism of the past 30 years. But it carries also the disadvantage that he appears to be more a part of a global elite than of Afghan’s own political society. In his quarter of a century absence from the country he has worked at hawkish think tanks (namely the Brookings Institute. He has also co-founded the ‘Institute for State Effectiveness’, a think-tank that sets out the requirements citizens should have of their states (most of these just read like the definition of a functioning state, rather than being an attempt to formalise standards of accountability or legitimacy). He’s no neo-liberal, or he doesn’t talk like one. But a closer look at the output of the ISE shows us who he’s talking to, when he recaps some of his ministerial acheivements “Since 2002, the Afghan government has significantly improved the investment climate. Our new investment law allows for 100% direct foreign ownership.” (Afghanistan craves investment” Ghani 2004). If the message wasn’t clear he appealed to expats for support in standing, when first considering running for president, rather than any societal base within Afghanistan itself.

However, as any presidential candidate must do, he has chosen Vice Presidential candidates to stand with him that complement his own strengths and shore up his weaknesses. No warlord himself, Ghani has certainly more than compensated for the lack of blood in his past with the choice of Dostum as a running partner. Dostum, while he was a US ally, was responsible for the Dasht-i-Leili massacre, in which hundreds, or possibly thousands, of prisoners were suffocated to death in metal containers. Ghani will be hoping that Dostum’s presence on his slate will bring him block Uzbek votes, although it seems likely to cost him a number of votes as well, as it makes it harder for those who would like to vote for a mainstream candidate without voting for past war-crimes.

ROSSULRassoul is one of the big names in the presidential election. He resigned as Karzai’s foreign minister in order to stand for the elections, in October 2013. He is cosmopolitan, speaking a number of European languages, and having studied medicine in Paris as a young man in the early 1970s.

In his position as foreign minister he took opportunities to speak to the press, Afghan and international, about the requirements that must be made of the next president. To a certain extent his position helped him to shape the battlefield which he has now entered as a participant. Like other former ministers it has also increased his international audience. External support often depends, to a depressing, but perhaps not that surprising degree, on the proficiency in English of a candidate. He talks to foreign journalists about the Afghan people’s gratitude to the international forces, while politely reminding them that they are there at the will of their own governments and for the stated interest of their own protection.

hilalQutbuddin Hilal is standing as an independent candidate, not as a representative of the notorious Hezb-i Islami, which he has been involved in for many years, as Hekmatyar’s deputy. This is just as well, as his stated focus on peace and equal access to education for girls is a bit of a startling contrast to his political career to date. Of all the mujahideen factions, Hezb-i Islami was one of the most feared and brutal. They received huge amounts of American money, channelled through the Pakistani ISI (along with money from Pakistan itself). They fought the Soviet occupation, but also used their position of best-funded militia to manipulate, betray and assassinate rivals, getting a head-start in the civil war before the resistance to the Soviet occupation had even come to an end. Hezb-i Islami were responsible for much of the shelling of Kabul that devastated the city in the early 1990s.

111217-D-VO565-004Wardak combines the unpopularity that comes with a close relationship with the US with the complications of a high-ranking mujahideen past. He fought with the National Islamic Front, known as one of the more ‘moderate’ of the seven major factions of the Soviet era.
Wardak is unlikely to be considered a serious contender by many. He resigned from his post as Foreign Minister in 2012, following a vote of no-confidence from the parliament, due in large part to his US connections.

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