Tag Archives: Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN: Life goes on under the helicopters and the terrible cost of avoiding the dangers of Kabul

by Brian Terrell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

When I arrived at the Kabul International Airport on November 4, I was unaware that the same day the New York Times published an article, “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital, as Danger Rises and Troops Recede.” My friends Abdulhai and Ali, 17 years old, young men I have known since my first visit five years ago, greeted me with smiles and hugs and took my bags. Disregarded by soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons, we caught up on old times as we walked past concrete blast walls, sand bag fortifications, check points and razor wire to the public road and hailed a cab.

The sun was just burning through the clouds after an early morning rain and I had never seen Kabul look so bright and clean. Once past the airport, the high way into the city was bustling with rush hour traffic and commerce. I was unaware until I read the New York Times on line a few days later, that this time I was one of only a few US citizens likely to be on that road. “The American Embassy’s not allowed to move by road anymore,” a senior Western official told the Times, which reported further that “after 14 years of war, of training the Afghan Army and the police, it has become too dangerous to drive the mile and a half from the airport to the embassy.”

Helicopters now ferry employees working with the United States and the international military coalition to and from offices in Kabul we are told. The United States Embassy in Kabul is one of the largest in the world and already a largely self-contained community, its personnel are now even more isolated from Afghan people and institutions than before. “No one else,” other than US and coalition facilities, the Times reports, “has a compound with a landing pad.” While proclaiming its mission there “Operation Resolute Support” for Afghanistan, US officials no longer travel on Afghan streets.

We have no helicopters or landing pads, but the security situation in Kabul is also a concern for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a grass roots peace and human rights organization that I work with and for our friends in the Kabul-based Afghan Peace Volunteers that I came to visit. I am fortunate with my grey beard and darker complexion to more easily pass for a local and so I can move about a bit more freely on the streets than some other internationals who visit here. Even then, my young friends have me wear a turban when we leave the house.

The security in Kabul does not look so grim to everyone, though. According to an October 29 Newsweek report, the German government will soon deport most of the Afghan asylum seekers who have entered that country. German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere insists that Afghans should “stay in their country” and that those refugees coming from Kabul especially have no claim for asylum, because Kabul is “considered to be a safe area.” The streets of Kabul that are too dangerous for US Embassy workers to travel in their convoys of Humvees and armored cars escorted by heavily armed private contractors are safe for Afghans to live, work and raise their families, in Herr de Maiziere’s estimation. “Afghans made up more than 20 percent of the 560,000-plus people who have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, according to the UN Refugee Agency, something de Maziere described as ‘unacceptable.’”

Afghans, especially of the educated middle class, de Maiziere says, “should remain and help build the country up.” Quoted in the New York Times, Hasina Safi, the executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network, a group that works on human rights and gender issues, seems to agree: “It will be very difficult if all the educated people leave,” she said. “These are the people we need in this country; otherwise, who will help the ordinary people?” The same sentiment spoken with stunning courage and moral credibility by a human rights worker in Afghanistan, comes off as a disgraceful and craven obfuscation of responsibility when expressed from a government ministry in Berlin, especially when that government has for 14 years participated in the coalition responsible for much of Afghanistan’s plight.

On the day after my arrival I was privileged to sit in at a meeting of teachers in the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Street Kids’ School when this subject was discussed. These young women and men, high school and university students themselves, teach the basics of a primary education to children who must work in the streets of Kabul to help support their families. The parents do not pay tuition, but with the support of Voices, are instead allotted a sack of rice and jug of cooking oil each month to compensate for the hours their children are studying.

While the New York Times proclaims that “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital,” these volunteer teachers are a sign that life goes on, sometimes with startling joy and abundance as I have experienced in recent days, even in this place ravaged by war and want. It was heart breaking, then, to hear these brilliant, resourceful and creative young people who clearly represent Afghanistan’s best hope for the future, discuss frankly whether they have a future there at all and whether they should join so many other Afghans seeking sanctuary elsewhere.

Helicopter over Kabul.

Helicopter over Kabul.

The reasons that any of these young people might leave are many and impelling. There is great fear of suicide bombings in Kabul, air raids in the provinces where anyone might be targeted as a combatant by a US drone, fear of getting caught between various combatant forces fighting battles that are not theirs. All have suffered greatly in the wars that began here before they were born. The institutions charged with the reconstruction of their country are riddled with corruption, from Washington, DC, to Afghan government ministries and NGOs, billions of dollars gone to graft with little to show on the ground. The prospects even for the brightest and most resourceful to pursue an education and then be able to find work in their chosen professions in Afghanistan are not good.

Most of the volunteers admitted that they had given thought to leaving, but even so they expressed a strong sense of responsibility to stay in their county. Some had come to a firm resolution not to leave, others seemed unsure if future developments would allow them to stay. Like young people everywhere, they would love to travel and see the world but in the end their deepest wish is to “remain and help build the country up” if only they are able.

The vast majority of Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans and others risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy crafts or by land through hostile territory in hopes to find asylum in Europe would stay home if they could. While these asylum seekers should be given the hospitality and shelter that they have a right to, clearly the answer is not the absorption of millions of refugees into Europe and North America. In the longer term, there is no solution except a restructuring of the global political and economic order to allow all people to live and flourish at home or to freely move if that is their choice. In the shorter term, nothing will stem the massive tide of immigrants short of stopping all military intervention in these countries by the United States and its allies and by Russia.

The November 4 New York Times story ends with a cautionary tale, a warning that “even efforts to avoid the dangers in Kabul come at a terrible cost.” Three weeks before, one of the many helicopters that now fill the skies moving embassy personnel around had a tragic accident. “Trying to land, the pilot clipped the tether anchoring the surveillance blimp that scans for infiltrators in central Kabul as it hovers over the Resolute Support base.” Five coalition members died in the crash, including two Americans. The blimp drifted off with more than a million dollars’ worth of surveillance equipment, ultimately crashing into, and presumably destroying, an Afghan house.

The efforts of the US, UK and Germany “to avoid the dangers in Kabul” and other places we have destroyed will inevitably “come at a terrible cost.” It cannot be otherwise. We cannot forever keep ourselves safe from the bloody mess we have made of the world by hopping over it from fortified helipad to fortified helipad in helicopter gunships. Millions of refugees flooding our borders might be the smallest price we will have to pay if we continue to try.

Brian Terrell lives in Maloy, Iowa, and is a co-coordinator with Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

REFLECTION: Killing blind

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

“These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

“The hospital, it has been my workplace and home for several months. Yes, it is just a building. But it is so much more than that. It is healthcare for Kunduz. Now it is gone.

“What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable. How can this happen? What is the benefit of this? Destroying a hospital and so many lives, for nothing. I cannot find words for this.” – Lajos Zoltan Jecs


Lajos Zoltan Jecs survived October 3rd in the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, which the U.S. bombed for well over an hour, at fifteen minute intervals.  The bombing continued, despite frantic communication by the hospital staff who told U.S., NATO and Afghan officials that their hospital was under attack.  Afterwards Jecs reported the indescribable horror of seeing patients burning in their intensive care unit beds.

U.S. people have much to bear in mind as the Pentagon prepares to release its investigation of the attack.

One consideration is that the MSF staff, as a matter of humanitarian policy, treated anyone needing care that was brought to the hospital. The U.S. may have regarded some of the patients as enemies of the U.S., but this does not justify bombing a hospital.  Recent leaks of U.S. drone assassination policy, published by the online journal,The Intercept, clarify that the safety of U.S. people and the elimination of U.S. enemies have long overridden concern on Washington’s part for the preservation of other peoples’ lives, including civilians.

Secondly, the U.S. Government seems unable to imagine that attacks supposedly taken in U.S. national interests can be war crimes.

Thirdly, MSF has issued a strong, globally-echoed call for an independent investigation into the attack.  The U.S. insists on pursuing its own investigation, one element of which was an evidence-endangering attack actually crashing a tank through the burnt hospital’s shell of a first floor.
According to the New York Times, U.S. military commanders are expected to cite the ongoing partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to help explain why a U.S. C-130 transport plane killed 30 people, 12 staff and 13 patients, three of them children. In a front page story, the NYT reported that Pentagon investigators asked whether “lack of experience in working together” on the part of U.S. and Afghan troops “may have directly contributed to the series of mistaken decisions that led to the attack.” The NYT report goes on to say that: “They attributed those problems, in part, to the withdrawal of American forces from northern Afghanistan that has been part of the United States’ gradual drawdown of forces in the country.”

The following day, AP reported that the Army’s $5 billion DCGS intelligence network, criticized by many as a boondoggle but elsewhere praised as having “saved lives” by collecting “drone footage, mapping software, human source reports, social media and eavesdropping transcripts”, was non-functional during the attack.  The report was based on anonymous government leaks.

Does this mean that on the day in question, the U.S. lacked a staff trained sufficiently well to consult a map, identifying the hospital they were attacking? Had the U.S. military lost its most convenient means of checking the map online?   And despite these handicaps, the military went on killing anyway?  It went on killing blind?

We ought not to be blinded by media theater, or by habits of dismissing the doubts, and even the deaths, of countless people just like ourselves, overseas, whenever our government offers us its unsubstantiated explanations, its sincere good will, its apologies.  The world can’t be blinded to attackers in a tank lunging through the gaping sockets, familiar to us from haunting pictures, of the hospital’s blackened windows and doors.  The United States must allow the world to see what it has done.

Ordinary people worldwide should be encouraged not to cooperate with the war makers and war profiteers who masquerade as providers of security.

I think ordinary people can understand Lajos’s affection for colleagues, his pride in hard work. Yet it’s difficult, perhaps impossible to grasp even a fraction of the terror Lajos experienced when the U.S. airstrikes destroyed the Kunduz hospital and killed so many innocents.

We must nevertheless try to imagine Lajos’s shock and terror and then imagine further how he might feel upon learning that the attackers, the killers, relied on 5 billion dollars’ worth of “intelligence” systems, which happened to be on the blink that day, and that they didn’t understand  that it’s murderously wrong to strafe a hospital, at fifteen minute intervals, for over an hour, even after being notified by panicked staff that their hospital was in flames and patients were burning.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (ourjourneytosmile.com).

REFLECTION: Learn your lessons well – An Afghan teenager makes up his mind

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Kabul–Tall, lanky, cheerful and confident, Esmatullah easily engages his young students at the Street Kids School, a project of Kabul’s “Afghan Peace Volunteers,” an antiwar community with a focus on service to the poor.  Esmatullah teaches child laborers to read. He feels particularly motivated to teach at the Street Kids School because, as he puts it, “I was once one of these children.” Esmatullah began working to support his family when he was 9 years old. Now, at age 18, he is catching up: he has reached the tenth grade, takes pride in having learned English well enough to teach a course in a local academy, and knows that his family appreciates his dedicated, hard work.


When Esmatullah was nine, the Taliban came to his house looking for his older brother. Esmatullah’s father wouldn’t divulge information they wanted. The Taliban then tortured his father by beating his feet so severely that he has never walked since. Esmatullah’s dad, now 48, had never learnt to read or write; there are no jobs for him. For the past decade, Esmatullah has been the family’s main breadwinner, having begun to work, at age nine, in a mechanics workshop. He would attend school in the early morning hours, but at 11:00 a.m., he would start his workday with the mechanics, continuing to work until nightfall.  During winter months, he worked full time, earning 50 Afghanis each week, a sum he always gave his mother to buy bread.

Now, thinking back on his experiences as a child laborer, Esmatullah has second thoughts. “As I grew up, I saw that it was not good to work as a child and miss many lessons in school. I wonder how active my brain was at that time, and how much I could have learnt! When children work full time, it can ruin their future. I was in an environment where many people were addicted to heroin. Luckily I didn’t start, even though others at the workshop suggested that I try using heroin. I was very small. I would ask ‘What is this?’ and they would say it’s a drug, it’s good for back pain.”

“Fortunately, my uncle helped me buy materials for school and pay for courses.  When I was in grade 7, I thought about leaving school, but he wouldn’t let me.  My uncle works as a watchman in Karte Chahar. I wish I can help him someday.”

Even when he could only attend school part-time, Esmatullah was a successful student. His teachers recently spoke affectionately about him as an exceptionally polite and competent student. He would always rank as one of the top students in his classes.

“I am the only one who reads or writes in my family,” says Esmatullah. “I always wish that my mother and father could read and write. They could perhaps find work. Truthfully, I live for my family. I am not living for myself.  I care for my family. I love myself because of my family. As long as I’m alive, they feel there is a person to help them.”

“But if I had the freedom to choose, I would spend all my time working as a volunteer at the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s center.”

Asked how he feels about educating child laborers, Esmatullah responds:  “These children shouldn’t be illiterate in the future. Education in Afghanistan is like a triangle. When I was in first grade, we were 40 children.  By grade 7, I recognized that many children had already abandoned school. When I reached grade 10, only four of the 40 children continued their lessons.”

“When I studied English, I felt enthusiastic about teaching in the future and earning money,” he told me. “Eventually, I felt I should teach others because if they become literate they will be less likely to go to war.”

“People are being pushed to join the military,” he says. “My cousin joined the military. He had gone to find work and the military recruited him, offering him money. After one week, the Taliban killed him. He was about 20 years old and he had recently been married.”

Ten years ago, Afghanistan had already been at war for four years, with U.S. cries for revenge over the 9/11 attacks giving way to unconvincing statements of retroactive concern for impoverished people who are the majority of Afghanistan’s population. As elsewhere where the U.S. has let “no fly zones” slide into full regime change, atrocities between Afghans only increased in the chaos, leading to the maiming of Esmatullah’s father.

Many of Esmatullah’s neighbors might understand if he wanted to retaliate and seek vengeance against the Taliban. Others would understand if he wished the same revenge on the United States. But he instead aligns himself with young men and women insisting that “Blood doesn’t wipe away blood.” They want to help child laborers escape military recruitment and ease the afflictions people suffer because of wars.

I askedt Esmatullah how he feels about joining the #Enough! campaign, – represented in social media by young people opposed to war who photograph the word #Enough! (bas) written on their palms.

“Afghanistan experienced three decades of war,” said Esmatullah. “I wish that one day we’ll be able to end war. I want to be someone who, in the future, bans wars.” It will take a lot of “someones” to ban war, ones like Esmatullah who become schooled in ways to live communally with the neediest of people, building societies whose actions won’t evoke desires for revenge.

This article first appeared on Telesur.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (ourjourneytosmile.com).

AFGHANISTAN: #Enough! We can respond to the tears of Kunduz refugee, Abdul Fatah

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul, Afghanistan — We live in a World at War, and as fellow human beings, what can we do for refugees like 45-year-old Abdul Fatah, who has been crying lately, who doesn’t have a home in his own home?

World at War is the title of a report UNHCR released in June 2015, in which António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, describes the refugee crises in Europe and worldwide as “an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”

But for those of us who are distant from War and not ‘in the same boat’, being part of the ‘response required’ seems just as ‘out-of-reach’.

So, please follow this story for a while.

Ali, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, is 17 years old.  On October 6th, 2015, he would have liked to plan for school, as usual, the next day. He wanted to feel affirmed by his teachers and peers. He wanted to know that his mother in Bamiyan was fine for another day.

But, in Kabul, the news from Kunduz was worrying him, and the all-night blasts and whistles of bombs and gunfire a few nights before had made him think, “Perhaps, I should pack up and return to Bamiyan.”

Yet, on the 7th of October 2015, the anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan 14 years ago, Ali and the Afghan Peace Volunteers decided instead to meet with members of five Afghan families who had fled the war in Kunduz. Together, they listened to and extended small gifts to these families.

Abdul Fatah told his refugee story. “My tears fall every day & I can’t bring myself to eat. I eat this little bread & the bread seems to eat me up. My heart is there and in Kunduz and here…”

The gifts were meant to help the Kunduz families endure their first weeks as Internally Displaced Persons in Kabul.

And the act of giving to others in need gave Ali, me, and the Afghan Peace Volunteers a chance to experience empathy, an emotion often repressed when people just need to survive.

We learned to do something small and different from 14 years of the ‘same, old’ method of war, and exploitation.

The photos and reflections below describe our time with the Kunduz families….

Abdul Fatah, a refugee from Kunduz, in Kabul

Abdul Fatah, a refugee from Kunduz, in Kabul


Since when did the meaning of this word change to ‘opportunists’, ‘illegal immigrants’?

“I am from Kunduz,”
said Fatah, his eyes a reservoir,
his family desperate.

It never crossed his mind what some may mistakenly think of him.
“He, that Asiatic-looking man with the beard,
is probably a lazy bum
who wants to snatch away jobs & homes from people in Kabul.”

He echoed, to our disgust,
“Our children are being killed”,
the same ‘disgust’ that Doctors Without Borders had for the U.S. gunship
that bombed 12 of their staff and 10 of their patients
to their fiery deaths.

How would we feel if we saw our hospitalized mother burning in her bed,
and heard from General so-and-so that
it was ‘collateral damage’ ( ‘just too bad’ ),
or ‘a request from the Afghan authorities’ ( ‘it’s not our fault’ ),
or a ‘mistake’ ( ‘okay, we did it, but we’ll compensate you, okay?’ )?

Abdul Fatah cries

Abdul Fatah cries

“My tears come,” Fatah states,
“and I can’t bear to eat any bread,
because my son is in danger,
some relatives are still in Kunduz,
and you know,
no one…”,
his head shivers, his fingers cupped in the direction of his heart,
“No one cares a damn.”

A man, strong, with bullet wound scars in his thigh and head
from 6 wars, he says,
breaks down,
lifting his neck scarf to wipe his eyes,
the reservoir that’s drying up.

Read more in a photo essay here.

Ali, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers who assisted the five Kunduz families, including the toddler named Rana in the photo.

Ali, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers who assisted the five Kunduz families,
including the toddler named Rana in the photo.

Dr Hakim ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

REFLECTION: 22 people killed by U.S. airstrike on Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq, a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: “To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.”  We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.

Tragically, sadly, the banners must again condemn war crimes, this time echoing international outcry because in an hour of airstrikes this past Saturday morning, the U.S. repeatedly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, a facility that served the fifth largest city in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

U.S./NATO forces carried out the airstrike at about 2AM on October 3rd. Doctors Without Borders had already notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital.  When the first bombs hit, medical staff immediately phoned NATO headquarters to report the strike on its facility, and yet strikes continued, at 15 minute intervals, until 3:15 a.m., killing 22 people. 12 of the dead were medical staff; ten were patients, and three of the patients were children. At least 37 more people were injured.  One survivor said that the first section of the hospital to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit.

“Patients were burning in their beds,” said one nurse, an eyewitness to the ICU attack.”There are no words for how terrible it was.”  The U.S. airstrikes continued, even after the Doctors Without Borders officials had notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan military that the warplanes were attacking the hospital.


Taliban forces do not have air power, and the Afghan Air Force fleet is subordinate to the U.S., so it was patently clear that the U.S. had committed a war crime.

The U.S. military has said that the matter is under investigation.  Yet another in an endless train of somber apologies; feeling families’ pain but excusing all involved decision makers seems inevitable. Doctors Without Borders has demanded a transparent, independent investigation, assembled by a legitimate international body and without direct involvement by the U.S. or by any other warring party in the Afghan conflict.  If such an investigation occurs, and is able to confirm that this was a deliberate, or else a murderously neglectful war crime, how many Americans will ever learn of the verdict?

War crimes can be acknowledged when carried out by official U.S. enemies, when they are useful in justifying invasions and efforts at regime change.

One investigation the U.S. has signally failed to carry out would tell it how much Kunduz needed this hospital. The U.S. could investigate SIGAR reports (“Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction”) numbering Afghanistan’s “U.S. funded health care facilities,” allegedly funded through USAID, which cannot even be located, 189 alleged locations at whose coordinates there are demonstrably no buildings within 400 feet. In their June 25th letter they astoundingly write, “My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510—nearly 80 percent—of the 641 health care facilities funded by the PCH program.” It notes that six of the Afghan facilities are actually located in Pakistan, six in Tajikstan, and one in the Mediterranean Sea.

It seems we’ve created yet another ghost hospital, not out of thin air this time but from the walls of a desperately needed facility which are now charred rubble, from which the bodies of staff and patients have been exhumed. And with the hospital lost to a terrified community, the ghosts of this attack are, again, beyond anyone’s ability to number.  But in the week leading up to this attack, its staff had treated 345 wounded people, 59 of them children.

Now the region has no hospital at all.

The U.S. has long shown itself the most formidable warlord fighting in Afghanistan, setting an example of brute force that frightens rural people who wonder to whom they can turn for protection.  In July of 2015, U.S. bomber jets attacked an Afghan army facility in the Logar Province, killing ten soldiers. The Pentagon said this incident would likewise be under investigation.  No public conclusion of the investigation seems ever to have been issued.  There isn’t always even an apology.

This was a massacre, whether one of carelessness or of hate.   One way to join the outcry against it, demanding not just an inquiry but a final end to all U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, would be to assemble in front of health care facilities, hospitals or trauma units, carrying signage which says, “To Bomb This Place Would Be a War Crime.” Invite hospital personnel to join the assembly, notify local media, and hold an additional sign which says: “The Same Is True in Afghanistan.”

We should affirm the Afghans’ right to medical care and safety. The U.S. should offer investigators unimpeded access to the decision makers in this attack and pay to reconstruct the hospital with reparations for suffering caused throughout these fourteen years of war and cruelly manufactured chaos. Finally, and for the sake of future generations, we should take hold of our runaway empire and make it a nation we can restrain from committing the fathomlessly obscene atrocity that is war.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (ourjourneytosmile.com).

AFGHANISTAN: In Kabul on Sept. 21st, the International Day of Peace, #Enough!

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul, Afghanistan–Sixteen years ago, a Talib (literally translated, a student) shot and killed Zarghuna’s father.

Zarghuna and her family were frantically fleeing a desperate situation. The same holds true for  more than 60 million refugees in today’s ‘progressive’ world.

If you’re like me, you may think, “Oh, how messy is Zarghuna’s part of the world.”

“How terrible are the Taliban!”, and perhaps even, “We should imprison or eliminate them.”

But, Zarghuna thinks differently.

Zarghuna with the word #Enough! in Dari/Pashto on her hand, with her friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Borderfree Street Kids ( from left to right : Mursal, Barath, Inam, Muheb, Zarghuna, Kahar and Zahra)

Zarghuna with the word #Enough! in Dari/Pashto on her hand, with her friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Borderfree Street Kids (from left: Mursal, Barath, Inam, Muheb, Zarghuna, Kahar and Zahra)

In the noisy violence raging around her, Zarghuna quietly but resolutely says, “#Enough!”

Okay, I confess I’m not confident that, in our hurried lives, we’ll appreciate the relevance of Zarghuna’s distant struggle.

But I trust we can care for her when she cries.

Just sitting there. Crying.

“I don’t think my mother will manage if Arif leaves,” she said.

Arif, Zarghuna’s youngest brother, has already left home twice in the past three months, with the intention of smuggling himself to Iran and onwards to Europe.

Unlike the steady girl that she usually is, Zarghuna looked up from her downcast posture, and said, “There’s nothing really ‘fulfilling’ in Afghanistan to stay around for, is there?”

Zarghuna’s mother lost her husband and father-in-law to war.

“She can’t live through another loss,” Zarghuna stated plainly.

I believe we need to hear voices like Zarghuna’s. Our ‘smart’ devices, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, We Chat etc etc can’t do the listening. We are the ones who need to listen. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

On Zarghuna’s palm is written the word ‘Enough’ in Dari and Pashto ( the official languages of Afghanistan ), pronounced ‘bas’!

We may not have experienced war as Zarghuna has, but we’ve each had enough of different severe frustrations; of being treated as less than others, discriminated against, insulted, looked down upon, disrespected, exploited, and violated in various ways.

Or we’ve had enough of feeling lonely in life’s materialistic rush.

These challenges appear separate, though that’s not what Zarghuna has been learning.

These are interconnected crises.

The outcome? We can face the ugly crises we have on our hands today by questioning why there’s such a huge socio-economic difference between the elite and most of us ( the so called 99% ), and an even greater difference between them and the most vulnerable people, like street kids, labourers, and people who live in war zones.

Our greed has its toll.

#Enough! is #Enough! is the feeling we all share.

So, today, Zarghuna, 100 Borderfree Street Kids, some of whom she teaches, and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, tried to set aside those unpleasant human ways by sharing a meal with 100 Afghan labourers.

Zarghuna stirring the frying pan of sliced carrots

Zarghuna stirring the frying pan of sliced carrots.

They divided the work of drawing up an invitation list of labourers, getting enough wood for the fire, sifting and washing the raisins and rice, cooking, and thinking about the meaning of it all.

They looked kindly at one another as they shared the food, each of them bearing a war story.

The Borderfree Street Kids sharing the food with the Afghan laborers, and saying to them, “Come again in happiness!”

The Borderfree Street Kids sharing the food with the Afghan laborers, and saying to them, “Come again in happiness!”

How can I reach within you who are so far away, to share with you how captivated I was by the transformation of war-generated pain, sorrow, fear, distrust and hate into the tiny but cumulative actions of determination and love?

Can you see it on Zarghuna’s palm, and on the faces of her peace volunteer and street kid friends?

For this story, I had asked Zarghuna to choose between the group picture and a solo picture of her alone.

How I wish you could see and hear her wish for the human family not to be alone, but to be together, to agree with one another, including with the Taliban who killed her father and the U.S./NATO forces whose strategy has increased ‘terrorism’, that we’ve had #Enough!

Perhaps, listening will be our revolution.

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan girl, Sakina, buries toy gun and says…

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Ten year old Sakina, an Afghan street kid, had this to say: “I don’t like to be in a world of war. I like to be in a world of peace.”

On 27th August 2015, Sakina and Inam, with fellow Afghan street kids and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, held a mock funeral for weapons and celebrated the establishment of a green space in Kabul.

Dressed in long black coats, they broke and buried toy guns in a small spot where, over the past two years, they have been planting trees.

Sakina breaks a toy gun before burying it. Inam and other street kids await their turn.

Sakina breaks a toy gun before burying it. Inam and other street kids await their turn.

Inam, a bright-eyed ten year old, caught the group’s energetic desire to build a world without war. “I kept toy guns till about three years ago,” he acknowledged with a smile.

On the same day, Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez, ex-President of Costa Rica, was in Mexico for the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference of States Parties.

In his statement at the Conference, he told the story of an indigenous Guatemalan woman who thanked him for negotiating a peace accord 28 years ago. The mother had said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

No mother, Guatemalan or Afghan, wants her children to be killed in war.

Oscar Arias Sanchez wrote: “I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. They were its (the peace treaty’s) true authors, its reason for being.”

I’m confident that the children of Afghanistan were also in his thoughts, especially since he had a brief personal connection with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in 2014, having been part of a Peace Jam video message of solidarity to the Volunteers, wearing their Borderfree Blue Scarves which symbolize that ‘all human beings live under the same blue sky’.

I thank Mr. Arias Sanchez for his important work on the Arms Trade Treaty, though I sense that an arms trade treaty isn’t going to be enough.

Afghan children are dying from the use of weapons.

To survive, they need a ban against weapons. Regulations about buying and selling weapons perpetuate a trade that is killing them.

I saw Inam and other child laborers who work in Kabul’s streets decisively swing hammers down on the plastic toy guns, breaking off triggers, scattering nozzles into useless pieces and symbolically breaking our adult addiction to weapons.

Children shouldn’t have to pay the price for our usual business, especially business from the U.S., the largest arms seller in the world. U.S. children suffer too, with more U.S. people having died as a result of gun violence since 1968 than have died in all U.S. wars combined. U.S. weapon sellers are killing their own people; by exporting their state-of-the-art weapons, they facilitate the killing of many others around the world.

After burying the toy guns, surrounded by the evergreen and poplar trees which they had planted, the youth shed their black coats and donned sky-blue scarves.

Another world was appearing as Sakina and Inam watched young friends plant one more evergreen sapling.

Inam was watching as another evergreen tree was planted

Inam was watching as another evergreen tree was planted.

Inam knew that it hasn’t been easy to create this green space in heavily fortified Kabul.

The City Municipality said they couldn’t water the trees (though it is just 200 metres away from their office). The Greenery Department weren’t helpful. Finally, the security guards of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission just across from the garden, offered to help, after the Volunteers had provided them with a 100-metre water hose.

Rohullah, who coordinates the environment team at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre, expressed his frustration. “Once, we had to hire a private water delivery service to water the tree saplings so they wouldn’t shrivel up. None of the government departments could assist.”

Sighing, he added ironically, “We can’t use the Kabul River tributary running just next to the Garden, as the trash-laden trickle of black, bracken water is smelly and filthy.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, according to figures from the National Priorities Project, a non-profit, non-partisan U.S. federal budget research group, the ongoing Afghan War is costing American taxpayers US $4 million an hour.

It is the youth and children who are making sense today, like when Nobel Laureate Malalai Yousafzai said recently that if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could provide 12 years of free, quality education for every child on the planet.

“I don’t like to work in the streets, but my family needs bread. Usually, I feel sad,” Inam said, looking away, “because I feel a sort of helplessness.”

Oscar Arias Sanchez said at the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference, “And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action.”

That morning, I heard the voices of Sakina, Inam and the Afghan youth ring through the street, “#Enough of war!”

Sakina speaks to a T.V. reporter. Rohullah is on her right, Inam on her left.

Sakina speaks to a T.V. reporter. Rohullah is on her right, Inam on her left.

It wasn’t a protest. It was the hands-on building of a green spot without weapons, and an encouraging call for others to do so everywhere.

Through their dramatic colours and clear action, they were inviting all of us, “Bury your weapons. Build your gardens.”

“We will stand watch for you!”

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.