Why Afghanistan Can’t wait

August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Kathy Kelly and Dr. Hakim

Ali and Abdulhai

Two days ago, we spent three anxious hours in an outer waiting area of the “Non-Immigrant Visa” section of the U.S. consulate here in Kabul, Afghanistan, waiting for our young friends Ali and Abdulhai to return from a sojourn through the inner offices where they were being interviewed for visas to come speak to audiences in the United States.

They are members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and have been invited to travel with the U.S.-Mexico “Caravan  for Peace” that will be touring the United States later this summer.  We didn’t want to see their hopes dashed, and we didn’t want to see this opportunity lost to connect the experiences of poor people around the world suffering from war. The organizers of the Caravan envision and demand alternatives to the failed systems of militarized policing in the terrifyingly violent, seemingly endless U.S.-Mexico drug war. They want to connect with victims of war in Afghanistan especially since, as the top producer of opium and marijuana in the world, Afghanistan has a failing war against drugs as well.

It’s an unprecedented invitation, at a desperately crucial human moment.

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In praise of the 101st Airborne

July 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

They call them the ‘screaming eagles'; their courage is the stuff of legends. Men of the 101st Airborne are never daunted by impossible odds — especially if the odds are in their favour. They show a jaunty nonchalance in combat, a complete indifference to danger — especially if it’s danger that they themselves have created, to which only their enemies are exposed. As the following gun camera footage shows, they exhibit absolutely no sign of fear sitting in their AH64 Apache gunship while confronted with the real and present threat of destitute farmers armed with poppy seeds. They even sing before despatching their fearsome adversaries with a Hellfire missile. If I had the authority, I’d remove that eagle from their insignia and replace it with something more befitting–something like an image of George Zimmerman. What better avatar for men who stand their ground with such valour?

Amnesty shills for the US war machine

June 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

After the infamous babies-in-incubators fiasco, in which Amnesty International helped sell an unpopular war with false claims about specific Iraqi atrocities, one would expect that it would show greater concern for its reputation which in recent year had been rehabilitated somewhat. But as Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley show,  Amnesty International’s hiring of a highly dubious Washington insider to head its US operation and its blatantly propagandistic public diplomacy campaigns on Afghanistan suggest cooperation with the CIA to perpetuate a deeply unpopular war. 

The new Executive Director of Amnesty International USA – Suzanne Nossel – is a recent U.S. government insider. So it’s a safe bet that AI’s decision to seize upon a topic that dovetailed with American foreign policy interests, “women’s rights in Afghanistan,” at the NATO Conference last month in Chicago came directly from her.

Nossel was hired by AI in January 2012. In her early career, Nossel worked for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke under the Clinton Administration at the United Nations. Most recently, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the U.S. Department of State, where she was responsible for multilateral human rights, humanitarian affairs, women’s issues, public diplomacy, press and congressional relations.

Amnesty International’s “NATO: Keep the Progress Going” poster at a Chicago bus stop.

She also played a leading role in U.S. engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Council (where her views about the original Goldstone Report on behalf of Palestinian women did not quite rise to the same level of concerns for the women in countries that U.S.-NATO has attacked militarily).[…]

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Who’s On Second

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

From the brilliant Mark Fiore.

Thanks to Obama’s Kill List, terrorism is almost all wiped up with another Al Qaeda number two guy killed! With unrestrained drone attacks and assassinations, what could possibly go wrong?

Afghanistan: The Great Game

June 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

This is part one of a two party documentary about the history of imperial intervention, military and diplomatic, in Afghanistan. It is hosted by Rory Stewart, one of the very few western commentators who are knowledgeable about the region and have empathy for its people. I would also encourage viewers to read Stewart’s superb book The Places In Between.

Taliban Poetry

May 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

A shaved version of this review appeared in the Guardian.

In the 1980s an artist friend of mine made a poster for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, a militia later allied with the Taliban. The poster depicted a fully-bearded Afghan mujahid clutching Quran and Kalashnikov and standing atop a slaughtered Russian bear. It was sent as a postcard to British journalists and politicians, without controversy.

In the same period I remember reading stories in the mainstream press about the Mujahideen’s poetic love of flowers and song. After the Russian rout, these Mujahideen committed excesses so extreme that it took Taliban puritanism to re-establish order. Then the Taliban committed their own excesses, of a different sort, and after 9/11 the West waged war on them for metonymic reasons. Nobody now celebrates the gentle, flowery qualities of these men who have burnt schools and lynched television sets.

“Poetry of the Taliban”, therefore, is a brave and very useful project. It offers the reader a perspective on the conflict through the Other’s eyes. It offers the human element, and as such is worth more than a library-full of cold analysis.

There are poems of love, battle, transience, grief, enthusiasm, material deprivation and mystical astonishment. The voices are diverse and often surprising. Faisal Devji’s preface points out that the poetry displayed here is not the official product of the Cultural Committee of the Islamic Emirate, not centrally-organised propaganda, but the efforts of men (and a woman) who fight for a variety of reasons, tribal, ethnic or nationalist, and particularly out of gut resistance to foreign occupiers, wherever they come from.

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Afghan Screams Aren’t Heard

April 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

by Kathy Kelly and Hakim

Two Afghan youth taking refuge together with the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Last weekend, in Kabul, Afghan Peace Volunteer friends huddled in the back room of their simple home. With a digital camera, glimpses and sounds of their experiences were captured, as warfare erupted three blocks away.

The fighting has subdued, but the video gives us a glimpse into chronic anxieties among civilians throughout Afghanistan. Later, we learned more: Ghulam awakens suddenly, well after midnight, and begins to pace through a room of sleeping people, screaming.  Ali suddenly tears up, after an evening meal, and leaves the room to sit outside. Staring at the sky and the moon, he finds solace.  Yet another puzzles over what brings people to the point of loaning themselves to possibly kill or be killed, over issues so easily manipulated by politicians.

I asked our friend, Hakim, who mentors the Afghan Peace Volunteers, if ordinary Afghans are aware that the U.S. has an estimated 400 or more Forward Operating Bases across Afghanistan and that it is planning to construct what will become the world’s largest U.S. Embassy, in Kabul.  Hakim thinks young people across Kabul are well aware of this. “Do they know,” I asked, “that the U.S. Air Force has hired 60,000 – 70,000 analysts to study information collected through drone surveillance?  The film footage amounts to the equivalent of 58,000 full length feature films. The Rand Corporation says that 100,000 analysts are needed to understand ‘patterns of life’ in Afghanistan.”

Hakim’s response was quick and cutting: “Ghulam would ask the analysts a question they can’t answer with their drone surveillance, a question that has much to do with their business, ‘terror’: “You mean, you don’t understand why I screamed?”

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