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).[…]
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.
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.
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?”
The situation in Afghanistan is beginning to remind me of an old Russian joke about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The optimist says, “Things are so bad, they couldn’t possibly be worse.” And the pessimist says, “No, they could be worse.” That thought came to me when I read yet again someone expressing the fear that after US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the country “may descend into civil war.” What exactly do they think is happening now between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces?
This has always been an Afghan civil war, as well as a war between the Taliban and Western forces in Afghanistan. It is a continuation of the civil war which had been going on since 1992 between different groups among the Mujahedin forces which overthrew the Communist regime in that year; just as for the 14 years before that, Afghanistan had been in a state of civil war between the Communists and their enemies. What happened in 1979 and again in 2001 was that outside superpowers intervened on one side of a civil war. This meant that the military balance was violently tipped in the direction of that side—for a while.
Some of my students at King’s College have chosen this year to write their MA essays on the subject of Edward Luttwak’s argument a dozen years ago against humanitarian intervention, “Give War a Chance”. This has made me think about the relevance of his ideas to Afghanistan over the past two generations. I am certainly not advocating a US strategy of allowing civil war in Afghanistan to play out as it will. Nor of course were either the Soviet invasion of 1979 or the US invasion of 2001 humanitarian interventions intended to do so: both had the effect of trying to maintain and extend Afghanistan’s limited modern progress in the face of Islamist and tribal conservative resistance.
That is according to Afghan child witnesses interviewed by Yalda Hakim for Australia’s SBS Dateline. (h/t Shaheen)
Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.
Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg.
In 1876, at the so-called Battle of the Little Bighorn when U.S. Cavalry regiments attacked an Indian village along the Little Bighorn River in Wyoming, the first casualty was a ten-year old Lakota Sioux boy named Deeds. Unaware that U.S. troops were nearby planning an attack, he and his father were combing a hillside looking for a lost pony when U.S. troops encountered and killed him. The next casualties were six Lakota women and four children, who were murdered while in a field gathering wild radish bulbs, one of the many indigenous plants that Native people depended on for their livelihood, and hardly a threatening activity.
I think of these events today because of the recent killings of Afghan civilians, not only the 17 women and children killed in villages outside Kandahar, but also two recent and less publicized atrocities resulting from NATO airstrikes that killed civilians in Kapisa Province, including eight Afghan boys who were tending their sheep. Sheepherding, of course, is an activity as integral to their livelihood as gathering indigenous plants was to Lakota people.
From the great, Pulitzer-Prize winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore.
Learn all about the US drone program in Pakistan and other lucky countries across the globe! See how fortunate one young villager is to have the US looking out for him and fighting extremism. Never mind the attacks on funerals and rescuers. A Mark Fiore political animation.