We Want You Out

An open letter from the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and Afghans for Peace

As the Obama administration releases its December review of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, along with Afghans for Peace, have issued a review of their experiences.  To express support for their letter, click here.

To all the leaders of our world, the leaders of the US-led coalition, the Afghan government, the ‘Taliban/Al-Qaeda’ and regional countries,

We are intolerably angry.

All our senses are hurting.

Our women, our men and yes shame on you, our children are grieving.

Your Afghan civilian-military strategy is a murderous stench we smell, see, hear and breathe.

President Obama, and all the elite players and people of the world, why?

America’s 250-million-dollar annual communications budget just to scream propaganda on this war of perceptions, with its nauseating rhetoric mimicked by Osama and other warlords, is powerless before the silent wailing of every anaemic mother.

We will no longer be passive prey to your disrespectful systems of oligarchic, plutocratic war against the people.

Your systems feed the rich and powerful. They are glaringly un-equal, they do not listen, do not think and worst, they do not care.

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Hunger and Anger in Afghanistan

by Kathy Kelly

(Photo: Paul Casier)

The Obama administration has announced the imminent release of a December Review which will evaluate the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.  The military has yet to disclose what the specific categories for evaluation will be.  Yet many people in Afghanistan might wish that hunger along with their anger over attacks against civilians could top the list.

In Afghanistan, a nation where 850 children die every day, about a quarter of the population goes hungry. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five. 

 “Do you think we like to live this way?” an Afghan man asked me, last October, as he led us toward a primitive tent encampment on the outskirts of Kabul. “Do you see how we live?  The cold and the rain are coming.  How will we protect our children?”  He flicked his forefinger on a weather-beaten blanket covering a tent.  The blanket immediately ripped. 

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Open letter from Afghan Youth to our World Leaders

Dear Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton, Mr Petraeus, Mr Rasmussen, and all our world leaders,
 
We are Afghans and we ask the world to listen.
 
Like yourselves, we couldn’t live without the love of our family and friends.
 
We were hurt by your criticism of Mr Karzai for voicing the people’s anguished pleas, “Stop your night raids.”
 
Please, stop your night raids.
 
If you could listen, you would have heard 29 NGOs in Afghanistan describe how we now have “Nowhere to Turn”.
 
If you could listen, you would also have heard Mr Karzai and the 29 NGOs express concern over your Afghan Local Police plan; the world will henceforth watch our militia killing the people, your people and our people, with your weapons and your money.
 
If you could listen, you would have heard the sound of your drones crystallizing the nights of hatred among the Afghan, Pakistani and global masses.

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Planting the Seeds

by Kathy Kelly

Nur Agha Akbari and his family live in Kabul, on an unpaved, pitted street lined by mud brick homes. When we visited him this week, his oldest son, age 13, led us to a sitting room inside their rented two-story apartment, furnished with simple mats and pillows. The youngster smiled shyly as he served us tea. Then his father entered the room.

Mr. Akbari is a robust, energetic, well educated man from a respected, academic Afghan family. In the late 1970s, Nur had gone to study agriculture in the UK and remained there, becoming an organic farmer. His four brothers had instead remained in Afghanistan, or else returned there after studies abroad. His two eldest brothers had trained in the Soviet Union – one as an engineer, one as a nuclear scientist – and had received early warning of the likelihood of what came to be the 1979 Soviet invasion. They spoke out publicly about their fears as the invasion grew more and more imminent.

On December 27 of that year, Soviet troops occupied major government, media and military buildings in Kabul, initiating a nine-year war between a nationalist/fundamentalist resistance (the “Mujahideen”) and the Soviet occupiers. Soviet officials fired Nur’s oldest brother from his cancer research work at Kabul University and blacklisted him. He found himself unable to work, and soon joined the resistance. Nur doesn’t know much about what happened to him then, but he was among thousands of people bulldozed into mass graves after capture and execution by the Soviets. All told Nur knows very little about the fates of his three older brothers, all killed in the war. But their tragedy would largely shape his life.

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“Is This Normal?”

by David Smith-Ferri

Editor’s Note: American peace activists Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents and David Smith-Ferri are part of a 3 person delegation currently travelling in Afghanistan. Find more entries from their travelogues on PULSE.

In a small storage shed at the edge of town, we watched as fourteen-year-old Sayed Qarim signed a simple contract agreeing to borrow and repay a no-interest, 25,000 afghani loan (roughly $555). Daniel from the Zenda Company, the loan originator, counted out the crisp bills and handed them to Qarim, who smiled broadly and shook hands. Qarim, whose family farms potatoes and wheat, plans to use the funds to purchase a cow and her calf. “There are great benefits of owning a cow,” Qarim explains. “Our family gets to use the milk, and we can sell the calf for a good profit.”

No one walking by outside on the narrow dirt road would have known an important business transaction had just occurred, one that could in fact help a young man and his family gain economic traction and greater security. The transaction didn’t take place in a bank. No village leaders were present. Only a fourteen-year-old boy, the representative of a private business company, and a witness. And while the signed agreement constitutes a business relationship, the Zenda Company sees it as primarily personal.

Qarim was recommended for a loan by Faiz and Mohammad Jan, two other young men who live in his village and who have themselves recently received and repaid loans. Following this recommendation, Zenda spent much time getting to know Qarim, meeting with him, assessing his knowledge, his resources (such as access to grazing land), and his character, answering his questions, and describing to him his responsibilities as a borrower.

Now that the transaction is complete, Qarim is required to send a picture of the cow and her calf as “proof” that the money was used as agreed. In addition, Hakim, another Zenda Company representative living in Bamiyan, who is fluent in Dari, the local language, will visit Qarim periodically. Along with Faiz and Mohammad Jan, he will try to provide whatever support Qarim needs to succeed.

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The Women’s Harvest

by Jerica Arents

Editor’s Note: American peace activists Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents and David Smith-Ferri are part of a 3 person delegation currently travelling in Afghanistan. Find more entries from their travelogues on PULSE.

Autumn in Bamiyan

Kabul, Afghanistan – After a week visiting Bamiyan, a rural Afghan Province, one thing has been made abundantly clear to me: the experience of being a woman in this country is much different than being a woman in the United States. Here, the inescapable and indelible fact of gender colors social interactions, far more so than back home. But being a woman has also created safe spaces of inclusion within the village’s maternal system, from which I would have otherwise been kept at a distance.

Time and time again, after meeting with the men in the family, I was led into a separate room to visit with the women, who had gathered there and were waiting eagerly for us with their children. Immediately, an exchange began, a series of greetings, smiles, thanksgivings, and comments about the style of my clothes, quality of my hands, or strangeness of my backpack. Daughters and granddaughters would join us, children at their feet, each little face more beautiful than the last.

When we met with women and men together, the men tended to be the focal point, dominating the conversation. In the absence of their male counterparts, the women, adorned in vibrant cloths, filled the sparsely furnished rooms with stories and laughter. In this conservative Afghan village, one woman shared with us the heartbreaking experience of having her husband kidnapped and killed by the Taliban – and raising her kids, now teenagers, without the breadwinner of the house. She looked down at her wrinkled hands and paused before telling us of her struggles with depression. “We age so quickly here” she reflected, looking up at me, circles under her eyes. Her skin was weathered and worn, bearing the years of harsh living conditions and inadequate nutrition. I would have guessed she was in her late 50s – she is in fact only 38.

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“Tell them to come to Afghanistan and make friends”

by David Smith-Ferri

Editor’s Note: American peace activists Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents and David Smith-Ferri are part of a 3 person delegation currently travelling in Afghanistan. Find more entries from their travelogues on PULSE.

Again and again in this isolated Afghan province, when visiting Afghan people in their homes or when talking with members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), we have heard this message: “We want to know the people of the world, and we want the world to know that we are human beings, not animals.”

On our first night in Bamiyan, we joined the AYPV at a restaurant on the main street in town. The restaurant, unlike those I am accustomed to visiting, served groups of customers in separate, rooms. So we walked down an alley, around the back of the restaurant, up a steep flight of metal stairs to a narrow landing which opened onto several small, windowless rooms. Inside one of them we arranged ourselves as comfortably as possible on the floor and along the walls, eleven Afghan youth and three Americans.

At the outset of the conversation, fourteen-year-old Ali asked us, “How do Americans know we are bad?” The question burst out of him, without preamble, as though he’d been carrying it for years, waiting for this opportunity. He followed it with a statement: “We want Americans to know we are not animals.” Later, while he held my arm and walked me home in the dark, I asked Ali about this belief regarding American perceptions of Afghan people. “Why else would they bomb us?” he said. There wasn’t anything more to say.

Today, two days later, we again gathered for a shared meal, this time in twenty-year-old Moh’d (short for Mohammad) Jan’s home, in a village outside Bamiyan. We piled into a van, and drove out over rocky, pitted, unpaved mountain roads, following the fickle course of a narrow river. High, red-rock cliffs loomed above us, and wherever there was flat land, it was cultivated. “Would you like to leave the car here and walk to my home along the river?” Moh’d Jan asked. We readily agreed.

Stenciled on nearby rocks in the Dari language were words warning people that the hills above are laced with landmines. We left the road and followed a creek lined with willow and cottonwood trees, along the edge of cultivated plots – apple orchards, potato fields being harvested, swaths of thickly-sown, bright green pea plants – the autumn sun pouring into the valley with sweet abundance, as though time had stopped and it would always be like this.

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