American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Letter from Afghanistan
Doug Hostetter, a Mennonite who woked in Vietnam in the 1970s, has been on staff at AFSC and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
As the Ariana Airlines Boeing 727 circled the Kabul airport I got the first real look at what the American bombing last October and November, and the previous 23 years of war, had done to this ancient, formerly beautiful city. From the air it is clearly visible, whole sections of the city lie in rubble. The large military bases with barracks surrounded by walls and the airport with its detritus of destroyed planes and tanks are understandable targets in a war, but enormous sections of Kabul, with no visible military objective, are also in ruins. In this 2000-year-old city of a million people, 60 percent of the housing stock is now rubble.
When the AFSC National Office Program Coordinator for East Asia asked if I would accompany her to visit AFSC programs in Kabul and the surrounding provinces, I realized that I would have an opportunity to see what had happened to the civilians living behind Taliban lines. Help the Afghan Children and the Mennonite Central Committee, two of the other partners from last fall's relief delegation, have also asked me to meet their staff and visit their projects. This has given me a wonderful opportunity to get a grass-roots look at Afghanistan, one year later.
After a week of visiting grassroots development and reconstruction
projects in three provinces and talking with scores of people
in the Kabul Government, Afghan NGOs, international NGO staff,
and rural and urban Afghans, here are a few observations:
The US War:
I was not able to visit the entire country, but according to international
NGO staff, the American war with its high-tech "precision"
bombing destroyed 5000 civilian homes and killed 2500 Afghan civilians
in Kabul and the three surrounding provinces. Note that this information
covers only 4 out of 26 Afghan provinces. A UN official estimated
that 1.1 million Afghans fled their homes after September 11 because
of the American war or the food crisis caused by the bombing.
One of the projects of the Mennonite Central Committee in the
Shomali Valley is to rebuild homes that were destroyed by American
bombing or previous wars. A housing kit costing $935 will supply
windows, doors, wooden beams and planks, pipe and cement for the
reconstruction of one home; the Afghan homeowner and his neighbors
will supply the mud bricks and labor.
The Karzai government:
The central government of Afghanistan is the city of Kabul. Any check point more than 10 miles outside of Kabul is not operated by the Karzai government, but by a local military commander or warlord. The US military strategy in this war was to use the Northern Alliance commanders, as well as any Pashtun warlord that they could buy, to fight against the Taliban. Militarily, the strategy was a short-term success; the Taliban, whose religious fanaticism by this time had proven unpopular with most Afghans, were quickly routed. The warlords and commanders are now the government in most of Afghanistan. Dr. Sima Samar, Director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, stated, "Security for people is very bad in this city, and it is much less safe in rural areas. Every commander has his own militia, and his own jails." Another Afghan told me, "There is less peace and security today than there was a year ago, under the Taliban. At least under the Taliban you knew you would not be robbed or killed when you traveled between cities."
Almost everyone I met expressed profound disappointment in the
Loya Jirga, and the way the US had manipulated the situation to
put the US-backed warlords in the cabinet. I spent one afternoon
on the back of a motorcycle touring the destroyed sections of
Kabul. In each section, I would ask my driver Al Geiser, a Mennonite
working for the Renewable Energy Sources Afghanistan Project,
who destroyed that part of town. I was astounded to see how much
of Kabul had been destroyed by Northern Alliance warlords. Al
commented, "Now you can understand how the people of Kabul
feel. They see the same commanders who destroyed their city are
now ministers in the US-backed Karzai government."
Afghanistan, a country of 22.5 million people in a land area the size of Texas, has been at war for 24 years. In 2000, the last year for mine statistics, mine accidents claimed an average of 88 casualties/month, half of them children. Half of those injured died before reaching a medical facility. During the wars, four million Afghan citizens fled the country as refugees, and another two million are internally displaced persons. With the ending of the major hostilities this summer, 1.7 million refugees have returned from abroad, double the number that international agencies had expected, and another 900 thousand of the internally displaced persons have returned to their destroyed communities. There is an enormous crisis looming for the refugees who have returned home only to discover that the expected assistance from the international community is not there.
The US Government spent $1 billion/month to wage this war, and
has committed only a few hundred million in reconstruction over
the next five years. At the January Donors Conference on Afghanistan,
the world community (including the US) pledged $4.5 billion over
the next 2.5 years. Most of those pledges have not even begun
to flow, and Afghans worry that they may never be honored. An
Afghan development worker spoke for many when she said, "My
biggest worry is that the US will soon move on to bomb some other
country, and the American people and the rest of the world will
completely forget about the enormous remaining needs in Afghanistan.