Our last day in Kabul presented a wonderful opportunity for more listening; this time to Dr Ramazan Barshardost, Member of Parliament, former Planning Minister and independent candidate for President in the 2009 elections. http://ramazanbashardost.com/spip.php?rubrique2
I had heard much about him and his excellent public service and anti-corruption work. He resigned as Planning Minister in protest at rampant corruption he saw around him by governments and NGO’s.
He now moves around Kabul, listening to the people, some people think he is crazy to do this without armed guards. Other MPs would not travel without armed security, but he pitches a tent on a vacant block, sets up some chairs, and people come to see him. This is where we found him today.
Meeting with Dr Barshardost at his tent
Before we start our meeting, two teenage girls – high school students – approach Dr Barshadorst complaining about corruption in their school with reports about bribing of exam results. Then a father with three kids tells his story of having no job and no money – which leads directly into Barshadorst’s pet topic and the focus of his political work: the corruption of the powers in Afghanistan.
“The people are hungry,” he told us when he finished speaking with the man. “But the warlords live in palaces and there are criminals in power.”
“The US embassy recently invited me for a dinner,” he said. “And one of the other guests was a famous soviet warlord who killed hundreds of people. I asked the embassy – is there a place for him in your embassy? He’s a killer. And you talk of human rights. I refused to go to the dinner.
Dr Barshardost then summarised the problem as he sees it: “Your taxpayers work hard, your money arrives in Afghanistan, and the warlords take it to waste on luxury and wealth. I saw this with my eyes. One report said there is $18 billion lost in Afghanistan. Where did it go?
“It’s been 9 years and 40 billion dollars that’s enough money to build five Afghanistans. But Karzai didn’t build one Kabul! Where is the change – why do your soldiers give their blood to keep the same chiefs in power?
“The situation for ordinary Afghans is not better, but has become worse.”
He then provides some context to some of the current violence: “In Afghanistan we have a tradition that if you kill someone no one forgets this. Now we have political leaders who have killed thousands, and no one has forgotten that.
“The people in the market say ‘we are not enemies with the foreign soldiers, but we need to revenge some Afghan leaders because of their past murders and offences against us.’ The foreign troops are guarding the warlords and murderers so people kill the foreign troops to get to the politicians.
“The Governor of a Province might rape a girl in the night and then British and US soldiers protect his house the next day. You give your taxpayer’s dollars and your soldiers’ lives, yet you lose.
“One man said: this man tortured me and now I see he’s a minister, or a governor and I don’t understand: he tortured me.
“If you want to bring peace and build a democratic political system – we must finish with the chiefs and warlords.
“If we find a way like South Africa did, like Mandela…..” His voice trails off with a kind of resignation and then he moves to the issue of the all pervasive corruption.
“In an Afghan court, a judge will openly ask you for money, or in any department whatever you need, they will ask you for money,” he explains.
“The Afghan warlord arranges a luxury wedding with his fourth wife with your money. He has so much. Who pays? You do. It’s a disaster. This war is a great benefit to the politicians; they would like to see it continue.
“If a US soldier gives his life, it’s just a statistic for them, they don’t think about his life for one second. It’s a disaster for soldiers on all sides. It’s not in the interests of your people. “The warlords say they support US troops, but in truth they support their own interests.
“It’s not a war for liberation or human rights or democracy. I think it’s a war for the interests of politicians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, US, Australia, Germany etc It’s a war for them.
“It’s more a business than a war. There are Pakistan government interests and Iran’s interests and India and China.
“Why are you not asking questions, your journalists?
One of the group asked Dr Barshadost a question: What information / vision needs to be given to the people of Afghanistan to change the situation?
“The people of Afghanistan are very tired and have no trust of Afghan politicians and have no political culture,” he replied.
“It’s not possible for thousands of people to protest against Karzai and his corruption. It’s very difficult.
“One way is to work with the people in power in western countries. Western politicians can call for the money to stop; then work with the Afghan people to open cases for the criminals of war.
“Human rights campaigners and lawyers in Europe and US and Australia can speak out; raise the issues at your universities, makes protests.
“Some say they support this war because it is anti-Taliban and they support the rights of women. Well in this war the Taliban has become stronger every day, not weaker. So your money isn’t going to defeat the Taliban. Every day you are losing, you lose more money and soldiers every day.
“If international community had refused to accept fraud in the elections, then MPs would have been challenged to be clean. We need a transparent election.”
So what could be a way forward, we asked: He made a general list, thinking out loud about issues he has mentioned in the past: a gradual foreign withdrawal, a UN transitional government, UN peacekeepers, bring warlords and corrupt people to court and reparations in the long run.
“The UN security Council should organise a court for warlords, for everyone who killed an innocent person,” he said.
“When you say you are for ‘peace’ here, people think you want the return of the Taliban.
“The people want Justice for everyone. Food for everyone.
“I want to meet with the people to understand their problems and what we can do and the best political system for them.
After hearing all these challenges Afghans are facing, I had a question for Dr Barhshadorst: Where do you get Hope? What get’s you up in the morning?
“I believe one day this situation will change,” he said. “I believe in values. You are here today to see and hear. The sun is shining. If we have resolve we have a duty, a vision. If we see results in our life it is good, if not then it’s okay.
“I believe in humanity. Afghan people are your people and American people are my people. There are no distinctions between groups, only humans.
“I hope that in 30 years people will believe in another culture other than a war culture.
“We need to say there is another way.”
After our long (more than 2 hour) discussion with Dr Barshardost, I resolved to raise awareness back in my country about him and his anti-corruption campaign and his vision for justice and peace.
We went back to the Guest House and packed to leave Kabul. Our heads and hearts so full; full of information, of stories, of challenges, of grief and, thanks to Dr Barshadost and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a little bit of hope.
Dr Barshardost and Donna