Day 10, Wednesday March 23

Listening: Today we entered deeper into conversation with members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and other Afghan people and groups we have met here. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to listen to different voices and opinions, because that was what I came here to do. There’s a lot to take in: strong opinions about the Taliban, about President Karzai and the Afghan Parliament, about the foreign NATO presence, the warlords and possible ways forward. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be a general consensus. Certain views seemed to be common within certain ethnic backgrounds, people from certain provinces, or simply whether the person had a secure job and financial independence.

I’ll just share the different views as I heard them, in no particular order.

We heard a lot of raw anger today about the crimes of the Taliban and the warlords in the years of brutal civil war before 2001. The Transitional Justice group is aiming to address human rights abuses prior to 2001 and are furious that President Karzai passed an amnesty law forgiving war crimes before 2001. There have been protests about this, but they fall on deaf ears, as evidenced by a newly formed “Peace Council” which includes the war criminals of this era.

And now there’s a proposal to arm local militias and have them take on a local policing role and this is causing grave fears within communities.

More than 90 per cent of the population are psychologically traumatised. Hakim, who works as a doctor said many women come to him complaining of headaches, when it’s clear the cause is sadness and grief caused by trauma.

The boys say that the reason some Afghans want the NATO forces here is sheer fear that the Taliban will return. No one wants to return to those terrible days, so NATO forces seem like the lesser of the two evils.

Mohamed said a big problem is the sheer breakdown of Afghan society and distrust amongst Afghans, even in families.

It is observed that those ‘on top of the pile’ are more supportive of NATO forces than those at the bottom. The rich have more to lose. Ordinary people, not in positions of influence, are only after a piece of bread.

Ordinary people, such as the shepherds on the hill don’t like the power-mongers who are not working for the interests of the people.

Ali suggests a responsible, gradual withdrawal of foreign troops that will not allow the Taliban to return or gain ground. He said a sudden withdrawal is impractical. But a gradual withdrawal will provide some space to negotiate with the Taliban and hold them to their word that they will negotiate with the people after the foreign forces leave.

Mohamed said we should explore reconciliation with low level Taliban members and hold the leaders to account and bring them to justice.

There was agreement that there was not enough discussion, locally and internationally, about reconciliation. The only options on the table are military ones. Afghans are not exposed to all the options, so don’t get to talk about it.

A major problem is: holding the war lords and Taliban responsible for their crimes will need honest, transparent government, but that does not exist.

One option is to give them a chance to admit their crimes, ask forgiveness and do compensation. Afghan MP, Dr Barshadost says even the worst people should have the chance to change his ways.

A Norweigan former UN envoy to Afghanistan, tried to suggest non-military options to former military head, McCrystal and the international community, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to explore these options.

A major problem is: President Karzai, most people do not respect him and they know the last election results were illegitimate, so they don’t see him as a legitimate leader.

Another problem: the culture of revenge and violence after 30 years of war and brutality.

Abdullah says the role of women should increase.

At the meeting with the Transitional Justice group we heard the view that the Taliban will never change and there should not be negotiations with them.

“The people want peace with justice,” they said, with an emphasis on the justice being a legal justice, charging people for crimes and holding them accountable.

“There can be no peace without justice,” they insisted.

They said Afghan people know that NATO forces are here for their own country’s self-interest, to protect themselves, the people know that. “We are also aware the formation of the Taliban was supported by the US,” they said.

“So with the trillion dollar, ten-year war, why are they not defeated by now?” someone asked. No answer.

What was agreed upon is that there are criminals sitting in positions of power and the foreign forces are supporting them.

Here are some street scenes we saw on the way to the meeting.

a novel way to fetch water

 

no garbage collection

 

Neighbourhood water pump

local bakery - yum!

This afternoon we sat in on another teleconference call the boys did with people from around the world, and I very pleased to hear a few Australian voices, including a Melbourne woman who wrote a song about peace in Afghanistan and played it over the phone. And a beautiful song it was, very much appreciated by the boys and us.  

“Please come and see we are human beings, please come and see for yourself,” was the invitation one of the boys cheerfully gave to the people on the call.

boys speak to the world on the phone

Tonight we heard from Noor, a mature and experience Afghan agronomist who is in a senior position at the Ministry for Agriculture, which we were told is the only ministry not controlled by a warlord.

He had many interesting observations about the foreign intervention in Afghanistan and was mostly scathing of the aid and development that has gone on here.

“We need to listen to the people,” he insisted more than once, “so that development is relevant and owned by the people.”

He also explained the vicious cycle of corruption when the political system and international aid intersect; he said there is vote-buying, tribal alliances, political favours, bribes, large cuts taken by the MP and then more by the Minister so there is barely any money left for the project!

And as for the military intervention: “Peace and security cannot be imported into a country,” he said.

“If it’s forced then its fake, it’s not in harmony with the mind of the people. Peace and security develop as people develop. We need a movement where people become more aware, and where their voice counts.

“They tried to import foreign values from the Soviet Union, and then the Taliban, but real peace and prosperity comes from the people.

“People here are kept under control,” Noor said. “They are not free to talk to each other and mature. We need active people, with vision.”

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