Happy New Year! Sal-e nau mubarak ! Today is the celebration of Nau Ruz the Afghan New year and is a public holiday throughout the country as people return to their families in the villages and celebrate with family get-togethers, good food and gifts.
We went to a local park in the Shahr-e-nau neighourhood where we are staying to soak up some of the festive spirit – here are a few pics:
This afternoon we heard a speaker from the Tribal Liaison Organisation, an NGO working to develop various areas of Afghan civil society. Today we heard specifically about issues of displacement and detention. Our speaker said a big problem is that as families return from Pakistan and other places after years away, home and ownership is being contested. Most families don’t have a formal land title, which means the state can claim the land or it can be seized by powerful groups. Outside Jalalabad there are large refugee camps as families have returned from Pakistan but have not been able to reclaim land their land.
The issue of the detention of Afghans in US prisons here is a minefield, with accurate, up-to-date statistics very hard to get. The estimates are that there are 5000 people going through the main prison a year and that there are about 3000 night raids (where US forces storm a house at night and make arrests) in any given year.
After capture, detainees are supposed to go through a renewal of status within two weeks. At 60 days they are supposed to have a full hearing in front of a tribunal. This has not been happening, and there is no process for separating civilians and combatants. Often people are held, even after they have been cleared. There is also a lack of reintegration upon release – which, according to our speaker, is contributing to the insurgency. Released detainees tend to get harassed and arrested again so they are fleeing to Peshawar and Quetta and re-engaging with the insurgency.
The boys share from the heart: Late this afternoon we enjoyed the opportunity to hear from the members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers one-by-one. We heard stories of their lives in Bamiyan, their history and why they became involved in this special peace-making work. The boys aged, 14-20 years old, were born into the Taliban era with the scars of the brutal Mujahadeen wars all around them and now the present reality of the US-NATO war. Two brothers told the harrowing story of escaping through the snow after their father was murdered by the Taliban. The boys (there are girls involved back in Bamiyan) are attracted to the peace work because they are tired of war, they want to live in a world without war and are pro-actively working to create such a world. They have undertaken many projects in the past few years including making a book called “The Book of Questions” creating a Peace Park in Bamiyan, reaching out to Pashtun youth, speaking with people around the work by Skype and writing a ‘letter’ to Barak Obama which they gave by hand to the US Ambassador when he was on a visit to Bamiyan. He promised he would deliver the mesage, but they still have no confirmation that he has. These are ordinary boys – they go to school and have part-time jobs such as delivering water by donkey, making potato chips, tending sheep and collecting wood – yet they have cultivated extraordinary hearts, under their teacher, the wise and gentle Hakim. They make proclamation such as “even a little love is stronger than the war of the world,” and ask questions of themselves and others as bold and as simple as:“Why not love?”
This kind of heart is the hope of Afghanistan