The Human Costs of the Afghanistan War
September 12, 2018
Samira Abrar / CODEPINK & Dr. Hakim / CODEPINK
Commentary: War has had a terrible impact on children in Afghanistan. After almost two decades of United States development efforts, with the hopes of helping the war-weary country take a path to stability and self-reliance, little has changed on the ground for children growing up today in Afghanistan. They are not safer. They do not have more rights. And they have never known peace.
The Human Cost of War for Afghan Children
Samira Abrar / CODEPINK
Youth growing up in Afghanistan today
have never known peace, and after almost
two decades of US development efforts,
living conditions in the country may be
worse than when the 'peacekeeping' started in 2001
(September 11, 2018) -- War has had a terrible impact on children in Afghanistan.
After almost two decades of United States development efforts, with the hopes of helping the war-weary country take a path to stability and self-reliance, little has changed on the ground for children growing up today in Afghanistan. They are not safer. They do not have more rights. And they have never known peace.
The truth is, living conditions in the country may be worse than when the "peacemaking" started in 2001.
We often see numbers and figures about the country in various survey findings, human rights reports and corruption indexes. But what do these numbers mean to Afghans?
In 2017, 8,000 children were reported killed and hurt in conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Congo and Afghanistan. Afghan children account for more than 40 percent of the total. Casualties among Afghan children had increased by 24 percent in 2016.
Beyond the physical cost is the mental toll of war. Almost half of the children between ages 7 and 17, or 3.7 million, do not attend school, and the rate of out-of-school children, has increased to 2002 levels. Girls account for 60 percent of this number.
War has decimated the educational system in Afghanistan. Attacks on schools have risen, especially in conflict zones, which now are expanding. Operating schools in rural parts of Afghanistan face overwhelming challenges.
Since the country has one of the lowest electricity usages in the world, students have limited access to basic in-class and out-of-classroom educational resources. These conditions make learning difficult, if not impossible.
On top of that, over the past few years as a "war on peace" began, child exploitation in Afghanistan has intensified. Children have been recruited and used in combat and to plant improvised explosive devices.
Many human rights organizations have found children being detained on serious charges, including being Taliban fighters, would-be suicide bombers, bomb makers and alleged associates of armed groups. A lot of these children, still under the age of 18, are being held in a high-security prison for adults without due process.
Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations in the world. Almost half of the country's 35 million people are under the age of 15. Despite all the promises for protecting children's right and improving their lives, youth still remain the most tragic victims as the country rolls from one war to another.
The US and the international community are not helping with their spending in Afghanistan. Instead of funding and privatizing the war and creating limited results that make aid dependency greater, aid should focus on meeting the needs of children, the most affected and vulnerable population in Afghanistan.
Because of extreme poverty, an estimated quarter of all Afghan children work for a living. They endure long hours for little or no pay, and toil in labor-intensive industries, including carpet-weaving, brickmaking, mining, metalwork, and farming.
The hazards of war lead to other heartbreaking consequences. Sometimes, families must sell children for food.
Still, the war machine diverts attention away from the child rights crisis in Afghanistan. While the poor suffer, the rich keep getting richer.
It's a familiar, sad story.
Anyone who cares about justice for all must stand up for the rights of children in Afghanistan and divest from the US war machine that is funding this humanitarian crisis.
If we don't, what hope for peace do any of us have?
Samira Abrar is a graduate of American University in Kabul, Afghanistan, with a degree in law. She has worked for USAID-funded rule of law projects and the MEC Anti-Corruption Committee in Afghanistan for several years, supporting Afghan court systems. Samira also has worked with CODEPINK-Women for Peace as social media campaign manager and now works in CODEPINK's Divest from the War Machine campaign team.
In Afghanistan, We Need to
Rethink the Institution of War
Dr. Hakim / CODEPINK
(August 25, 2018) -- It's frustrating that whereas all human beings wish to live meaningful lives, we seem helpless in the face of a few individuals waging wars and exploiting our world.
But we can each do something about this insensible status quo, as ordinary folk of the People's Peace Movement (PPM ) show us by taking one barefoot-step at a time, traveling to the Northern areas of Afghanistan to persuade fellow Afghans, whether they're with 'insurgent groups' or with the US/NATO/Afghan forces, to stop fighting.
Their action of walking without shoes suggest to us that, for us to survive today's militarized and profit-driven norms, we have to live each day differently, and with clarity and compassion.
We've been thinking that we need armies to stop 'terrorists', but armies don't stop 'terrorists'. Instead, they give 'terrorists' reason to keep fighting.
We need to think anew.
Moreover, the roots of 'terrorism' lie within ourselves. We are our own source of wars.
Iqbal Khyber, a representative of PPM, told the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) about how violence has taken root in all of us. "A blind member of our group, Zindani (a name he gave himself after he was blinded by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb, meaning 'imprisoned' had so much pain in him that, one evening, when we were camped outside the US Embassy in Kabul, he pleaded with me, 'Can I throw a pebble at the fence?' "
"I advised Zindani, 'No, we need to end the anger inside us.'" Iqbal continued.
Zindani is rightfully angry because he has been hurt by all sides of the Afghan conflict, like all civilians in all wars. His father literally disappeared from his life when he was just seven, as a bomb from a US airstrike in Helmand left 'a crater so large that no trace of his father and uncle could be found'.
Years later, another bomb, this time a Taliban device, killed his sister and blinded him. He not only lost his sight, he also lost the chance to marry the teenage love of his life.
At a large gathering in Kabul, Zindani sat in front of a crowd of Afghans who were shouting, "We want peace! Enough war! " He had a brown turban wrapped over his head and eyes, and a Borderfree blue scarf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers draped around his neck.
He was quiet.
But his stand was clear. He had already walked more than 700 km from Helmand to Kabul, and he was ready to persist. He couldn't see the crowd before him, but he could hear them, and understand their intense desire to end the war.
What makes us think that ordinary people like Zindani, or we ourselves, cannot end 'terrorism' and wars through nonviolent methods? Misinformation has infected us with doubts.
One way to work through those doubts is to emulate Zindani, members of the PPM and the APVs: relate person-to-person, ask, "How can we live better?", listen, love.
And to take courage in not doubting love when we encounter it.
"I was suspicious of their intentions. Politicians and leaders have misused the people so much we can no longer trust one another. But, when I met and conversed with these people from Helmand, I knew we could work together," Masuma testified to the other Volunteers who had gathered on another occasion to hear from four members of the Movement.
How about fear? How do we deal with legitimate fears?
The Volunteers were grappling with multiple concerns before they went to the big meeting organized by the PPM, held just next to Ghazi Stadium, where the Taliban used to execute people publicly.
Surely, Zindani, with his past trauma of losing eight family members to war, has been afraid all through his dark journey. Fear is an emotion we can work with, like our experience of fear even in love, like Zindani did in creating two poetic lines for his teenage girl-friend:
I am too scared to even drink water
It may fade my beloved's name on my heart.
Love triumphs over fear.
"We'll go together, come what may," Khalid, an Afghan Peace Volunteer who is a university undergraduate, had said. At the large gathering, Khalid was so 'fired up' that he overcame his usual shyness for 30 seconds on stage, delivering two lines of a Pashto poem, which meant:
"Whatever you destroy,
don't destroy my thoughts and my mind."
That's how we can overcome fear, and end the obsolete human institution of war.
We can love.
We can think anew.
We can turn up together.
Dr Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for more than 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize and the 2017 recipient of the Singapore Medical Association Merit Award for contributions in social service to communities.
Can Afghans Convince Us that
The Method of War Isn't Effective?
Dr. Hakim / CODEPINK
Empathize with how war causes us to lose
our minds, our loved ones, and our everything.
(September 11, 2018) -- If we're still quietly hoping that wars would end and people all over the world would get along peacefully, the dreams and demands of the Helmand Peace Convoy would give us courage and evidence.
When Amanullah Khateb joined the Convoy, now called the People's Peace Movement (PPM), he didn't know that he would not see his wife again. With poor access to health care services, she recently died of appendicitis, leaving behind Khateb and three children.
But Khateb wants peace so intensely that he rejoined the PPM after his wife's funeral. This desire is shared by each of the members of the PPM. They want all groups involved in the Afghan war to stop fighting, including the Taliban and the US/NATO/Afghan forces.
Muhammad Ahmadi from Nuristan Province told Radio Liberty's Pashto service that "Afghan peace is needed for Afghans like water for a thirsty man."
Think about why Afghans say that war isn't effective
These Afghans aren't political or peace activists. They are farmers, labourers, students, teachers, fathers, mothers and siblings who have tasted the failure of war. For them, war not only doesn't work, it results in more war, verifying a report that in the ongoing 'global war against terrorism' from 2001 to 2015, terrorism increased nine fold.
This increase in terrorism is despite huge war investments in Helmand over the past 17 years, recorded under different names such as Operation Enduring Freedom, Mountain Thrust, Volcano, Kryptonite, Silver as part of Operation Achilles, Silicon, Pickaxe-Handle, Hammer, Eagles' Eye, Red Dagger, Blue Sword, Panther's Claw, Khanjar, Moshtarak . . . .
British troops had fired 46 million rounds of ammunition at the Taliban during eight years of combat in Helmand.
Britain's Afghan envoy between 2007 and 2010, Sherard Cowper-Coles, reviewed Investment in Blood: the True Cost of Britain's Afghan War by Frank Ledwidge and wrote of the utter, unanswerable folly of Britain's military intervention in Helmand.
In 2013, while on his tour of duty in Helmand, Prince Harry had said that shooting Hellfire Missiles at insurgents was like 'playing video games'. In response, the Taliban said that Prince Harry had probably developed a mental problem. The Taliban themselves have mental illnesses. Afghan psychiatrist Dr Nader Alemi treated the Taliban as human beings though he disagreed with their ideology.
He described his Taliban patients as 'depressed because they never knew what would happen from one minute to the next'. They were so depressed 'many wanted to die'. The Taliban would weep and Dr Nader would comfort them.
The psychological trauma and physical deprivations that war imposes on Afghan children like 15-year-old Kahar should also alert us. With his family, Kahar was displaced from Helmand to Kabul where he attended the Borderfree Street Kids School run by the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Kahar had said, "I fled from war in Helmand. I want to live in Kabul or anywhere that is good."
But, Kabul's security deteriorated. Kahar and his family returned from the frying pan into fiery Helmand, where it was reported in 2017 that 'over the past 15 years, Helmand had lost 18,000 policemen' and where, in July 2018, 600,000 children were reported to be deprived of an education.
What more, the older members of the PPM have tasted another crisis that was ignored amidst the frenzy and fray of war: by 2001, the Hamoun Oasis of the Sistan in Helmand was turning from a wetland to a dry wasteland. The desert was getting more desert-y.
A similar water and war crisis is gripping Afghanistan today, with many people in Ghor, Baghdis, Faryab and Jowzjan fleeing drought, hunger and war to take refuge elsewhere.
People just cannot survive.
Therefore, the PPM had every good reason to erect a tent outside the British Embassy in Kabul and to demand that the UK help to end the war. To them, ending the war is a matter of life and death.
The Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ) met the PPM members in their blue tent last Sunday. Iqbal Khyber, one of the representatives of the PPM told the APVs, "We've been inspired by your story, and have worn the Borderfree Blue Scarves, telling people that peace is the wish of Peace Volunteers from Bamiyan." Bamiyan was where the work of the APVs began, but the Volunteers responded, "The scarves really represent everyone's desire to have peace, so please tell others the scarves represent the wish of the people."
One of the APVs, Ghulam Hussein, asked, "Are you eventually going to form an organization?"
Iqbal replied, "No, we want this to be a people's movement. We won't accept monetary support from any government or political group, and we don't want power. When we've achieved peace, we will go back to what we were doing, farming, livestock keeping, teaching…."
That hot summer morning, in the tent, there was clear and beautiful evidence that "We are many."
Both members of the People's Peace Movement and the Afghan Peace Volunteers are calling on the people of the world to join them in solidarity.
Awake, arise, smile, walk!
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