Category Archives: Afghanistan

What’s in store for Afghanistan?

Where’s the voting booth?

It’s time to think about the likely future of poor Afghanistan. It isn’t terribly bright, but we have to, so the sooner, the better.

There are probably still a few neocons dreaming of a happy puppet state emerging from the shambles. The “grand strategy” was laid out by PNAC (Project for a New American Century) in 2000, calling for the US to maintain its unrivaled superpower status. This required a “new Pearl Harbor” to justify launching preemptive wars against suspect nations (after Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Yemen).

This Pearl Harbor II just happened to come along a year later, prompting Bush II to coin “the Axis of evil” to include Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and “Beyond the Axis of Evil” to include Cuba, Libya, and Syria. The plan was to bring all these countries under US hegemony by installing western-friendly regimes under a patina of electoral democracy.

US military ‘successes’

A skeptic might point out that none of these countries is any friendlier to the US twenty years later. There have been drastic changes, but so far only for the worse. That skeptic would point out that, in fact, the US has had a very spotty military record since WWII, which it ‘won’ in Europe only after the Soviet army had subdued the Nazis, and against Japan only by using the first (and hopefully last) weapon of mass destruction on a massive scale, leveling two cities and killing 200,000 people in a few seconds.

There have been no ‘wars’ since WWII. The Korea ‘war’ was really just an invasion of a war-devastated nation to assert American control. It was actually a continuation of WWII, since no peace was signed with the Korean liberators, and is still ongoing, as Kim Jong Un stubbornly insists on pointing out. At least it was called a war and congress dutifully supported it.

Vietnam was a similar invasion to prop up the French colonial regime, but was never declared as a ‘war’. Despite attempts to rehabilitate it as an honourable war, no rational person sees it other than a huge stain on the US. 60,000 Americans died. The fallout continues, as the survivors among the 600,000 draftees are still getting treatment for battle injuries, especially  PTSD.

Then there was the turkey shoot in 1991, called the first Iraq war. Again, it was not a war, but a loudly trumpeted and meticulously planned invasion, killing 100,000 turkeys (sorry, Iraqis), but only 383 Americans.

“We have finally kicked the Vietnam syndrome,” Bush I famously bragged. A new, leaner, meaner US military was tooted. It looked like the post-Soviet period, the 1990s, would be a useful “unipolar moment” to proceed with regime change, a blank check after 9/11 to cleanse the world of those evil axis types.

Reality is never kind. The unipolar moment disappeared without a trace (sorry, forgot Kosovo). The world in 2000 was in far worse shape than it was before the Soviet Union collapsed, before that unipolar moment came along.

PNAC and the 9/11 blank check was a last-ditch attempt to bring the world under US control. Yet another war was declared, ‘the war against terrorism’, another blank check, a war against a feeling (of dread). First stop, Afghanistan.

And, in fact, almost all the nasties were invaded. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria all experienced US soldiers, bombs and drones, and are all more or less paralyzed and devastated. Iran is too big a mouthful and has only had a very cold shoulder, plus subversion and support for Iranian terrorists. So far, it got off lucky.

Do a Nixon?

Afghanistan was supposed to be simple. Poof! The Taliban just disappeared and the US set up shop. But then the Taliban resurged. The strategy to hold on was Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, but that didn’t work then or now.

What to do? There is only one way out now for Trump. Do a Nixon: negotiate, declare victory, and leave. The Taliban haven’t budged on their terms. They demanded direct talks with the US to arrange their departure. Only then would they talk to the current ‘government’. This was their position 18 years ago.

That is essentially what Nixon did in 1975 for Vietnam, though he carried out carpet bombing in Laos and Cambodia at the very end, hoping to cow the Vietnamese. It’s unlikely Trump will do that, but who knows?

What post-occupation scenario awaits Afghanis?

There will be a settling of accounts with the US-installed regime. The Taliban is still the official government (though only Saudi Arabia and Pakistan officially recognized them). The current Northern Alliance led government will not just disappear, but it will not have an easy time finding a place.

In an attempt to give its invasion credibility and erase the memory of Taliban rule, the US parachuted in the last King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, in 2002 to preside over a Loya Jirga, but then panicked, as many of the delegates were prepared to vote for Zahir Shah and block the US-backed Hamid Karzai. The US, ably represented by Zalmay Khalilzad, were able to twist enough arms to prevail.

The leaders since 2001 can only be described as US puppets. Hamid Karzai was a fundraiser in the 1980s for the mujahideen, Ashraf Ghani, an anthropology prof in the US, and in the 1990s, a WB official. At least Karzai recognized the Taliban initially, and was even requested by the Taliban to serve as their ambassador but refused, telling friends that he felt Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was wrongly using them.

When Karzai threw in his lot with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban assassinated his father. Ghani was working for the World Bank at the time. Not surprisingly, the Taliban did not negotiate with Karzai and are not likely to have a heart-to-heart reconciliation with Ghani.

The Taliban have not unveiled any election-ready platform. But what the Taliban has in mind is probably something along the lines of Iran: a modest electoral system under sharia law. They are salafi, mostly trained in Deobandi madrassahs in Pakistan, not as extreme as the Saudis, and with no tribal/ monarchical pretensions. They never thought much of the Saudis, seen as compromised by their alliance with the US.

Despite (or because of) their intimate geopolitical ties with Pakistan, they are unlikely to take much advice from there. Pashtunistan is still a sore point, and Pakistan has little to offer, itself in dire economic straits. India, Iran and Russia will be the most important regional actors, the UN the umbrella, though the Taliban will look to the Saudis for financing reconstruction. The Taliban have few foreign friends anymore, so they will have to do some serious rethinking.

There is no room for the US (or al-Qaeda) in this, except as part of an international program of reconstruction. If Syria is anything to go by (or Vietnam), that means zilch. The US motto in its ‘wars’: ‘Let them clean up the mess we made.’

How to get there

The Taliban attended a conference in Moscow of regional countries China, Iran, India, and Pakistan in February, the first in which they have participated. The United States attended in an observer capacity, while the Kabul sent members of a government-appointed Peace Council.

The Taliban did not indulge in any negotiations with its foes, but merely called for the United States to undertake a number of “confidence-building measures”, starting with a deadline for a full withdrawal from the country.

It is fitting that the Taliban came to Moscow, capital of the Soviet invaders who the mujahideen expelled, and that Zamir Kabulov, the last Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan, was the messenger who would tell the current invaders, the US, (no doubt with a feeling of schadenfreude) to get the hell out.

Kabulov passed on the bad news: “All political prisoners [must] be freed and anti-Taliban sanctions, which were imposed back in 1997, be lifted. … With participation in the meeting, the international status of the Islamic Emirate will be strengthened even further.”

This, of course, is what the Taliban insisted on 18 years ago. So 18 years, $1.07 trillion, 2,372 US soldiers dead — for nothing?  The US State Department is furious. Not only the dastardly Russians, Chinese and Iranians, but wild card Trump himself — all are ganging up against the US hegemon, undermining …

What are they undermining? A failed state on US life-support?

‘State’ just doesn’t get it. The Russians, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis et al are the regional powers who can make or break Afghanistan. The US has had almost two decades and all the counterinsurgency in the world isn’t going to help. Time to leave. Period.

Mr. Niet

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker calls this “a surrender negotiation”; i.e., the US surrender to the Taliban. Better to keep the troops there as long as necessary to get the conditions the US wants; i.e., the Taliban must recognize the US-installed government as the official government. The best the Taliban could expect is to be allowed to play at western-style elections, which can always be arranged or cancelled.

This is what’s left of the PNAC plan for all the axis-of-evil types. It sort of worked in Iraq (until the Iranians came along). It didn’t work at all in Syria (what is Lebanon doing in the list?) or Somalia. It required destroying Libya and Yemen. Sudan and Iran are on hold.

So can Trump just pull a Nixon on all of them? Declare victory and leave? Stop trying to be the world hegemon? Israel has Jerusalem. Isn’t that parting gift enough?

Meeting in Moscow: The Taliban Meets the Afghan Opposition

It had the semblance of a play lacking key actors.  They were deemed the difficult ones, and a decision was made to go through with the performance.  The Taliban were willing to talk with their adversaries, but they were keen on doing so with opposition politicians rather than the stick-in-the-mud types in government led by the current President Ashraf Ghani.  The assessment from The New York Times over the whole affair held at the President Hotel in Moscow was that the meeting could only be, at best, “a brainstorming session”.

The Taliban officials going to Moscow were a different crew, at least in terms of perceptions.  These were not the intemperate salad day youths of 1996, yanking cassettes from car stereos in Kandahar and ranting against all matters musical and female.  These were men of diplomacy, their guns holstered.  Gone were visions of seizing the whole of Afghanistan and establishing a broader theocratic state.  Doing so, by their admission, would not bring the state to peaceful order.   Nor, and here there will be questions, did they seem unwilling to reconsider their position on broader notion of human rights.

The claims from the Taliban demonstrate their continued boldness and durability.  Enemies have come and gone, and they remain steadfast in imposing order.  Their brutality remains common and assertive, but they have become wiser, more discerning in their heavy-handedness. “Peace is more difficult than war,” suggested Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, one of the members of the negotiating party to head to Moscow.

The January draft agreement arising from a series of meetings with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, suggests a commitment on the part of the US to withdraw its forces from the country with a Taliban promise to prevent Afghanistan being used as a staging ground for jihadists in future.

The Wednesday statement did little to add flesh to any potential bargain but did outline nine points.  Continued intra-Afghan talks would take place – the usual talks about talks; involving the cooperation of regional countries and others were “essential to determine lasting and nationwide peace in Afghanistan”.

One aspiration stood out, making all aware about the traumatic divisions in a society that has resisted internally and externally imposed changes for generations.  Unity has been impossible; centralisation of the state an impracticable and unrealisable dream.  “All parties agreed that the values such as respect for the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralised government with all ethnicities having a role in it, protecting national sovereignty and promoting social justice, to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts, protecting Afghanistan’s national and religious values and undertaking a unified and single policy.”

The other aspirations follow on from the first: the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghan soil; an affirmation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference.  Then come promises to protect “social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles, protection of political and social rights of the entire people of Afghanistan and protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles.”

Ghani’s spokesman Samim Arif expressed his sentiments on the gathering.  “On the issue of the peace process, we respect the views of all parts of society, including the politicians.  But the ownership and the leadership of the peace process is the authority of the Afghan government.”

Ghani was even blunter: “With whom, what will they agree upon there?  Where is their executive power?  Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan’s national assembly and Afghanistan’s legal institutions.” Ghani might as well have asked himself those same questions, his rule itself very much a paper based one, his claims to executive authority adventurous at best.

Notwithstanding the activities in Moscow, there will no doubt be a good number of Afghans, left confused by years of external intervention and promptings, concerned by this affirmation and legitimation of Taliban rule.  While the Moscow declaration insists on observing various rights previously anathema to Taliban theocracy, these are provisional within the remit of “Islamic principles”, which have been shown to be roughly interpreted when needed.  Schools may continue being threatened under any new regime; education for females face the prospects of being reined in (religious reasons apply, naturally), as they always tend to in areas of Taliban occupation.  Aired guarantees are simply that.

The gathering in Moscow signalled one undeniable reality: the Taliban as a political force cannot be ignored.  Remarks made in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by US-led forces that the Taliban would be blown to smithereens and wiped off the lunar face of the country have come to nought.  These fighters have lasted the distance; corrupt officials in Kabul, pampered and sponsored by foreign largesse, remain estranged and politically weak.  The Trump administration, prone to erratic spots of unilateral viciousness, is keen on easing part of the imperium’s commitments in the Middle East.  Eyes will be on Kabul to see how far this goes.

Defying War and Defining Peace in Afghanistan

PPM members meet Afghan Peace Volunteers outside UK Embassy in Kabul (Photo: Dr. Hakim)

On January 27th, 2019, the Taliban and the U.S. government each publicly stated acceptance, in principle, of a draft framework for ongoing negotiations that could culminate in a peace deal to end a two-decade war in Afghanistan.

As we learn more about the negotiations, it’s important to remember others working toward dialogue and negotiation in Afghanistan. Troublingly, women’s rights leaders have not, thus far, been invited to the negotiating table. But several have braved potential persecution to assert the importance of including women in any framework aiming to create peace and respect human rights.

A young medical graduate student told me she was deprived of schooling during the Taliban era. “If government doesn’t protect women’s basic rights,” she said, “we could lose access to health care and education.”

“The war was started by men, the war will be ended by men,” an aide to Rula Ghani, the wife of President Ashraf Ghani, recently told a Reuters reporter. “But it’s the women and children who suffer the most and they have a right to define peace.” In 2018, the UN expressed alarm at the increased use of airstrikes by U.S. and Afghan forces which caused a rising death toll among women and children. In the run-up to the past week of negotiations and even during the negotiations, attacks and counter attacks between the warring parties killed dozens of civilians, including women and children. Both the Taliban and the U.S. seemed intent on showing strength and leverage by demonstrating their willingness to slaughter the innocent.

Another group not represented at the negotiating table is the “People’s Peace Movement,”  Beginning in May of 2018, they chose a path which pointedly eschews attacks, revenge or retaliation. Following deadly attacks in their home province of Helmand, initiators of this movement humbly walked, sometimes even barefoot, hundreds of miles, asking people to reject the entire institution of war. They’ve urged an end to revenge and retaliation and called on all warring parties to support a peace process. Their journeys throughout the country have become venues for informal hearings, allowing opportunity for people to collectively imagine abolishing war.

We in the U.S. have much to learn from Afghan women human rights advocates and the People’s Peace Movement regarding the futility of war.

Since 2001, and at a cost of 800 billion dollars, the U.S. military has caused irreparable and horrific losses in Afghanistan. Afghan civilians have endured invasion, occupation, aerial bombings, ground attacks, drone warfare, extensive surveillance, internal displacement, soaring refugee populations, environmental degradation and the practice of indefinite detention and torture. How would U.S. citizens bear up under even a fraction of this misery?

It stands to reason this litany of suffering would lead to increased insurgent resistance, to rising support for the Taliban, and to spiraling violence.

By late 2018, even a top military commander, Army General Scott Miller, told CNN the U.S. had no chance of a military victory in Afghanistan. He stated the fight will continue until there is a political settlement,

Danny Sjursen, an exceptionally honest Major General and author, wrote in December 2018 the only thing left for the U.S. military to do in Afghanistan was to lose.

Major General Sjursen was correct to concede inevitable U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan, but there is something more U.S. people can and should do. Namely, pay reparations for 17 years of suffering we’ve caused in Afghanistan. This is, as Professor Noam Chomsky once said, “what any civilized country would do.”

Some might counter the U.S. has already provided over $132 billion dollars for reconstruction in Afghanistan. But, did that sum make a significant difference in the lives of Afghan people impoverished by displacement and war? I think not.

Since 2008, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, has submitted quadrennial reports to the U.S. Congress detailing ways waste, embezzlement, fraud and abuse have consistently resulted in failed reconstruction efforts. Sopko and his teams of researchers and analysts offered a chance for people in the U.S. to see ourselves as we’re often seen by an increasingly cynical Afghan public. But we seldom even hear of the SIGAR reports. In fact, when President Trump heard of these watchdog reports during his first Cabinet meeting of 2019, he was infuriated and said they should be locked up!

It’s telling that SIGAR was preceded by SIGIR, (the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) which filed similarly critical yet largely unnoticed reports.

U.S. citizens often regard their country as a civilized nation that goes to war against demonic tyrants. Dr. Martin Luther King held forth a different vision. He urged us to see the humanity of other so-called enemies, to ask how we’re seen by other people, and to thereby gain a needed understanding of our own weaknesses. If we could hear from other people menaced by militarism, including ours, if we could see how our wars have contributed to terrorism, corruption and authoritarianism that has turned the U.S. into a permanent warfare state, we might find the same courage that inspires brave people in Afghanistan to speak up and resist the all-encompassing tyranny of war.

We might find ourselves guided by an essential ethical question: how can we learn to live together without killing one another?  If we finally grasp the terrible and ever-increasing urgency of this lesson, then we might yearn to be trusted global neighbors who humbly pay reparations rather than righteously bankroll endless wars.

Kandahar (AFP Photo: Javed Tanveer)

Seven Gates of Damascus and Concrete Walls of Kabul

Syria and Afghanistan.

Two terrible wars, two mighty destructions, but two absolutely opposite outcomes.

In Syria, it may be autumn now, but almost the entire country is blossoming again, literally rising from ashes. Two thousand miles east from there, Afghanistan is smashed against its ancient rocks, bleeding and broken. There, it does not really matter what season it is; life is simply dreadful and hope appears to be in permanent exile.

Historic Damascus

Damascus, the ancient and splendid capital of Syria, now the Syrian Arab Republic, is back to life again. People go out until late at night, there are events; there is music and vibrant social life. Not all, but many, are smiling again. Checkpoints are diminishing, and now one does not even have to go through metal detectors in order to enter museums, cafes and some of the international hotels.

Just eating out at night in Damascus

The people of Damascus are optimistic, some of them are ecstatic. They fought hard, they lost hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, but they won! They finally won, against all odds, supported by their true friends and comrades. They are proud of what they have achieved, and rightly so!

Humiliated on so many occasions, for so long, the Arab people suddenly rose and demonstrated to the world and to themselves that they can defeat invaders, no matter how powerful they are; no matter how canny and revolting their tactics are. As I wrote on several previous occasions, Aleppo is the ‘Stalingrad of the Middle East’. It is a mighty symbol. There, fascism and imperialism were stopped. Unsurprisingly, because of its stamina, courage and aptitude, the center of Pan-Arabism – Syria – has become, once again, the most important country for the freedom-loving people of the region.

Syria has many friends, among them China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. But the most determined of them, the most reliable, remains Russia.

The Russians stood by its historical ally, even when things looked bad, almost hopeless; even when the terrorists trained and implanted into Syria by the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, were flattening entire ancient cities, and millions of refugees flowing out of the country, through all seven gates of Damascus, and from all major cities, as well as towns and villages.

In front of the National Museum in Damascus

The Russians worked hard, often ‘behind the scenes’; on the diplomatic front, but also on the frontlines, providing essential air support, de-mining entire neighborhoods, helping with food supplies, logistics, strategy. Russians died in Syria, we do not know the precise numbers, but there definitely were casualties; some even say, ‘substantial’. However, Russia never waved its flag, never beat its chest in self-congratulatory gestures. What had to be done, was done, as an internationalist duty; quietly, proudly and with great courage and determination.

The Syrian people know all this; they understand, and they are grateful. For both nations, words are not necessary; at least not now. Their deep fraternal alliance is sealed. They fought together against darkness, terror and neo-colonialism, and they won.

When Russian military convoys pass through Syrian roads, there is no security. They stop at local eateries to refresh themselves, they talk to locals. When Russian people walk through Syrian cities, they feel no fear. They are not seen or treated as a ‘foreign military force’. They are now part of Syria. They are part of the family. Syrians make them feel at home.

*****

In Kabul, I always face walls. Walls are all around me; concrete walls, as well as barbed wire.

Roads cut by military in Kabul

Some walls are as tall as 4-5 storey buildings, with watchtowers on every corner, outfitted with bulletproof glass.

Local people, pedestrians, look like sleep-walkers. They are resigned. They are used to those hollow barrels of guns pointed at their heads, chests, feet, even at their children.

Almost everyone here is outraged by the occupation, but no one knows what to do; how to resist. The NATO invasion force is both brutal and overwhelming; its commanders and soldiers are cold, calculating, and merciless, obsessed with protecting themselves and only themselves.

Heavily armored British and US military convoys are ready to shoot at ‘anything that moves’ even in a vaguely hostile fashion.

Afghan people get killed, almost all of them ‘surgically’ or ‘remotely’. Western lives are ‘too precious’ for engaging in honest man-to-man combat. Slaughtering is done by drones, by ‘smart bombs’, or by shooting from those monstrous vehicles that crisscross Afghan cities and the countryside.

During this outrageous occupation, it matters nil how many Afghan civilians get killed, as long as the US or European lives get spared. Most of the Western soldiers deployed in Afghanistan are professionals. They are not defending their country. They are paid to do ‘their job’, efficiently, at any price. And, of course, “Safety First”. Safety for themselves.

After the West occupied Afghanistan in 2001, between 100,000 and 170,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Millions were forced to leave their country as refugees. Afghanistan now ranks second from the bottom (after Yemen) in Asia, on the HDI list (Human Development Index, compiled by UNDP). Its life expectancy is the lowest in Asia (WHO).

*****

I work in both Syria and Afghanistan, and consider it my duty to point at the differences between two countries, and these two wars.

Both Syria and Afghanistan were attacked by the West. One resisted and won, the other one was occupied by mainly North American and European forces, and consequently destroyed.

After working in some 160 countries on this planet, and after covering and witnessing countless wars and conflicts (most of them ignited or provoked by the West and its allies), I can clearly see the pattern: almost all the countries that fell into the ‘Western sphere of influence’ are now ruined, plundered and destroyed; they are experiencing great disparities between the tiny number of ‘elites’ (individuals who collaborate with the West) and the great majority of those who live in poverty. Most of the countries with close ties to Russia or China (or both), are prospering and developing, enjoying self-governance and respect for their cultures, political systems, and economic structures.

It is only because of the corporate mass media and biased education system, as well as the almost fully pro-Western orientation of the ‘social media’, that these shocking contrasts between two blocs (yes, we have two major blocs of countries, again) are not constantly highlighted and discussed.

*****

During my recent visit to Syria, I spoke to many people living in Damascus, Homs, and Ein Tarma.

What I witnessed could be often described as “joy through tears”. The price of victory has been steep. But joy it is, nevertheless. The unity of the Syrian people and their government is obvious and remarkable.

Anger towards the ‘rebels’ and towards the West is ubiquitous. I will soon describe the situation in my upcoming reports. But this time, I only wanted to compare the situation in two cities, two countries and two wars.

In Damascus, I feel like writing poetry, again. In Kabul, I am only inspired to write a long and depressing obituary.

I love both of these ancient cities, but, of course, I love them differently.

Frankly speaking, in the 18 years of Western occupation, Kabul has been converted into a militarized, fragmented and colonized hell on earth. Everybody knows it: the poor know it, and even the government is aware of it.

Drug addicts and pushers in Kabul

In Kabul, entire neighborhoods already ‘gave up’. They are inhabited by individuals who are forced to live in gutters, or under bridges. Many of those people are stoned, hooked on locally made narcotics, the production of which is supported by the Western occupation armies. I saw and photographed a US military base openly surrounded by poppy plantations. I heard testimonies of local people, about the British military engaging in negotiations, and cooperating with the local narco-mafias.

Afghanistan – Bagram Air Force Base of NATO – Poppies fields

Now the Western embassies, NGO’s and ‘international organizations’ operating in Afghanistan, have managed to intellectually and morally corrupt and indoctrinate a substantial group of local people, who are receiving scholarship, getting ‘trained’ in Europe, and are tugging the official line of the occupiers.

They are working day and night to legitimize the nightmare into which their country has been tossed.

But older people who still remember both the Soviet era and socialist Afghanistan, are predominantly ‘pro-Russian’, mourning in frustration those days of Afghan liberation, progress, and determined building of the nation. ‘Soviet’ bread factories, water channels, pipelines, electric high-voltage towers, and schools are still used to this day, all over the country. While, gender equality, secularism, and the anti-feudalist struggle of those days are now, during the Western occupation, de facto illegal.

Afghans are known to be proud and determined people. But now their pride has been broken, while determination has been drowned in the sea of pessimism and depression. The Western occupation did not bring peace, it did not bring prosperity, independence of democracy (if democracy is understood as the ‘rule of the people’).

These days, the biggest dream of a young man or woman in Kabul is to serve the occupiers – to get ‘educated’ in a Western-style school, and to get a job at a US embassy or at one of the UN agencies.

*****

In Damascus, everyone is now talking about the rebuilding of the nation.

‘How and when will the damaged neighborhoods be rebuilt? Is the pre-war construction of the metro going to resume anytime soon? Is life going to be better than before?’

People cannot wait. I witnessed families, communities, restoring their own buildings, houses and streets.

Yes, in Damascus I saw true revolutionary optimism in action, optimism which I described in my recent book Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism. Because the Syrian state itself is now, once again, increasingly revolutionary. The so-called ‘opposition’ has been mostly nothing else other than a Western-sponsored subversion; an attempt to take Syria back to the dark days of colonialism.

Damascus and the Syrian government do not need tremendous walls, enormous spy blimps levitating in the sky; they do not need armored vehicles at every corner and the omnipresent SUV’s with deadly machine guns.

On the other hand, the occupiers of Kabul need all those deadly symbols of power in order to maintain control. Still they cannot scare people into supporting or loving them.

In Damascus, I simply walked into the office of my fellow novelist, who happened to be the Syrian Minister of Education. In Kabul, I often have to pass through metal detectors even when I just want to visit a toilet.

Young people of Damascus – confident, optimistic and kind

In Damascus, there is hope, and life, at every corner. Cafes are packed, people talk, argue, laugh together, and smoke waterpipes. Museums and libraries are full of people too. The Opera House is performing; the zoo is flourishing, all despite the war, despite all the difficulties.

Destroyed drug addicts in Kabul

In Kabul, life stopped. Except for the traffic, and for traditional markets. Even the National Museum is now a fortress, and as a result, almost no one can be found inside.

People in Damascus are not too familiar with what goes on in Kabul. But they know plenty about Baghdad, Tripoli and Gaza. And they would rather die than allow themselves to be occupied by the West or its implants.

Two wars, two fates, two totally distinct cities.

The seven gates of Damascus are wide open. Refugees are returning from all directions, from all corners of the world. It is time for reconciliation, for rebuilding the nation, for making Syria even greater than it was before the conflict.

Kabul, often rocked by explosions, is fragmented by horrid walls. Engines of helicopters are roaring above. Blimps with their deadly eyes monitoring everything on the ground. Drones, tanks, huge armored vehicles. Beggars, homeless people, slums. Huge Afghan flag flying above Kabul. A ‘modified flag’, not the same as in the socialist past.

In Syria, finally the united nation has managed to defeat imperialism, fanaticism and sectarianism.

In Afghanistan, the nation got divided, then humiliated, then stripped of its former glory.

Damascus belongs to its people. In Kabul, people are dwarfed by concrete walls and military bases erected by foreign invaders.

In Damascus, people were fighting, even dying for their country and their city.

In Kabul, people are scared to even speak about fighting for freedom.

Damascus won. It is free again.

Kabul will win, too. Perhaps not today, not this year, but it will. I believe it will.

I love both cities. But one is now celebrating, while the other one is still suffering, in unimaginable pain.

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Afghanistan in 2019: Fewer US Troops, More CIA Torture and Killings

No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept…. It is a vestigial limb of empire, and it is time to let it go.

– Op-Ed by Robert D. Kaplan, The New York Times, January 1, 2019

This is the voice of American imperialism speaking through one of its more reliable hand-puppets. Foreign Policy has twice named Robert Kaplan one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” In his op-ed, Kaplan blames Afghanistan’s current problems on the illegal US war on Iraq in 2003, adding parenthetically and without further explanation: “which I mistakenly supported.” The unintended joke here is that he frames the Iraq War as a mistake largely because it diverted the US from nation-building in Afghanistan. Yes, he says exactly that. He has nothing to say about either war’s criminality or US atrocities. Those are not serious concerns for the imperial mindset – those are just the necessary inconveniences of maintaining an empire. He even appears unaware that his formulation about Afghanistan and the decline of the American empire perfectly fits the historical reality of US defeat in Vietnam.

On New Year’s Eve, the day before Kaplan’s op-ed, the lengthy lead story in the Times was headlined: “CIA-Led Afghan Forces Leave Grim Trail of Abuse.” This report is based on months of reporting on night raids, torture, and summary executions of Afghan civilians carried out by CIA-trained death squads, euphemistically called “strike forces” in the paper. The instances described in the report are horrifying and savage. In one, the death squad puts bags over the heads of two brothers, executing them with their families in the next room. For good measure, the death squad blew up the room where the bodies lay.

Perhaps it’s just another sign of American psychic numbing, but the Times story seems to have provoked little response from other media, from politicians of any stripe, or from the public. More American war crimes in some Muslim country? Well, Happy New Year!

The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, under Operation Enduring Freedom, accusing the Taliban of harboring some of the 9/11 attackers, most of whom were Saudis. More to the point, the US has been creating havoc in Afghanistan at least since 1979, when we started training the mujahedeen to fight the Russians only to receive “our” Islamist radicals’ blowback at the Twin Towers. Afghanistan is a country about the size of Texas with a population of about 35 million (almost 40% literate). Some 63% of the population is under 25 years old and so has little conscious memory of a time when Afghans weren’t the targets of the American war machine.

Presently the US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, but nobody now quite knows how long they’ll be there. Mostly what US troops do is protect the official government from the apparent majority of the population that prefers the Taliban or some imaginary other option. The Afghan government controls little more than half the country most of the time. All sides have been killing civilians at the rate of about 8,000 a year for several years now, with the US and allies doing most of the killing. At least 18 CIA operatives were killed in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2017. This disproportionately deadly toll has not done much to win the hearts and minds of the people, but in seventeen years, the US hasn’t figured out how to do anything else better than create carnage.

The CIA-run death squad campaign isn’t new, but it has been seriously expanded during the past two years. Death squad personnel run into the thousands, mostly Afghans, but are recruited, trained, equipped, and controlled by CIA agents or CIA contractors. They operate independently of the US military command, typically without the military’s knowledge. They are effectively terrorist cells. They carry out night raids, long opposed by the Afghan government and the population at large. The night raids target civilians the CIA thinks it has reason to assassinate or capture and torture. The Times report describes survivors of night raids, all of whom insist on their innocence. There is no official accountability for these terrorist tactics:

A spokeswoman for the C.I.A. would not comment, nor would Afghans directly involved with the forces. Afghan security officials in Kabul tried to play down the level of the forces’ autonomy and the nature of their abuses. When pressed with details of specific cases, they did not respond.

And there is no evidence that these terrorist tactics are doing any good in a country that has despised foreign invaders for centuries. Virtually the same US terror tactics failed spectacularly in Vietnam. There the CIA mounted the infamous Phoenix Program to terrorize South Vietnamese villages with CIA-run death squads who “neutralized more than 80,000 real or suspected Viet Cong”.

Once Osama bin Laden escaped capture in 2001, the US war in Afghanistan lacked any clear mission. The Bush administration and the military shifted their attention to making war on Iraq instead. Failing to disengage sensibly from Afghanistan, the US let the war drift on mindlessly. In 2009, President Obama declared Afghanistan the “smart war” and decided to escalate it without really figuring out why. Obama relied particularly on CIA drones to kill massive numbers of people, mostly civilians, ultimately to no useful purpose.

In 2016, President Trump campaigned on getting out of Afghanistan. Once in office, Trump appointed Mike Pompeo to run the CIA. Pompeo set out to expand CIA killing, particularly with the death squads discreetly called “strike forces” by the Times. This paramilitary escalation, primarily against the Taliban, was first reported in October 2017, creating little stir. Six months later, the  CIA still denied the story was true. In the fall of 2017, Pompeo expressed US policy this way:

We can’t perform our mission if we’re not aggressive. This is unforgiving, relentless. You pick the word. Every minute, we have to be focused on crushing our enemies.

At the same time, the Institute for Public Policy had a different perspective, offered by former State Department career officer Matthew Hoh, who served in Afghanistan. Hoh had resigned in 2009 in protest against the Obama administration escalation of the war there. Calling the 2017 CIA’s expanded death squads part of “the broader war campaign of the United States in the Muslim world,” Hoh accurately predicted:

This CIA program of using Afghan militias to conduct commando raids, the vast majority of which will be used against civilians despite what the CIA states, falls in line with American plans to escalate the use of air and artillery strikes against the Afghan people in Taliban-held areas, almost all of whom are Pashtuns. Again, the purpose of this campaign is not to achieve a political settlement or reconciliation, but to brutally subjugate and punish the people, mostly rural Pashtuns, who support the Taliban and will not give in to the corrupt American run government in Kabul.

Since 2001, the US has watched passively as three presidents waged war on Afghanistan, each committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that would surely, in a just society, constitute impeachable offenses. For all the public splutter of self-designated serious people over the possible withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria, the absence of real reaction to how badly it’s all going in Afghanistan is sort of amazing (or would be for anyone still capable of amazement).

The Plight of Children in a Neoliberal World

The New York Times wrote Christmas Day that an 8-year old Guatemalan boy died in US Border Control custody. The circumstances are not clear, or are simply not reported. A month earlier, a 7-year old girl, also from Guatemala, died also in US Border Control custody. Here too, the circumstances are not revealed. How many more children, not mentioned by any media, or any statistics have already perished, trying to make their way to a better future?  A better future, because their real and beloved future in their own countries has been miserably destroyed by the US empire’s imposed corporate abuse and fascist-like dictatorships. But who cares? They are just children of illegal immigrants; children separated from their parents to dissuade parents to migrate to the US of A.  Welcome to paradise of hell!

Currently a large portion of the US Government is shut down, due to a budget dispute between President Trump and the ultra-right wing of the Republican Party breathing down his neck and the Democrats. At stake are US$5 billion for a Border Wall Trump requests as part of the general budget, and the Democrats refuse to sign-off on it. The Border Wall would have countless nefarious and more serious killer effects. More kids in border custody, some dehydrated, some simply exhausted from the long journey, some sick, all separated from their parents, maybe for good, and neglected by US Authorities, and most of them just simply left to their plight which, in many cases, may be death.

Welcome to the Land of the Free, the land of exemplary democracy!

Are Trump and his handlers murderers? Yes, they are. There is absolutely no doubt. Not just for the abject, inhuman abuse of migrants and migrant children, but for killing children and adults in the ever-increasing number of wars and conflicts around the globe, waged and initiated by the US, NATO, and the European puppets’ armies. He,Trump, could stop them at once. He may risk his life, but somebody who aspires to such high office must take risks. Besides, his life may be at stake for many more reasons. Enemies abound. A life is just a life, highly precious, though, to be saved by all means, but killing wantonly millions of children – the future of civilization – what is that if not a crime of the very, very highest degree, a crime of unfathomable dimensions, a crime that should be punishable by – well, let’s just call it by a war crimes court à la Nuremberg.

If someone would tell Trump that he is a murderer, would he grasp it? Would his conscience kick in and make him realize what he
is doing, he the all-powerful, who could stop it all? Or would he simply call his secret service to arrest you and put you behind bars for insulting him, albeit, telling him the truth?  We may never know. I have asked a similar question about Obama. How can they sleep at night? Do they take a pill that eradicates their conscience, their human brain power?  I truly wonder. It’s been known forever that power intoxicates. But to that extent? No repenting, not even after the four- or eight-year’s tour of duty?  No. Rather collect astronomical talking fees, cash-in on the power of indiscriminate killing.

Trump’s predecessors for hundred-plus years back belong to the same clan of criminals. Their crimes have become the new normal. The west watches over their killings on TV with media reports that banalize war and war death as normal, because war is war where it belongs to. And it’s so profitable. It’s the industry of killing – killing babies and their mothers, adolescents, starving them to death, destroying their systems of minimal hygiene – Yemen – a case in point; Syria is in the same league, Afghanistan, Iraq — the list is endless. Hundreds of thousands of children were killed and are still being killed in the world’s longest war, seventeen years and counting in Afghanistan. Nobody seems to care. Afghanistan, one of the resource richest countries on earth, has no future; not as long as it is dominated by greedy, murderous western powers, ahead of all – the corporate and military US of A.

Killing is the name of the game. And mind you, this killing spree is driven by a blood-thirsty elite of bankers, pharma-kings, weapon industrialists, GMO-agri-businesses, hydrocarbon kingpins – a dark deep-state elite that feeds on the idea that the world is over-populated and must be reduced by factors of thousands, so that this small elite may survive much longer on the ever-diminishing resources of Mother Earth.

This is no joke. Infamous top war criminal, Henry Kissinger, propagated this idea already in the 1960s as a prominent member of the Rockefeller clan, called “Bilderberg Society”. The Bilderbergers’ objective Numero Uno is just that – reducing the world population by any means. War is one of them. And who to target best?  Children, of course. They are the gene-bearers of future generations. If gone, there are no off-springs, nobody to lead the world into a better future, a future of peace – yes, a future of peace, because these children have known war and would most likely opt for a different set of life values.

And imagine the suffering of these children until they eventually succumb to death?  Many without parents, without shelter, food, health care, let alone minimal education, being exposed to the abuses of humanity – unpaid hard labor, rape, diseases. The west not just watches on, but helps their plight along by supplying weapons, bullets, bombs to those who do the killing.

The western public takes it as, well, the new normal. We can’t imagine a world without war, a world in peace. That’s the extent to which we have been indoctrinated. And as we live in comfort what is easier to believe than what we are told by the presstitute? No worries, our leaders (sic) do the right thing; we are safe. And just in case there is any doubt, the governments concerned ‘launch’ a ‘false flag’ terror attack, justifying more severe crack-downs on the population to, indeed, keep them safe by militarization of society, all the while continuing killing children with their mothers and relatives, children alone, children on the move as refugees, children as slaves, children uncounted by any statistics.

Trump, yes, he is a murderer. And the Border Wall is a murder weapon. Assassins are also Trump’s predecessors, not least Obama, who knowingly killed thousands of children through his extra-judiciary drone attacks – and let’s stress this – of which he boasted to personally approve each and every one of these drone killings. Clinton killed Haitians by the thousands, many of them children, through his forced “free” trade agreements, giving US corporations access to child labor, miserably paid child labor, which was and is nothing more than legalized enslavement, often leading to impoverishment, famine, disease and death.

When will justice be done? Or, are we talking about justice ‘after death’? Are we talking about a collective Karma that will eventually pull our entire civilization down the drain into an inescapable abyss, giving room to a new beginning?

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

We Can End The US War On Syria

No War In Syria demonstration 2013 in Los Angeles, CA (Photograph by David Mcnew for Getty)

The US war against Syria was one that people almost stopped. President Obama was unable to get Congress to authorize the war in 2013, but the Pentagon and foreign policy establishment, who have long wanted to control Syria, pushed forward with war anyway.

It has been a disaster. The war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries as well six million people displaced within the country and five million people who have fled the country.

The people were right, and the military was wrong. The war on Syria never should have happened and now must end.

President Trump announced withdrawal from Syria this week. This creates an opportunity to end the war on Syria. We have work to do to make peace a reality.

Peace Insurrection on Capitol Hill 2013, CODE PINK (Photo by Cool Revolution)

The People Almost Prevented the US War in Syria

In 2013, amidst highly-doubted, unproven allegations of a chemical attack by Syrian President Assad (debunked a year later), the threat of war escalated, and so did opposition to the war. Protests against an attack on Syria took place around the world. In the US, people were in the streets and speaking out at town halls. Obama was forced to bring the issue to Congress for authorization.

Congress was barraged with a Peace Insurrection encamped outside its doors, sit-ins in Congressional offices, and a massive number of phone calls with 499 to 1 opposing the war. Obama could not get the votes to support the war. Harry Reid surrendered to the public by never holding a vote.

The other superpower, the people, had stopped a war. Obama became the first president to announce a bombing campaign who was forced to back down by the people.

But the victory would be temporary, neocons and militarists continued to push for war. Based on new fake terror fears, and false chemical attack allegations, the ‘humanitarian’ destruction of Syria proceeded.

WSWS described how the war escalated under Obama, writing, “The illegal US occupation of Syria, begun under the Obama administration in October 2015 without authorization from either the United Nations or the Syrian government.” There was a shift from CIA support for Al Qaeda-linked militias to war to bring down the Assad government. US troops coordinated a campaign of airstrikes that reduced the city of Raqqa and other Syrian communities to rubble. Amnesty International, after conducting field investigations, reported the US has committed war crimes in Syria. Vijay Prashad described the US creating “hell on Earth” in Syria.

Despite this, the US was losing the war in Syria. With Russia coming to the aid of its ally, Assad was not going to be removed.

Trump escalated and drove the US deeper into the Middle East quagmire betraying the non-interventionist base who elected him. The corporate media praised Trump as ‘becoming president’ for bombing Syria based on another unproven chemical attack. Later, even General Mattis admitted there was no evidence tying Assad to chemical attacks.

Early this year, the Trump administration announced a permanent presence in one-third of Syria with 30,000 Syrian Kurds as the ground forces, US air support, and eight new US bases. Protests continued against the bombing of Syria throughout the spring in the US and around the world.

Now, as Andre Vltchek describes, the Syrian people have prevailed and most of the country is liberated. People are returning and rebuilding.

 

Boston Anti-War Protest: ‘Hands Off Syria! No War! (November 21 2016 by ShaunaDorothy in Socialist)

Trump Announces Withdrawal

President Trump’s announcement that he is withdrawing from Syria over the next 60 to 100 days has been met with a firestorm of opposition. Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Russia is drawing down its military activities with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu reporting Russia was carrying out 100 to 110 flights per day at its peak and now they do no more than two to four flights per week, chiefly for reconnaissance purposes. Putin agreed that ISIS had been defeated and supported Trump’s decision but cast doubt on Washington’s plans, saying, “We don’t see any signs of withdrawing US troops yet, but I concede that it is possible.”

There has been very little support for withdrawal from elected officials. Many Republicans and the corporate media are criticizing Trump. The first two Democrats to step forward to support the removal of troops were Rep. Ted Lieu, a frequent Trump critic who applauded the action, and Rep. Ro Khanna. But, the bi-partisan war Congress opposes Trump.

Secretary of Defense Mattis resigned after Trump’s announcement. In his resignation, he expressed disagreements with Trump over foreign policy. The media is mourning the exit of Mattis, neglecting his history as a likely war criminal who targeted civilians. Ray McGovern reminds us Mattis was famous for quipping, “It’s fun to shoot some people.”

Mattis is the fourth of “My Generals,” as Trump called them, to leave the administration; e.g., Director of Homeland Security and then Chief of Staff, John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. This leaves neocon extremist John Bolton and pro-militarist Mike Pompeo as the biggest influences on Trump’s foreign policy.

Popular Resistance supports the withdrawal of troops from Syria and applauds Trump’s decision.

We are not alone in supporting Trump’s withdrawal announcement. Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK described the withdrawal as “a positive contribution to the peace process,” urging “all foreign powers that have been involved in Syria’s destruction, including the United States, take responsibility for rebuilding this nation and providing assistance to the Syrian people, including the refugees, who have suffered so tragically for over seven years.”

Veterans for Peace supports the withdrawal saying the US has “no legal right to be [there] in the first place” and describing the brutal destruction caused by US bombs.

Black Alliance for Peace supports the withdrawal writing the war “should have never been allowed in the first place.” They denounce the corporate press and members of the political duopoly for opposing the withdrawal. BAP also recognizes that the foreign policy establishment will fight this withdrawal and promises to work to end all US involvement in Syria and other nations.


New York Times reports the coup which overthrew the country’s democratically elected government. Stephen J. Meade, the U.S. assistant military attaché who was also a CIA officer, worked with the Syrian chief of staff, Husni Zaim, to plan a coup. The US was concerned about Syria’s stance on Israel, border disputes with Turkey, and oil pipelines, and worried that the left was growing in power and that the government was growing friendlier to the Soviet Union.

Will the Long History Of US Regime Change In Syria End?

Trump is being fought because the US has a long history of trying to control Syria dating back to the 1940s. Controlling Syria has been a consistent policy objective. CIA documents from 1986 describe how the US could remove the Assad family.

While the bulk of destruction of Syria occurred during the Obama administration, plans for the current war and overthrowing Assad date back to the George W. Bush administration. A State Department cable, “Influencing the SARG In The End Of 2006”, examines strategies to bring about regime change in Syria.

This is not the first time President Trump said the war on Syria would be ending. He did so in March, but in April, Mattis announced expanding the US military in Syria. As Patrick Lawrence writes in Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria, “By September the Pentagon was saying . . .U.S. forces had to stay until Damascus and its political opponents achieved a full settlement.“

In response to Trump’s newest announcement, the Pentagon said it will continue the air war in Syria. They would do so at least for as long as troops were on the ground, adding “As for anything post-US troops on the ground, we will not speculate on future operations.” The Pentagon has not given any details on a withdrawal timeline, citing “force protection and operational security reasons.”

As Trump’s removal of US troops from Syria challenges the foreign policy establishment, which seemed to be planning a long-term presence in Syria, the movement must support Trump to end the war.

 

Stop Endless Wars from the Anti-War Committee

The People Must Ensure the End of the War on Syria

The peace movement should do all it can to support Trump’ call for withdrawal because he needs allies. Patrick Lawrence describes the experience thus far during the Trump administration:

“As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call ‘the deep state’ will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.”

We saw this scenario play out earlier this month when Trump complained about the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and pledged to cut it. As Lawrence points out, just days later the president met with Mattis and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and announced that the three had agreed on a 2020 defense budget of $750 billion, a 5 percent increase.

Trump has made no progress on North Korea since the first meeting and has been prevented from making progress on positive relations with Russia. The foreign policy establishment of the Pentagon, State Department, Intelligence Agencies, weapons makers and Congressional hawks are in control. Trump will need all the help he can get to overcome them and withdraw from Syria.

We should urge Trump to be clear that ALL troops are leaving Syria. This should include not only the troops on the ground but the air force as well as private contractors. The CIA should also stop its secret war on Syria. And the US should leave the military bases it has built in Syria. Similarly, the movement should support Trump’s calls to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The US has done incredible damage to Syria and owes restitution, which is needed to help bring Syria back to normalcy.

Syria and Afghanistan join the list of failed and counterproductive US wars. These are more signs of a failing empire. The people of the United States must rise up to finish the job we started in 2013 — stop the war on Syria, a war that never should have occurred.

Where Can the Anger Go?

Kabul — At a busy four-way intersection in the northwestern part of Kabul, traffic is stuck. There is no traffic signal, and cars are threaded through one another like a woven rug.

A passenger car is in front of our taxi. The driver, with two children in the car, has managed to wedge into position, perpendicularly blocking three rows of cars. On the other side of his car are vehicles headed in the direction he came from, and another line of cars is trying to cross in front of his. The driver with the children cannot move anywhere.

Soon, an angry man approaches on foot, placing his hands on the hood of the family vehicle and shouting at the driver. The man walks from the hood to the driver’s side window and back again, shouting. Now the driver cannot move his car forward without hitting the man. He absorbs the verbal abuse without gesticulating or yelling back.

Twice a traffic police officer walks by, trying to untangle the knot of traffic. The angry man continues to yell in front of the car. Meanwhile, two other drivers step out of their cars and start yelling at the man though they don’t approach closer.

Eventually, the angry man walks away, and the traffic knot loosens. The family car manages to clear the intersection, and our taxi finally turns left.

I reflect afterwards how this flare-up is representative of the underlying tensions in Kabul after decades of war, where any situation or statement may soon explode in anger. A precarious balance exists between the venting of frustration and the descent into physical violence.

On November 15, a violent altercation in the men’s dormitory at Kabul University, the preeminent Afghan university in the city, resulted in one student’s death and several injuries. The inter-ethnic clash soon spilled into the streets. The university promptly closed the men’s dormitory, abruptly obligating its residents to find other accommodation, and moved up the final exam dates so that the university could end the semester early.

Reports of the violence at the university spread by social media, reports that two university students tell me drew from deep-seated ethnic biases instead of being a search for a clear understanding of the facts or for a nonviolent approach to resolving the escalating inter-ethnic tensions.

A half hour before today’s road rage, in Kabul’s Char Rah-e Qarbar neighborhood, I met Ramzia, age 17. Ramzia is a student at the JRS school in a camp for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). The living quarters in the camp are crowded. Multiple families might share one simple mud home with their sheep and other livestock. Such tight spaces combined with traumatized residents fuel tensions, and Ramzia told me that she didn’t use to know what to do with her anger. “I would keep the anger in my heart,” she said.

Ramzia’s family fled the violence in Laghman province, violence that prevented her from continuing her studies beyond the fourth grade. In the camp, she was able to resume her studies and just completed a dozen life skills classes. The women’s life skills classes, in partnership with JRS, were led by Elina, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) who do various volunteer projects in the city. The curriculum included trauma healing, permaculture, nonviolent conflict resolution, storytelling, nonviolent communication, and relational thinking skills.

Ramzia said that the most valuable lesson she learned from Elina was to take slow deep breaths when she became angry. “When I do that,” she said, “I feel calmer and happier.”

Ramzia now has some part-time employment in the camp. From 9 to 11 each morning, Ramzia works in the JRS kindergarten, skipping rope and playing ball with the children. The kindergartners living in the camp will grow up facing the same daily frustrations that Ramzia does, living with no electricity and non-potable water, and trudging along unpaved camp paths that turn to mud each spring.

Naser, an APV who was co-teaching the life skills classes for men in the camp, believes the most important thing they shared with the men was how they might behave differently with their parents and siblings. “The parents behave a bit violently with their children, and the brothers behave violently with their sisters,” Naser said. “If children do something wrong, [the parents] don’t ask why or what happened. They just shout at them, beat them.”

After the first nonviolent communication lesson, Naser and his co-teacher Hakim assigned homework to each student. The students were to talk to their parents and siblings about their feeling as well as their favorite food. Before doing the homework, none of the students knew what his parents’ or siblings’ favorite food was as they were not in the habit of sharing their feelings. Naser said, “The next week, they were happy because they were talking about the future with their families.” The students said they’d buy their family members’ favorite food for special celebrations.

The value in teaching life skills, such as what to do with one’s anger and to share one’s feelings, is in its ripple effect. Through these lessons, Ramzia has a tool to help find a calmer way to respond to a four-year-old child at the kindergarten who is acting out or with a neighbor with whom there’s a disagreement. Others might take a moment to try to understand a situation before acting upon it. The skills can help shift how people engage with one another.

Still, educational opportunities are few. There is no government school in the IDP camp to serve the 700 families, so instead of attending school, children spend their days playing in the dirt paths or working as child laborers outside the camp. For any who may attend school, life skills classes are not a part of the regular curriculum.

Ramzia, an IDP from Laghman province, works in the JRS kindergarten in “Police” refugee camp while two of her brothers are paid by a shopkeeper to pack potatoes into sacks.

 

A boy standing in front of the JRS school in a refugee camp holds a rubber hose like the type used by some teachers to strike children who fail to learn their lessons. Other children hold the raw cauliflower florets they are munching on. The permaculture lessons during the APV-led life skills classes encouraged students to grow vegetables in small containers beside their homes. Greenery beautifies, has a calming effect, and is a small step toward combating air pollution.

From Central America to Syria: The Conspiracy against Refugees

Watching the ongoing debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits on US mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Central America.

In fact, no other country is as accountable as the United States for the Central American bedlam and resulting refugee crisis.

So why, despite the seemingly substantial ideological and political differences between right-wing Fox News and liberal CNN, both media outlets are working hard to safeguard their country’s dirty little secret?

In recent years, state and gang violence – coupled with extreme poverty – have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries, in Central and South America.

US mainstream media, however, is rarely interested in the root cause of that reality.

Fox News is tirelessly peddling the offensive language used by President Donald Trump, which perceives the refugees as criminals and terrorists, who pose a threat to US national security.

At a press conference last October, Trump urged a reporter to take his camera into ”the middle” of a caravan of migrants on the treacherous journey through Mexico, to locate ”Middle Eastern” people that have infiltrated the crowd. In Trump’s thinking, ‘Middle Eastern people’ is synonymous with terrorists.

CNN has, on the other hand, labored to counter the growing anti-immigrant official and media sentiments that have plagued the US, a discourse that is constantly prodded and manipulated by Trump and his supporters.

However, few in the liberal media have the courage to probe the story beyond convenient political rivalry, persisting in their hypocritical and insincere humanitarianism that is divorced from any meaningful political context.

The fact is the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East and Central Asian refugee crises of recent years. Mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions.

From Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, millions of refugees were forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to seek safety in some other country.

Millions of Iraqis and Syrians found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from the grinding wars.

Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former has seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans, too, have blamed the refugees for their own misery.

Blaming the victim is nothing new.

Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate Western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side of a protracted war, and so on.

Yet, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, in varied degrees, outcomes of military interventions, a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of both right-wing and liberal intellectuals.

The irony is that the hapless refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the United States, are perceived to be the aggressors, the invaders, as opposed to the US and allies that had, in fact, invaded these once stable and sovereign homelands.

Trump has often referred to the Central American migrants’ caravan as an ‘invasion’.  Fox News parroted that claim, and injected the possibility of having the refugees shot upon arrival.

If Fox News lacked the decency to treat refugees as human beings deserving of sympathy and respect, CNN lacked the courage to expand the discussion beyond Trump’s horrid language and inhumane policies.

To expand the parameters of the conversation would expose a policy that was not introduced by Trump, but by Bill Clinton and applied in earnest by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Media grandstanding aside, both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis.

In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Millions of people – who had escaped US-instigated wars and military coups – were deported back to Central and South America. While 2 million people were deported during the Bush terms, 2.5 million were deported under Obama.

A terrible situation was exacerbated. Violence and want flared even more.

To rally his angry and radicalized constituency, Trump waved the migrant card once more, threatening to build a “great wall” and to close “loopholes” in the US immigration law.

Like his predecessors, he offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by destructive US foreign policy, stretching decades.

But the refugees kept on coming, mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle region. Without proper political context, they, too, were duly blamed for their hardship.

Considering Fox News and CNN’s lack of quality coverage, this is not surprising. Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region, starting with the CIA-engineered coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954, or the US support of the coup against the democratically-elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, or of everything else that happened in between these dates.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors goes back as early as 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the ‘right’ of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

The free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) signed between Central American countries and the US has done its own share of damage. It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman in Medium.

Acknowledging all of this is threatening. If US mainstream pundits accept their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they will be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the savior (embraced by the left), which has served them well.

The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe, too.

But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem, not to its resolution. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm.

This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.

Children: Civilization’s Future, Victims of Western Brutality

The United Nations Universal Children’s Day – 20 November – has come and gone and nothing has changed. No action that would now protect children any more than before, no move even by the UN to call on nations at war to take special care to protect children if for nothing else but the fact that children are our planet’s future. They are the standard bearer of human generations to come and of our civilization as a whole, if we don’t run it into the ground. Yet, children are among the most vulnerable, discriminated and abjectly exploited and abused species within human kind.

The culture of greed and instant profit has no space for children, for their rights, for their up-bringing within a frame of human rights, fair education, access to shelter and health services everywhere. For much of our western society, children are a nuisance, at best, a tool for cheap labor, especially when the west outsources its production processes to poor developing countries, mostly in Asia and Central America, so poor that they cannot enforce laws against child labor, all to maximize corporate profits.

Otherwise the western driven killing and war machine indiscriminately slaughters children, by famine, by drones, by bombs, by disease, by abuse. Collateral damage? I doubt it. Children could be protected, even in illegal wars. But eradicating by death and poverty entire generations in nations the west intends to subdue has a purpose: rebuilding of these nations will not take place under the watch of educated children, grown adults, who would most likely oppose their ‘hangmen’, those that have destroyed their homes and families, their villages and towns, their schools and hospital, their drinking water supply systems, leaving them to the plight of cholera and other diseases brought about by lack of hygiene and sanitation. So, in the interest of the empire and its puppet allies, children’s calamities and crimes on them are at best under reported. In most cases nobody even cares.

Look at Syria. The poison gas attacks instigated by US and NATO forces, carried out by their proxies ISIS and Saudi Arabia, to blame them on President Bashar al-Assad, were directed at children for greater public relations impact, further helped by the fake heroes, the White Helmets. Can you imagine! (I’m sure you can!) Children have to be poisoned and killed by western forces who want to topple the Syrian Assad regime to put their puppet in Assad’s place, so that they can control the country and eventually the region. Yes, children are sacrificed – a huge crime against humanity – to commit another horrendous international crime – forcefully change a democratically elected regime. That’s what the west does and is – and probably always was for the last 2000 years.

Take the situation of Yemen, where for the last 3 ½ years the network of the world’s biggest mafia killer scheme, led by Saudi Arabia, as the patsy and foreign money funnel aiding the United States and her allies in crime, the UK, France, Spain, several of the Gulf States, until recently also Germany, and many more – has killed by bombs, starvation and cholera induced by willingly destroyed water supply and sanitation systems, maybe hundreds of thousands of children.

According to Save the Children, some 85,000 children below 5 years of age may have already died from famine; mind you, a purposefully induced famine, as Saudi and Gulf forces destroyed and blocked the port of Hodeida, where about 80% – 90% of imported food enters the country. The most vulnerable ones, as with every man-made disaster, are children and women.

Already a year ago, the UN warned that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is the fastest spreading cholera epidemic since records began and that it will affect at least a million people, including at least 600,000 children. A year later – how many of them have died? Extreme food shortages, destroyed shelters and hospitals, lack of medication, as medicine is also blocked at the points of import, have reduced children’s natural immune systems even further.

Imagine the suffering caused not just to the children, but to their parents, families, communities! What the west is doing is beyond words. It’s beyond crime; and all those ‘leaders’ (sic) responsible will most likely never face a criminal court, as they are controlling all the major justice systems in the world. Though, no justice could make good for the killing and misery, but at least it could demonstrate that universal crime – as is the war on Yemen and many others fought for greed and power – is not tolerated with impunity.

UNHCR – the UN refugee agency — reports that worldwide some 70 million refugees are on the move or in refugee camps. This figure does not include a large number of unreported cases, perhaps up to a third more. Most of the refugees are generated in the Middle East by western initiated wars; wars for greed, for natural resources, for controlling a geopolitically and strategically important region on the seemingly ‘unstoppable’ way to full power world dominance.

At least two thirds of the refugees are children – no health care, no education, no suitable shelter, or none at all, malnourished-to-starving, raped, abused, enslaved – you name it.

Where do all these children go? What is their future? There will be societies – Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan – missing a full generation. The countries are suffering a gap in educated people. This wanton gap will likely prevent rebuilding and developing their nations according to their sovereign rights. These countries are easier to control, subdue and enslave.

Just imagine, many of the lost children pass under the radar of human statistics, ignored, many of them are totally abandoned, no parents, no family, nobody to care for them, nobody to love them – they may quietly die – die in the gutters, unknown, anonymous. We – the brutal west – let them.

And the UN-declared Children’s Day has come and gone and nothing has changed, Nothing will change as long as the west is devastating indiscriminately countries, cities, villages for sheer greed. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan — never were threatening the United States, nor Israel, of course. But they have resources the west covets, or they are geopolitically of strategic importance – for step by bloody step advancing towards world hegemony.

According to the UN, about 300 million children around the world do not go to school. Again, the unreported figure is possibly double or higher, especially including those that attend school only sporadically. Many of the children are abducted, sold into slavery, prostitution, imprisoned for medical testing and for use in orgies of blood thirsty secret societies, their organs harvested and traded by mafia type organizations. Organ trading allegations are levied against Israel’s armed forces killing thousands of children in Israel’s open prison and extermination camp, called Gaza; and against Ukraine’s Kiev Nazi Government.

Did you know, 60% of all children in Gaza are mutilated and amputated as a result of Israel’s war against the Palestine population? And the world looks on, not daring to protest and stand up against this criminal nation – God’s chosen people.

In the UK, 1 of 4 children live in poverty. In the US, 60 million children go to bed hungry every night. As I write these lines, at the US-Mexican border refugee children and their mothers are being shot at with teargas canons by US police and military forces, to prevent them from entering Mr. Trump’s Holy Land, the Great United States of America.

The former UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, referring to the horrific siege on Aleppo and calling for international action to stop the war, said:

The assault on Aleppo is an assault on the whole world. When hospitals, schools and homes are bombed indiscriminately, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent children, these are acts that constitute an attack on our shared, fundamental human values. Our collective cry for action must be heard, and acted upon, by all those engaged in this dreadful war.

But, how could the world of today be described better than by Caitlin Johnstone in her recent poem “Welcome to Planet Earth”, where she says:

Welcome to Planet Earth…… where children who do not know how to live, teach their children how to live; where children pray for miracles, using minds that are made of miracles; with clasped hands that are made of miracles; where children wander in search of God, upon feet that are made of God, looking with eyes that are made of God.

Where have all the children gone?

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NE0)