Category Archives: Kabul

A Morning in Afghanistan

On a very warm September morning in Kabul, several dozen men, women, and children sit on the carpeted floor of a room at the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Borderfree Center. The women cluster together. All wear burqas, but because of the heat they push the steel blue veils back, revealing their faces. Most of the men wear traditional tunics and pakol hats.

Parents and children alike listen intently to Masoma, a young Afghan woman who coordinates the Center’s “Street Kids School.” She explains the importance of steady attendance, and parents nod in agreement. Most of the 100 students come on time for their Friday classes, but a handful had recently skipped, showing up only on the day when the center distributes monthly food rations for the Street Kids families.

The previous Friday, those who had missed more than two classes prior to the food distribution day walked away empty-handed — a hard lesson, but the volunteer teachers felt they must abide by the short list of rules governing the center. Anyone who misses classes two or more times in a month won’t receive the ration.

Then Masoma’s colleague, Dr. Hakim, stands and poses two blunt requests. “Please raise your hand,” he says, “if you and your family have at least enough resources to meet your basic needs.”

About six hands are raised. Next he asks people to raise a hand if they couldn’t make ends meet. Seven hands go up. Hakim says his organization wants to help families become self-reliant so that after their children leave the Street Kids School, they will have another way to acquire essentials like beans, rice, and cooking oil.

Hakim now asks people to raise their hands if they could send one family member, like an older brother, to a three-month course on how to repair mobile phones. The idea is well-received. Notebook papers are circulated to gather parents’ names, and, if possible, mobile phone numbers. Several women seek Masoma’s help to write their names. She assures them she will stay in touch.

A tall young man, Habib, carrying a large tray of bananas and apples, politely offers fruit to each guest. Six years ago, Afghan Peace Volunteers members had befriended Habib when they met him in a busy market-place. His father had been killed when a bomb exploded in Kabul. I remember watching him work on a dusty, crowded street during a chilly afternoon shortly after he and his family had taken up residence in a miserable shack in Kabul. His little brother walked alongside him, holding his hand, while Habib carried a scale and asked people to weigh themselves on it. Habib looked forlorn and worried. The shy, anxious youngster had been regularly beaten by an uncle who tried to force him to join a militia; he now recognizes that Habib was wise to run away from the militia.

Today, Habib towers over me. Yesterday, he spoke eagerly at a small group meeting he had helped plan about ways to build caring relationships. Over the past three years, he has learned to read and write and has been at the top of his classes at a government school. He has also developed some construction skills. When I remark that several walls at the center were repaired and newly painted, Masoma smiled happily. “Habib!” she says. “He was a big help.”

A few adults linger alongside the center’s shady garden, filled with fruit trees, grapevines, herbs, and flowers. Some of the Afghan Peace Volunteers used permaculture methods to design and cultivate the space. Others recently dedicated themselves to a “renewable energy team.” Last year, the team helped forty-four families acquire solar energy. This year they hope to expand the effort.

Over the past week, young volunteers have gathered to plan for an upcoming “On the Road to Peace” conference. This will be the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ third annual gathering of participants from each of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces. The conference offers four days of intensive learning and discovery about cross-cultural understanding, nonviolence, and ways to abolish war.

Yesterday, Dr. Hakim and I asked for complete quiet inside the center’s “office” — a large room lined with bookcases, file cabinets, mats, and sturdy pillows. In the center of the room, a jumble of cords and power strips are connected to a solar power battery, a fan, a router, and a collection of  cell phones and laptops.

Earlier, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! had invited Dr. Hakim and I to participate in interviews regarding President Trump’s sudden decision to call off a secret meeting he claimed to have arranged between himself, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, and representatives of the Taliban who have been meeting with United States envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Sitting on the floor, we huddled over Dr. Hakim’s well-worn laptop waiting for Democracy Now! engineers to contact us by Skype.

Hakim and I suggested that neither Trump nor any of the negotiators in Doha were participating in a genuine peace process. Rather, it was a cruel charade, with each side seeking greater leverage by demonstrating their willingness to kill innocent people.

Many people living in Afghanistan greatly fear increased Taliban power over their cities, villages, roadways, and crumbling infrastructure. Taliban war crimes are frequently covered in global media. Less obvious to people in the U.S., but horribly real for people in Afghanistan, are acts of aerial terrorism regularly waged by the United States military.

Writing for The Daily Beast earlier this year, Andrew Quilty described how one Afghan family in the Helmand province suffered a vicious attack on their home last November. Two Taliban fighters had come to their home, insisting that Obaidullah, the householder, let them in. He pleaded with them to leave, but instead the Taliban fighters fired on a joint United States and Afghan military convoy. Shortly thereafter, a United States A-10 Warthog plane strafed Obaidullah’s home.

“Hundreds of rounds of ammunition—bullets the size of large carrots—fired by a weapon designed to disable armoured tanks, poured out of the plane’s Gatling gun,” Quilty wrote. “The two Taliban fighters had fled. Instead, Obaidullah and his fifteen-year-old son Esmatullah were killed; thirteen others suffered broken bones and shrapnel injuries from head to toe. One boy, fourteen-year-old Ehsanullah, lost both his eyes.”

In a report on civilian casualties, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan attributed a rise in civilian deaths in 2019 to an escalation of the U.S. air war in the country. In addition, countless night raids carried out by joint U.S./Afghan forces have struck terror in families whose loved ones were killed in front of them. Ordinary Afghans whom I have met with in the past week are acutely aware of the night raids and link the gruesome pattern of killing civilians to United States trainers and the CIA.

Before Donald Trump pulled back U.S. participation, there had been nine rounds of talks, and the United States special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was supposedly edging closer to a “peace” deal with the Taliban.

A genuine peace process would hold all warring parties accountable for crimes against humanity and would call for an immediate end to U.S. and NATO militarism in Afghanistan. It would urge the United States to humbly acknowledge the recklessness of its invasion and occupation. Reliable non-governmental parties would be asked to develop ways for Afghans to receive reparations from all countries who’ve participated in the past eighteen years of war. Those responsible for pursuing a genuine peace process would need mentors and advisors. I recommend the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Parents of Borderfree Street Kids School Students

 

Habib (standing, left) serves fruit to parents at the Borderfree Street Kids School

 

• Photos by Dr. Hakim

• This article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine

Inevitable Withdrawal: The US-Taliban Deal

It took gallons and flagons of blood, but it eventuated, a squeeze of history into a parchment of possibility: the Taliban eventually pushed the sole superpower on this expiring earth to a deal of some consequence.  (The stress is on the some – the consequence is almost always unknown.)  “In principle, on paper, yes we have reached an agreement,” claimed the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on the Afghan channel ToloNews.  “But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.”

The agreement entails the withdrawal (the public relations feature of the exercise teasingly calls this “pulling out”) of 5,400 troops from the current complement of 14,000 within 135 days of signature.  Five military bases will close or be transferred to the Afghan government.  In return, the Taliban has given an undertaking never to host forces with the intention of attacking the US and its interests.

Exactitude, however, is eluding the press and those keen to get to the marrow.  Word on the policy grapevine is that this is part of an inexorable process that will see a full evacuation within 16 months, though this remains gossip.

The entire process has its exclusions, qualifications and mutual deceptions.  In it is a concession, reluctant but ultimately accepted, that the Taliban was a credible power that could never be ignored.  To date, the US has held nine rounds of talks, a seemingly dragged out process with one ultimate outcome: a reduction, and ultimate exit of combat forces.

The Taliban was not, as the thesis of certain US strategists, a foreign bacillus moving its way through the Afghan body politic, the imposition of a global fundamentalist corporation.  Corrupt local officials of the second rank, however, were also very much part and parcel of the effort, rendering any containment strategy meaningless.

A narrative popular and equally fallacious was the notion that the Taliban had suffered defeat and would miraculously move into the back pages of history.  Similar views were expressed during the failed effort by the United States to combat the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.  An elaborate calculus was created, a mirage facilitated through language: the body count became a means of confusing numbers with political effect.

Time and time again, the Taliban demonstrated that B52s, well-equipped foreign forces and cruise missiles could not extricate them from the land that has claimed so many empires.  Politics can only ever be the realisation of tribes, collectives, peoples; weapons and material are unkind and useful companions, but never viable electors or officials.

Even now, the desire to remain from those in overfunded think tanks and well-furnished boardrooms, namely former diplomats engaged on the Afghan project, is stubborn and delusionary.  If withdrawal is to take place, goes that tune, it should hinge on a pre-existing peace agreement.  An open letter published by the Atlantic Council by nine former US State Department officials previously connected with the country is a babbling affair.  “If a peace agreement is going to succeed, we and others need to be committed to continued support for peace consolidation.  This will require monitoring compliance, tamping down of those extremists opposed to peace, and supporting good governance and economic growth with international assistance.”

The presumptuousness of this tone is remarkable, heavy with work planning jargon and spread sheet nonsense.  There is no peace to keep, nor governance worth preserving.  Instead, the authors of the note, including such failed bureaucratic luminaries as John Negroponte, Robert P. Finn and Ronald E. Neumann, opt for the imperial line: the US can afford staying in Afghanistan because the Afghans are the ones fighting and dying.  (Again, this is Vietnam redux, an Afghan equivalent of Vietnamisation.)  In their words, “US fatalities are tragic, but the number of those killed in combat make up less than 20 percent of the US troops who died in non-combat training incidents.”  All good, then.

In a sign of ruthless bargaining, the Taliban continued the bloodletting even as the deal was being ironed of evident wrinkles.  This movement knows nothing of peace but all about the life of war: death is its sovereign; corpses, its crop.  On Monday, the Green Village in Kabul was targeted by a truck bomb, leaving 16 dead (this toll being bound to rise).  It was a reminder that the Taliban, masters of whole swathes of the countryside, can also strike deep in the capital itself.  The killings also supplied the Afghan government a salutary reminder of its impotence, underscored by the fact that President Ashraf Ghani played no role in the Qatar talks.

This leaves us with the realisation that much cruelty is on the horizon.  The victory of the Taliban is an occasion to cheer the bloodying of the imperialist’s nose.  But they will not leave documents of enlightenment, speeches to inspire.  This agreement will provide little comfort for those keen to read a text unmolested or seek an education free of crippling dogma. Interior cannibalisation is assured, with civil war a distinct possibility.  Tribal war is bound to continue.

As this takes place, the hope for President Donald Trump and his officials will no doubt be similar to the British when they finally upped stakes on instruction from Prime Minister David Cameron: forget that the whole thing ever happened.

Remnants of War

Intense fighting and hideous attacks battered Afghans throughout their country last week as negotiators in Qatar weighed the benefits and costs of  a peace agreement that might stop the bloodshed.

In Kabul at least 40 people, including one child, were killed in a complex Taliban attack. Dozens of children whose school was partially collapsed by a massive car bomb were injured. Of these, 21 were hospitalized with serious injuries.

New York Times correspondent Mujib Mashal posted (on Twitter) a photo of an elementary school child being carried into the Italian Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War in Kabul. “Blood on his face,” Mashal writes, describing the child. “Still in shock. Still clutching that pencil.”

The same attack damaged a television station, a government facility and an adjoining private war museum.

Operated by OMAR, (Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation), a group dedicated to the never-ending and often dangerous work of mine-clearance and disposal, the war museum houses ordnance and land mines used in Afghanistan during four decades of warfare. In 2012, young Afghan Peace Volunteers took me to see the museum. I recall a small exhibit showing remnants of a United States cluster bomb. The remnants are called bomblets, and each cluster bomb consists of 202 bomblets. They resemble children’s playthings, items that could be stepped on, driven over or picked up by curious children.

The U.S. dropped 1,228 cluster bombs in Afghanistan between October 2001 and March 2002 alone. The Afghan landscape is now littered by anti-personnel and anti-tank mines which OMAR is striving to remove, where permitted, before more Afghan civilians are killed. Research by the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan indicates, in the first three months of the current year, 130 Afghan boys and girls were casualties of “ERW:” “Explosive Remnants of War”.

As negotiations inched forward, two Afghan government airstrikes, possibly using United States assistance, hit civilians, killing 7 members of a family in the Baghlan province and four civilians in a clinic in Maidan Wardak province.

The Taliban, U.S. Government, and every other warring party in Afghanistan must be asked: “How many more civilians, including children, are you willing to kill and maim?”

The second time I visited the OMAR museum was with my friend Martha Hennessy. We were asked not to take photos, but Martha had already snapped a picture of a carpet carefully woven to illustrate several types of land mines Afghans should watch out for. The carpet was hung on a wall, but actual mines lie in the paths to be traversed by innocent Afghans. On the phone with me discussing the recent Kabul attack, Martha mentioned that carpet and reflected on the terrible carpeting of Afghanistan with barbarous ordnance.

Photo by Martha Hennessy

Martha now faces up to 20 years in prison for protesting the most barbarous and inhumane weaponry ever invented.

Martha, a granddaughter of the Catholic Worker Movement’s founder Dorothy Day, is one of seven Catholic activists, the “King’s Bay Plowshares Seven“, whose April 4, 2018 action was in accord with their deeply held beliefs that life is sacred, and must not be taken in war. The U.S. naval base at King’s Bay, Georgia houses nuclear-missile-armed Trident submarines. Entering without permission, they hung banners, displayed crime scene tape and poured their blood on the base grounds. They protested the U.S.’ preparations, far exceeding those of any other nation, to commit “omnicide”, to carpet the world in fire, in fallout, in the snows of a deadly “nuclear winter,” in ash. For the past fifteen months, they’ve awaited trial on charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass. They feel that U.S. readiness for war must be put on trial now, or potentially never.

Another of Martha’s co-defendants has been a guest, like us, of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Our friend Carmen Trotta recalls a visit to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, an Italy-based hospital that treated many victims of the recent Kabul attacks. In 2014 we had visited the hospital to donate blood, and met Jamshaid and Farshaid, young teens who had survived a suicide bomb attack on the United States military base in Bagram. They had been standing outside their school outside the base when the attack happened. Farshaid’s leg had been amputated. Jamshaid had lost much of his vision. We asked Michaela Paschetto, a young Italian nurse, how they were faring.

“Today was a bad day for them,” she said. “Really, I don’t ask so many questions,” she continued. “It becomes too much.”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Carmen recalls. “I honestly couldn’t think of a word to say.”

Carmen, Martha and each of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 will have their say, however brief, in a Brunswick County federal court on August 7. Oral arguments will be heard including several motions as well as their belief they opposed the U.S. nuclear arsenal in accord with their religious faith. They have consistently opposed weapons and wars and just as steadfastly served, as members of Dorothy Day’s movement, their impoverished neighbors. They understand the wars, the omnicidal weapons awaiting their use at King’s Bay, and the suffering of the U.S. poor as, in some sense, all part of a global war on the poor.

Depending on whether we resist or acquiesce, grieve or complacently ignore, we ourselves risk becoming the tragic, perpetually dangerous remnants of war.

In Afghanistan, We Have Three Dreams

Dear fellow human beings,

Some of us have wondered, “Are people today too disconnected and frantic to calm down, in order to solve global challenges together? Are we so polarized and self-absorbed that we cannot stop judging one another or insisting on our partisan ways?”

In Kabul, our thoughts and feelings are diverse, complicated and flawed, so we center our three dreams on relationships.

We have felt much joy in creating this video-letter. We dedicate it to planet earth and to everyone in the human family.

We hope that each of us can take tiny actions to free ourselves from the ravages of money and power.

With love from Afghanistan,

Dr Hakim Young and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

 

In Afghanistan, We Have Three Dreams Video

We’re the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, and we have three dreams.

Our three dreams are about reuniting with nature and 7.7 billion other human beings!

Our dreams aren’t prescriptions. They’re music and movements, distilled from today’s nightmares.

What we hope to gain is love, not money or political power, because love will be good for all of us!

We will re-boot the operating systems that have programmed us to chase after fake money and power.

After years of rote exams, we have hardly learned anything about becoming finer human beings. So, we have resolved to educate ourselves to question everything, and to love everyone!

We’re like children whose instinct is to become friends. More than being dreamers, we’re do-ers. So, we’re building three earth GENeration dreams, GEN for Green, Equal and Nonviolent.

We dream of Green earth relationships!

We practise permaculture and use solar energy.

Why? We’re part of nature and can’t survive without her. Our Mother Earth isn’t a “thing” for us to utilize or set on fire, but a “being” for us to embrace.

We dream of Equal earth relationships!

We have started worker cooperatives because the world economy isn’t fair for the planet or for 99% of humanity.

Our community is self-governing. We don’t need a Director. All of us are leaders, but we’re not like today’s cash-elected leaders who are some of the least desirable humans in the world.

We’re growing our web of Borderfree friends, because we’re from the same human family, the same tree of life. We want to be friends with all Afghans, US citizens, Russians, the British, Chinese, Koreans, Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, Sudanese, Venezuelans and every human being!

Our human genome is 99.9% similar, so we reject racism, exceptionalism, male superiority, moralism and others, because all of these are neither scientific nor kind.

We dream of Nonviolent earth relationships!

We all want peace, but so far, we’ve wanted peace only for our own countries, tribes, political and religious groups. So war has continued, and as a result, I’ve lost my uncle Sakhi, and my close friend Tariq.

We’ve more space in our hearts for love and peace than for war, so we’re training ourselves to be nonviolent mediators. We’ll reason and empathize with our leaders and extremists, and we will reach an agreement without using any physical force!

War starts in our militarized minds, so picture the global war on terror as a smart phone. We think it’s necessary and that it works well. But really?

Some people think that, like a phone, war is necessary, But though war may work, it only works physically for a short while, and only works for a few individuals.

For the rest of us, war costs us everything! It’s time to throw it away!

Killing one another unsettles our human psyche. So, to those who have divided us with trauma, distrust, sorrow and revenge, we say, “We’re breaking free!”

Well, these three dreams are really one dream, because we can’t fix the climate, without fixing inequality or war.

Everyone and everything is related! We just can’t separate ourselves from each other, from the earth, or from you!

Okay, thanks for listening to our dreams. We’ve taken up enough of your screen time. So let’s get off screen, terminate our business as-as-usual, and pursue the authentic relationships all of us long for.

Remember, we make up 64% of the Afghan population below 25. We’re the new Earth GENeration. We’re the music and the movements within you, so we hope to meet you someday!

“Friends… they cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.” Henry David Thoreau

From Kabul to Okinawa, the Outrageous Abolition of War

Inaam (left), Habib (right) and I (photographer) sharing a good laugh at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre in Kabul

I decided to write this ninth love letter specially to Inaam, the 21st century generations of the world and the people of Okinawa because of three personal reasons.

I miss having the wonderful energies of 15-year-old Inaam at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre. Inaam has to polish boots in the streets of Kabul to supplement his family’s income and to survive today’s terrible economic system.

I also wish that the vision and work of abolishing war had been “attractive” enough to keep Inaam in the Abolish War Team beyond three weeks. Inaam, born at the turn of the 21st century, deserves to live in world without war.

I write to the courageous and kind Okinawans because though Japanese soldiers killed my grandfather in World War II, the people of Okinawa and Japan are healing my father through their nonviolent resistance.

*****

Dear Inaam, the 21st century generations of the world and the people of Okinawa,

You’re only fifteen, and I’m almost fifty.

I wish I didn’t hear you say to me, “Hakim, I think that war will never be abolished.” Have we greedy adults made it so very difficult for you to picture a humanity without war?

I know that deep down inside, you want war to disappear forever. I can see this wish on your face in the photo I took in 2015, for the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s #Enough! War campaign.

Inaam in 2015 (second from left) saying no to war

In 1945, the UN Charter had committed to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind”.

I’m sorry that the UN and our human family have continued to inflict on you “untold sorrow”.

But I believe in you and your generation! 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thurnberg is your peer, and she demonstrated the same wisdom you have when she said:

Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground, so we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today.

I wish Greta had said this about the obsolete and ineffective method of war too, but she didn’t.

There is no politician currently in office who has proposed laws to ban war. I had hoped that Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK would, but they haven’t.

With your reason and compassion, you see through all the current peace negotiators of the Afghan conflict: beneath their emperor’s clothes, you see that they are naked war executioners.

When the world imagines that these peace negotiators/war executioners will negotiate for genuine peace, the world is fantasizing that the US military-christened Hellfire missiles, costing about US$58,000 each, or the extremists’ opposing suicide bombing vests, costing much less, can usher heaven into Afghanistan.

Even if you could cast an under-age vote in this July’s scheduled Afghan Presidential elections, none of the 18 candidates will abolish war. Yes, to gain votes, they will all parrot the rhetoric that they wish to end the Afghan war, but none of them will abolish the method of war.

It was only years after his political career, in 2017, that former President of USSR Mikhail Gorbachev wrote:

In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war — not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources.

Gorbachev understands the real political risk of humankind annihilating herself through nuclear warfare.

Inaam, as a war child, you understand by experience that there are also no politics today to abolish war. Together with the Gretas and youth of the world, build the necessary new politics.

You’ve seen how the Afghan Peace Volunteers are organized without a Director, so if the new politics needs to be one without a President, a CEO or a Prime Minister, go for it! And, don’t worry about all the various mis-used and bombastic political terms. Go for nonviolent liberty, equality and fraternity. As the late French diplomat Stephane Hessel wrote about nonviolent resistance when he was 93:  “Indignez vous. Time for Outrage!

Also, to practice magnanimity through life, you and I must exercise timeless patience while working our butts off.

I mean, it was way back in the 1930s that British engineer Guy Stewart Callendar calculated that a doubling of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere could warm the Earth by 2 degrees Celsius. It has taken 90 years to reach today’s level of climate activism, and despite this, we still have people like Trump who denies climate change.

Or like with the abolition of slavery. The Qin Dynasty of China abolished slavery in 221 BC and Pope Paul III forbade slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas in 1537. Niger made slavery a crime only in 2003! So, the human family’s struggle against slavery took more than 2000 years, and even today, modern slavery still exists, like with the child brick-layers of Afghanistan.

History’s gradual but seismic changes happened when different individuals and societies took decisive actions at different times and ages. We can each be those channels of change: get the scientific results of war out there, use your shrill and growing voice, demand for laws to ban war, divest from the military industrial complex, don’t join the military corporations, persuade your soldier-brother to be a conscientious objector, prohibit all weapons, make military generals very unpopular just as the CUNY undergraduates did, refuse to cooperate for war like some Google and Microsoft staff did, replace every war method with a thousand nonviolent methods, turn soldiers into pacifist mediators…

All these are revolutionary acts of love; you’re already familiar with the Dari phrase, “ در کار خیر پیش دستی کردن- dar kaar khair pesh dasti kardan”, which means “For charitable work, set your hands to work quickly!”

Am I asking too much of the 15-year-old you?

You see, I want so much for you to have a meaningful and gorgeous life, and to have enough friends, friends even with those considered “enemies”.

My father had considered my Japanese friend Eitaro Oka an “enemy”, because Japanese soldiers who had occupied Singapore in 1942 killed his father. It was World War II.

But, when Eitaro visited me in Singapore years ago, my father and mother hosted him. The first thing Eitaro said to my father was, “I want to ask you for forgiveness, for the killing of your father.” My father inspired me with his reply, “You were not the one who killed my father. Please enjoy the meal, a special Singaporean dish called Hainanese Chicken Rice prepared by my wife.”

Eitaro (centre) with my parents in Singapore

When I joined a group of Japanese peace activists in Okinawa three years ago, an elderly Japanese monk stood before officials in the local office of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, and asked me for forgiveness! He pleaded against the presence of US military bases in Okinawa. This kind monk had covered his bald head with the Borderfree Blue Scarf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers!

The kind monk (left, standing) and Yuichi (centre, standing) with other Japanese activists in an office of Okinawa’s Ministry of Defense.

Many young Japanese like Yuchi, Sara and Kamoshita are resisting the re-militarization of Japan. Their current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is regrettably addicted to military prowess, and wants to amend the Japanese constitution to enable the re-establishment of a Japanese army. Shinzo is a human being who is sold-out to money and power, and not very sound, as he has even nominated US President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize!

Sara, Yuichi and Kamoshita ( first, second and third from right) with other activists

Kamoshita and Sara had wanted to visit us in Kabul this winter, but Kamoshita emailed me, I am sorry to late reply. I can’t travel to Afghanistan this time. I couldn’t persuade my family…They worry me to go.”

Not only are Japanese activists working to abolish war. Many ordinary Japanese are resisting the heavy killer machinery too.

In fact, in a February 2019 referendum, 72% of Okinawan voters opposed the construction of a new US military base to replace an existing one.  Most Okinawans don’t want US military bases on their peaceful and beautiful island.

You’ll also be encouraged to know that Masoma, Habib and new members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers had sent Msent Kamoshita, Sara and Okinawans a video message of solidarity.

Ordinary Japanese link hands in protest, at the gate of a US military base in Okinawa (insert) New Afghan Peace Volunteers link hands in solidarity with Okinawans, saying, “No to US military bases in Okinawa and Afghanistan!”

So, dear Inaam, remember how you told me that the current education system is not teaching you anything useful? You’re right. I’m sure that you can educate yourself better than the schools, especially in the knowledge, values and skills needed to build a better world.

We have on many occasions talked about true education: thinking and feeling deeply, freeing ourselves from the control of money, questioning all power, changing the culture of war within us. In relational learning, we connect all the dots and love like everyone and everything in the world is related.

Our lives are brief, but as long as I have opportunity, I’ll walk with you.

Baa mihr  با مهر( With love ) !

Hakim

Nonviolent Versus Violent Peace in Afghanistan and the World

“Salam (peace)!” is how Afghans greet one another, some of them simultaneously placing a hand over their hearts.

But, while everyone including Afghans wants peace, the Afghan Peace Volunteers and I have observed that the human species appears to be stuck on violent peace. We think that this is because most of us are reared as armed doves, like the one drawn by Wifred Hildonen for Cartoon Stock below.

There is a new Peacemaker in town!

Using Wilfred’s cartoon analogy, the Afghan Peace Volunteers and I are differentiating violent peace from nonviolent peace based on whether a society includes or excludes the use of weapons and armies as a resort to secure peace.

To date, the earth has housed violent peace. Human beings are the armed doves inhabiting the planet under the threat of lethal weapons, including 14,575 nuclear warheads. Even small island countries like Singapore are spending more and more money to acquire superior weaponry from the military industrial complex

We’re not differentiating between violent and nonviolent peace to judge anyone, as we would only be judging ourselves. We’ve tried nothing but violent peace in Afghanistan, to everyone’s loss. The time is overdue to pursue peace without weapons or armies, so that we can all enjoy the kind of peace we human beings dream about.

So, please trust your humanity, and trust that we share that humanity too. Like you, we wish to protect and defend our loved ones, so we don’t make this call on the people of the world lightly: “Don’t just pause. Stop! Consider nonviolent peace. It won’t harm you. It is the love we’ve always wanted!”

We so badly want societies that are highly organized on the foundation of love. This is already happening in many places through the local establishment of egalitarian, nonviolent practices. Joan Boaz said, “That’s all nonviolence is – organized love”.

It is happening among the Afghan Peace Volunteers, like with Afghan 11th grade student Rashid, whose story I had begun telling in a previous post.

Rashid

Rashid’s father was killed in a suicide bombing attack on a mosque in Kabul, for which a Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility. Rashi’s father was selling oranges at the mosque. Rashid was so devastated by this loss that he became inconsolably depressed and couldn’t bring himself to attend school for three months.

Once during a counselling session, I was listening to Rashid describe the tightness and pain he feels in his chest when he remembers the prison-like religious school he was forcefully enrolled in. Rashid recalled the incessant punishments in class, and the loneliness….The tears started pouring down his cheeks, not the sort of tears that sought any attention, but flowy, tender tears.

“Do you think you can heal yourself of the war inside you?” I asked Rashid recently.

“Yes, by changing the way I think. I can ask questions, and look for evidence before I believe any claim about war or other matters,” he replied.

I asked what he would say if his mother asked to take revenge against the Pakistani “terrorists”, or against the Afghan extremists who, through traumatic indoctrination at the religious school, tried to brainwash him into joining them to wage the “holy war”.

“I will tell her: If I take revenge, you know that they will retaliate with even fiercer vengeance. You could be hurt. I could lose everything,” Rashid said.

I probed deeper, as my own personal journey towards understanding war and peace involved a freeing up of my basic assumptions, “After all that your mother has gone through, don’t you think that it’s her right to fight back?”

“Teacher,” Rashid explained to me, “There is an Afghan saying, “Blood cannot wash away blood.” Taking revenge doesn’t work.”

“But, Rashid, how will you be able to allay your mother’s fears, or even your own fears, if there were no military forces to defend you and your mom? Who will protect you?”

“My father was killed even when the Afghan army and the US/NATO forces were here defending us in Kabul. What we need is a people’s defense, in which the people bring security by conversing with the groups in conflict. We shouldn’t use weapons, because if we do, others will also use weapons against us. Look at the current peace negotiations in Afghanistan. While they negotiate, the sides in conflict are increasing their fighting and killing! How is peace ever going to come?” Rashid explained.

Rashid was stating what even the US Joint Chief of Staff, Marine Corps General Joe Dunford and the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had both said on different occasions, “There is no military solution in Afghanistan.”

“I used to admire those who looked strong holding dangerous weapons like this or like that…,” Rashid said, switching his arm posture as if he was holding a gun. “I used to think that Afghanistan must have an army to defend the country. I was a fan of the army generals.”

In most countries of the world today, saying something like this will get serious censure, “Rashid is unpatriotic. He is a traitor, maybe a Talib!” As armed doves, we consider the military almost sacred.

“Now, though I respect army generals and even militants as human beings, I don’t like what they do. I used to think that fighting proves how courageous I am. I was like a smart phone that was programmed by a system run by the government,” Rashid said.

I was reminded that I was speaking to a young person who belongs to the digital age and smart phone generation. It’s youth like Rashid and Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg who are rising up to change our obsolete and unresponsive systems. Greta had said:

We can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change.

I could see Rashid applying his mind, the way he does in school, getting first position in his 10th grade class last year, “after the classmate who paid bribes for his grades left school”.

“Is it possible to re-program the human smart phone?” I asked, though I’ve been thinking that with the repetitive war negotiations among fully armed players in the Afghan conflict, neither adult human beings nor our communication systems are very smart.

“Of course, once we understand the systems that did the programming, we can un-install the program, or format it!” Rashid quipped.

Rashid thinks we can reprogram ourselves for nonviolent peace

Rashid is becoming the other dove that is within him, the nonviolent dove who offers an olive branch, without any weapon strapped under his wing.

Can We Divest from Weapons Dealers?

Impoverished people living in numerous countries today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products.

Family Visit in Kabul (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

About three decades ago, I taught writing at one of Chicago’s alternative high schools. It’s easy to recall some of their stories—fast-paced, dramatic, sometimes tender. I would beg my students to three-hole-punch each essay or poem and leave it in a binder on our classroom shelf, anxious not to lose the documentation of their talents and ideas.

Some of the youngsters I taught told me they were members of gangs. Looking down from the window of my second-floor classroom, I sometimes wondered if I was watching them selling drugs in broad daylight as they embraced one another on the street below.

Tragically, in the two years that I taught at Prologue High School, three students were killed. Colleagues told me that they generally buried three students per year. They died, primarily, from gunshot wounds. I think they could have survived their teenage years if weapons and ammunition hadn’t been available.

Similarly, I believe impoverished populations of numerous countries at war today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products. It would also help if the people living in countries that export deadly weapons were well-informed about the consequences these businesses bring.

Consider this: The 2018 U.S. Census Report tallies U.S. exports of bullets to other countries. Topping the list is $123 million-worth of bullets to Afghanistan—an eight-fold rise over the number of bullets sold in 2017 and far more than the number of bullets sold to any other country.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I heard many people voice intense fear of what would happen if civil war breaks out. It seems to me that those who manufacture bullets are doing all they can to hasten the likelihood and deadly outcome of an armed struggle.

But rather than help people here in the United States understand conditions in countries where the U.S. conducts airstrikes, President Donald Trump is hiding the facts.

On March 6, 2019, Trump revoked portions of a 2016 executive order imposed by President Barack Obama requiring annual reports on the number of strikes taken and an assessment of combatant and civilian deaths. Trump has removed the section of the mandate specifically covering civilian casualties caused by CIA airstrikes, and whether they were caused by drones or “manned” warplanes.

A U.S. State Department email message said the reporting requirements are “superfluous” because the Department of Defense already must file a full report of all civilian casualties caused by military strikes. However, the report required from the Pentagon doesn’t cover airstrikes conducted by the CIA.

And last year, the White House simply ignored the reporting requirement.

Democracy is based on information. You can’t have democracy if people have no information about crucial issues. Uninformed about military practices and foreign policy, U.S. citizens become disinterested.

I lived alongside civilians in Iraq during the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. In the hospital emergency rooms I heard survivors asking, through screams and tears, why they were being attacked. Since that time, in multiple visits to Kabul, I have heard the same agonized question.

The majority of Afghanistan’s population consists of women and children. When civilians in that country die because of U.S. attacks—whether within or beyond “areas of active hostilities”; whether conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense; whether using manned or unmanned warplanes—the attack is almost certain to cause overwhelming grief. Often the survivors feel rage and may want revenge. But many feel despair and find their only option is to flee.

Imagine a home in your neighborhood suddenly demolished by a secret attack; you have no idea why this family was targeted, or why women and children in this family were killed. If another such attack happened, wouldn’t you consider moving?

Reporting for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal recently interviewed a farmer from Afghanistan’s Helmand province displaced by fighting and now unable to feed his family. “About 13.5 million people are surviving on one meal or less a day,” Mashal writes, “and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a $1 a day.”

Last week, an international crisis sharply escalated in a “dogfight” between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The crisis has been somewhat defused. Media reports quickly focused on the relative military strength of both countries—observing, for example, that the dilapidated state of India’s jet fighters could be a “win” for U.S. weapons manufacturers.

“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited heads of state in Pakistan and India. Photos showed warm embraces and respectful receptions.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, also embraces the Saudi government. She serves on the boards of trustees of two Saudi technological universities, and presides over a company that has been awarded “a nine-figure down payment on a $15 billion missile-defense system for Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis will acquire new state-of-the-art weapons even as they continue bludgeoning civilians in Yemen during a war orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the Saudis will build military alliances with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

With both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, every effort should be made to stop the flow of weapons into the region. But major weapon making companies bluntly assert that the bottom line in the decision is their profit.

Attending funerals for young people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, at the time one of the poorest in Chicago, I felt deep dismay over the profits that motivated gun runners who sold weapons to students, some of whom would be soon fatally wounded. In the ensuing decades, larger, more ambitious weapon peddlers have engendered and prolonged fighting between warlords, within and beyond the United States.

Boys and girls at Street Kids School, Kabul, March 2019 (Photo by Maya Evans)

How different our world could be if efforts were instead directed toward education, health care, and community welfare.

This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive

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