Category Archives: Kabul

On Purpose, In Kabul

Writing this week for the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman called a U.S. Government report on the war in Afghanistan “a chronicle of futility.” “The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” report says the U.S. spent large sums “in search of quick gains” in regional stabilization – but these instead “exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption and bolstered support for insurgents.”

“In short,” says Chapman, the U.S. government “made things worse rather than better.”

Gains, meanwhile, have certainly been made by weapon manufacturers. On average, during Trump’s first year in office, the Pentagon dropped 121 bombs per day on Afghanistan. The total number of weapons – missiles, bombs – deployed in Afghanistan by manned and remotely piloted aircraft through May this year is estimated at 2,339.

War profiteers deliver hellish realities and futile prospects, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers have not given up on bettering their country. In recent visits to Kabul, we’ve listened as they consider the longer-term question of how peace can come to an economically devastated country where employment by various warlords, including the U.S. and Afghan militaries, is many families’ only way to put bread on the table. Hakim, who mentors the APVs, assures us that a lasting peace must involve the creation of jobs and incomes with a hope of sustaining community. Inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s calls for self-sufficiency, and the example of his Pashtun ally, Badshah Khan, they resist war by fostering education and creating local cooperatives.

Miriam is a student in the APVs’ “Street Kids’ School,” which prepares child laborers to pursue schooling while helping their families stay afloat with monthly rations of rice and oil. Sitting with me in the garden of the APVs’ Borderfree Center, her widowed mother, Gul Bek told me of the hardships she faces as a single mother of five.

Each month, she struggles to pay for water, rent, food, and fuel. Some years ago, a company installed a water pipeline leading to her home, but every month a representative from the company comes to collect 700 – 800 Afghanis (about $10.00) in payment for the family’s water consumption. An impoverished household – even free of war’s ravages – can’t easily spare $10. She tries hard to conserve. “But we must have water!” says Gul Bek. “We need it to clean, to cook, to do laundry.” She knows how important hygiene is, but she doesn’t dare go over her budget for water. Gul Bek fears she might be evicted if she can’t manage rent. Would she then go to a refugee camp in Kabul? She shakes her head. I asked if the government helps at all. “They know nothing about how we live,” she said. “At the beginning of Ramadan, we couldn’t even have bread. We had no flour.” Her two eldest sons, age 19 and 14, are beginning to learn tailoring skills and they attend school part time. I asked if she ever considers allowing them to join the military or the police to earn something closer to a living wage. She was adamant. After working so hard to raise these sons, she doesn’t want to lose them. She won’t allow them to carry guns.

Visiting a refugee camp several days later, I could understand her horror of moving into a camp. The camps are overcrowded, muddy, and dangerously unsanitary. An elder from the camp, Haji Jool, was entrusted with the keys to a control room for a well that two NGOs recently installed. On that day, the valves weren’t functioning. 200 of the 700 families in the camp depend on that well for water. I looked at the worried faces of women who had been waiting, since early morning, to collect water. What would they do? Haji Jool told me that most of the families had come from rural areas. They fled their homes because of war or because they lacked water. Kabul’s battered infrastructure, in desperate need of U.S. reparations for fifteen years of war, simply can’t sustain people.

Our APV friends, recognizing the need to create jobs and incomes, have begun forging ahead with impressive work to establish cooperatives. In early June, they initiated a shoemaking cooperative, led by two young men, Hussein and Hosham, who’ve already been trained and have taught their skills to Noorullah. They named their store “Unique.” A carpentry co-op will soon be up and running.

The APV are grateful to the many internationals who, over the past six winters, have assisted their annual “Duvet Project” to bring much-needed blankets to Kabul residents lacking protection from harsh winter weather. The “Duvet Project” has donated winter blankets to some 9,000 destitute families in Kabul and has offered a winter income to as many as 360 seamstresses. Yet, the APV have grappled with a persistent plea from seamstresses who, while appreciative of the seasonal project, express their acute need for an income throughout the year.

This year, APV are forming a seamstresses’ cooperative which will manufacture clothing year-round for inexpensive local sale and will also distribute duvets.

The U.S. exerts massive power from the skies of Afghanistan, raining down hellfire in ever greater quantities. Its Security Zone and its military bases, within and near Kabul, help to drain the local water table faster than wells can be dug. It persistently causes hatred and harm. Meanwhile, it might sound like a cliché, but in imagining a better world our young friends are helping to build one. With sustainable projects to support the neediest, they embrace Gul Bek’s refusal to cooperate with war. Their simple, small actions do strengthen Kabul.  They give themselves over to compassion, to strengthening their neighbors. They plant the seeds that may or may not grow a forest there – they use, rather than wasting, what power they have. They aren’t rewarded with the titanic achievement of having shaped and ruined a country, but instead with purposeful intent to stop the vicious cycle of war and resist the cruel hierarchies attempting to prevail. We at Voices are grateful for the chance, with them, to reject despair. In supporting their projects, we can make reparations, however small, for the persistent futility of war.

Girls and mothers, waiting for their duvets, in Kabul (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

A Mile in Their Shoes

This past Friday in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, Hazara girls joined young Pashto boys to sing Afghanistan’s national anthem as a welcome to Pashto men walking 400 miles from Helmand to Kabul. The walkers are calling on warring parties in Afghanistan to end the war. Most of the men making the journey are wearing sandals. At rest stops, they must tend to their torn and blistered feet. But their mission grows stronger as they walk. In Ghazni, hundreds of residents, along with religious leaders, showed remarkable readiness to embrace the courage and vision of the Helmand-to-Kabul peace walk participants. It seems likely that ordinary Afghans, no matter their tribal lineages, share a profound desire to end forty years of war. The 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan exceeds the lifetimes of the youngsters in Ghazni who greeted the peace walkers.

On June 7th, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, declared a week-long halt to attacks against the Taliban. Spokespersons representing an undetermined number of Taliban affiliates accepted the ceasefire on June 9th, with the U.S. also agreeing to suspend attacks against Taliban fighters.

Can the declared cease-fire lead to negotiations and an end to the war? Given the desperate circumstances I saw during a visit to Kabul in early June, it seems clear that a lasting peace will require finding ways to employ people and enable them to provide food and water for their families.

Destitution has caused numerous Afghan people to enlist in military forces, pro-government or insurgent. It’s extremely difficult to earn a living wage in Afghanistan, but military and paramilitary units, answerable to various warlords, including the U.S., pay wages which many Afghan families can’t afford to dismiss. My young friends in Kabul assure me their family members who joined military groups don’t want to cause bloodshed and they don’t want to be killed. They simply don’t have other viable options.

Almost 54 percent of Afghan citizens live below the poverty line, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News coverage of a recent joint survey undertaken by the Central Statistics Organization and an international NGO.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), who welcomed me as their guest last week, want to help build a more egalitarian economy that will provide basic human needs. This year, they’re forging ahead in establishing worker cooperatives. During my visit, they celebrated the opening of a shoe-making cooperative. They’ve also devised a one-year plan for seamstresses to form a tailoring cooperative and explored possibilities for a carpentry cooperative.

“Once up-and-running,” their blog explains, “these worker cooperatives will pledge part of their earnings to the long-term, self-reliant work of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.”

The APV find inspiration in the story of Badshah Khan, sometimes referred to as “the Muslim Gandhi.”

After meeting Gandhi in 1919, Badshah Khan educated and organized members of the Pashtun (or “Pathan”) tribe, in an area that is now a border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, steadily building a movement to rebel against British occupation.  The “khidmatgyars” – Servants of God – refused to cooperate with the British and instead practiced self-reliance. They created their own constructive projects and persisted even when British repression became increasingly brutal.

Describing the growth of the “Servants” movement, Michael Nagler writes: “After perpetrating a terrible massacre in 1930 in Peshawar, the British saw the ranks of the Servants swell from several hundred to 80,000.” They continued rejecting armed struggle, choosing instead to experiment with Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent resistance. To the astonishment of onlookers, they were a key element in the eventual liberation from British rule.

Badshah Kahn’s preferred method of transportation was walking. He trod along paths linking mountain villages and small towns, relying upon goodwill and the truth of his cause, not on weaponry, for his defense.

A likeness of Badshah Khan decorates the entrance to the APV center in Kabul. Stenciled underneath is his fundamental belief: “My religion is truth, love and service to God and humankind.”

I worry that in my country, the U.S., the dominant religion has become militarism. Rather than extending a hand of friendship to people in other lands and, in the case of Afghanistan, paying reparations for the terrible suffering we’ve caused, the U.S. continues to seek security through dominance and military might. It’s a futile effort. The Helmand to Kabul peace walkers display a better means of securing peace: the path of fellowship with our neighbors on this planet, of living simply so that others might simply live, and of willingness to share, even partially, in the human hardship and precarity others face.

I hope those walking for peace, working for equality, and imploring a different way forward can be heard and celebrated not only in Afghanistan, but in every country and amongst every group that has ever caused bloodshed and ruin in Afghanistan.

One of several murals being created by Kabul’s “ArtLords painters to welcome the Helmand to Kabul peace walkers.

Where on Earth is the Just Economy that works for all, Including Afghan Children?

Political and business leaders have refined the art and science of lying about the economy. From their suites, chauffeur-driven limousines, private yachts and jets, they aren’t too concerned about whether the economy works for everyone, except in speeches and elections. As they tuck into their next fine dining experience, they know that it’s easier and more profitable to mummify the paralysis of spectacular inequality.

How grossly and mathematically unjust is this inequality? In 2017, Oxfam calculated that the world’s eight richest individuals has as much wealth as the poorest half of the world.

We need only simple math to see through the financial subterfuge adults put on like power dressing. On the 11th of April 2018, David Daniel Oldfield, Asia Development Bank Principal Economist for Central and West Asia, said this of Afghanistan’s economy:

… your economy is growing too slowly, if you have two percent growth that you had in some years, and your population growth is three percent or higher you cannot keep people out of poverty.

Afghan children who help carry the brunt of this poverty understand the complicity of all in this GDP charade, not through numbers, but through daily labour and universal conscience.

An April 2018 report by Afghanistan Human Rights Commission shows that of the 1.2 million child laborers in the country, 16 percent of them are subjected to some form of abuse, of which 43 percent is physical abuse.

In this context, it is revolutionary education and understanding at the Borderfree Street Kids School in Kabul that has enabled Habib to testify towards the end of a video:

Before this school, I had no particular hope in life. My hope was in money. I wanted to be the richest man in the world. I’m gradually losing the desire for money. As I understood nonviolence and what it means, my interest in money diminished.

The revolution we need to save ourselves is to understand the fake-ness not only of news today, but the fake-ness and fable of today’s monetary systems. The money we have manufactured is killing our own kind, and Mother Earth as well.

Habib’s difficult story is not atypical. After Habib’s father was killed in a suicide bomb attack 7 years ago, Habib started working in the streets to help make ends meet. For a miniscule fee, he had a weighing scale that showed passing pedestrians how obese or undernourished they were. He has gone through severe personal trauma in the years since, including ‘escape’ from extremists who tried to recruit him into their militant ranks. Now, daily, through relationships among the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Habib is recovering gradually – grieving, doubting, imagining, feeling and daring to live again, towards a liberated purpose and meaning.

Clearly, the corrupt, corporate and militarized economic system is not designed to offer anyone a fair chance to live decently. Instead, it promotes business-as-usual, making people like Habib fight for ‘capitalistic scraps’. While the U.S. has spent US$32 million dollars an hour since 2001 to push their wars around the world, including in Afghanistan, the everyday economic experience of ordinary Afghans is one of slog and slavery.

Zakia, a new volunteer teacher for the street kids, and second-year sociology undergraduate at Kabul University, recounted her almost unbelievable extended family tragedy:

Over the past five years, my extended family of close and distant relatives have lost 46 young members of their families in this worsening war. They were soldiers and policemen. None of them wanted to risk being killed, but there are simply no other jobs. My mother has so much grief that she’s always ill.

Advocacy and protest aren’t enough.

In such pilfering times, environmental, economic justice and peace groups need to pool their energies together, and give Habib, Afghan youth and billions of impoverished people around the world alternative avenues for education and work.

Afghan children and youth, like those you see in the photos below, need ‘new’ schools and universities, as well as ‘new’ jobs and livelihoods. They need a surviving opportunity to learn and live as ‘new’ human beings.

If we bank on the ‘fate’ that these ‘new’ schools and ‘new’ livelihoods will miraculously arise from war-driven governments and their machineries, we are fantasizing. We will continue to witness the migration, enslavement and demise of large numbers of fellow human beings.

Why can’t we hear what Afghan street kids and youth are telling us? There aren’t any places which intentionally teach them life-affirming, nonviolent knowledge and skills. There are very few living-wage, life-giving jobs.

It isn’t that Afghan children and youth or entire generations don’t wish to choose peace.

There are no choices.

Notes on the Borderfree Street Kids School

The mission of the Borderfree Street Kids School is to share creative and critical thinking and learning skills with 100 Afghan street kids, so they can care for Mother Nature, the human family and all of life, and so they can become students and practitioners of nonviolence.

On 20th January 2015, Zekerullah and street kids organized a walk and asked for a school for 100 students. Though an Afghan official had spoken about the lack of government resources for such a school, their dream was fulfilled when the Afghan Peace Volunteers started the Borderfree Street Kids School on 21st March 2015.

The school enrolls 100 street kids and vulnerable kids for a period of three years, during which they have Dari, Math and nonviolence classes. They also have the chance to learn a livelihood skill to be tailors/seamstresses, plumbers or electricians.

To help the families of the students with their basic needs, each student is given a monthly food gift of rice, oil, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

The first 3-year batch of street kids graduated recently in March 2018,

The school has 14 volunteer teachers, and is coordinated by a living wage staff of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Masuma.

The students have Dari, Math and nonviolence lessons, including nonviolence towards the environment.

The first batch of 100 street kids graduated in March 2018 and 100 fresh street kids and vulnerable kids have been enrolled for the next three years till 2021.

Some of the street kids are continuing as Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Newly enrolled students also came to the event, filling the hall with more than 200 people

Habib testified on graduation day about how his learning in the school had changed him. He wants to be a doctor and a peace activist

Teen Solidarity Against the Merchants of Death

Here in Kabul, as the rising sun begins to warm our chilly rooms, I hear excited laughter from downstairs. Rosemary Morrow, a renowned Australian permaculture expert, has begun teaching thirty-five young students in a month-long course on low-resource farming.

In war-torn Afghanistan, there’s a desperate need to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and help people grow their own food. People verging on despair feel encouraged by possibilities of replenishing and repairing their soil.

The night before, over dinner, one of the students discussed news from his home town in Afghanistan’s Wardak province about U.S. aerial attacks. “The blasts have become so frequent,” he said, “that people can’t find spaces to bury their dead.”

During breaks in the class, I tell some of the Afghan Peace Volunteer students about the school shootings in the United States, and the remarkable determination of teenagers from Florida to demand that lawmakers take action on gun control.

These Afghan students have also heard about Black Lives Matter activists who have been tear gassed and beaten when they’ve demonstrated against police brutality. The Afghan teens identify with the activists facing danger, but still standing up to insist on change.

I asked if they thought that the U.S. media and government would heed Afghan young people raising their voices asserting their anguish and fear regarding U.S. aerial attacks and drone assassinations.

“You’re dreaming,” said Hamid. He flashed me a warm smile and shook his head, saying, “no one will ever listen to us.”

The outrage now directed toward the National Rifle Association should also challenge all assaults made by the U.S. military.

Nasir, a third-year university student who majors in mapping technology, tells me he thinks teens in the United States have a chance to be heard. Like Habib, he doubts that the same is true for Afghan voices seeking to end the sixteen-year-old war.

But Zainab, a high schooler in the permaculture class, added that she thinks it would be great to record a vigil of teenagers in Kabul sending their support for U.S. teenagers who’ve survived school shootings in the U.S. and who’ve begun shaming the adult world into action on the issue of gun violence.

People often tell me they believe the U.S. military remains in Afghanistan because it wants to eventually control mineral wealth and other resources. But right now, weapon manufacturers like General Atomics and Boeing — which supply the U.S. base in Kandahar with drones, missiles and bombs — are profiting from the perpetuation of war. This profit gives them common cause with arms manufacturers like Sturm Ruger and Sig Sauer earning millions from equipping U.S. police forces as well as deranged killers in U.S. classrooms.

Yesterday, I read about U.S. aviation brigades training in Colorado’s Fort Carson for possible Afghan deployment: 2,000 troops, part of an exercise called “Eagle Strike,” are preparing for attacks with ground-pounding weapons. The Kandahar base in Afghanistan now has three squadron’s worth of MQ-9 Reaper drones. Costing $65 million each, these drones are outfitted to carry 560-pound GPS laser-guided bombs as well as Hellfire missiles.

Why fill the landscape of any country with craters and graves? What could we possibly hope to harvest?

Zainab tells me she thinks the teenage generation is changing and that more young people believe in training individuals and nations to avoid killing.

“Why can’t we devise sustainable ways to bring about peace?” she asks.

I consider the idea that international teen solidarity could challenge both the U.S. military and the National Rifle Association to end assaults on human life. “Our goal must be to demand that every person around the world agree to stop producing and using weapons,” says Nasir.

I sit with them, and reflect on these courageous, clear-eyed Afghan and U.S. youth working in both countries to sow seeds that bear needed fruit, hoping they can change the adults as well.

AVPs and others celebrate International Day of Peace, September 2017

• This article first appeared in The Progressive magazine.

Hotel Intercontinental Siege: Is Kabul Falling?

Afghanistan is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive, but it is not clear how it can manage.

Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul, which was attacked by gunmen last Saturday, used to fit like a glove, like a grandmother’s couch. Outside, the war has been raging. Millions of Afghan lives were aimlessly broken, hundreds of thousands lost. The price of more than 16 years of NATO occupation has exceeded $1 trillion, but instead of bringing peace and prosperity, it has reduced Afghanistan to rubble.

My room in hotel

All that is still functioning in the country are structures and infrastructure built before and during the Soviet era, like irrigation ducts, canals and bread factories. Other tangible assistance came recently from China and India, but almost nothing was provided by the NATO occupation countries, except countless fences, wires and military installations.

Soviet water pipe in the village, Nargarhar Province

Even before the siege at the Intercontinental Hotel, which left more than 20 people dead, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani confessed to 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan that he is unable to protect his own capital.

But it is not only the capital, of course. The entire country is spiraling into chaos. It is clear that it will soon be impossible to control it anymore, at least as one entity, from Kabul.

It can be heard more and more often on the streets of Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat that reducing this country to perpetual conflict and chaos may be the exact plan of the occupation forces.

Reception at Intercontinental

I used to joke about Hotel Intercontinental – ‘This place feels like a Soviet three-star hotel in some provincial Siberian town. Bent shower bars, stained but otherwise clean carpets, indifferent but somehow friendly staff – you could wave as much as you wanted, but the waitress in the hotel’s cafe would only move after you’d come to her personally, smiled broadly, and pointed your finger at some particular item from the limited assortment of sweets.’

Stunning view from hotel

Despite everything, Hotel Intercontinental Kabul was always there, standing. It was crumbling, but still somehow majestic, full of history and old-fashioned charm. Its lobby was decorated with traditional Afghan landscapes and portraits. The vistas from the hotel rooms and balconies were breathtaking: the old Bagh-e Bala Palace with its vast public park, then the entire capital city down below as though sitting in a crater, and the great mountain range rising towards the sky right behind that urban sprawl.

During breakfast hours, a few tables near the window in the hotel restaurant were almost always occupied by Russian-speaking pilots and crew members from an Afghan passenger airline, Kam Air. I don’t know whether these people were Russian or Ukrainian, but they spoke Russian among themselves, and also to me. They were tall and muscular, as pilots operating in a war zone are expected to be.

We always exchanged greetings, as well as one or two jokes. No deep discussions, just that – a few jokes and a few very warm smiles.

Some time ago, I had to fly to the ancient city of Herat, and was traveling early in the morning with Kam Air on the same flight as the crew. My driver was late and I approached the airline minivan, which was just about to depart for the airport.

“Would you please take me with you to the airport, boys?” I asked.

“Yes, of course, of course – just jump in!” they grinned.

We were all part of a big family. Foreigners staying at Intercontinental – not rich and not poor, not part of any ‘government initiative’ or wealthy NGO. This hotel was for ‘working people’ – journalists, filmmakers, pilots. Those who required ‘special protection’ were staying behind the enormous concrete walls of their embassies, or in the only truly luxury hotel in the country – Serena.

Two hours later, we were flying over tremendous Afghan mountains and tiny ancient villages made of mud, miles below the wing. I was taking photographs, while imagining that insane US “mother of all bombs” that was dropped just a few days earlier on an identical hamlet, killing who knows how many innocent people.

The two powerful engines of an old but reliable MD-82 were purring reassuringly at the rear of the plane. Then, at some point, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. The next thing I experienced was a gentle pat on my shoulder, followed by friendly whisper: “Kofeiku ne khotite? Rebyata tut tol’ko cto svezii svarili” (“Would you like some coffee? The guys here just brewed a fresh one…”)

I drank the aromatic brew, looking down at those stunning, enormous mountains covered by snow. Russian-speaking pilots were in the cockpit, steering the plane with great experience and confidence.

I thought: “If there is one crew in the world that is qualified to fly over this beautiful but complex and dangerous terrain, then it is this one.”

It was one of those moments when I felt totally happy and alive, drunk with passion for what I had been doing: working in Afghanistan, exposing crimes committed there by the Western countries, falling head over heels in love with this ancient and proud nation, flying over its peaks into one of the most interesting cities of Central Asia – Herat.

On January 20, 2018, in the intensive care unit of Tokyo’s St. Luke’s Hospital, I was fighting for my life, months after my year-old foot wound reopened in Afghanistan, and had since refused to heal.

Through the fog of fever and IV, I observed coverage from Kabul on a television screen that was hanging above my bed. ‘My’ Intercontinental Hotel had been attacked. In fact, it was overrun by what was allegedly one of the most vicious branches of the Taliban, known as the Haqqani Network. At least that is what was tweeted by Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s chief executive.

At least 21 people lost their lives during the 14-hour standoff. Almost immediately, several pilots and crew members from Kam Air were murdered in cold blood. So were two Venezuelan pilots. None of these people were ‘supporters of the government,’ nor were they collaborators with the invading NATO force.

They were simply a group of romantics, a group of rugged, brave but also very kind and gentle men who adored flying and who, like myself, fell in love with Afghanistan. I know this because they told me, and because it was just so obvious!

In case anyone is wondering, ‘my hotel in Kabul’ has nothing to do with the luxury US chain of the same name. It used to be part of the ‘real’ Intercontinental, but only from 1969, when its doors first opened, until 1980 (shortly after the Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan). Now, it is a state-owned property, described as ‘luxury’ only by outsiders who are covering Afghanistan from afar. You can get a room there for a mere $50 if you negotiate very hard, and for $60 if your bargaining skills are somewhat limited.

Classical musicians at hotel

The hotel had already been damaged on several occasions, particularly during the civil war of the 1990s, when it is said that at one point only 85 out its 200 rooms were inhabitable. As recently as 2011, 21 people died here during an attack for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Despite its macabre history, however, Intercontinental is still the favorite property of many locals and some foreigners in Kabul. This is where many conferences are held, and – during the fasting month of Ramadan – fast is broken here by members of local elites, close to the swimming pool overlooking the city. And there is music here almost every night: true Afghan traditional music, with local instruments and singers trained by renowned masters.

Guard posts around the hotel

Security is, of course, everywhere. To return to this property from the city, I always have to go through three full security posts with my car. After all, Afghanistan is now considered to be one of the most dangerous countries on Earth for foreigners.

In just one week, three deadly attacks shook Afghanistan: one in Kabul, another outside Herat, and a third inside the city of Jalalabad, in which ISIS targeted the NGO, Save the Children.

Last year, I traveled to many corners of this scarred, ancient land. I spoke to people, including those in the villages that were at least partially taken over by Taliban. People are increasingly realizing that they are living in perpetual conflict. Refugees (or internally displaced persons) from the east are talking about the carnage that comes with the arrival of ISIS.

Hard drugs and poppy seeds are everywhere in the center of Kabul, right under the nose of the US occupiers – poppy fields literally surround Bagram Airforce Base.

Soviets and Russians are now remembered with love and great nostalgia; something that I already described in my previous essays from the country.

Very soon, no foreigners will be left in Afghanistan. That may be the main goal of the latest attacks. No witnesses, no alternatives, no solutions.

Who will benefit? Definitely not the devastated Afghan people. Perhaps the warlords, the extremist mullahs, and the occupiers.

Kam Air crew, flying passenger jets all over the country, and the dilapidated Intercontinental were some of the last symbols of normality – a weak promise that one can still come and see what is really happening in this country.

From now on, there will be hardly any foreigners in the country. It will be only us – war correspondents, as well as foreign soldiers and mercenaries.

Internally displaced woman shares her pain

Afghanistan is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive, but it is not clear how it could manage. Those who love it should return, no matter what risk we’d be facing. A news blockade should be prevented. Alternative (non-Western) information has to flow. By all means, at any price.

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• Article first published as an Op-Ed by RT

Welcome to Kabul

It is a dream come true being back among friends in Kabul! Streams of dented Toyotas (They are all Toyotas!) with windscreens cracked like bolts of lightning still jockey for position on roads where traffic lights and common sense hold little sway. Carts of vegetables drawn by donkeys or dragged by men without dreams continue clotting the already stuttering traffic, forcing it almost to a standstill. Stucco houses remain stapled to mountainsides, one tripping over the other as they race to the top. And smog, as thick and foul-smelling as only winter in Kabul can conjure up. It felt wonderful being home!

As a team-building exercise, three of us chose this afternoon to clean the chimney of one of our wood stoves. Four lengths of sooty pipe and two elbow joints later, the stove was ready to re-fire and all three of us needed a good bath. We laughed (mostly young ones) and swore (mostly me) in almost equal proportions.

As we got ready for bed last night, we heard a sustained series of what most of us thought was gunfire. The wail of a siren followed shortly thereafter and caused us to wonder if we should head to the basement for a bit. We waited it out on the second floor. We were brave, or not.

This morning brought rumors of three explosions nearby. We scrambled for information, but little was forthcoming. Later, we were forwarded an email from a friend working near us. The attack, it appeared, had centered on a Shia mosque. “It is more than sad,” our friend said. “Latest update showed 45 people killed and 85 wounded. Going to the scene, there is nothing more than blood, flesh, meat, dust, and fear. We again see Afghans die for nothing and families lose their loved ones because of ongoing US-backed war.” My young co-workers are physically okay.

Tonight, after dinner, I had the chance to talk with a young Afghan friend about his family. Married for just a brief period, his wife conceived. They were happy. Their families rejoiced. One night during their son’s fourth month, he woke up sick enough to be taken to the doctor’s. After an examination, the doctor gave the boy a number of injections, and the family was sent home. Later that same evening, the child’s condition worsened, and the parents took him to a hospital, where he died. My friend and his wife still do not know what claimed their son’s life.

Welcome to Kabul.

A Mike Ferner Photo of Kabul

An Escalating Afghan Crisis of “Profit” Over “Life”

Surkh Gul with her daughter.

“My family’s water well has dried up,” 18-year-old Surkh Gul said.

“Ours too,” echoed 13-year-old Inaam.

A distressed Surkh Gul lamented: “We have to fetch water from the public well along the main road, but that water is muddy, not fit for drinking. I get bottled water for my two-year-old daughter. At least someone in the family should stay healthy.”

Inaam chipped in: “Fortunately, for now, the water that we fetch from a nearby mosque is clean.”

A U.S. and Afghan Geological Survey of Kabul Basin’s water resources found that about half of the shallow groundwater supply could become dry by 2050 due to declining recharge and stream-flows under projected climate change.

For years, the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees has also highlighted this water crisis to the Afghan government.

But, the U.S./NATO/Afghanistan coalition and mainstream media have been so occupied with the business of a failed ‘war on terror’ that basic human development and needs are glossed over or ignored.

Because of worsening security, Surkh Gul’s husband and in-laws left Afghanistan to seek asylum in Europe, abandoning her and her daughter in Kabul. Surkh Gul can’t find any job. She stopped schooling when she got married, and though she re-enrolled herself in school this year, she couldn’t attend classes on many days. “I have to take care of my daughter and find some income sewing ‘odds and ends’ for people in the neighbourhood.”

It’s no wonder that on some days she feels like she’s going mad. Sometimes, when she visits us, we can tell she’s stressed and moody: she speaks in edgy bursts, her voice is harsh and her eyes are restless, underlined by tear stains.

Heavy piling and digging for a new well at the rented house Zekerullah stayed in. Photo by Dr Hakim

“Last year, the 28-metre-deep well in the house we rented dried up. The rich landlord hired well-diggers, whose cranes and shafts are everywhere these days. They dug 70 metres below ground to reach the dropping water table,” Zekerullah recounted. As such, Zekerullah had immediately understood the threat which an oil pipeline poses to the water resources of the Standing Rock community. On behalf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, he sent a video message in solidarity with Standing Rock’s ‘water protectors’. “The oil companies and the U.S. government are just thinking about money,” Zekerullah concluded.

Other than token words, little is being done to address climate change or to save the people of Kabul from running out of a basic requirement of life — water. Instead, to extract profitable minerals like copper, the elite are ready to compromise on water protection.

President Trump had suggested that Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth can be a good justification for the continued U.S. war.  He was in discussion with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, ex- World Bank staff, about this war-mineral business opportunity.

In 2013, the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage and an Afghan resident ‘requested‘ for an investigation of the World Bank’s management, oversight and funding of the copper mine at Mes Aynak just outside Kabul.

Supported by 110,000 Afghan signatories, the ‘requesters’ stated that the World Bank’s negligence “in not ensuring that environmental safeguards are in place, imminently endangers the health of the population living there, the quantity and safety of their water supply and (…) the Kabul River….. The mine will cause “heavy losses’’ to community members and to the culture and history of Afghanistan.

A Panel evaluated the ‘Request’ and concluded that it does not recommend an investigation” of the World Bank.

Mes Aynak is the site of ancient ruins that have been compared to Pompeii. (Photo from the film ‘Saving Mes Aynak’)

We have ample evidence of the lack of transparency and integrity in such enterprise in many parts of the world. In the recently leaked 13.4 million documents called the “Paradise Papers”, Glencore, a huge Anglo-Swiss mining and commodity trading company involved in copper and other mining in conflict-ridden DR Congo,      had made a loan to a corrupt Israeli billionaire middle man with close ties to the DR Congo government, asking him to negotiate for mining rights.

The eyes of potential investors and benefactors, corporations and governments alike, are fixed on ‘profit’, not on the potentially disastrous pollution and depletion of the water supply to Mes Aynak and Kabul residents! This does not auger well for Surkh Gul, Inaam, and the estimated 6 million residents of Kabul.

Crises like these have roots in our capitalistic belief that a ‘bottom-line’ policy of generating ‘profit and growth’, private or government, is good for a country’s economy, and that this would benefit everyone. But math, science, evidence and experience prove that this predatory ‘profit’ is inequitably directed to the pockets of the ‘1%’, many of whom are corrupt, leaving the vast majority of people deprived even of their basic human needs. Such profit is often secured from wars, and from exploiting Mother Earth and Nature. Wars have destroyed many irrigation and water retention systems. Only 2% of Afghanistan is forested, her trees extensively cut down through logging.

Kabul’s life-threatening water crisis will not illicit any action unless we dismantle our oligarchic practices and understand that when fellow human beings like Surkh Gul and Inaam don’t have access to water, each of us will hurt too, if not now, then eventually. We, Mother Nature and the human family, are all related.

We can empathize, just as Inaam did, with villagers in Zambia, whose drinking water, rivers, streams and underground aquifers have been contaminated by a London-listed copper mine. Inaam remembers the photos of turbid water he saw in the nonviolence class at the Borderfree Street Kids School he attends.

Drinking water in a Zambian village contaminated by a copper mine. (Photo by The Guardian)

I asked Inaam why governments and big businesses don’t respond to such images and human tragedies. Inaam answered:  “Because they’re only concerned about their own profit.  They never think for the people.”

I thought, “Don’t I have a responsibility to create a kinder and fairer world for children like Inaam and Surkh Gul’s daughter to live in?”

I fear for the decent survival of Afghans, our Earth and the human family, as we have become so attracted to ‘profit’ that we mistake it for ‘progress’. Such ‘profit and progress’ have no respect for science or life, so it may very well lead to our species’ eventual extinction. Stephen Hawking warns us that we may need to vacate to another planet in the next 100 years. More than 15,000 scientists have warned us that our current ways of living could destroy us.

If our ‘thinking as usual’ and ‘business as usual’ continue, we will leave no historical traces at Mes Aynak or Kabul except for mining and digging machines, in a parched desert of war ruins.

Surkh Gul, her daughter and Inaam will have to flee for their lives, but where to, on our warming and warring Earth?

• All photos by Dr. Hakim Young unless otherwise identified

How Life got Intolerable for Ghulam’s Mother and his Afghan Family

Ghulam (second from left) working on our community’s greenhouse, together with Zek, Khamad and Ali

Ali, Zekerullah, Khamad and I miss Ghulam and his family. We feel sad that life in Afghanistan had finally become too burdensome for them. They are now Afghan refugees in Iran.

We have known Ghulam for many years, Ali and Ghulam being distant relatives and the best of childhood friends. Ghulam lived in community with us for about five years. We were his second family, supporting one another through thick and thin.

Ghulam’s focus

Ghulam worked very hard to be a good student. When he transferred to a private school, he topped his class in the exams and thus had his school fees waived.

He felt that doing well in school was the only route to a better life for a poor student.

Besides schooling, Ghulam would spare time once a week to help organize the first Food Bank in Afghanistan, run by the Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ). Volunteering isn’t a prevalent practice, and it isn’t easy trying to get well-to-do business persons to trust the APVs against the background of a ‘corruption tsunami’ in Afghanistan. So, Ghulam’s work with the nascent Food Bank called for his courage, persistence and kindness.

 Ghulam (extreme right) with Hussein and Sarwar going house to house to collect food donations for the Food Bank

Ghulam’s good-bye

I remember that Ghulam had first visited Kabul with us when he was 12-years-old. Then, he had just made friends with international visitors, including with Leila Zand, an American Iranian peace builder. When we were saying goodbye to Leila, the fresh social and emotional attachment of a young boy to a new friend was clearly apparent. Ghulam wasn’t willing to part. He cried like he was losing someone close.

From left to right in 2010: Leila Zand, Ghulam, Abdulhai, Zekerullah, Lala, Ali

Ghulam’s father left his family of seven children for Iran more than 10 years ago, looking for work so as to be able to pay off his debts. He never returned to Afghanistan, and took a second wife in Iran.

Ghulam’s family survived on his mother’s income from washing clothes for rich Afghan households. His older brother Ramez, the oldest among the siblings, had married hurriedly years ago. Amidst worsening unemployment rates in Afghanistan, he could not find regular work anywhere and spent many years paying off the marriage debt. The marriage has not been a happy one. Ramez’s wife could not get along with Ghulam’s mother, and when disagreements came to a head, Ghulam’s mother and siblings decided to shift to Kabul, renting a small room in a residential area. His mother found a job as a house-help, and would either walk 45 minutes to-and-from work or pillion-ride on Ghulam’s bicycle in the mornings and evenings.

Ghulam (fourth from left) with his siblings and Ali (fifth from left)

“It makes me sad that my mom has to work so hard as a house-help just to keep our family going. She sometimes falls ill but still has to go to work, including on public holidays!”

On a few occasions when she fell ill, Ghulam’s mother consulted me for medical advice. She was constantly worried about her children being hurt in militant attacks; the number of civilians killed in Kabul and across the country has  reached record levels.

Initially, Ali was told that Ghulam didn’t intend to go with his family to Iran. But, a day before their journey, Ghulam informed us that he was leaving too. His father must have asked for Ghulam.

In the evening, he came to say good-bye.

Seeing photos of our community on my room’s wall, he asked if he could have all three photos. I immediately took them out of the frame for him, and also gave him two small notebooks to journal his experiences ahead.

Just after midnight, he and his family left to take a coach to Nimroz, and from there, through human smugglers, to Iran.

The next morning, over breakfast, Ali sobbed. He had ‘lost’ his childhood friend. Ali knew that life was probably not going to get better for Ghulam, that life as an Afghan refugee in Iran or anywhere else isn’t easy. And how about Ghulam’s wish to do well in his studies? What’s to become of that?

The journey took them 17 days. They were denied entry at the Nimroz border crossing and had to take another route through Pakistan.

Life must have been changing very rapidly for Ghulam.

Life’s unfair twists

Ghulam is definitely not a silly, lazy scoundrel. He’s not a potential ‘terrorist’. He’s not a liability to anyone, anywhere.

But if we met Ghulam the refugee for the first time, these stereotypes may be how we perceive Ghulam, which would make us fear or dislike him.

How did our education become so narrow and warped?

I think that, in part, it is because our money-tized lives have de-activated our curious, creative, critical, communal and compassionate understanding of the world. Our education and work is increasingly devoid of meaningful relationships with other people and other ways of life, driven madly by personal profit.

Ali has only been able to speak on the phone with Ghulam twice.

“Ghulam didn’t say much. He hasn’t got internet use yet, so we can’t keep in touch via Facebook,” was all Ali could tell me.

Distance.

Each Afghan needing to cope with their own set of challenges.

The uncertainty of survival in war or refugee predicaments.

I asked Kaka Hussein, Ghulam’s neighbor, if he had any word from Ghulam.

Kaka Hussein said in a disappointed and hushed mono-tone, “I think Ghulam has been taken for a ride. Just last week, Ghulam told me that he and his family have shifted away from their father and his second wife’s house, to a place quite ‘far away’. His father needs help to run a chicken rearing business to pay off debts incurred for its start-up, so Ghulam and Ramez have to work for their father.”

“Are Ghulam and his siblings going to school?”

“No.”

Worse, I know that what would add grief to Ghulam’s burdens would be his loss of our community, the loss of not being able to have tea with us in Kabul, whenever he wanted to.

Just as it must be for today’s 65.6 million refugees, I can taste the isolation and rejection Ghulam and his mother must feel.

When our relationships are cut off, our zest for life is cut off.

Ghulam at his study desk in Kabul, calling to make sure his family members were well, in the minutes following a bomb blast nearby

• Photos by Dr. Hakim

How Life got Intolerable for Ghulam’s Mother and his Afghan Family

Ghulam (second from left) working on our community’s greenhouse, together with Zek, Khamad and Ali

Ali, Zekerullah, Khamad and I miss Ghulam and his family. We feel sad that life in Afghanistan had finally become too burdensome for them. They are now Afghan refugees in Iran.

We have known Ghulam for many years, Ali and Ghulam being distant relatives and the best of childhood friends. Ghulam lived in community with us for about five years. We were his second family, supporting one another through thick and thin.

Ghulam’s focus

Ghulam worked very hard to be a good student. When he transferred to a private school, he topped his class in the exams and thus had his school fees waived.

He felt that doing well in school was the only route to a better life for a poor student.

Besides schooling, Ghulam would spare time once a week to help organize the first Food Bank in Afghanistan, run by the Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ). Volunteering isn’t a prevalent practice, and it isn’t easy trying to get well-to-do business persons to trust the APVs against the background of a ‘corruption tsunami’ in Afghanistan. So, Ghulam’s work with the nascent Food Bank called for his courage, persistence and kindness.

 Ghulam (extreme right) with Hussein and Sarwar going house to house to collect food donations for the Food Bank

Ghulam’s good-bye

I remember that Ghulam had first visited Kabul with us when he was 12-years-old. Then, he had just made friends with international visitors, including with Leila Zand, an American Iranian peace builder. When we were saying goodbye to Leila, the fresh social and emotional attachment of a young boy to a new friend was clearly apparent. Ghulam wasn’t willing to part. He cried like he was losing someone close.

From left to right in 2010: Leila Zand, Ghulam, Abdulhai, Zekerullah, Lala, Ali

Ghulam’s father left his family of seven children for Iran more than 10 years ago, looking for work so as to be able to pay off his debts. He never returned to Afghanistan, and took a second wife in Iran.

Ghulam’s family survived on his mother’s income from washing clothes for rich Afghan households. His older brother Ramez, the oldest among the siblings, had married hurriedly years ago. Amidst worsening unemployment rates in Afghanistan, he could not find regular work anywhere and spent many years paying off the marriage debt. The marriage has not been a happy one. Ramez’s wife could not get along with Ghulam’s mother, and when disagreements came to a head, Ghulam’s mother and siblings decided to shift to Kabul, renting a small room in a residential area. His mother found a job as a house-help, and would either walk 45 minutes to-and-from work or pillion-ride on Ghulam’s bicycle in the mornings and evenings.

Ghulam (fourth from left) with his siblings and Ali (fifth from left)

“It makes me sad that my mom has to work so hard as a house-help just to keep our family going. She sometimes falls ill but still has to go to work, including on public holidays!”

On a few occasions when she fell ill, Ghulam’s mother consulted me for medical advice. She was constantly worried about her children being hurt in militant attacks; the number of civilians killed in Kabul and across the country has  reached record levels.

Initially, Ali was told that Ghulam didn’t intend to go with his family to Iran. But, a day before their journey, Ghulam informed us that he was leaving too. His father must have asked for Ghulam.

In the evening, he came to say good-bye.

Seeing photos of our community on my room’s wall, he asked if he could have all three photos. I immediately took them out of the frame for him, and also gave him two small notebooks to journal his experiences ahead.

Just after midnight, he and his family left to take a coach to Nimroz, and from there, through human smugglers, to Iran.

The next morning, over breakfast, Ali sobbed. He had ‘lost’ his childhood friend. Ali knew that life was probably not going to get better for Ghulam, that life as an Afghan refugee in Iran or anywhere else isn’t easy. And how about Ghulam’s wish to do well in his studies? What’s to become of that?

The journey took them 17 days. They were denied entry at the Nimroz border crossing and had to take another route through Pakistan.

Life must have been changing very rapidly for Ghulam.

Life’s unfair twists

Ghulam is definitely not a silly, lazy scoundrel. He’s not a potential ‘terrorist’. He’s not a liability to anyone, anywhere.

But if we met Ghulam the refugee for the first time, these stereotypes may be how we perceive Ghulam, which would make us fear or dislike him.

How did our education become so narrow and warped?

I think that, in part, it is because our money-tized lives have de-activated our curious, creative, critical, communal and compassionate understanding of the world. Our education and work is increasingly devoid of meaningful relationships with other people and other ways of life, driven madly by personal profit.

Ali has only been able to speak on the phone with Ghulam twice.

“Ghulam didn’t say much. He hasn’t got internet use yet, so we can’t keep in touch via Facebook,” was all Ali could tell me.

Distance.

Each Afghan needing to cope with their own set of challenges.

The uncertainty of survival in war or refugee predicaments.

I asked Kaka Hussein, Ghulam’s neighbor, if he had any word from Ghulam.

Kaka Hussein said in a disappointed and hushed mono-tone, “I think Ghulam has been taken for a ride. Just last week, Ghulam told me that he and his family have shifted away from their father and his second wife’s house, to a place quite ‘far away’. His father needs help to run a chicken rearing business to pay off debts incurred for its start-up, so Ghulam and Ramez have to work for their father.”

“Are Ghulam and his siblings going to school?”

“No.”

Worse, I know that what would add grief to Ghulam’s burdens would be his loss of our community, the loss of not being able to have tea with us in Kabul, whenever he wanted to.

Just as it must be for today’s 65.6 million refugees, I can taste the isolation and rejection Ghulam and his mother must feel.

When our relationships are cut off, our zest for life is cut off.

Ghulam at his study desk in Kabul, calling to make sure his family members were well, in the minutes following a bomb blast nearby

• Photos by Dr. Hakim

Angry, Desperate, Rejected

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his boldest and perhaps most defining speech. It alienated liberal allies in the North and the Northern press, plus many in King’s own civil rights movement, and prompted President Johnson to withdraw King’s secret service detail. Exactly one year later, forty-nine years ago on April 4, he was assassinated. He said, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems … Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” It was his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Today, the 100th anniversary of the US entry into World War I, billed as “the war to end all wars,” wars rage and conflict-fueled hunger crises have culminated in potential famines hitting almost simultaneously in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

Three former UN officials with many decades of experience as diplomats recently wrote a blunt appraisal of the US role in undermining UN efforts and promoting wars, noting the President continues “embracing a toxic form of messianic nationalism” with exclusionary policies “illustrative of a regressive and Islamophobic outlook.” Yet in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) have been welcoming Voices US and UK delegates, one or two at a time, over the past several months. This followed a five month stretch where, for security reasons, the community was unable to receive visitors. I’ve been very grateful to be with them for the past two weeks.

On my first full day there, we traveled by bus to a small village where relatives celebrated the marriage of Abid and Zahro. They were married in the Herat province the week before. The wedding party was Disneyesque! Our group of women from Kabul sat with the village women in a large tent. Abid’s sisters and cousins, wearing brightly decorated gowns, looked exotic and beautiful. Young, and not so young, women took turns dancing and singing. “Wedding culture” remains quite popular in Kabul and throughout the country, but families experience severe financial strains trying to meet the expense, often with serious and long-lasting consequences.

For me, travel to a small village was welcomed as our movements have been restricted during recent visits in Kabul. The villagers tend almond and mulberry trees as well as grape vines. When the bus driver realized a foreigner was on board, the rate was suddenly doubled. The APV responded by saying, “OK. We’ll walk.” I was exhilarated, walking downhill alongside orchards with mountains looming on all sides. The bus driver soon found us and negotiated a more reasonable price.

The arrival of spring results in family gatherings, with opportunities to plant and recreate. It represents the beginning of the Afghan New Year. This past winter, for the fourth consecutive year, the APV supported seamstresses and provided a living wage to sew warm duvets for distribution to refugee camp families. Efforts were likewise redoubled on the “Street Kids’ School”.  Child street vendors are provided the opportunity to make up months or years of schooling they missed while supporting their families. Rations of rice and cooking oil are provided in trade for their attendance in school and participation in weekly classes at the Borderfree Center. The kids, and a growing circle of neighbors, also learn about the history and practice of nonviolence.

Today was my last full day in Kabul. Six of us went to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War to donate blood. Courageous workers there have faced innumerable crisis situations following attacks in Kabul. Their healing touch includes provision of well-tended lawns and gardens for their patients to rest in while recovering. Patients who can be mobile emerge from full wards, on crutches or in wheel chairs. We see them converse softly. And always there are a few children in wheelchairs racing down the cement walkways. The Emergency hospital in Lashkar Gah operates under full war zone conditions and still manages to run clinics and ambulance services.

Afterward, Nematullah took me to a refugee camp to visit a class he teaches to girls aged 5 – 14. With 25 students, we sat on uneven, rocky ground in a primitive room. For two hours, the girls were easily engaged in stories, activities, grammar exercises, and writing assignments. I felt grateful and hopeful as they bade us farewell.

Like the people in the refugee camp, people throughout Kabul cope with contaminated water and air, shortages of food and electricity, and a disastrously inadequate sewage and sanitation system. Hakim observes that among the dozens of young volunteers at the Borderfree Center, every family is dealing with severe traumas. In my short ten-day visit here, Barath Khan traveled to his home province of Paktia for the funeral of a cousin killed by an unknown assailant. Meanwhile young Bismillah’s family was mourning the recent death of his 28 year old brother who was killed in action serving with the Kabul government’s army. Nawid learned that his young cousin living in a neighboring province runs to hide every time he hears the sound of an armed US drone flying overhead.

Three days ago, the Center hired two buses to take Street Kids and Volunteers to a high hillside for their Fly Kites not Drones celebration. The children turned a cause for frightened hiding into a day of togetherness in the open, of solidarity, perhaps some healing, returning a message to the Afghan sky (and to its current US masters) that they do not want to fear it any more.  The following day, Ali and Qasim carefully loaded 90 saplings, plus shovels, pickaxes and buckets onto a bus already filled with eager young people who volunteered to plant trees at two different schools.   The APVs have planted more than 600 saplings since they first started the Bamiyan Peace Park.

This morning, Hakim and I talked about linking with communities in other war zones, being perhaps more deliberate about eventually bringing a joint message from those living under the tyranny of war to the General Assembly in NY or some other public forum. Early in my stay Hakim had given the APVs a slide show detailing antiwar resistance as far back as WWI – it was crisp, moving and inspiring. He contrasted the scientific advances that had allowed the first lunar landing with the use of technology to develop the weapons of mass destruction the US and weaker nations precariously stockpile. The slides covered a century of war resisters, some reminders of war’s wide-reaching costs, and even the effect wars have had on Hakim’s own family. Faced with unemployment and a dire lack of solutions to their own financial hardships, teams at the Borderfree Center have developed presentations about global poverty, worker’s rights, far-off famines and the ecological crisis. Their alternative education currently reaches many dozens of young people in Kabul. A small team now meets weekly to design an Institute of Peace for older students.

Shortly after returning to the US, I’ll head to NYC for a week of fasting and action at the UN regarding starvation and war in Yemen. Since my arrival in Kabul two weeks ago, the conflict-driven crises in Somalia, South Sudan and North Nigeria have accelerated further toward famine, making up, along with Yemen’s nightmare, what is being called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in seventy years. Trump’s slashing of US contributions to UN relief agencies must be condemned as the exact opposite of what the US can and should do: as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the US should make famine prevention and feeding those at risk of starvation a top priority. But we should also resist continued US military buildup in Yemen, African countries, and any other part of the world. To give humanitarian aid while continuing US military strikes and US support for the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports is like giving money to the local fire department on one’s way between setting different arson fires.

We recall the horrible suffering and death in Iraq under economic sanctions. Efforts to alleviate the suffering were always too little and too late. Voices witnessed US aerial terrorism and invasion afflicting Iraqi civilians on a massive scale in 1991 and 2003. The US military menace gave rise to ongoing chaos, displacement, and bitter civil wars.

Fifty years ago Dr. King risked his life to tell us that “the world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve,” that a nation focused on military defense more than social uplift “is approaching spiritual death,” and that we still had a choice: “nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.”  How much longer will that choice be extended to us? It’s an open question. But the time is always ripe to start making the right choice. We cannot look the other way as military and economic warfare destroys lives, communities and cultures. We cannot lose ourselves in trivia and fantasy while the foundation of our real lives is the inescapable misery and suffering of others. We must persistently ask how US people will ever find the ingenuity, skill and resources to solve critical problems facing US communities when perennially panicked into working to satisfy the bloated and obscene needs of the US military industrial complex.

I’ve had the extraordinary experience, in Kabul, of walking among and learning from angry, desperate, and rejected young men, and young women. I have seen them working for peace, for their neighbors, and for a brighter future. That has to be a good start.