Category Archives: Taliban

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.

Why Shouldn’t the Boston Marathon Bomber Vote? U.S. Politicians Radicalized Him

Last month, 2020 U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stirred controversy at a CNN town hall after answering a loaded question about whether his position on extending voting rights to incarcerated felons barred any exceptions such as the Boston Marathon bomber currently on death row. It was impossible for Sanders to respond honestly without being entrapped by the inclusion of Dzhokar Tsarnaev as an example, but the self-professed ‘democratic socialist’ gave a reflective explanation of the complexities of the issue behind his reasoning. The 77-year old Senator from Vermont’s thoughtful answer possibly avoided a campaign fate like that which befell 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis after he gave a widely perceived clinical reply in the presidential debates to whether he favored the death penalty for a hypothetical rapist and murderer of his own wife. Nevertheless, enough damage was done for a brief media firestorm to ensue following the televised event.

The backlash was entirely predictable across mainstream media, as were the reactions on both sides of the isle exemplifying the all too familiar shallow discourse of U.S. politics. Fox News and Donald Trump did the expected flag-waving, while Democratic Party ‘progressives’ tried to salvage the legitimate issue of voter suppression distorted by the question in what was another coordinated hit by CNN. The network previously exploited its conflicts of interest with the political establishment by colluding with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) against Sanders in 2016 with then-host and party chair Donna Brazile’s slipping of debate questions to his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. While the Democratic status quo continues to sabotage any remotely progressive candidates in its field, Trump has created a distraction from the GOP’s systematic disenfranchisement campaign that purged ballots of racial minorities and the poor with wild exaggerations of the number of illegal immigrants registered to vote. It is hardly surprising that the world superpower with more than 800 military bases around the globe would also have such a large prison population that enfranchising its inhabitants would swing the outcome of its elections. Meanwhile, the bankrupt Democratic leadership has shown little concern for the voter suppression attacks compared to its ongoing obsession with bogus allegations of Russian meddling.

Sanders’ opponents gave rebuttals including South Bend, Indiana “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg who staunchly opposed such a measure. Buttigieg, who has risen in recent polls, is a former naval intelligence officer and in addition to opposing enfranchising all Americans has even spoken out against former President Barack Obama’s granting of clemency to army intelligence whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Buttigieg is the latest example in what has been an extraordinary amount of ex-military and intelligence operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and U.S. State Department to run for public office as Democratic entrants in the past year, including 11 who were victorious in the 2018 mid-term elections. In fact, the recent inundation of intelligence personnel into positions of government during the Trump era as a whole is without parallel. Buttigieg is joined in the race by Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a House Armed Services Committee member and affiliate of the Serve America Political Action Committee, an organization which channels corporate donations to political candidates with previous experience in the intelligence community, military branches or D.C. foreign policy blob. This trend illustrates the party’s overall hawkish turn to the right where the military-security complex has taken advantage of the anti-Russia hysteria by implanting a batch of veterans of the U.S. war industry into refashioning the Democratic Party to its liking. Not to say Obama didn’t already expand Bush policies, but the latest ‘blue wave’ has fully congealed the party structure with the intelligence apparatus.

It’s no surprise that Sanders’ center-right rivals with military-intelligence backgrounds would contradict his position on granting political suffrage to all citizens, including the 25-year old Kyrgyzstani-American convicted terrorist of Chechen descent awaiting execution at ADX Florence in Colorado. Completely missing from the subsequent conversation, however, is that the surviving Boston Marathon bomber was radicalized as a result of the military-security complex and its vaguely defined but never-ending ‘War on Terror’ that every candidate, including Sanders himself, supports. More disturbing is that Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s alleged path to extremism under the wing of older brother Tamerlan was not simply in purported retaliation to U.S. wars but was possibly more direct. The Chechen brothers may have become Oswald-like patsies in a FBI and CIA-coordinated sting operation gone wrong as a close look at the evidence surrounding the April 2013 bombings which killed 3 people and injured hundreds of others suggests a high probability the attack was facilitated by the U.S. domestic intelligence services who entrapped the Tsarnaevs for recruitment as assets or informants. They were then likely coaxed into committing a crime they never otherwise would have, if they even committed it at all.

No real understanding of the ‘War on Terror’ can be grasped without first revisiting the history of U.S. foreign policy which precipitated the present crisis the world is in today. A path can be traced from current domestic terrorism back to the catastrophic U.S. foreign policy move during the Carter administration under his National Security Adviser, the vehemently Russophobic Warsaw-native Zbigniew Brzezinski, who directed the Pentagon to provide covert support for the Afghan Mujahedin as part of the CIA’s Operation Cyclone program. This decision was made while the spy agency was still reeling from its discredited reputation after the Church-Pike Committees and Rockefeller Commission exposed its numerous abuses and illicit activities in the decades prior. Thereafter, the use of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became the CIA’s modus operandi to serve as go-betweens shielding its activities using think factories like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other innocuously named “soft power” organizations to achieve its foreign objectives.

Support for the mujaheddin proxy army forced the Marxist Afghan government into requesting military assistance from the USSR, which was then framed by the West as a Soviet “invasion.” The U.S. backing of the jihadists was a deliberate effort to siphon Soviet involvement into a Vietnam-esque quagmire at Brzezinski’s own callous admittance. Continuing through the 1980s under the Reagan Doctrine, the CIA followed his blueprint providing arms and funds to the Afghan Islamist insurgency waging a guerrilla campaign against the socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in coordination with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Saudi Arabia. As a consequence, U.S. money and weapons ended up in the hands of militants who would later form the nucleus of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

After the Berlin wall fell, the Anglosphere continued its support of jihadists to facilitate the breakup of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s where U.S. subsidies went to Al-Qaeda elements in the Bosnian mujaheddin and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in their war against Serbia, the Balkan nation with the closest cultural and economic ties to Moscow. Meanwhile, the former Soviet states and Eastern bloc were granted their ‘independence’ with the stumbling block of IMF lending enslavement. However, one area remained a federal subject within the new Russian Federation to the dissatisfaction of Brzezinski and his elite cohorts who coveted a total dismemberment of Eurasia following the reestablishment of free enterprise in Eastern Europe. The Chechen Republic with Western encouragement sought its independence from Russia resulting in a decade of violence and two wars while its close proximity of less than 70 miles from the oil-rich Caspian Sea made it a target for destabilization.

Brezinski had previously formed the Nationalities Working Group (NWG) which had been devoted to undermining the Soviet Union by whipping up ethnic divisions, particularly the many different non-Russian Muslim groups of the Caucausus. Meanwhile, the wellspring of the puritanical Wahhabist strain of Islam, Saudi Arabia, had spread its ultraconservative ideology from the Middle East to Russia’s predominantly Muslim southern border region. Tasked with fomenting secessionist terrorism and instability in the area once the Iron Curtain dissolved was the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya NGO, founded by the neocon cabal Freedom House, as well as The Jamestown Foundation, a Eurasia-centered think tank established during the Cold War by former CIA director William Casey, a man who once famously stated “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

Those able to see through the war propaganda in Syria today have been horrified by the West’s rebranding of salafist groups in the Levant as ‘moderate rebels.’ Yet, that is exactly how the same media marketed Islamist terrorists in the Chechen Wars who committed countless deadly attacks including the barbaric seizure of hundreds of innocent schoolchildren, hospital patients and theatre goers as hostages throughout Russia. In a 2009 WikiLeaks cable, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Vladimir Nazarov confronted the U.S. Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council, William Solomon, about the ties between Western NGOs and Chechen “rebels”:

Nazarov complained about U.S. NGOs that ostensibly foster separatist and extremist sentiments in the region and noted that for leaders in the region foreign interference is a sore subject. Nazarov claimed there are documented connections between terrorists in the North Caucasus and groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, he claimed Russia has evidence that one of the participants in the 2004 Beslan school massacre met with individuals in London (Nazarov appeared to be pointing to a connection with British special services, but could have also been alluding to Chechen leader in exile Zakayev). Because of this, Nazarov said, the Russian government did not believe the UK government is serious about counter-terrorism cooperation.

In 1977, when Brzezinski was in the Carter White House, the CIA Station Chief in Kabul was an operations officer named Graham Fuller. Under Ronald Reagan, Fuller was promoted to vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council and became infamous for penning the study that influenced the administration’s decision to use a covert route selling arms to Tehran to fund another group of anti-communist “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua which culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal. Pushed into abrupt retirement amid the fallout, Fuller became a political scientist for foreign policy think tanks such as the RAND Corporation in the vein of Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Samuel P. Huntington, who even cited Fuller’s work in his highly influential The Clash of Civilizations. Fuller’s orientalist writings mostly focused on geopolitical questions in relation to the Muslim world, and his activities are so extensive he is currently facing an arrest warrant in Turkey for his links to the Islamic cleric Fetullah Gülen whom the Erdogan government believes directed the 2016 coup attempt that has strained relations between Washington and Ankara. In 1999 Fuller wrote of how Islam was useful for Western regime change aspirations:

In the West the words Islamic fundamentalism conjure up images of bearded men with turbans and women covered in black shrouds. And some Islamist movements do indeed contain reactionary and violent elements. But we should not let stereotypes blind us to the fact that there are also powerful modernising forces at work within these movements. Political Islam is about change. In this sense, modern. Islamist movements may be the main vehicle for bringing about change in the Muslim world and the break-up of the old “dinosaur” regimes.

It just so happens that Ruslan Tsarni, one of the uncles of the Tsarnaev brothers, was married to Fuller’s daughter Samantha in the 1990s while he was an employee for the CIA-contracted RAND Corporation. In the aftermath of the bombing in Boston in 2013, interviews with ‘Uncle Ruslan’ by the media were widely circulated where he gave an overdone performance condemning his two nephews while verifying everything in the FBI’s portrayal of them. Are we really supposed to believe this connection is by chance? The media gave virtually no attention to the fact that Tsarni not only worked as a consultant for CIA-fronts like RAND and USAID and as a contractor for Halliburton but even established an entity called the Congress of Chechen International Organizations which supplied Islamic separatist militants in the Caucasus while using his father in-law Fuller’s home address in Maryland as its registered place of residence.

Tsarni’s feigned denunciation of his nephews could not have contrasted more with the wholehearted and impassioned pleas by the mother of the two suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who insisted that her two sons were set-up by the FBI and alleged that the family had contact with agents long before the bombing took place. The FBI was forced to admit they had indeed investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years prior after being warned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia that he was a follower of radical Islam, but this didn’t prevent the Islamophobic legacy media from smearing the grieving mother as a crazed anti-American. The yellow press downplayed the significance of the 2011 tip from the FSB likely because it came after the older Chechen brother had attended workshops in Tblisi, Georgia while traveling abroad that were operated by an organization called the Caucasus Fund of Georgia. According to documents obtained by the Moscow-based Isvestia newspaper from Georgian counter-intelligence, the Caucasus Fund was financed by none other than the Jamestown Foundation. Graham Fuller himself has given keynote speeches at Jamestown events and corporate media could only have purposefully avoided piecing together the glaring ‘coincidences’ surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers and their uncle.

The FBI’s previous contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and their inability to prevent the April 2013 attack, as has been the case with so many others like it, increases the likelihood that the brothers could very well have been part of a undercover operation gone awry like their mother believes. Leaving aside the extremely suspicious death of Ibragim Todashev, Tamerlan’s friend, at the hands of agents where he had allegedly confessed in an interview to an earlier triple homicide that implicated his deceased companion, FBI records indicate that the domestic security service has proliferated its use of sting operations in recent years as part of its counterterrorism program. Nearly three quarters of all suspects apprehended in foiled plots who professed allegiance to ISIS have been through undercover deception, raising significant ethical questions about the agency’s practices. The New York Times reported in 2016:

The F.B.I. has significantly increased its use of stings in terrorism cases, employing agents and informants to pose as jihadists, bomb makers, gun dealers or online “friends” in hundreds of investigations into Americans suspected of supporting the Islamic State, records and interviews show.

If nearly two out of every three terror plots is being engineered with the ensnaring of vulnerable individuals whom the FBI believes have sympathies toward extremism, how many would not have attempted such acts had the operations not taken place? It is clear that the War on Terror has a business model and in order to meet its quotas, terrorist attacks that would otherwise happen randomly and infrequently are being manufactured on an industrial scale. If ISIS poses such a serious threat to homeland security, why are such orchestrations by the FBI necessary? Like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Afghan-born suspect in the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Omar Mateen, had been surveilled by the FBI for a full year prior to the 2016 Florida massacre in a sting operation, while his father had been a longtime confidential informant. One can’t help but wonder how many of these tragedies are such cases of entrapment with deadly outcomes or if it would explain the increasingly routine nature of domestic terrorism in the U.S.

Samuel Huntington argued in The Clash of Civilizations that in the post-Soviet sphere, Islam would emerge as the primary foe of Western hegemony. It is worth noting that Huntington did not include the Christian Orthodox nations of Serbia, Russia, Belarus or Armenia as part of the West in his nine “core civilizations” but rather as “torn countries” divided between their civilizational heritage and close ties with Asia. His false paradigm became a conceptual justification for the U.S. empire’s unilateral dominion where an amorphous ‘war on Islamic terrorism’ replaced the absence of another superpower or viable threat after the end of the Cold War. That was until the return to the international stage of a competent Moscow and Beijing in today’s multipolar world where the machinations of Brzezinski and his apprentices like Fuller are still useful on the global chessboard in stoking the flames of religious fundamentalism to undercut the East.

It is significant that Brzezinski never considered himself a neocon and saw the post-9/11 management of empire by the Bush administration in the Middle East as the U.S. falling into the same trap he had laid for the Soviets in Afghanistan, despite the Wolfowitz Doctrine being an obvious inevitable outgrowth of the chain of events he set in motion. As for his colleague Huntington, the recent attacks in Sri Lanka and New Zealand against Christians and Muslims alike show the far reach of consequences from his prophesy of civilizational conflict. Like Brzezinski, the neocons carried out Huntington’s international relations thesis into what the author saw as a mutation of his vision. Indeed, 9/11 has been used to murder and displace millions of Muslims in seven nations, none of which ever attacked the U.S. Nevertheless, both Atlanticist manipulators gave birth to a cycle with blowback like the Boston Marathon bombing that will only be repeated if the lessons of our hidden history remain unlearned.

Reluctant Soldier, Confused Peacenik

Bowe Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.

He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterintelligence) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

The FOB’s OP (army talk is littered with acronyms and abbreviations, quickly reducing any text or conversation to gobbledygook) would transfer authority to Afghan troops operate under US troops, the idea being to eventually leave the Afghans in sole charge. They would establish security, identify the Taliban, separate them from the local population, show the villagers they were better off with Karzai and the Americans in charge. Abracadabra. The Taliban would just disappear, as they very well ought to.

But it’s not the Taliban who have disappeared. Between 2006 and 2014, 20,000 soldiers have deserted from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001 the army pressed charges against less than 2,000, half pleaded guilty, 78 were tried and convicted. That pales in comparison to more than half a million Vietnam draft resisters/ deserters from 1966 to 1973. Desertion is as American as apple pie.

Bergdahl’s 4 weeks of hell sent him over the edge. He forgot the most important rule about the army. Don’t think. Just obey orders. Your superior is always right. It’s not clear what exactly B decided he was going to do, but he snuck away in the night, careful not to be noticed and headed for … hmmm. I guess he hadn’t really decided anything other than giving himself over to the Taliban, which was pretty easy. Hours after dawn, the word got out and Taliban equivalent of UPS picked up their load and whisked him across the border into FATA (federal administrative tribal areas) in Pakistan, just out of reach of the US army.1

Domino or butterfly effect?

His desertion (he eventually ignored his defence lawyer and pleaded guilty) set in motion a domino effect on a massive scale, but not the one the prosecution tried to pin on him: that B’s desertion led to soldiers’ deaths. The early angry accusations soon melted under examination, leaving B’s actions as a butterfly effect in a chaotic world.

Even his hated superior Baker later admitted that DUSTWUN (missing soldier alert), while difficult, had also produced some of the greatest disruptions of Taliban networks that he had seen at any point during the war. Commanders in the field used the search for Bergdahl as a justification for more aggressive tactics to achieve stability in the area.

It was a great way to motivate troops — rescuing a soldier was more ‘fun’ that just terrorizing hostile Afghans. It was a real mission, not the phony one they would be doing otherwise. “Everyone knew it was going on.”

Baker sounds like a real SOB (making all the troops shave 6 times in a row because one missed a stray hair, screaming two inches from their faces). Insisting the OB be built on a cemetery and desecrating graves set off an alarm in B’s mind. Afghan soldiers were known to turn their guns on their American comrades for less. But, what the hell, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,2 Afghanistan is FUBAR.3

In American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Farwell and Ames don’t need any purple prose. Hard facts do the trick. For instance, in 2007 a soldier in B’s 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1/501, Evan Vela, killed an unarmed captive Iraqi on orders from his superior, staff sergeant Hensley. He was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years. Rather than murder, Henley was acquitted, charged only with a minor infraction.

It would be hard to beat Sergeant Robert Bales who slipped off base in Kandahar twice in one night in 2012 and shot 16 civilians in their homes in front of their families. At least he got life. It’s a miracle that B’s handlers didn’t string him up in response when they heard of this.

B enlists in 2008  and he is deployed in May 2009. At the end of training (Fort Richardson, Alaska), Command Sergeant Major Wolfe told them: I know you all joined because you want to rape, pillage and kill. That’s why I joined. But you need to think about COIN, winning over local farmers, merchants, drivers.

The training screams of cognitive dissonance. During training, they would chant ‘trained to kill, kill we will.’ Sex assaults and rapes were rampant at Fort Richardson.

FOB Sharana was built on a Soviet base. A/C barracks, dvd players, internet, lots of video games, hot showers, porcelain toilets, a basketball court, coffee shops, as much food as they wanted any time. But a strict dress code and shaving regime. Logistics brought in steak and lobster dinners for officers.

B’s one mission was in an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle, sent to retrieve an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team’s truck but the mountain road was too narrow, they hit an IED (improvised explosive device), another vehicle was disabled, they came under Taliban fire, and were saved by air support.

What should have been a few hours to retrieve a damaged truck had become a week-long ordeal. And to top it off, Baker glared at them when they returned. “What, you couldn’t shave?”

B’s instincts were right.  He and his only real friend, Joseph Coe ate dinner with the Afghan soldiers up the hill most evenings. Coe grew up in a missionary family in the highlands of Venezuela, and refused to be party to Bergdahl’s later vilification by his fellow soldiers. B and Coe realized befriending the Afghans was the right thing to do, and a commonsense precaution against ‘green on blue’ (Afghan soldier/ police killing Americans). The Afghan soldiers were friendly and welcomed them. The soldiers never learned their names, nicknaming them ‘ice cream’, ‘crazy eyes’. They called their translators John or Jack.

Bergdahl respected the Afghans, realized the occupiers had to respect their culture, i.e., the cemetery. Eating with the Afghans was like having a meal with his neighbours on the prairies in Idaho, Peruvian Quechua shepherds. He didn’t want to die fighting them, when he knew they were in the right. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

What he was supposed to do for the next two years had nothing to do with helping them. So he put his fate in their hands. He knew he would survive. His rash, quixotic decision became an important symbolic gesture pointing to the way out of this latest imperial deadend.

Behind the scenes, there are human terrain teams (anthropologists), provincial reconstruction teams (a hydra of military, state department and USAID NGOs), tactical human intelligence teams (liquor and porn as bribes). The disconnect with the ‘kill we will’ foot soldiers, the face of the occupiers to most Afghan, makes their existence meaningless.

B lasted a month before he wrote a scathing email to his folks:

We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them […] I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.

Then left his weapon and night vision goggles on his neatly made cot, and fled to the arms of the Taliban.

Peace on Earth

B’s captors immediately offered a deal: 25 Taliban prisoners and $9m. The offer was rejected without any attempt to negotiate. The Taliban continued to offer a deal but the mantra from Bush and Obama was ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists.’

There were over 100 kidnappings from 2001–11, mostly journalists and missionaries. All were released with a quiet negotiations and a ransom. B was a test case for both sides, as a prisoner exchange would give the Taliban de facto recognition. It wasn’t the puppet Karzai/ Ghani but the US president negotiating with the Taliban.

The authors dismiss the possibility that Bergdahl might have converted to Islam, that his anti-imperialist lecture, delivered on Christmas day 2009  courtesy of his captors and social media, was surely just a forced confession, though it was quite articulate, not “absurd”, as Farwell and Ames state.  He mentions the indignities suffered by Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons around the world, “but the Taliban treated me as human being with dignity. Aren’t our leaders simply the puppets of the lobbies that pay for their election campaigns?”

He (or rather his Taliban minders) refer to Veterans for Peace activist and ex-Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from his  foreign service posting in Kabul interview, and in an interview with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer in November 2009 read from his resignation letter: American combat troops are not defeating al-qaeda by their presence in Afghanistan. All they are doing is just fighting people who are fighting us because we’re occupying them.

B’s testimony “grows more dogmatic–and more absurd.” Come on! Give the Taliban at least an A for crafting a coherent agitprop video showing MRAPs, dead ISAF soldiers, a video of an improvised IED. Ok, “We have forced them to strap large amounts of explosives to their precious bodies, to leave their homes and children to kill us.” — is a bit over the top. But it’s a lot closer to the truth than the US version of events.

A few days after B’s bombshell, CIA agent Hamam al-Balawi blew himself and his US minders up at the CIA base in nearby Khost, leaving behind his martyr video. Both Bs were under the direction of the Haqqani network,4 with the knowledge (and help) of Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-services Intelligence). For newly arrived Major General Michael Flynn, director of intelligence for NATO’s ISAF coalition, not a Christmas to remember.

B became a lightning rod for the increasing frustration over this unending war. Fox news interviewed spy novelist and  retired lt col Ralph Peters:

This private is a liar. We’re not sure if he’s a deserter. Collaborating with the enemy. The Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

Whew! Carte blanche to slice B’s head off. The interview was censored, but only for fear it served the Taliban. Flynn called him a jihadi. 23 veteran Congressmen published an open letter reminding McCain and others that they made statements contrary to their beliefs to stay alive.

B’s mother: the Taliban was now a part of our family

After years of stonewalling, B’s father Bob realized the government was incapable of diplomacy and he decided to go to Pakistan to give himself in exchange for his son. He used twitter, quoting from the Koran, with a message of radical peace. He travelled to visit a mosque in Washington, where the imam taught him to pray. He wore a kufi and grew his beard, knowing that the Taliban would see him on social media, trying to appeal to the Pashtun values and customs. B’s mother Jani told him, “the Taliban was now a part of our family.”

He talked with his pastor about overlaps between Calvinism and Islam. He realized peace would only come by understanding the men who held his son. Without peace, his son would never come home. The Bergdahls respected, embraced the enemy. The Christological overtones are everywhere. B’s 40 days in the wilderness, suffering for our sins, resurrection from the dead, love thine enemy …

For Bob and Jani, their prayers were answered. Obama had to wrap this up, and though he should have got Congressional approval, he just quietly released ‘the Taliban 5’ to Qatar and sent a SEAL rescue team to scoop up B, filmed by his captors for the world to see. Obama “broke the law by not informing Congress,” fumed Republican House Armed Services Committee Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

Obama was getting his own back. He had vowed in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo and had been shafted. Convincing him was Holbrooke’s adviser Barney Rubin who reminded Obama that of the 5 Taliban, 3 had surrendered, 2 were detained after they showed up for appointments saying they wanted to help us.

Vietnam

No doubt others who were traumatized by the war in Afghanistan will find healing as have the Bergdahls, by acknowledging the guilt of being part of this invasion and destruction of a country and its people. This happened — is still happening — after the liberation of Vietnam.

One of many Vietnam vets who have returned to Vietnam looking for closure, Chuck Searcy moved to Vietnam in 1995 as representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and helped launch Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, to clean up UXO (unexploded ordnance) and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims. Like Hoh, Searcy is active in Veterans For Peace, based in Vietnam. In 2003 Searcy was awarded Vietnam’s National Friendship Medal.

Bergdahl hoped to cause an emergency, a Goliath moment which would give him the chance to bring his commanding officer Baker’s leadership failures to light, to steer the US intervention towards the truth. A DUSTWUN was the most powerful weapon B had.

The day after he shipped his things home, he sent an email from Sharana to a group of friends in Idaho quoting Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt:

It is not the being of value who fails the system. It is the system that has failed the man. The system should be remade to fit the man who holds value as worth.

B aimed to bring the gears of system to a halt, his own personal (nonviolent) 9/11, and remake it.

It worked, sort of. When the dust finally settled, Bowe was handed a dishonorable discharge (instead of life), and a few pay deductions, but awarded two good conduct medals for service in captivity. Even Trump had stopped calling for his execution, and started negotiating with the Taliban, which is exactly what Bergdahl’s very brave, but also very risky, act was all about.

In a March 1, 2019 interview on C-Span, ex-Marine and foreign service official Matthew Hoh makes the point that the war actually began in 1973 with the overthrow of the king. He doesn’t make the point that the logical secular trajectory led to socialism, nor does he point to the US arming and supporting the Islamists as the real crime.

But Bergdahl’s trajectory is the logical one today — looking to the enemy for an answer. Whether or not Bowe took the shuhada and became a Muslim, his reaching out to the Taliban and his father and mother’s realization that “the Taliban are part of our family,” says it all.

An earlier version of B’s monkey-wrench-into-the-killer-machine, during the Vietnam war, is Christopher Boyce,  who worked for the National Reconnaissance Office in the 1970s, and discovered the CIA were deposing Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia for wanting to close US military bases and withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam. Boyce saw that the CIA was undermining not just Australia but other democratic, industrialized allies. Boyce figured the press was useless. The media’s earlier disclosure of CIA involvement in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état had not changed anything for the better.

If he was going to make a splash, he’d have to turn to the ‘enemy’. Then, it was the Soviet Union. Despite his solidly conservative upbringing, he, like B, came to realize that the ‘enemy’ was almost by definition the ‘good guy’. His crossing the line and spying for the Soviet Union was much like B’s — very risky, harrowing, to say the least, life-changing.

He spent 25 years in prison as penance, and now lives quietly in Oregon, not so far from the Bergdahls. Another gripping story of defying the empire and living to tell the tale.

Now if only Boyce’s wildly idealistic expose had saved Whitlam and brought down US imperialism back in the 1970s. Or at least if we could rewind our tape to 1979, and see the Soviet Union and its attempt to shore up the faltering secular socialist government in Afghanistan, as “part of our family”, to be embraced, not vilified and destroyed. If only our present was the counterfactual history, not the peaceful, secular Afghanistan of yore.

Boyce and Bergdahl sensed who the real enemy is. They aimed for Goliath’s eye with their stone and hit it, but to no avail. Boyce’s logic pointed to socialism. Bergdahl’s saga points to Islam. The best thing in the 1970s was to make peace with the Soviet Union, not to destroy it. Now, it is for the US to embrace Islam’s message of peace. There Is No Alternative.

  1. There are at least four spying agencies all at cross-purposes. The oldest the army’s, which was supposed to close when the CIA was created but secretly kept working. Under the army was also a special unofficial service which carried out very secret things like Iran-contra. Then there’s the FBI, responsible for any American in a non-combat country. Also the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). All had their claim to Bergdahl. The search for Bergdahl was as much a war between the CIA (secretly allowed to do things in Pakistan) against the army’s spymasters, the FBI and the DEA. The army ‘won’. Sort of.
  2. Army jargon for WTF (what the f&#k)
  3. ‘Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.’
  4. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who visited the Reagan White House and was once described by Texas politician Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.”

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.

What’s in store for Afghanistan?

Where’s the voting booth?

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

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

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

US military ‘successes’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do a Nixon?

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

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

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

What post-occupation scenario awaits Afghanis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to get there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Niet

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

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

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

Meeting in Moscow: The Taliban Meets the Afghan Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defying War and Defining Peace in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kandahar (AFP Photo: Javed Tanveer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air

Iqbal Khyber and Badshah Khan bring a breath of fresh air

Grade 12 Afghan student Jamila Omary asked, “Do you have any plans to arm yourselves, because of the threats and dangers you have faced?”

Iqbal Khyber answered, “No. Though it is easy to buy weapons today, arming ourselves will worsen the war. Weapons will make us less secure.”

What a breath of fresh air in the stench of war-as-usual!

Iqbal and his fellow People’s Peace Movement (PPM) representative, Badshah Khan, had an unusual and delightfully different conversation with the young Afghan participants of the ‘Youth on the Road to Peace Conference’ on the 26th of September 2018, organized by the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) in Kabul.

“Many governments and corporations have a thriving weapons business. I feel that this is dangerous because as they seek greater profits, they are threatening not just Afghanistan, but the whole world. We human beings may soon destroy ourselves,” Iqbal Khyber had said to me afterwards.

We acquiesce to continued international arms sales because we are comfortable in our pet beliefs and fixed ideas about defeating ‘terrorists’ through superior warfare. Just as we preserve our fossil-fuel habits despite our awareness of climate science, we ignore U.S. congressionally-mandated evidence that the ‘war against terrorism’ has, in fact, increased terrorist attacks five-fold.

The majority of us are not the ones being killed, so we casually get used to wars festering in other places. But the smoke of war is catching up on all of us, making us sick at two minutes to midnight, as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have warned. Eventually the business of war can stifle and kill all of us, just as Iqbal fears.

It is remarkable that amidst war’s unforgiving flames, Iqbal and Badshah wish to douse the inaccurate and unimaginative beliefs about the Afghan war.

They want fellow Afghans and the people of the world to consider nonviolence as a pragmatic solution, and they are ‘walking their talk’ beautifully.

So that we can consciously open our shut ears, Iqbal, Badshah and five other ordinary Afghan folk initiated the PPM as the Helmand Peace Convoy, walking more than 700 km from their unrestful home province of Helmand to Kabul. They were so passionately thirsty about delivering their message of peace that they walked in the fasting month of Ramadan, under the blazing summer sun.

They met the Conference participants after they had returned to Kabul from their barefoot convoy to several Northern Afghan provinces.

Nurturing honest conversations and different mindsets

I got dizzy thinking about these Afghan youth standing before the militants and the strongest militaries of the world that are ‘congregated’ in Afghanistan, and saying, “We don’t want your weapons and your armies. We want peace.”

Iqbal continued his story, “Near the province of Samangan, we were told that the Taliban had laid an ambush, intending to hurt us. I discussed this with Badshah Khan and another core member of the PPM. We didn’t tell the other members as we didn’t want them to be un-necessarily afraid. The three of us decided to press on. In fact, we decided to go right to the ‘headquarters’ of the Taliban in that area.”

Iqbal and his friends set up camp in Taliban territory, and though their ‘microphones were taken away”, no one harmed them physically.

The faces of the youth in the discussion room were drawn with both tension and excitement. They were hopeful, but they also had doubts.

Mohammad Jamil, a university student, was even suspicious of fellow Afghans living in Helmand Province, “Do the people of Helmand really want peace? What is the war in Helmand about?”

Iqbal replied, “The people are all tired of war. They want it to end. This is an economic war. In Helmand, minerals are extracted, and opium is traded.”

Ending the war in Afghanistan without armies and weapons may seem overwhelming. Unsure about the PPM achieving favorable outcomes, Mah Gul asked, “What are your future plans and actions?”

“We wish to go to mosques, and have conversations with the people at the mosques,” Iqbal stated.

Members of the PPM are showing that instead of using bullets and bombs, every individual and society can choose other ways to build peace. They suggest that peace has been elusive so far because we have largely presumed that war was necessary, and only chosen military strategies.

We have all been smoking the cigarette of war, despite the evidence on its cancer-causing nature. What we should do is to quit smoking. Quit the human behavior of war!

Support Nonviolent Afghans

What can each of us do to support the People’s Peace Movement and Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ), instead of continuing an ineffective and unkind Trumpian non-strategy of ‘killing people’?

We can work through our doubts by having honest conversations with them by writing to the People’s Peace Movement ( PPM )  or moc.dlrow2liamnull@eerfredrob

We can sign “The People’s Agreement to Abolish War” or World Beyond War’s Peace Declaration.

Just as more and more of us are steering away from fossil fuels, we can look for and divest from war-making jobs, businesses and policies.

War is not inevitable. It is an obsolete, repetitive choice. Everywhere, each of us can emulate these new-generation Afghans by ushering in breaths of fresh air!

In Afghanistan, Our Need to Rethink the Institution of War

It’s frustrating that whereas all human beings wish to live meaningful lives, we seem helpless in the face of a few individuals waging wars and exploiting our world.

But we can each do something about this insensible status quo, as ordinary folk of the People’s Peace Movement ( PPM) show us by taking one barefoot-step at a time, traveling to the Northern areas of Afghanistan to persuade fellow Afghans, whether they’re with ‘insurgent groups’ or with the U.S./NATO/Afghan forces, to stop fighting.

The People’s Peace Movement (PPM) walking barefoot to the Northern provinces of Afghanistan, led by a blind member of their group, Zindani (Photo taken from PPM’s Facebook Page)

Their action of walking without shoes suggest to us that, for us to survive today’s militarized and profit-driven norms, we have to live each day differently, and with clarity and compassion.

We’ve been thinking that we need armies to stop ‘terrorists’, but armies don’t stop ‘terrorists’. Instead, they give ‘terrorists’ reason to keep fighting.

We need to think anew.

Moreover, the roots of ‘terrorism’ lie within ourselves. We are our own source of wars.

Iqbal Khyber, a representative of PPM, told the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) about how violence has taken root in all of us. “A blind member of our group, Zindani (a name he gave himself after he was blinded by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb, meaning ‘imprisoned’ ) had so much pain in him that one evening when we were camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, he pleaded with me, ‘Can I throw a pebble at the fence?’ ”

“I advised Zindani, ‘No, we need to end the anger inside us.’” Iqbal continued.

Zindani is rightfully angry because he has been hurt by all sides of the Afghan conflict, like all civilians in all wars. His father literally disappeared from his life when he was just seven, as a bomb from a U.S. airstrike in Helmand left ‘a crater so large that no trace of his father and uncle could be found’. Years later, another bomb, this time a Taliban device, killed his sister and blinded him. He not only lost his sight, but he also lost the chance to marry the teenage love of his life.

The crowd at the PPM’s meeting in Kabul on the 9th of August 2018. Zindani is determined to end war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

At a large gathering in Kabul, Zindani sat in front of a crowd of Afghans who were shouting, “We want peace! Enough war! ” He had a brown turban wrapped over his head and eyes, and a Borderfree blue scarf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers draped around his neck.

Zindani is determined to end war (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

He was quiet.

But his stand was clear. He had already walked more than 700 km from Helmand to Kabul, and he was ready to persist.

He couldn’t see the crowd before him, but he could hear them, and understand their intense desire to end the war.

What makes us think that ordinary people like Zindani, or we ourselves, cannot end ‘terrorism’ and wars through nonviolent methods? Misinformation has infected us with doubts.

One way to work through those doubts is to emulate Zindani, members of the PPM and the APVs: relate person-to-person, ask, “How can we live better?”, listen, love.

And to take courage in not doubting love when we encounter it.

“I was suspicious of their intentions. Politicians and leaders have misused the people so much we can no longer trust one another. But, when I met and conversed with these people from Helmand, I knew we could work together,” Masuma testified to the other Volunteers who had gathered on another occasion to hear from four members of the Movement.

How about fear? How do we deal with legitimate fears?

The Volunteers were grappling with multiple concerns before they went to the big meeting organized by the PPM, held just next to Ghazi Stadium, where the Taliban used to execute people publicly.

Surely, Zindani, with his past trauma of losing eight family members to war, has been afraid all through his dark journey. Fear is an emotion we can work with, like our experience of fear even in love, like Zindani did in creating two poetic lines for his teenage girl-friend:

I am too scared to even drink water
It may fade my beloved’s name on my heart.

Love triumphs over fear.

“We’ll go together, come what may,” Khalid, an Afghan Peace Volunteer who is a university undergraduate, had said. At the large gathering, Khalid was so ‘fired up’ that he overcame his usual shyness for 30 seconds on stage, delivering two lines of a Pashto poem which meant:

Whatever you destroy,
don’t destroy my thoughts and my mind.

The young want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The old want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The APVs, the PPM and the people want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

That’s how we can overcome fear, and end the obsolete human institution of war.

We can love.

We can think anew.

We can turn up together.