Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Afghans say they've heard it all before

For Afghans, the definition of security means freedom from fear and freedom from want. It’s the standard they use to judge their own leaders, and it’s the standard they use to judge the actions of the international community. Right now 41 countries have a military presence under NATO or coalition forces.

Following Sunday’s visit to Afghanistan by President Obama Alan Gomez recorded the following observations from Afghan’s. The article was titled Afghans say they’ve heard it all before.

Over the course of his 60 years in Afghanistan, Ghulam Ghaus has heard promises from an Afghan king, Soviet commanders, mujahedin fighters and Taliban mullahs. Over the last decade, he's heard from two U.S. presidents and countless coalition officials.

So when Ghaus listened to President Obama's speech Sunday night, the Kabul-area farmer was left with a very familiar feeling.

"Many countries have come to help and they've built bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. Many presidents have come and given speeches," Ghaus said. "But what have they done for security?"

Ghaus echoed the sentiments of many Afghans in Kabul on Monday as they responded to Obama's first trip to the war-torn country as president.

Addition Resources:

Donor Financial Review by the Ministry of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

The international community has pledged $62 billion in grants and loans from 2001-2009. $36 billion has been delivered; the U.S. has been the single largest donor disbursing $23 billion.

Over $29 billion (77 percent of the total disbursed aid) was directly spent by donors with little or no Afghan government input; more than $15 of the $29 billion was disbursed directly by foreign military channels.

Over half of the funds (about $19 billion) have been spent on the security sector, particularly on the police and army.

The government of Afghanistan has received only 23 percent of foreign grants (about $8 billion).

Article: Afghanistan: Money Well Spent?

Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan

Today in Kabul the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report entitled the Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan.

Here is an excerpt from the press conference.

We are all aware that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. One third of its population lives in absolute poverty. Afghanistan I think you also know has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. This means that 25,000 women die each year because of complications associated with giving birth. This is the highest single cause of death in Afghanistan.

Only 23 per cent of Afghans has access to safe drinking water. Only 24 per cent of the population above the age of 15 can read and write, and of course with much lower literacy rates among women and nomadic populations. According to UNICEF, 30 per cent of primary school children are working and are often the sole source of income for their families.

Poverty kills. Poverty actually kills more Afghans than those who die as a direct result of the armed conflict. Poverty deprives two-thirds of the Afghan population from living a decent and dignified life – this includes the inability to enjoy their most basic and fundamental rights, such as getting an education or having access to health services.

But who are the poor in Afghanistan and why are they poor? Statistics tend to hide the root causes of poverty. Statistics also tend to focus our attention to the consequences rather than causes of widespread impoverishment.

As elsewhere in the world, poverty is multi-dimensional and can be traced to different sources and processes. Poverty is neither accidental, nor inevitable; it is both a cause and a consequence of a massive human rights deficit. The deficit includes widespread impunity and inadequate investment in, and attention to, human rights. Patronage, corruption, impunity and over-emphasis on short-term goals rather than targeted long-term development are exacerbating a situation of dire poverty that is the condition of an overwhelming majority of Afghans.

A human rights angle offers a complementary approach to existing poverty reduction strategies. The High Commissioner’s report concludes that sustainable poverty reduction is dependent on efforts that roll back abusive power structures. Vested interests in this country frequently shape the public agenda, whether in relation to the law, policy, or the allocation of resources. The High Commissioner’s report also argues that the poor must be at the centre of decision-making processes that affect their life. The poor need to be empowered to make free and informed choices about their future; they need to be involved, in a meaningful way, in efforts geared to overcoming poverty.

To see the full transcript of the press conference click here.

Additional Resources

The Cost of War: Afghan Experiences of Conflict 1978-2009

The past three decades of war and disorder have had a devastating impact on the Afghan people. Millions have been killed, millions more have been forced to flee their homes and the country’s infrastructure and forests have all but been destroyed. The social fabric of the country is fractured and state institutions are fragile and weak.

Much has been written about the wars in Afghanistan and the basic narrative of the conflict, in one form or another, has been repeated in countless books, academic articles and news reports. But the voices of ordinary Afghans are often absent from these accounts, and yet it is the Afghan people who are most affected by the violence.

To better understand how Afghans have experienced and understand the conflict, eight nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan conducted research in 14 provinces across the country. This research focused on individual experiences of the past thirty years of conflict, perceptions of the current conflict and recommendations for alleviating the violence and addressing its root causes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Filling in the Blanks/ Afghan Memorial Update

AFSC is working with mural artists all over the country to create a public, traveling exhibit in memory of Afghan civilian casualties of the war. To our knowledge the only existing memorial to Afghans exists online. In fact, not only are these deaths happening without much recognition by the US public, very little is known about how many Afghans have been killed as a result of the conflict.

Several reputable sources such as The World Health Organization , The British medical journal The Lancet , and the website iraqbodycount.org may have disagreed with each other about the number of Iraqi casualties, but at least they helped to establish a range of possibility from 100,000 to over 1,000,000 casualties and kept a record of names via media reports.

No comparable work has been done regarding Afghan casualties. In many ways the task might be impossible. We know someone has died as a result of the war when they have been hit by a drone, but what about the child who couldn’t get treatment for an illness because there is no hospital in his town any longer?

This is why we feel this project is so important. We want to fill in this blank spot in our collective understanding of this conflict, we need for us all to understand the human cost of the war in Afghanistan.

We now have over 50 artists from all over the US and France who will be participating by painting 6.5’x4’ panels, as pictured here. We will keep you updated as the work comes in and the project develops. In the meantime, if you think your community would be interested in hosting the exhibit at some point, contact Mary Zerkel (mzerkel@afsc.org) for more information.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tracking the Drones: Pakistan

On Tuesday evening a US drone fired missiles into a target in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Newswire reports simply say four militants killed.

Since 2008 targeted assassinations of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan have increased dramatically through drone attacks. The New America Foundation is making an effort to track the numbers through a site called Year of the Drone. They are updating the site regularly. It is important to note that the Government of Pakistan and other agencies report a much higher number and percentage of civilian casualties.

For resources on the illegality on drones look at these articles.

The Predator War
Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | 26 October 2009

Killing "Bubba" from the skies
Mark Benjamin, Salon | February 2008

Last week the ACLU filled a lawsuit against the Defense Department, the State Department and the Justice Department over the use of drones.

ACLU Seeks Information on Legal Bases for Predator Drone Program

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit today demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas. In particular, the lawsuit asks for information on when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties and other basic information essential for assessing the wisdom and legality of using armed drones to conduct targeted killings.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Afghan President Meets With Insurgents

Yesterday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai meet for the first time with a high-level delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the key groups fighting Afghan and Foreign forces. It is a process that will open wounds from Afghanistan's recent past and challenge the Government to pursue reconciliation while also addressing the legacy of past wars.

Writing in today’s NYT’s Alissa Rubin and Sangar Rahmi point to the larger strategy.

Mr. Karzai is planning a peace jirga, or assembly, for the end of April, and he is inviting a number of insurgent groups, as well as various factions in Parliament and representatives of Afghan civil society organizations.

While the peace jirga is nominally about ending the fighting between the government and antigovernment forces, which include a variety of insurgent groups, it is equally about how power would be shared. No one here expects that the insurgents will give up the fight unless they get a measure of political control.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of Hezb-i-Islami is one of the most controversial mujahedeen leaders. He was prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1993-1994 and again briefly in 1996.

For more details on Afghanistan’s recent history look at the executive summary of the conflict assessment prepared last year. The full report with index jumps that will carry you to the section you want is here.

Quick facts about Gulbuddin Helmatyar and Hezb-i-Islami

Founded in the mid 1970's by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-i-Islami -- "The Islamic Party" -- was one of the main mujahedeen groups fighting the Soviet invasion in the 1980s from its base in Pakistan. It received the lion's share of U.S. and Saudi arms and money channeled through the Pakistani intelligence service.

In 1979, Hekmatyar clashed with another leader inside the faction, Mawlawi Khalis, splitting Hezb-i-Islami into two groups. Hekmatyar's faction, the larger of the two, is now commonly referred to as Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). There have also been other minor offshoots since then.

After the Soviet withdrawal Hekmatyar fought and made fleeting alliances with most other mujahedeen factions during the resulting civil war and is blamed for killing thousands in Kabul with indiscriminate rocket attacks on the capital.

In 1994, Pakistan dropped support for HIG in favor of Mullah Mohammad Omar's Taliban, and after losing to their forces when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Hekmatyar fled to Iran. Many of his fighters joined the Taliban ranks.

After the September 11 attacks Hekmatyar declared himself against the U.S. invasion, was expelled by Iran and returned to his homeland to take up the fight in alliance with the Taliban. Hezb-i-Islami is one of the three groups that NATO forces recognize as the main insurgent factions responsible for attacks against them and Afghan forces. Its fighters are most active in the east of the country and in pockets in the north.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Talking to the Taliban

For years public opinion polls in Afghanistan have shown that Afghan's believe it necessary to negotiate with the Taliban. In fact, the Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and large UN agencies already cooperate through country-wide humanitarian efforts around Polio.

So, why does the US government resist?

December 2008: An ABC/BBC poll asked Afghans if the government in Kabul should negotiate a settlement with Afghan Taliban in which they are allowed to hold political offices if they agree to stop fighting? 64% said Yes, negotiate with the Taliban. 25 % said No, continue fighting and don't negotiate. When people were also asked who they blame for the violence in the country it was almost evenly split between Taliban 27%, Al Qaeda/Foreign Jihadis 22%, U.S./NATO Forces 21%.

December 2009: An afghan opinion survey finds 65% of Afghans interviewed believed the government in Kabul should negotiate a settlement with the Afghan Taliban in which they are allowed to hold political office if they agree to stop fighting.

In January, during a visit to Islamabad, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that the Taliban are a part of the political fabric of Afghanistan and need to play a critical role. For a detailed presentation of the impact of this decision, listen to Zia Mian’s recent conference call briefing.

Michael Semple, writing for the Financial Times in February, reflects on the role he played in facilitating dialogue with the Taliban and warns that the Government of Afghanistan and the international community must commit more than just money. (The article requires a free subscription put is very important)

Finally, today in the Washington Post, Ahmad Rashid argues – from a regional context – why the US needs to talk to the Taliban.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Call to Artists

An Exhibit of War and Resilience in Afghanistan

Artists have always provided the most powerful images of war. From around the world they inspire resistance to war and occupation from Japan to South Africa to Iraq. Whether it’s Pablo Picasso’s antiwar painting Guernica or the Pat Barker Regeneration Trilogy about WWI, painters and writers have conveyed the horrors of violence in ways that are timeless. Films like Kabul Transit and its depiction of city life highlighted by the lyrics of the iconic singer Ahmad Zahir help us learn more about life in Afghanistan.

AFSC is initiating an art project to memorialize the untold number of Afghan casualties. Help us circulate the call below or volunteer if you are a painter/muralist.

A Call to Artists:
An Exhibit of War and Resilience in Afghanistan

The American Friends Service Committee is creating a traveling exhibit that will call attention to the inconceivable loss of life in Afghanistan due to war. We need volunteer painters/muralists/grafitti artists who would be interested in creating unique panels for a traveling memorial to Afghan casualties of the war. The exhibit will contain 30-40 panels created by artists responding to the human cost of the war to Afghans.

Artists will be provided with a 6’x4’ lightweight nonwoven fabric panel to use for their design. Artists will also be provided with a bank of images to use for inspiration.

(Note: The fabric is similar to garment interfacing and is known as “Parachute Cloth” or PolyTab. Acrylic primer, paint and sealers must be used.) Specific instructions will be included with the fabric that is provided.

By participating in this project artists will allow AFSC to use the work in the original traveling exhibit, in digital replicas of the work and in informational brochures and on the web.

AFSC did a project with similar intentions to memorialize Iraqi casualties
Dreams and Nightmares: A Memorial to Life and Death in Iraq

While AFSC cannot pay artists for the work, we intend to have a brochure that identifies each panel by artist, title of panel, short description and your website if you so choose.

Deadline for participation: April 15
Deadline for completion of work: May 15th
Contact : Mary Zerkel mzerkel@afsc.org

Friday, March 12, 2010

Troops in Afghanistan - The House Votes

"Now is the time for those of us who believe in peace and not war to find a way to get in the way."

These are the words of civil rights leader John Lewis from Wednesday’s debate to remove US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The bill, introduced by Dennis Kucinich, ended up losing 356 to 65. [roll call here]

Representative Lewis (D-GA) spoke against a war-fighting policy that can only mean more death and destruction with the arrival of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops. Unless the escalation is stopped, by the end of this year, 100,000 U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan.

I rise today to join my colleagues and speak out against the war in Afghanistan. How much death must we bear, how much pain must we suffer, how much blood must we spill to say enough is enough? Can we lay down the burden of war and lift up the power of peace? Now is time for the elected representatives of the people to give peace a chance. Now is the time for those of us who believe in peace and not war to find a way to get in the way.

… war is bloody, war is messy. It tends not just to hide the truth, but to sacrifice the truth, to bury the truth. It destroys the hopes, the dreams, and the aspirations of a people.

As one great general and President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

I urge you to heed the words of the spiritual: "I'm going to lay my burden down. Down by the riverside. I ain't gonna study war no more." We should follow the wisdom of that song.

This war has gone on long enough. Enough is enough. It is time to bring this war to an end. I urge all of my colleagues to vote for this resolution. Link

Welcome to Afghanistan 101

The idea behind this site is to highlight resources that can help you learn more about the war in Afghanistan and its people. We will of course tie this to advocacy and ways to end this war.

Stay tuned for resources, commentary on the news of the day, featured guest analysts and ways to participate in current advocacy campaigns and strategies.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
215-241-7000 · web@afsc.org