Posted by Jodie -
Thu, Oct 1, 2009
I figured out what makes the birds sing throughout the night—it is the call to prayer. But at 4am, after going to bed at 3:30, it is not so charming anymore. Sara moved her room because she was getting no sleep. However, in the late afternoon after spending all day in the dust of Kabul, there is something delightful about their song.
This was another crazy day in this wild city. The morning began with meeting Professor Aram Mir Ahzar, director of the National Independent Commission for Peace and Reconciliation. The Commission was established about 5 years ago and in that time saw 8,300 join with them (including 21 of the big guys from the UN Black List) and the success of their efforts to get 963 people released from Baghram Prison. Unfortunately, since they were not able to protect the released prisoners, many were killed and they are totally discredited, with no funds or support from either the US or the Karzai Government.
He showed us all the forms that the ex-combatants put their ink print on saying they would join the peace process and quit fighting. They turned in their guns before signing and received an identity card saying they were good guys, only to go home and be killed. They guaranteed not to fight again in exchange for the promise of protection but they were essentially suckers. Not surprisingly, there is a serious lack of new people signing up. The problem, it seems, is that there is no “wise” government. A few months before Karzai came to power, the Northern Alliance (which no longer exists as they are now all part of the Karzai’s Government) appointed most of the Governors and Police Chiefs in the provinces. This has created a disconnect between Karzai’s Government and the local officials as they have differing ideas on many crucial issues and there is no real unified governing body throughout the country.
Still, despite the fractured government’s inability to protect them, some have survived. One was the Minister of Higher education and he is now in the Senate—appointed by Karzai. The Taliban’s Ambassador to Pakistan was appointed Governor of his province but he declined. One even came to meet us. He was the Minister of Communications under the Taliban and seems to have been a good guy as far as anyone can tell. He saved the Archives which has made him kind of a hero. He is propped up as the poster child survivor of the Commissions efforts and we got to interview him.
We heard for the one-hundredth time that the Government is corrupt and that the country desperately needs a unified governing body with intelligent people instead of a coalition Government of War Lords. Rather than given the power in Afghanistan, the War Lords need to be sent to the International Criminal Courts.
We kept asking questions and so he told us a story to illustrate what has to happen in Afghanistan in order to start to end the conflict there:
He pointed to the window and said, “This is the border of Pakistan, over there is Pakistan and in Pakistan there is a dead body. It is from all over the world like, Uzbekistan, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and so on. Flies are all around it. Those flies are eating from the body and putting its eggs there and the children fly to England and the US. The US bombs a village where they see a fly, but they miss the fly and the village is dead. The fly has moved to the next village.” Basically, that we must quit trying to kill the fly and take out the dead body.
He felt he could bring peace in 6 months if he had a unified government who could stand behind the reconciliation process. He said 5% of the Taliban are ideological, 30% want revenge for what the US has done to their women, villages, family, country, and the rest just need a job. If the current administration continues as it has since its installment by the US, this pattern will last another 100 years even if Americans send 10 million troops.
“The government is sick—it has a sick body and lots of ways for germs to come in. Let’s see how to treat the body, make it healthy and we can create peace—make the body whole. The body has been made from different parts, Iran, Chechnya, Pakistan—infections came with the body parts from these different countries. How do we get rid of difficulties and germs? The Government of Karzai is not educated, we need someone who has knowledge and skill with capability and intelligence, not someone with connections to the war lords. There will be little difficulty but it will stop forever, instead of the constantly erupting from an unintegrated body.
Then the Minister entered and welcomed us, saying, “By the name of almighty God, welcome to all of you. You came here for good work.” He continued, “From the point of view of Muslims, saying if there is not peace in any area and war is going on, then humans living in peaceful area, they have responsibility to go to war area and do something for peace. Afghanistan is member of the whole world, as a body, if there is pain then whole body feels the pain. Then you should feel pain.”
He then gave us his thoughts on how to achieve peace:
“During Prophet Suleiman, there was a small bird called a Seka, he would jump from one tree to another very fast. That small bird loved the Nightingale and tried always to reach it. He fell in love with the Nightingale. One day he got close enough and kissed her. He escaped into a small hole in the wall or in the tree, as he had many to hid in. The nightingale went to the king and complained, so the King sent out eagles and groups of big birds to arrest the small bird in the hole, they couldn’t enter the hole. Then the same small bird says send us and we can go into the hole we can bring him to you.
If we make a bigger and bigger attack, it will not be good. Listen to Afghans, even though weak and powerless, they know the ways—there are Mullahs and if we respect them then we can make power for the peace process.”
I liked that at the peace center it was all about stories. We did ask him why he joined the Taliban and he said the civil war was hell and the Taliban promised security and justice and so he joined. But then he is a male so he fundamentally missed the atrocities that happened to the women. We asked if women could be at the negotiating table in peace efforts and, in a long round about way, he finally said yes.
We went from the Minister’s office to a girls’ school where Najib is on the board. It is a school for girls who missed their education because of the Taliban, so there were 16 year-olds in the 2nd grade class and adult women in the 7th grade class. A beautiful place and the girls were wonderful to be with and quite vocal—especially about their near-unanimous desire to be peace activists.
We had lunch with a Canadian who works on drug policy issues—but I will save that for it’s own blog. She was amazing. Afterwards we met with a female member of the Parliament, Shinkai Karokhal. Both these meetings were humbling because of the enormous courage of both these women. Shinkai is a feminist and works daily to increase the rights of women. Her climb towards her goals is incredibly steep and seemingly endless but she feels she has made advances. We met at her house just as her sons were coming home from school and it was a delight to see their affection and playfulness with her. She managed to be upbeat and hopeful even while telling us about how hard things are and how many of her suggestions go unheeded. She said that no man in Afghanistan takes it seriously that she is in Parliament. Not even the cop on the corner—the men in Parliament are fawned over and she is ignored.
She says the quota system is a ceiling not a floor and it needs to be changed as many of the women candidates get the most votes. She is not sure she will be there long as she is pushing daily for things that have no support. She also works to incorporate peace and conflict resolution into the school curriculum and told us stories of how much violence used to be in the text books. She gave us a sample math problem: there are 40 Russians—how many do you have to kill to have only 5 left?
She also said something new that I hadn’t heard: namely, that there is a difference between Afghan culture and Islam and that Afghanistan can’t even really be considered Muslim. Most Afghan traditions which contribute to the terrible, perpetuated custom of female oppression violate Islam. She said as a result of the deeply patriarchal Afghan culture, about 90% of the women suffer from domestic abuse and that in most areas it has gotten worse since the US arrived. The 25% of the population that resides in cities has seen an improvement, but the rest who are in the war zone has seen further deterioration. 60% of the girls marry before they turn sixteen and the mortality rate in child birth is 8%–the second highest in the world—mostly because of their young age when they give birth and the lack of medical facilities.
She also feels that Taliban dialogue is necessary—that without it the future is more than bleak. She said No to more troops as they totally disrupt the lives of Afghans. She told a story about Eid when thousands of family members were going south to see their families. US Soldiers were out on patrol and it took eleven hours to cover what was about 2 hours under normal circumstances. Conditions like this do not win hearts and minds and there are literally thousands of these stories.
The day finished at a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Defense who we grilled about training the troops and what was really possible. He says they need more police than troops, which is the opposite of what McChrystal proposes and he is for going back to mandatory service which made Medea happy. We learned about the ex-pat bars and ended our night at a French one which was quite the scene. Hundreds of Westerners drinking and flirting, roughly twenty men to each women so we were mobbed. We met men from every country doing about everything in Kabul—including delivering the mail. We passed armed guards, went through three security doors and were searched in order to reach the party area. And what a party it was—only just beginning at 11pm.
Life in Kabul is far from boring….
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