“Stop fighting,” suggests Farzana, a brave 22-year-old Afghan stage actress.
Significantly, her statement is in sharp contrast to what seems to be the democratic world’s unquestioned modus operandi of today, exemplified by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pet-phrase for Afghanistan, ‘Fight, talk and build.’
What Farzana and the Afghan Peace Volunteers are sensibly suggesting is a ceasefire.
A ceasefire — like the one called for in Kofi Annan’s Six Point Peace Plan for Syria that Farzana and the Afghan Peace Volunteers also supported — is a first step towards ending the equally sectarian war and incendiary global politicking in Afghanistan.
It is crucially needed to stop the color-code chaos of ‘green-on-blue’ attacks in which 45 coalition security forces, mainly Americans, have been killed by "allies," Afghan security forces, or insurgents posing as soldiers or police.
It is what is needed to end the four Afghan decades of using mutual killing as a method of conflict resolution. The U.N. is uniquely well-positioned to do this, empowered by their original Charter to "remove the scourge of war from future generations."
Imagining a better world
Farzana suggests to Sec. Clinton and to us that we take the "fighting" out of our desire to "talk and build."
“To fight is to resort to convenient and rather primal instincts. To fight is to lose our human imagination,” states Farzana.
And imagination is what Farzana employs in the artistic world she thrives in, to communicate to the world that Afghans are human beings who prefer to laugh and cry than to live with wars.
Recently, Farzana was part of a group of Afghan stage actors and actresses who toured India, London and Germany to perform Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in Dari, one of two official Afghan languages.
“When I express the whole range of emotions on stage, I enter awareness and a thrilling consciousness of human reality. Acting to me is my life and existence; I can never give up this sweet, sweet world," she said. "This world is similar to my everyday life; life in Afghanistan today is like a constant limp on a hurting leg. There’s definite pain, but this other world I express on stage is sweet. This better world is possible.”
Farzana’s pain was evident recently when criticisms from some conservative and religious Afghans were leveled at her costumes and her portrayals in the Shakespearean play. But Farzana has a quiet courage to transform the status quo, to introduce creativity into conventional norms.
As an Afghan woman, she also protests the conventional understanding of women’s rights in Afghanistan. You can watch Farzana, who is an Afghan Peace Volunteer, saying in this video clip, “It is just rhetoric that men and women have equal rights. Actually, there are no women’s rights. People speak against women. They say it’s a sin to hear a woman’s voice or for a woman to go on the road, or to hear her steps. Women are considered ‘faulty.’ Their heads are ‘beaten.’ It’s a sin to see the hair on their heads. They’re seen as sinful. What is left for a woman that she should still participate in building society?”
Farzana speaks clearly against the U.S./NATO military strategy, “Why do the women of the world believe that guns and bombs, which kill, can promote women’s rights in Afghanistan?”
The fear that the gains in women’s rights in Afghanistan over the past 11 years will be "reversed" when U.S./NATO troops withdraw is not based on facts.
The limited and cosmetic gains in women’s rights in Afghanistan have not been introduced by bullets from U.S./NATO’s guns, so the reduction of U.S./NATO troops will not compromise these initial gains.
Moreover, as many as 20,000 U.S./NATO troops will be authorized to stay for another 10 years beyond 2014 when a U.S. Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement is agreed upon within the next year. The Obama administration has already ensured the continued presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in Article number 6 of the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement which states:
"Afghanistan shall provide U.S. forces continued access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014, and beyond as may be agreed in The Bilateral Security Agreement, for the purposes of combating al-Qaeda and its affiliates, training the Afghan National Security Forces ( who are shooting back at them! ), and other mutually determined missions to advance shared security interests."
Where are Afghan women’s rights in this strategy?
On March 14, 2011, the Washington Post featured Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s article, "In Afghanistan, U.S. shifts strategy on women's rights as it eyes wider priorities."
Chandrasekaran recently made waves with his description of ‘the war within the Afghan war’ in his new book Little America. In his 2011 article, he quoted a senior U.S. official who said, “Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."
What the senior U.S. official was saying was, “Women’s rights? We have higher, ‘front-seat’ priorities. Women’s rights are ‘pet rocks’ that are ‘taking us down.”
‘Be friends, talk, and build’
“If you want to talk and build, it is impossible to start by fighting. When you kill a human being, what is there to build?" Farzana asks.
“I dream that war will end in Afghanistan someday, so Afghans will exercise their right to live, study and work. Fighting brings hate and vengeful thoughts and feelings. I wish that the Shakespearean play could be performed in Afghanistan someday, though there’s concern that there’ll be trouble.”
Part of Farzana’s dream for the war to end will be enthusiastically pursued through the 2 Million Friends campaign for peace in Afghanistan — a campaign of Farzana and the Afghan Peace Volunteers to find "2 Million Friends" around the world to organize activities on December 10 calling for a ceasefire in Afghanistan and in remembrance of the 2 million Afghan victims of war they have lost over the past four decades.
Farzana calls out to our compassionate imagination, “Instead of fight, talk and build, I suggest, ‘Be friends, talk and build!’”