Late last month, it was reported that the U.S. and the Taliban have agreed in principle to the framework of a deal that could potentially end the 17-year war that began in 2001 when the U.S., with the strength of NATO forces, invaded and began occupying Afghanistan. In the lead up to war, leaders cited concerns about human rights, specifically women’s rights.
Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for city police, said the explosives were hidden in a sewage truck. He also suggested that the German embassy might not have been the target of the blast, which sent towering clouds of black smoke into the sky near the presidential palace.
“Dutch values are based on Christianity, on Judaism, on humanism. Islam and freedom are not compatible,” populist politician Geert Wilders, 53, said in an interview with USA Today. “You see it in almost every country where it dominates. There is a total lack of freedom, civil society, rule of law, middle class; journalists, gays, apostates — they are all in trouble in those places. And we import it.”
The Taliban detonated a truck bomb in Afghanistan’s capital city on April 19, reports The New York Times.
The police chief of Kabul said that 28 are reported dead, but because of the 327 wounded, the death toll will rise.
Tall, lanky, cheerful, and confident, Esmatullah easily engages his young students at the Street Kids School, a project of Kabul’s Afghan Peace Volunteers, an antiwar community with a focus on service to the poor. Esmatullah teaches child laborers to read. He feels particularly motivated to teach at the Street Kids School because, as he puts it, “I was once one of these children.”
Esmatullah began working to support his family when he was 9 years old. Now, at age 18, he is catching up on school.He has reached the tenth grade, takes pride in having learned English well enough to teach a course in a local academy, and knows that his family appreciates his dedicated, hard work.
When Esmatullah was nine, the Taliban came to his house looking for his older brother. Esmatullah’s father wouldn’t divulge information they wanted. The Taliban then tortured his father by beating his feet so severely that he has never walked since. Esmatullah’s dad, now 48, has never learned to read or write. There are no jobs for him.
Kabul—“I woke up with the blast of another bomb explosion this morning,” Imadullah told me. “I wonder how many people were killed.” Imadullah, an 18-year-old Afghan Peace Volunteer from Badakhshan, had joined me at the APVs’ Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence.
The news reported that at least three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack, in the area of Darulaman. Coincidentally, the Afghan Peace Volunteers had planned to be at the Darulaman Palace that same morning. To commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence, we wanted to form a human circle of peace at the palace, which is a war ruin. But the police, citing general security concerns, denied us permission.
Imadullah and Rauff, another APV member, continued discussing the attack. Rauff believes that the latest string of suicide bombings in Kabul have been in response to actions of the newly formed government. The Taliban condemned the new government — led by former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani and ex-warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum — for signing the new U.S. /Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).
Listening to Imadullah’s and Rauff’s concerns over the latest string of attacks, I wondered if I myself had become inured to this sober Afghan reality of perpetual war.
During a recent visit to Kabul’s Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, the staff shared with us their sense of what's happening around the country, derived from the reports of staff working at several dozen clinics and at their main hospitals in two other provinces. They described Kabul as "a bubble." They told us full-scale wars are being fought between quite heavily armed forces in both eastern and southern Afghanistan, although the news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan generally pertains to Kabul. The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. The Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable.
The borders now vanishing in the Middle East – the most radical transformations of the map here since the post-WWI Sykes Picot agreement – are being redrawn in chaos and fear. The bubbles that burst here are the hopes for peace in a world avid for control of this region and its resources. Unfortunately, durable structures of separation and domination make it difficult for many young Afghans to fulfill their longings to connect meaningfully, peacefully, and stably with a saner world united under one blue sky.
Bio: Kelly and Peter Shenk Koontz spent the last three years serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, through a Mennonite Central Committee partner.
1. What work were you doing in Afghanistan?
We worked with a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner in Kabul as Peacebuilding Project Managers. Our job was to integrate peacebuilding within different sectors of the partner organization, including adult education, community development, and many others. Day-to-day, this primarily meant developing curriculum and planning and conducting trainings for a variety of contexts—including rural community development teams and university students in Kabul.
On May 21, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York is scheduled to release “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” a seven-minute film telling the story of the attacks. Full disclosure: I have not watched the film.
Here’s why the 9/11 museum should drop these terms from the film.
Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda? It’s an odd question, I know, but it reared its ugly head as I read about the new reports from Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch on U.S. drone strikes. The scapegoating mechanism is a very precise instrument that accrues enormous benefits to the scapegoater. By accusing their scapegoat of wrongdoing, a scapegoater ingeniously hides from the reality of their own guilt. Now here’s the weird thing: a scapegoat does not have to be innocent to function as a scapegoat. Scapegoats can be evil, nasty, ruthless, amoral sons-of-bitches and still function perfectly well as a scapegoat. Which is why I ask the question: Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda to hide from its own guilt?
With that in mind, I invite you to read these few excerpts that raised the question for me, with key phrases in boldface:
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Just as she left the world speechless when she addressed the United Nations in July, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for women’s rights and access to education, rendered America's jester Jon Stewart tongue tied when he hosted her this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her new book I Am Malala is just released.
"Education is the power of women. That's why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful," said Malala, who is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced this week.
The Taliban first targeted Malala on "Googlenet" in 2012, she said. But she decided that it was better to not respond to the threats with violence, even in self-defense.
"If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then you will be no better than the Talib," she told a star-struck Stewart.
"Can I adopt you?" Stewart asked.
On October 9, 2012, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban for advocating for girls' right to attend school. Malala survived the attack, and earlier this month she celebrated her 16th birthday by giving an impassioned speech to the United Nations, advocating for equal rights to education.
This 16-year-old girl was as eloquent and passionate as a seasoned statesman. Her words rang with truth and power. She reminded us that the world is full of vitriol and violence, hate and ignorance — that this is true for people of all faiths, all backgrounds, all political parties. That there is no corner untouched by darkness.
But at the U.N., celebrating her sweet 16, Malala was a light.
I listened to Malala’s story and got chills. As children, before we learned to use politics and policy to defend the lesser inclinations of the heart, we asked: why do people hate? Why do they do harm?
IN EARLY AUGUST 2010, 10 aid workers were murdered, execution-style, in the province of Badakhshan, in northeastern Afghanistan. Among them were six Americans, two Afghans, a Briton, and a German, all part of a medical mission. It was the deadliest attack on aid workers the country had seen.
Dan Terry, 63, an American humanitarian who, with his family, had called Afghanistan home for more than 30 years, was among the dead.
What compels a person to risk his or her life in a foreign land so riddled with conflict? For Terry it was simple—he was called to a life of peacemaking and service.
A friend of Terry's since childhood, writer Jonathan Larson draws us into Terry's passionate character and the vision he shared with friends in Afghanistan: reconciliation and dialogue. "In the end, we're all knotted into the same carpet," Terry was fond of saying. From a swath of interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, both Western and Afghan, Larson has assembled "oral narratives," sharing with us the exhilarating life of a generous and gentle man, heroic but humble.
The best advice I received as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan was from a leader cut from the same cloth as Terry: "Make no assumptions" and "listen first." We too often accept media caricatures of the other, labels that shut down discourse and clamp off possibility and hope. Challenging this, Terry insisted on the unwavering potential of each person he met. "Categorical 'enemies' have rescued me ... again and again," he once wrote to friends.
The film I Was Worth 50 Sheep by Global Voices premiered on Sept. 2, but you have the opportunity to watch it online until April 28. The film follows Sabere, now 16, who was sold when she was 10 years old to a man in his 50s — a member of the Taliban. The story trails her attempt at a divorce and the story of her half sister, Farzane, who was sold by her father for 50 sheep. To watch the film, click here.
On November 21, 1967, General William Westmoreland, U.S. commander in Vietnam, delivered a speech at the National Press Club on war strategy. “We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view,” he said, and outlined a “new phase” in the war where the U.S. would:
- Help the Vietnamese Armed Forces to continue improving their effectiveness.
- Help the new Vietnamese government to respond to popular aspirations and to reduce and eliminate corruption.
- Help the Vietnamese strengthen their policy forces to enhance law and order.
Then came what is now known as the Tet Offensive. On January 30, 1968, the National Liberation Front launched attacks against cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. It was the beginning of the end, the evidence that U.S. strategy had failed.
Fast forward 45 years. U.S. strategy in Afghanistan emphasizes assisting the Afghan army and police forces to improve their effectiveness along with working to reduce corruption in the government. We hear encouraging speeches from politicians and generals. We’re told the end is in sight.
The Taliban is attempting to capitalize on the outbreak of violence that followed the inadvertent burning of a Quran by NATO troops by characterizing the war as a conflict between infidels and Islam, analysts said.
"It's tailor-made to their argument that the United States is trying to desecrate and destroy Islam," said Seth Jones, an analyst at Rand Corp. and author of In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan. "It's patently untrue."
On Monday, a suicide car bomber launched an attack against the gates of a coalition base in Jalalabad, killing nine Afghans. The Taliban said the attack was revenge for the Quran burning, The Associated Press reported.
Over the weekend, two military advisers were found dead in their office at the Interior Ministry, a highly secure facility in Kabul. In response, NATO withdrew all its advisers from government ministries as Afghan police searched for a suspect in the killings.
The Quran burning threatens to undermine cooperation between Afghan and coalition forces, which is at the heart of the U.S. strategy to withdraw its troops and turn over security to Afghan forces, analysts said.
In the nearly 20 years I have been a working journalist, occasionally I have been tempted to intervene in the stories I have been assigned to cover. Most of the time, I have not, and that was probably the right choice. But once upon a time, about four years ago, I crossed the line. In a big way. I intervened because the life of another person was at stake and I knew that my calling was to be human, to react, to help, to do whatever I could to save a life. It's the best decision I've ever made. Hands down.
As I read a remarkable story in the Toronto Star newspaper, I wondered if the paper's veteran foreign correspondent, Paul Watson, now feels the same way.
Earlier this month, Watson, who is Canada's only Pulitzer Prize-winner, arrived in Toronto from Kandahar, Afghanistan with a very special package: a 17-year-old Afghan girl forced to flee her homeland, in the reporter's care, to escape certain death at the hands of Taliban assassins.
Since mid-November, the CIA had not launched a drone attack against Pakistan. On Sunday, the New York Times front page prominently featured a story headlined Lull in Strikes by U.S. Drones Aids Militants.
Quoting an array of administration officials, diplomats, intelligence analysts, and one “American government official with decades of experience in Pakistan;” the picture painted was one of a bolder al Qaeda, increased attacks on Pakistani security, and threatened strikes against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It was a “sky is falling” account of the dire effects of no drones.
In my more cynical moments, I think such stories, almost entirely from anonymous sources, are a not-so-subtle way of applying political pressure. It’s one of the ways media and politics interact in Washington. And, sure enough, yesterday, the attacks resumed. Reuters reported that “missiles hit a home on the outskirts of the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan, killing at least four militants.” Recess is over, back to business.
During interviews with more than a dozen Afghan women leaders, researchers, international aid workers and former Afghan government officials, we learned of persistent dangers and threats to the country's future.
Afghan women face continuing repression. They are witnessing the erosion of previous gains as Taliban control spreads in the countryside and reactionary warlord influence increases within the Kabul regime. The government's own security forces are often responsible for violations of women's rights. Check back in a few days for a more detailed account of what we learned.
The withdrawal of foreign forces will produce an economic crisis for the government of Afghanistan, which remains almost completely dependent financially on the U.S. and other foreign governments, especially to pay for its huge 300,000-person security forces. I wrote about this funding failure in an earlier post.
A new security agreement between Kabul and Washington is likely to call for the continued presence of U.S. military forces in the country beyond the 2014 transition deadline. This is seen as necessary to provide security for Kabul, but it could also have the effect of prolonging the insurgency and impeding prospects for reconciliation.
It was clear from what we heard that maintaining security requires more than deploying a large number of troops.
I hate war. I do not hate it because people die. Death is inescapable. And believers believe that we will meet those we love again in heaven. I hate war with a perfect hatred because it causes suffering and robs the world of incalculable human possibilities. It pains the earth. It creates waste and the misallocation of resources.
Saturday, August 6, 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter. The New York Times called it: "the deadliest day for American forces in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan."