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Articles from the Peace News log: Afghanistan

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

A young Afghan peace activist sets out his hopes for the future.

Afghan peace activist Esmatullah

24 October 2015

Kabul - 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 anti-war 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 nine years old. Now, at age 18, he is catching up: 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, had never learned to read or write; there are no jobs for him. For the past decade, Esmatullah has been the family’s main breadwinner, having begun to work, at age nine, in a mechanics workshop. He would attend school in the early morning hours, but at 11am, he would start his workday with the mechanics, continuing to work until nightfall. During winter months, he worked full time, earning 50 Afghanis each week, a sum he always gave his mother to buy bread.

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We are sitting on the floor in a simple outhouse room attached to the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s compound, the unheated space is normally used for teaching local children various classes. Habib and his mother Mariam sit in front of us motionless, Mariam wears the burqa so it is not possible to read her face and ascertain how she might be feeling, the tentative expression on Habib’s face tells us that their life is hard.

It was around 2 months ago when I first met 12 year old Habib, he arrived on the doorstep with some of his friends wanting to join the Street Kids Project being run by the APV- an effort to help some of the 60,000 street kids of Kabul. Habib’s face looked concerned as he clutched his weighing scales- the tool of his trade- 5 Afghanis a go, around 5p.

Since then I have bumped into him a few times. Once outside our local bank- it was the first day of snow and he sat in the doorway shivering, his scales by his side, his ragged thread bare clothes offered small benefits to the freezing cold. I then saw him a few weeks later with his friends, who also work the streets, they were playing tag by the river, their faces beamed with exhilaration as they ran up and down a small unpaved road.

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Afghan Peace Volunteers

On the 28th of March, 2014, at about 4 p.m., the Afghan Peace Volunteers heard a loud explosion nearby. For the rest of the evening and night, they anxiously waited for the sound of rocket fire and firing to stop.  It was reported that a 10 year old girl, and the four assailants, were killed.

Four days later, they circulated a video, poem and photos prefaced by this note:  “We had been thinking about an appropriate response to the violence perpetrated by the Taliban, other militia, the Afghan government, and the U.S./NATO coalition of 50 countries.

So, on the 31st of March 2014, in building alternatives and saying ‘no’ to all violence and all forms of war-making, a few of us went to an area near the place which was attacked, and there, we planted some trees.  -- Love and thanks, The Afghan Peace Volunteers

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Kathy Kelly reports from Afghanistan.

Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people, working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers and a few visiting internationals like myself, to discuss world hunger. Our emphasis was not exclusively on their own country’s worsening hunger problems.  The Afghan Peace Volunteers (AVP), in whose home we were meeting, draw strength from looking beyond their own very real struggles.

With us was Hakim, a medical doctor who spent six years working as a public health specialist in the central highlands of Afghanistan and, prior to that, among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan.  He helped us understand conditions that lead to food shortages and taught us about diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are caused by insufficient protein or general malnutrition.

We looked at UN figures about hunger in Afghanistan which show malnutrition rates rising by 50% or more compared with 2012. The malnutrition ward at Helmand Province’s Bost Hospital has been admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition - four times more than in January 2012.

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Kathy Kelly reports from Chaman e Babrak in Afghanistan.

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Refugees in the Chaman e Babrak camp stand amid the rubble

 

Kabul: The fire in the Chaman e Babrak camp began in Nadiai’s home shortly after noon. She had rushed her son, who had a severe chest infection, to the hospital. She did not know that a gas bottle, used for warmth, was leaking; when the gas connected with a wood burning stove, flames engulfed the mud hut in which they lived and extended to adjacent homes, swiftly rendering nine extended families homeless and destitute in the midst of already astounding poverty. By the time seven fire trucks had arrived in response to the fire at the refugee camp, the houses were already burned to the ground.

No one was killed. When I visited the camp, three days after the disaster, that was a common refrain of relief. Nadiai’s home was on the edge of the camp, close to the entrance road. Had the fire broken out in the middle of the camp, or at night when the homes were filled with sleeping people, the disaster could have been far worse.

Even so, Zakia, age 54, said this is the worst catastrophe she has seen in her life, and already their situation was desperate. Zakia had slapped her own face over and over again to calm and focus herself as she searched for several missing children while the fire initially raged. Now, three days later, her cheeks are quite bruised, but she is relieved that the children were found.

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From Egypt and Afghanistan two outlooks on who are our emenies.

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Najib, his grandma and Hakim

 

From Sherif in Egypt

My dear enemy, I kill you with love…

As my mind was growing, by reading and opening my eyes, my enemy took different shapes. At first, I thought he was the guy who beat the teenager pride out of me in a train fight over a girl, but that went by, forgotten and forgiven, leaving no scars, but rather a smile.

Then there was my neighbour on the farm land who was moving the border between us towards my land about five centimetres every year. He had the determination of an ant, but with time he couldn't drive me crazy any more. In fact, I feel pity for him, for I now know his sickness and what causes it.

Then Bin Laden became an icon for terrorism and hatred, so as a civilised human, I hated him and wished the marines would kill him, as I considered him my enemy. But after reading about history and politics, I realised the purpose he existed for, and whom he served, and then I couldn't hate him anymore. I couldn't see him as my real enemy. I saw him as someone's mad dog; you don't hate a mad dog, you may kill it, but you don't hate it.

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The human cost of war in Afghanistan remembered.

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Hashim at extreme left with eyes closed, Naseem and Hazrat in front.


On the 16th of November, 2013, eight-year-old Hashim s/o Abdul Hamid and nine-year-old Zukoom s/o Abdul Majid were on the streets of Kabul polishing boots when a suicide bombing (in opposition to the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement) killed them.

Johnny Barber, a peace activist from New York, and Ronya, an independent, freelance journalist from Germany, accompanied the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) to Hashim’s and Zukoom’s funeral in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp two days later. We had a conversation with Hashim and Zukoom’s classmates, Kahar and Naseem, which you can view at “At least 13 Afghan civilians killed, including Hashim & Zukoom”.

The daily struggles of ordinary people against elite-driven injustices hovered in the mud-walled room, like a scent.

I was swept up by voices both personal and familial.

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Maya Evans is in Kabul with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Photos by Guy Smallman.

Maya Evans at a refugee camp in KabulAs we approached a cluster of ramshackle mud huts on the side of a motorway, our driver (a friend of a friend) warned us to be careful as two foreign journalists had been kidnapped in a refugee camp in Kabul only last year. I asked my friend (a young man and member of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers) if he was comfortable with accompanying me into the camp, he agreed that he was as we both stepped out of the car with Kiwi journalist Jon Stevenson.

The refugee camp near the Crystal Hotel in Karte Parwan Kabul is home to around 300 families each consisting on average of 9 people per family. The camp is separated from a motorway by a large ditch which judging from the strong smell of Sulphur contained raw sewage. We were directed over a rickety bridge to see the last sack of aid being carried away.

A gift of supplies from Peace News readers and Financial Times NUJ chapter had just been delivered (with the help of the camp elders). £2,175 worth of aid consisting of a lorry full of fire wood, 3 tones of sugar, tea and bread making flour which had been bought from a local wholesale market only a few hours before.

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Maya Evans is in Kabul with Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

We were lucky enough to receive an invitation to visit a self run community on the edge of Kabul, Chelsitun in Wasalabad; it’s a mixed Tajik and Pashtun community split into 8 sections, consisting of 2,000 households each having its own representative which implements Government initiatives and also manages security in the area.

We were told that the community practices religious and ethnic tolerance and has one of the only Mosques which welcomes joint worship by both Sunni’s and Shia’s with the two Muslim groups sharing funerals and ceremonies. When we arrived in Chelsitun the pathway were unusually set with concrete; an independent initiative by the community (paid for by the people within the area) as a move towards installing proper infrastructure.

Our group was directed into a compound and then into the office of the community elders. It was like stepping back in time into what I imagined pre war Afghanistan to be like; exquisite prayer mats hung on the war, the traditional ornate Afghan rugs; a greenhouse conservatory made of improvised plastic sheeting with the lushest greenery I have seen since leaving the UK.

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Maya Evans gives eye witness report from Kabul where she is on a delegation with the US group Voices for Creative Nonviolence

My first morning in Kabul, I went with Momajan and Roz Mohammed for my first real taste of the outside, a walk to the shops to change my money and top-up an internet dongle. I stepped out into the bright cold streets of Kabul. Initially I was blinded by the brightness of the sun and then choked by the pollution. My immediate thought was that I had stepped into Dickensian London only far worse, piles of rubbish on the street, open sewers running alongside the dirt pavements (also containing rubbish), bric-a-brac junk shops made out of dilapidated shacks, beggars every few yards, the number of people with disabilities is extreme. Air thick with pollution, nothing like anything I’ve experienced during my 18 years of growing up in East London. Pavements are improvised or sometimes non existent; there are no traffic regulations, no zebra crossings or traffic lights. To cross a road you take your life into your own hands zigzagging cars, motorbikes and bicycles. Perhaps the most worrying is the number of people with guns, guards stationed outside buildings, shops, banks all carry a gun slung over their shoulder.

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