"Occupy" and hope for a Human Spring in Afghanistan
The people aren’t free, yet
By the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
For a long time, the ordinary people of Afghanistan have felt fatefully robbed by its geography.
We aren’t a free people.
34-year-old Afghan human rights activist Rangina Hamidi, who is returning to Virginia USA after 8 years of working in Kandahar, grieves the murder of her father, the late City Mayor of Kandahar, and while recognizing the humanity in President Karzai, blames Karzai and the international community for the Afghan ‘entropy’ swirling in ‘360 degrees of chaos’. “I will only come back when I know that I can help make my people a free people again,” she said. “Right now, I don’t think we’re free.” Rangina leaves having lost all hope.
For a long time, the ordinary people of Mexico have felt fatefully robbed by the ‘war on drugs’.
We aren’t a free people.
The militarized method was declared a failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, comprising the former presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and others. The Commission’s first line of recommendation: “Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate…” This recommendation was simple yet apparently un-doable, even after ex-US President Jimmy Carter requested a ‘Call off the Global Drug War’. Meanwhile, the Caravan of Solace led by Javier Sicilia, Julian Lebaron and more than 300,000 Mexicans took to the streets, wearing white and walking in silence, holding up placards that read “Not a single more death,” “Enough already” and “No more bloodshed”.
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers were touched by their grieving, by their ‘Nonviolent Occupation of Ciudad Juárez’ and wanted to share the Mexicans’ pain of losing 40,000 loved ones over 5 years. They earnestly connected with Julian Lebaron, saying, “We need you to know that walking together is not a weakness. It is our everything.”
For a long time, the ordinary people of the world have felt fatefully robbed by its elite 1%.
We aren’t a free people.
When the Spanish Indignados began their massive street protests in May this year, part of their manifesto read : “We need an ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products.” Sociologist Miguel Martínez, who teaches at Madrid’s Complutense University, said, “If you lose your dignity, then you are simply a wage slave.”
We had also hoped to reach out to the Spanish Indignados, but couldn’t reach them.
‘1%’s wealth and force.’
The reason why the Occupy movement grips our hearts is because the Afghan strategy of the past 40 years implemented by Afghanistan’s lords and the other lords of the world has essentially been based on the ‘1%’s wealth and force.’
Hard wealth and force.
First, try to ‘buy’ the people at some kind of a minimum wage level. If that doesn’t work, fight them. Today, this is done as a ‘pacification’ technique, in the sacred names of stability, security and peace.
This international norm of ‘being richer and stronger than the next richest and strongest tribesman’ has not been publicly questioned ; we hope the time has come to break the taboo and pursue an open debate! This international norm is what Rangina Hamidi calls the ‘guns-and-graft ethos’ in Afghanistan, in which the 1% use bombs-and-bribes to compete for Kingship. Globally and historically, this norm is boringly replicated with transient Empires, the Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, Austrian-Hungarian, Russian, British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mughal and American Empires just to name a few, and the Chinese next?
It is a haughty, authoritarian mindset supported by the political, educational, moral, journalistic and military bodies of the world, and naturally strengthened by Man’s craving for money and power. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan had said that another global financial crisis is inevitable because human nature always reverts to “speculative excesses” during a period of sustained prosperity, ‘unless somebody can find a way to change human nature.’ We can’t change human nature, but we can surely find a way.
And that’s what humanity has felt stuck with for so long, a seemingly inherent inability to guide and govern ourselves towards less greed and violence. We have established human systems which have increasingly concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a very few, to the delight of the very few. Human beings do have a deep sense for fairness, and search for justice in various ways including through religion, but incongruently, systems of escalating inequality have been institutionalized across all aspects of life, and quietly accepted.
Prof Noam Chomsky laments Thucydides’ maxim that ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.’ But he also tirelessly challenges ‘power structures’ with his heart and mind, saying to young people : ‘This world is full of suffering, distress, violence and catastrophes. Students must decide: does something concern you or not? I say: look around, analyze the problems, ask yourself what you can do and set out on the work!’
We bear hope that the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, the Mexican Caravan of Solace, and Occupy Wall Street are all tides of a global awakening, a healthy non-acceptance of Thucydides’ status quo and a non-violent civil disobeying of the ‘1% wealth and force’. Our Human Spring!
About 35 percent of the Afghan population is unemployed. Afghans who are employed with embassies, international NGOs or foreign contractors can earn $US1,500 a month while public-sector worker wages remain between $US50 and $US250 a month.
Probably a third of the country’s GDP comes from the opium and hashish trade ,, and the Afghan government’s budget is unsustainably dependent on foreign aid money.
The 1% Afghan rich are naturally well travelled, have luxury ‘palaces’ in Kabul and enjoy the ‘high life’ in foreign countries like Dubai. The corrupt business conglomerates, including some construction, gas and oil companies, are run by this 1%, often the ex-warlord-current-political elite and their allies.
This foreign-dependent and nepotistic form of capitalism, mixed with the tenacity of corrupt tribalism, marks the logistics and private security firms, the lucrative mines and mineral industry and the banking sector.
Even in aid work, a young, educated Afghan friend had joked with me years ago that ‘Al Qaeda’ in Afghanistan had transformed into ‘Al Faida/ Al Profit’, with hundreds of NGOs seeking profit from the millions of dollars available through aid. Linda Polman, in her book ‘The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? , devotes a chapter to ‘Afghaniscam’, in which she describes her belief that international aid is ‘only helping gangsters and fighters, while innocent victims suffer on’.
A March 2010 UN Human Rights Report described entrenched corruption worsening Afghan poverty, stating that ‘ despite $35 billion injected into the economy since 2002, one in three Afghans, or 9 million people, live in absolute poverty while another third survive just above the poverty line…. A key driver of poverty in Afghanistan is the abuse of power. Many Afghan power-holders use their influence to drive the public agenda for their own personal or vested interests.’
The stark gulf between the wealthy few and the poor in Kabul has grown so desperate that the number of beggars has increased, including women and child beggars. Begging has become such a ‘problem’ that the Karzai government formed an anti-begging commission and passed a law in November 2008 which made begging a crime, after which hundreds of beggars were arrested.
The very poor get harassed and arrested!
Just last evening, I saw policemen chasing away street vendors in Kabul with their batons, in particular, a young teenage boy who was selling me tomatoes from his wooden cart, reminding me of how Bouazizi sparked the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring when he set himself on fire, unable to tolerate such ironies anymore.
We do not want any more such tragedies to be heaped on the 99% by the 1%, but considering the oppressive local and international quagmire Afghanistan is in, we think that for change to begin in Afghanistan, change needs to happen in Wall Street, Washington D.C., and the global centers of financial power who are calling the fatal Afghan shots from far-away.
Even if such change doesn’t come in our lifetimes, we want it!
In calling for ‘a farewell to nuclear arms’, Gorbachev correctly named our global problem, stating that ‘our world remains over militarized’. Who remembers his opinions on the Afghan War, here and here, except perhaps the NATO Chief ‘slamming Gorbachev’s negative view’?
Has anyone heard of any other local or international strategy for Afghanistan except the military strategy?
The ex-UN Envoy to Afghanistan, Norwegian Kai Eide, had written that he increasingly disagreed with Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan, saying it put too much emphasis on military operations over civilian reconstruction efforts. “In my opinion it was a strategy being doomed to fail…. But none of us gained support for our views.”
Did anyone notice that the previous Kabul Governor, Dr Zebihullah Mojaddidy, had quit because ‘the government was ignoring his reconstruction programs for the province’? Reconstruction programs are ignored even in the capital! What’s the US 2 billion dollars a week being spent on?
For a long time, Afghans have unwillingly accepted the least bad of bad options for a conflict we are so tired of. The bad options are the Taliban, the Afghan war and druglords of whom many are in government, Pakistani or Iranian interference, and the US/NATO coalition. Because many Afghans are so emotionally traumatized by the Taliban and warlords, the US/NATO coalition may be the least bad of the bad options. We say,” What options do we have?” All are violent, military options, so let’s choose the least bad one.
The US/NATO’s proclaimed aim is to militarily ensure that there are no safe havens for the ‘Taliban/Al Qaeda/insurgents’, as if an ideology of hate could be geographically removed naively by hate which is better-armed. But what can we say to such illogic? “What options do we have?”
Every power-monger, including the ‘Taliban’ or Afghan war and drug-lords and the myriad of business-suited internationals , is buying us, dividing us, demeaning us, insulting us, humoring us, and killing us.
Much as it is difficult to hear this, we are the game, exotic wild animals whose carcasses none wish to count too accurately.
We thought we had seen some light when Wikileaks released 91,731 Afghan War Logs exposing our bloody mayhem, but the world has been made to wonder if Julian Assange is a rapist-terrorist.
In 2009, Radio Free Europe named the Afghan Member of Parliament and ‘Afghan Gandhi’ , Dr Ramazon Bashardost, their Person of the Year, and while Afghans popularly voted him into 3rd place in the Presidential Elections and many appreciate his honest approach, the world has ignored him. Therefore, Afghans sigh that good people don’t get very far, and guess that Dr Bashardost may be ‘mad’. With such excessive violence, his ideas of non-violent solutions for Afghanistan are ‘mad’.
The military way over-rides all, including the United Nations, whose original charter is to ‘remove the scourge of war from future generations’.
When the United Nations recently reported that ‘security incidents’ had increased by 39% in 2011, ISAF retorted that the United Nations was comparing ‘apples and oranges’ and that violence had, in Godly-factual style, decreased by 27%.
To denigrate the UN further, when the UN reported ‘systematic torture ‘ in detention facilities across Afghanistan, the Afghan Interior Ministry said that the UN’s compelling evidence of torture were ‘false’. Someone is lying, but after 10 years, the international community is too distant to care about who the liar is.
Then, ISAF refuted even a ‘Knock on the Door’ of their kill-capture program by Dari/Pushto speaking journalists who suggested the lack of sufficient information in the public domain to analyze claims like night operations being ‘one of the most effective methods for target key leaders and insurgents ’. Never mind that night operations are universally abhorred by all Afghans.
Our international military strategy is ‘too big to fail’. Their proponents imply, ‘Don’t question us or debate about what we choose to reveal or what we choose to do. Just accept that what goes on behind our doors is always right. All military options are all always right. And for your best interests.’
These civil disagreements over numbers in different war scenarios make a good, small chink in the military armour, but still leave out any debate of whether ‘hard force’ is at all effective in resolving human conflict. Military force in the hands of a few has become the modus-operandi-option to resolving human conflict, and worse, such militarism can now be called ‘humanitarian wars’.
And while the 1% defend the brute method of war, the killers are promoted.
Like how the US Embassy reported in 2006 that Abdul Raziq, now the Acting Police Commander of Kandahar, had been ‘removed from his post for allegedly attacking (summarily executing) 16 rivals under the pretext that they were Taliban militants’ and then how, with perfect impunity, the State (Afghans joke that this country is ‘Amerikistan’) crowned him as Brigadier General Abdul Raziq this year.
What human beings are doing to human beings in Afghanistan, and in other unfortunate countries is this ; systematically educating one another that force and money are pragmatic necessities for security, and control is gained when you are better at ‘targeting and killing others before they kill you.’
Any luck from the civilian leadership? We read with disbelief that the US Ambassador Ryan Crocker approved of what amounts to a civilian-supported torture method in saying to the Wall Street Journal, “The Taliban needs to feel more pain before you get to a real readiness to reconcile.”
Afghans know by harsh experience that all foreign countries are in Afghanistan not for the interests of the people but for selfish state-interests, that ‘the cat doesn’t kill mice for the sake of God’, but in the face of militarism from all directions, we diffuse our anger, we get on, and we say, ‘What options do we have?’
Yes, you may think that Afghans are unreasonably angry because they are uneducated and don’t understand the big picture, and that they are rough, tribal people.
That somehow, the only way to manage Afghans is to allow the ‘good’ 1% to control the ‘bad’ 99% of Afghans with their Wealth and Force.
But come live and laugh with the 99% of ordinary Afghans. We are just like you.
Come watch ‘Shabkhand’ / ‘The Night of Laughter’ with us, a popular Afghan television show featuring a stand-up comedian interviewing well-known personalities. Come enjoy music with us. Come see our thirst for a good education. Come see our need for decent livelihoods. Come see how we silently persevere to retain human dignity.
Please, can the people of the world put thinking and caring people around a table over cups of tea, to propose a sensible and non-violent way out of this Great Game played by the 1%, or is human civilization now incapable of genuine conversations?
Suddenly, we began noticing people awakening as if from an enforced sleep, in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Mexico and now Occupy Wall Street, proving that even our enforced sleep cannot cheat reality. Suddenly, we caught a flicker of hope, of human solidarity, of a Human Spring breaking out of the integrated civil-military darkness.
We thank you. We wish to thank every human soul who has walked the main protest streets at any one time, alone or together.
Most people may not yet understand how freeing and humanizing it is to witness that perhaps, love and truth exist, and that there is more than one human option to our problems, and that not all options have to be bad.
We’re sorry that presently, we cannot take to the Afghan streets in such large numbers yet, because neither the Taliban nor the US/Afghan coalition will be very happy, because we are too divided to have a critical mass, because we haven’t been getting ready, and because we aren’t quite brave enough to lose our everything. But, we’ll do what we can.
The freeing sense is that perhaps, we no longer need to be slaves wandering on our own in an unequal wilderness.
We sense that the love of the people which has saved us from hopeless nights can possibly breakthrough into a wider public practice. “Y Not?”
We sense that one day, we will be free, and Rangina can return.
Shaking, we realize that all along, but also suddenly, we ARE the 99%.
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
October 17, 2011