By Jeﬀ Pickert ‘11
I have spent the last 48 hours in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, participating in a small week-long delegation organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. We have come here to listen to the stories of ordinary Afghans aﬀected by decades of war, poverty and foreign occupations.
As we exited the airplane two days ago, a proliﬁc billboard greets us outside the terminal. “Welcome to Afghanistan, home of the brave.” I ponder this for a moment, reﬂecting on the resilience of a nation that has long ago reached its limit with how much violence it can endure. A few minutes later, we are through passport control and customs to be greeted by Hakim, Mohammad Jan, and his brother Noor, who are the driving force behind the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a fairly new organization dedicated to building youth capacity for peace that transcends traditional ethnic, political and religious divisions.
On the drive to our apartment, I notice right away the crushing poverty in which many Afghans live. Bullet holes riddling many of the mud-brick shops and buildings. Leveled houses from NATO airstrikes are still visible. Sewage runs in large open trenches, and electricity frequently shuts oﬀ without warning.
Hakim warns us, “Don’t be surprised if many Afghans appear angry or even hostile when you encounter them.” We are told not to leave our apartment alone, and never at night, to vary our daily routines, and not to linger as we go to and from our destinations. International humanitarian organizations have described the current security situation here as the worst in 30 years. After ten years of U.S. occupation, hardly one aspect of civil society has improved and ordinary people are ﬁlled with a sense of hopelessness that we encounter time and time again in our meetings.
“No human society would want occupiers around. If you had a bullet in your body, you would want it
removed so that it could heal, it is a natural instinct,” says Harun, a 23-year- old Pashtun we meet who aspires to be a dentist. The role of the U.S. is often viewed with mixed feelings here. Many people, especially in Kabul, greatly fear the resurgence of the Taliban and see NATO’s military presence as some sort of safe-guard against returning to the severe repression that marked their rule of the country. At the same time, no one we have talked to thus far believes in the good intentions of the U.S., as our government is seen as responsible for propping up the Karzai regime which is stacked with many of the same warlords that terrorized the country before the Taliban gained power. The Taliban has only increased in their strength and inﬂuence in the last ten years and whatever hope many Afghan’s had for peace and security after NATO troops entered this country has long since faded.
Under these circumstances, Harun emphasizes, “No human heart can have space to accept such actions.” As Harun describes the terrifying night raids by NATO forces, the bombings that have continue to kill scores of Afghan citizens in the countryside and the rampant corruption of President Karzai’s regime, I can’t help but think that our current military solution has not worked.
“If things don’t start to move, the end result for every person here will be death. Everything has appeared to have reached a terrible limit,” Noor, a Peace Volunteer tells us. The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have been organizing meetings between youth of different ethnic and geographic locations to discuss how to move their country beyond the current options of bad and worse. In a country where 65 percent of the population is below the age of 25, the youth of this generation could be a force to reckon with. The recent events of the Arab Spring have rejuvenated some hope here that ordinary citizens can collectively have the power to shape their own future beyond the constraints shaped by a corrupt government, a ruthless insurgency, and a foreign occupation that does not enjoy the popular support or goodwill of the people.
The Peace Volunteers urge U.S. citizens to shift our engagement with their country from a military approach to a civil one. Hakim tells us that a successful movement for change in Afghanistan must advocate for independence through nonviolent, popular means. The presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan has come to be seen as a hindrance to both goals. Our country has failed in every regard to bring about peace to a nation long used by world superpowers as a playground to extend their influence and control. Yet in this new global spirit inspired by the Arab Spring, ordinary citizens have shown that they can catch courage from across borders to change the rules of a militarized game that is failing all of us. We must respond to this call to shift our approach because, ten years after continuing the status quo, the people of Afghanistan face only a worsening situation that increases with every passing day. And we owe it to Harun, Noor, Mohammad Jan and the youth of Afghanistan to help them realize a brighter future.