This week, in Washington, D.C., Presidents Obama and Karzai will discuss a proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. Presumably, they'll note some of the main security problems Afghanistan faces.
The people of Afghanistan have only seen cosmetic improvement in their living conditions. UNICEF reports that 36% of the people live in poverty and that over one million children suffer from acute malnourishment. According to available World Bank figures, about 73 percent of people in Afghanistan lack access to clean drinking water and 95 percent do not have access to sufficient sanitation. Limited access to medical facilities and the absence of knowledge, skills, and the ability to effectively manage these diarrheal diseases usually leads to the death of 48,545 children each year — approximately133 children per day.
In and around Kabul alone, there are an estimated 35,000 internally displaced refugees, living in 50 camps. We've seen the wretched conditions there and walked away feeling ashamed of our warm clothes and easy access to food and potable water.
Kabul appears secure, but it is merely a fragile "bubble" where people feel relatively removed from fighting, compared to areas of the country afflicted by regular Taliban and NATO/ISAF attacks. A young Pashto friend of ours spoke to us with frustration, yesterday, about how little understanding people in Kabul have for people in his province, called Wardak, where people live in constant fear of drone attacks and night raids.
We are living here in Kabul, as guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. A former Voices delegation, from the UK, had asked our friend Raz Mohammed to answer, in a video interview, several questions about the conditions in his province.
Raz's message to the governments of the US and the UK is that he wishes they would regain their sense of humanity. We share Raz's frustration over the lack of attention to crucial aspects of security in Afghanistan, including health care delivery, education, food security, and shelter.
The US Congress doesn't seem to believe in non-military solutions. The occupying powers here, and the Western media, are projecting an image benefitting few but the military-industrial complex of each participating nation. Over the past ten years of occupation, the United States could have assumed a responsibility to help establish a sustainable economy and infrastructure. In October 2012, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its 17th and latest report on reconstruction, according to which after a decade the US government spending on Afghanistan now approaches the $100 billion mark. Yet the US forces will leave behind many millions of war-weary, exhausted, and economically desperate people.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani commentator who supported US military intervention in 2001, recently issued a stark criticism of US intervention. "The United States only knows one form of intervention and that is the military one," said Rashid. "Everything depends on drawn weapons."
Rashid suggests the alternative he would have endorsed, recalling recommendations he and other researchers made to the USAID agency in 2001:
We told them that in the next 10 years the United States should make $5 billion available for Afghanistan every year — enough to revitalize the economy, invest in infrastructure and rebuild education and health. A third-world country like Afghanistan could not possibly absorb more than these five billion. Five billion was peanuts back then. Much money came in but it went to the wrong things, such as making payoffs to the warlords. There was insufficient investment in infrastructure until much later, and the same went for building a self-sustaining economy and agriculture. We suggested major investments in agriculture, as Afghanistan happens to be a land of farmers. Until 2010 nothing was allocated.
Yet the US continues to invest in military projects which have potential to exacerbate and perpetuate warfare in Afghanistan. Consider, for example, the construction of a new privately owned and privately run 10-acre "camp" on the outskirts of Kabul, "Camp Integrity."
Construction is supervised by a company called "Academi," formerly known as Blackwater, a company which became infamous for previous convictions of employees who stole weapons from the US military and killed Afghan civilians. Academi has been awarded a no-bid contract from the Pentagon to build a fortified armory, a fueling station, a vehicle maintenance facility, officers' housing facilities, office space, and a training center that will accommodate 7,000 elite troops, including Special Operations Forces. Scheduled to be maintained until at least 2015, "Camp Integrity" indicates that Special Operations and Counterterrorism operations will continue in Afghanistan, for the foreseeable future.
Upon the release of his memoir, shortly before Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai began a visit to the US, General Stanley McChrystal, former coalition troop commander and policy architect, said he felt that the US has an "emotional responsibility" to maintain ongoing troops in Afghanistan. He compared US forces to a parental presence. "'Like a teenager, you really don't want your parents hanging around you, but . . . you like to know if things go bad, they're going to help,' he said. McChrystal added that the Afghans are not children, but they need to know they can trust America." It's helpful to juxtapose McChrystal's view of US interactions between the United States and Afghan civilians with firsthand accounts of the night raids that McChrystal pioneered during his tenure. Neil Shea, an embedded journalist, writes about American soldiers he had traveled with during a night raid. "They were men who enjoyed demolishing Afghan houses, men who shot dogs in the face," said Shea:
They shattered windows and china, broke furniture, hurled civilians to the ground. Earlier that day, they had blown up a building. They tornadoed through Afghan houses and left such destruction that their ANA (Afghanistan National Army) allies at first tried to stop them, then grew angry, sullen. . . .
A veteran of the US war in Afghanistan, Graham Clumpner, feels remorse over the night raids he participated in. "We could also see that when we entered a home, even if there wasn't a terrorist there before, there was when we left," he commented. "And we were radicalizing the entire population just by our presence." Clumpner now rejects any affiliation with war.
We can't help but wonder, however, if former platoon members whom Neil Shea writes about could now be seeking job security with the Academi company.
Camp Integrity is promoted as a means to counter terrorism and build democracy.
We're not sure how to articulate emotional responsibilities for the US general public toward Afghanistan. "We're sorry, we're so very sorry," seems like a plausible start. But as regards building democracy, we believe democracy is based on education that leads to aware, compassionate, and engaged global citizens. When regular media reports pay attention to the misery, hunger, desperation, anger, and fear felt by millions of Afghans, or when US people insist that they must have more comprehensive reports and analyses, and greater accountability for their tax contributions, then we'll sense that democracy is being rebuilt in the US.
Afghans and Americans need a different practice of security that addresses basic needs and root problems. We need to clamor for a better world.
Kathy Kelly ([email protected]) and Martha Hennessy ([email protected]) have been living in Kabul since December 20, 2012. They are representing Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) and are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com).