Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I Will | Suheir Hammad

A poem of resistance.

Suheir Hammad was born in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents on October 25, 1973. Her family immigrated to Brooklyn NY when she was five years old. She is the author of three poetry collections and has written and performed with the Def Poetry Jam on Broadway hosted by Russell Simmons. Check out this tribute to her father. She also starred in the 2008 Cannes official selection film Salt of This Sea.

This recording is from a 9 December show in Philadelphia hosted by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture. The center is dedicated to presenting and teaching the Arabic language, arts, and culture.

What I Will
by Suheir Hammad

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. I know
intimately that skin
you are hitting. It
was alive once
hunted stolen
stretched. I will
not dance to your drummed
up war. I will not pop
spin beak for you. I
will not hate for you or
even hate you. I will
not kill for you. Especially
I will not die
for you. I will not mourn
the dead with murder nor
suicide. I will not side
with you nor dance to bombs
because everyone else is
dancing. Everyone can be
wrong. Life is a right not
collateral or casual. I
will not forget where
I come from. I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

Here is the Def Poetry version from 2007.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Justice Seekers | A Profile by Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly writing from Kabul-

"Arab Spring, European Summer, American Autumn, and now the challenge of winter. Here in Kabul, Afghanistan, the travelers of our small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation share an apartment with several of the creative and determined “Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers” who’ve risked so much for peace here and befriended us so warmly over the past two years.

Yesterday, I met with three young people who’ve sustained an inspiring example of community formation. Weeda Ahamd directs the Social Association for Afghan Justice Seekers, with help from Basir and Riha, her co-workers.

During their University years, Weeda and her colleagues had become impassioned on behalf of achieving social justice for those brutalized and bereaved by the violent forces at work within Afghanistan. “We realized that many young people who were thinkers had sacrificed their lives” said Weeda. “They refused to say anything but the truth, and there are so many of them to remember. Whereas the war criminals in power will not remember any of these people, we will hold up the pictures in walks. Some of them are people whom family members have not seen for a long time. These are the heroes whom people of Afghanistan should remember.”

Since 2007, Weeda and her colleagues have worked to gather information about people killed, imprisoned or disappeared by armed forces. They go to villages and talk to families who have lost loved ones to Taliban fighters, US/NATO forces, warlords and druglords. They carefully preserve the data. Once it became public that they intended to issue their report, they received threats from several warlords. The report should appear in the near future.

Not only do Weeda and her co-workers assemble stories, documents and pictures from the families of victims of war, they also help build supportive communities amongst the families whose trust they have gained through their repeated visits. Then they invite the families to form larger networks and come together for public protests and demonstrations, demanding an end to the wars. Grassroots democracy is even harder work at gunpoint.

“It’s always a present reality that we could die tomorrow or be killed,” said Basir, “but we would rather do that than have people remember us in the future as people who didn’t live in a principled way. We hold on to truth and justice principles. We’d rather live this way than live under the control of those who commit the crimes.”

“Crimes are not only crimes of the past,” Weeda explains. “War criminals are continuing to commit the crimes, and the US and NATO give military, political and financial support to the war criminals. Their militaries commit crimes as well.

“If a government were formed by the people of Afghanistan,” says Weeda, “we wouldn’t find Afghans easily accepting permanent military bases. Nor would they accept warlords in positions of power.”

“America is in Afghanistan to gain strategic control against China, Iran and regional countries,” she continues. “On top of power and strategic control, we know that America is here to tap on resources that may be present in Afghanistan, or Afghanistan may be a strategic route for the transport and sale of raw materials.” Estimates say these materials may have a net worth of one trillion per year.

She wishes that activists beyond Afghanistan, whose governments are occupying and fighting in her country, would pressure their own governments to stop interfering in the affairs of other countries.

“Any human with a conscience needs to consider himself or herself as a member of the larger human family,” says her colleague, Basir. “I feel I am a member of every family that has become a victim of war. Hundreds of mothers have buried their children with the beautiful white burial cloth. Hundreds walk the streets without a father.”

Weeda is aware that a solution is not easy. She says it may take a long time and insists it must come from the people themselves. Uprisings in the Middle East have encouraged her. “We need to get out into the streets,” she says, recalling images from Cairo. “There, people filled the streets as far as you could see.” Smiling softly, she mentioned the “Occupy” movement. “Maybe they will highlight the crimes that their governments are committing here,” she said, “and speak out against them — call on them to end complicity with war criminals.”

It’s hard work in the winter, and it seems like winter everywhere, but we create small patches of warmth to get us through the winter. All around us, people are finding hope in new connections and in their own startling example of the determination to create hope for others; fear is being traded in for ardent compassionate service; visions are being exchanged, seeds planted beneath the snow, crossing borders and creating new, unprecedented circumstances.

The warmth we keep alive now, the fires we stoke in a dark season, are small, but they’re everywhere. There is simply no predicting what we may be building with the work we do now to keep ours lit, guarding precious human warmth as we move towards another astonishing Spring."

Additional Resource:
Social Association of Afghan Justice Seekers

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scraps of men do not exist | Alberto Cairo

Alberto Cairo heads the orthopaedic program for the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent Society in Afghanistan. He has lived there for 21 years.

Over the years, he and his teams have enabled more than 100,000 Afghan landmine victims to go on with their life, to become agents for change.

In a country where the disabled are generally given pity but no rights, Cairo found a way -- through micro-loans, local employment solutions and home schooling -- to give tens of thousands of disabled Afghans a job and a sense of dignity and pride.

Listen and you will be rewarded.

Civil Society | Transitional Justice | Removing HR Monitors

Last week three of the nine members of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) were removed from their posts. The commission is one of the most successful, outspoken and respected institutions of post-Taleban Afghanistan.

This is how it is described by Patricia Grossman yesterday in an NYT Op-Ed.

“Watershed moments in Afghanistan happen by stealth. Last weekend — the anniversary of the Soviet invasion 32 years ago — President Hamid Karzai rid himself of his most outspoken critic, a prominent official with one of the few government institutions in Afghanistan that actually performs well — the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The move, announced Thursday, seems intended not only to silence a critic but bury the truth about the crimes of the past.”
Kabul's Stealth Attack on Human Rights

Thomas Ruttig details the impact this will have on the work of the organization.
“Nader Nadery and Fahim Hakim have been part of the AIHRC since its establishment, and driving forces for human rights and democratic development in Afghanistan. Some of our members know Nader from pre-AIHRC times already when he and friends were operating a small human rights organisation from a ramshackle office in a not very inviting part of Peshawar while the Taleban were still in power. From there, they regularly travelled into Afghanistan, contributing to our knowledge about the situation in the country. Nader also came to the 2001 Bonn conference as part of a fifth delegation, composed from pro-democracy activists in the Afghan underground and in exile which was excluded from the conference table at the last hour in order ‘to reduce the number of actors’ (Lakhdar Brahimi).

As commissioner for the AIHRC, Nader has had a particular focus on transitional justice, as well as on war crimes (civilian casualties) committed as part of the current conflict. He managed the national consultations that resulted in the A Call for Justice report documenting opinions about how to deal with the legacies of conflict and was the commissioner most keenly involved in developing the government Action Plan for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation. For the past three years, he has managed the commission’s documentation of war crimes covering the period 1978 to 2001, the commission’s contribution to the implementation of the government action plan.”
Another Blow to Justice: Three Commissioners Fired from the AIHRC

Some background from last year by Sari Kouvo.
“In 2003, the UNHCHR initiated a much more modest mapping exercise in Afghanistan. Based on open source material, most of it the UN’s own, a team of three consultants compiled a 300 page report on human rights violations and war crimes in Afghanistan in the civil war years between 1978 and 2001. The report contains detailed accounts of indiscriminate bombings, massacres, illegal detention, torture, rape and looting from the communist period to the fall of the Taliban regime. In January 2005, then UNHCHR Louise Arbour travelled to Kabul to release the mapping report simultaneously with the release of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission’s national consultation about Afghans’ opinions about how to deal with legacies of human rights violations and war crimes, entitled “A Call for Justice”. At the eleventh hour a decision was taken not to release the UN mapping report. The UNHCHR participated in the launch of the AIHRC’s “A Call for Justice” report, and handed a copy of her report to the Commission as a basis for future documentation work. Commissioner Arbour then met with President Karzai and presented him with a copy of the report. The report has to date not been officially released, but copies of it have done the rounds of human rights organizations, embassies, web sites etc.”
Facts for Reconciliation: Human Rights Documentation Needed

Additional Resources:

UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Violations and War Crimes (1979 – 2001)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Violence Increases 21% | We Are Not Leaving

Mural Image: The Forgotten,
Elise Bonail, Narbonne, France

From the traveling mural exhibit Windows and Mirrors.

Afghanistan has become more insecure in 2011 from a year ago, with a sharp rise in security incidents and higher numbers of civilian casualties, displaced people and complex suicide attacks. These are the findings of the U.N. quarterly report to the Security Council released yesterday.

The total number of security incidents recorded for the first eleven months of the year represented a 21 percent rise from the same period of 2010. There is no doubt that 2011 will be the most dangerous year for Afghans since the invasion of 2001.

It has been an upward trend since 2005.

The September quarterly report documented an increase of 39%

The most recent report was released one day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Fareed Zakaria that "we are negotiating with the United States towards an enduring partnership." A partnership that many suspect will involve involve US troops far beyond 2014.

Also on Sunday, the top commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan warned Taliban and other forces in the region that there was no date certain for the withdrawal of US forces. Saying "[I]f you been waiting for us to go, we're not leaving."

Click here for additional posts on civilian casualties.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Pakistanis Have a Point | Bill Keller

Bill Keller had this long expose in the weekend magazine section. It is an important effort to articulate the Pakistan perspective in the relationship with the United States. It also has some great graphics. Click to enlarge.

His point is really simple, “it’s hard to be an ally of the United States.”

The Pakistanis Have a Point

“The Pakistani version of modern history is one of American betrayal, going back at least to the Kennedy administration’s arming of Pakistan’s archrival, India, in the wake of its 1962 border war with China.

The most consequential feat of American opportunism came when we enlisted Pakistan to bedevil the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The intelligence agencies of the U.S. and Pakistan — with help from Saudi Arabia — created the perfect thorn in the Soviet underbelly: young Muslim “freedom fighters,” schooled in jihad at Pakistani madrassas, laden with American surface-to-air missiles and led by charismatic warriors who set aside tribal rivalries to war against foreign occupation.

After the Soviets admitted defeat in 1989, the U.S. — mission accomplished! — pulled out, leaving Pakistan holding the bag: several million refugees, an Afghanistan torn by civil war and a population of jihadists who would find new targets for their American-supplied arms. In the ensuing struggle for control of Afghanistan, Pakistan eventually sided with the Taliban, who were dominated by the Pashtun tribe that populates the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The rival Northern Alliance was run by Tajiks and Uzbeks and backed by India; and the one thing you can never underestimate is Pakistan’s obsession with bigger, richer, better-armed India.”

Click here for other entries on Pakistan.

Voices of Afghan School Children | Zaher Wahab

Zaher Wahab has asked colleagues – and their students – to write or draw about life and war. Here are some of the recent wishes translated from Pashtu and Dari.

The selected drawing really tells the story. Click on the image for a better view.

“War causes death, destruction and ruin. If / when there is war, children are unable to get on education or study. Peace is the best thing. When there is peace and security, we can enjoy life, build our country and make progress. During peace time, children can attend school, get educated, learn knowledge and skills, work, and serve their families and our beloved country ( a seventh grade girl).

Peace is an indication of good fortune; peace is mandated by the holy Quran. In order to establish peace between two governments or two individuals, we need an intermediary party to make peace. These wars in our country have destroyed peace. Peace is very Afghanistan’s hope and dream. We pray that Allah almighty will bring peace, stability, and security to Afghanistan.

Due to the endless wars, violence and upheaval over the last three decades, Afghan children have faced countless and serious difficulties, which have scarred them physically and emotionally. Current living conditions for children too are intolerable. Afghan children are sick and tired of war; because war has deprived the children of their parents need and demand peace (A seventh grade girl).

Bring / provide peace, tranquility, reconciliation and coexistence, because we humans need peace. Where are there is peace and security, people are happy and comfortable. And when people feel secure and happy, they can serve/ help their families and country better and more effectively. Our beloved country needs peace desperately and urgently. War has done deep and serious damage to our beloved country- and to our people. Afghanistan is the home of all Afghans, and they should be able to, and must live in peace in their homeland. We must study hard, rebuild the ruined country, and take active part in the progress and development of our country (An eighth grade boy).

Long live (the Afghan – US friendship). Unity is the best thing ( an eighth grade boy).

I have three wishes / needs:
1. I want peace and stability throughout the word, but especially in our beloved Afghanistan
2. All Afghans, including us children want / desire / peace
3. All of us Afghanistan children detest and dislike war and destruction ( by a seventh grade boy).

The government system must deploy everything within its power to prevent the kidnapping, trafficking, sale exploitation, and / or abuse of children in the country (the grade boy).

Afghanistan is a proud, dignified and Islamic country. Afghanistan is a famous country with courageous people. The Afghan nation leads lives of dignity and courage. But the traitors and the enemies of our religion and country betray and attack us all the time. Millions of Afghans have been displaced and migrated to neighboring and other countries where they lead dignified and honorable lives; where er they happen to be Afghans are proud of their culture, dignity and religion; because Afghanistan is a country of true believers in God/ Allah, Islam and their culture ( Seventh grade boy).

We must not abuse, oppress, or humiliate our children. We must treat our children nicely and kindly; and we must allow them the freedom to defend their rights, and receive good education – so they can become good adults Muslims and citizens who will serve the country. We should listen to what they have to say so they can acquire the courage to speak up (Eighth grade boy).

Give peace and security, we can lead happy lives, get an education, build our country and achieve progress. We do not war and turmoil in our country anymore. We desperately need, want and demand peace. We love our homes and our homeland and do not want them to be destroyed (Seventh grade girl).

Cigarettes and drugs are harmful to our/ your health. Do not let or allow anyone to get you to use or sell these narcotics anywhere or any time (Seventh grade boy).

I love my mother more than myself. Women constitute half of the human race and society. They must not be mistreated or subjected to abuse or cruelty. Especially Afghan women, who have, over the decades of war suffered enormously and have endured lots of hardships; but who still managed to protect and take care of their families and homes. Afghan women really are heros (Eight grade girl).

Life has meaning when there is peace and security. Then life and everything else will be full of joy and happiness; and there will be no pain, sorrow or tragedy. A life of peace is truly beautiful (Seventh grade girl).

Afghanistan is a mountainous country where more than 60% of the area consists of mountains. The country has many rich natural resources such as iron, gold, copper, uranium, lithium, oil, gas timber and rivers. But we are extremely poor (Eighth grade boy).

War always produces death, destruction and misfortune; it burns everything in its path. And I hate the savage face of war; we do not war anymore. Peace is always beautiful, and it is God’s greatest gift to his creation the humans. During peace everything becomes beautiful and humans make progress; we build our country; and people are physically and psychologically better of. Peace, I love you and I need and want you (Fourth grade girl).”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Monika Bulaj: The hidden light of Afghanistan

Monika Bulaj offers a beautiful tribute to the Afghan people, and a powerful condemnation of war.

She starts with the question what do we know about the country and the people we pretend to protect?

The result lifts a curtain. Throwing light on the small worlds ignored by the media and the prophets of a global conflict.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beyond Power Sharing: Options for an Afghan Peace Process

Beyond Power-sharing: Institutional Options for an Afghan Peace Process
Hamish Nixon and Caroline Hartzell | Peaceworks | December 2011

This paper is part of a joint research project to identify issues and options to support durable peace in Afghanistan. The collaborating organizations are the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI).

Hamish Nixon also published Durable Peace: Afghan Perspectives on the Peace Process in May.

The chapters

Introduction: Peace Is Possible
Challenges for a Peace Process: Analyzing the Afghan Conflict
Initiating and Structuring a Negotiation
Transitional Arrangements and Implementation Challenges
Beyond Power Sharing: Institutional Arrangements for the Long Term

"The Framework: Any negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict should involve a set of transitional arrangements to govern the period between the signing of a peace settlement, a cease-fire, and the entry into force of more permanent institutions for conflict management."

A big lesson from the Iraq war of 2003 is the need for firm deadlines for the removal of foreign troops and bases. The vision and options set out in this report have a better chance of being implemented if that reality is kept at the center of all discussions and dialogue.

"Introduction: Peace is Possible

The need for a peace process to end the conflict in Afghanistan becomes clearer with each passing month, just as quickly as hopes for one often seem to recede. Despite many positive changes, ten years of deepening international involvement, both military and civilian, have been accompanied by a pattern of mounting violence. Since 2009 a dramatic escalation by NATO of both conventional counterinsurgency and special operations has certainly cost the insurgency lives and territory, and the prospects of an outright Taliban victory seem negligible. At the same time, the Taliban movement and its allies have shown resilience and flexibility, presenting a consistent tactical challenge in narrowing areas of the south and broad areas in the southeast and east, while extending their reach in the north. A string of high-profile at¬tacks and assassinations has undermined government and NATO claims of increasing security and eliminated key government allies, while deepening tensions among political factions with distinct ethnic overtones, raising the specter of a widening civil conflict."


"This report takes a different approach. Rather than lifting wholesale the experience of other peace processes that writ large may have limited applicability to the complexities of Afghanistan, it examines some specific challenges a peace process in Afghanistan will face, and then presents theoretical observations and some real world comparative examples that may be applicable to these challenges. The report does not aim to recommend a complete or a single set of institutions for an Afghan peace process, but rather to stimulate discussion on how to connect the particular challenges an Afghan peace process faces with the possibilities for peace that careful and innovative arrangements can and have produced even in complex and seemingly intractable conflicts."

Additional posts on Peace Building.

The Generals Visit | Night Raids and Militia Forces

William McRaven, commander of US Special Operations Forces, gave a rare interview in Kabul over the weekend. Defending two of the most controversial US/NATO war tactics he pledged to continue the kill/capture program being carried out through night raids, and gave his support to expand the Afghan Local Police, a paramilitary force.

It's a dangerous and deadly path.

As commander of US forces in Afghanistan before taking over as head of the CIA David H. Petraeus said in hearings before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services that the arming of the private militias was “… in essence, a community watch with AK–47s”

Most Afghans understand the program to be the creation of unaccountable militia armies. Bringing back memories of the terrible violence of the civil war fought between foreign armed militia armies.

In September Human Rights Watch said the initiative was "a high-risk strategy to achieve short-term goals in which local groups are again being armed without adequate oversight or accountability."

The Wall Street Journal reports
The U.S. military is preparing to triple the number of local fighters in the program over the next two years, with 30,000 members set to fan out in 99 districts, said Col. John Evans, deputy commanding officer of Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan.

There is a sobering link with the US policy of arming the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the legacy it left behind. The awakening is estimated to still have between 50,000 – 80,000 armed members, and are resisting Iraqi government demands that they disarm by the end of the year.

The New York Times observes
With two weeks left before the United States military completes its withdrawal from Iraq, these units, known broadly as the Sunni Awakening, still remain outside the new Iraqi police force and army. Ragtag groups of men wearing jeans and carrying rifles at dusty checkpoints throughout western Iraq, they are a loose end left by the United States.

For more background: Afghanistan 101 posts on Afghan Militias, Night Raids, and the Afghan experience with war.


Mural Image: What's Left of Kabul

Created by Guilford College Community and Hanna Swenson, Courtney Mandeville and Layth Awartani

Windows and Mirrors: Reflections of the War in Afghanistan

Monday, December 12, 2011

CIA Vacates Pakistan Drone Base | US Drone in Iran

The CIA has vacated the Shamsi air base in western Pakistan. The base has been used to help coordinate the CIA (not-too-secret) drone war in Pakistan's tribal areas. Attacks from the base have been reduced since the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden in May with the US increasing striking from bases in Afghanistan.

The government of Pakistan demanded the removal of the CIA after a cross border attack killed 25 soldiers.

“...[a] senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the drone operations at Shamsi were classified, said that vacating the base would not end American counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. “The United States retains robust capabilities to fight Al Qaeda and its militant allies,” the official said. “Our operations will continue.”"

Pakistan responded on Sunday saying they will shot down US drones flying in their air space.

Also last week a drone called the ‘Beast of Kandahar’ crashed in Iran. It was flying out of an air base in Herat with sensitive sniffing sensors to monitor Iran nuclear program.

The government of Iran has formally complained to the Afghan Ambassador about the US drone.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed its displeasure to Afghanistan’s ambassador to Iran over an American drone aircraft that Iran says flew deep into its airspace and crashed last week, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

According to Afghan officials, the drone was flown from the American and Afghan base at Shindand in western Herat Province. American officials have acknowledged the loss of an RQ-170, a C.I.A. stealth drone made by Lockheed Martin and designed to fly covert missions and collect information in hostile territory, but have declined to confirm or deny that it is the plane that Iran says it recovered.

A critical issue in the negotiations for a strategic partnership between the US and Afghanistan is the Afghan demand that their territory not be used by foreign powers to attack its neighbors.

The strategic agreement is envisioned to provide the framework for US troops to stay in the country beyond 2014 and to have control of military bases.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Legacies of War in Iraq

Wednesday 28 December 2011 | 5:30-8 PM
Friends Center | 1501 Cherry Street | Philadelphia

There is no victory and no victors in this war.

We will mark the exit of US combat troops and the impact of 30 years of war and sanctions for the people of Iraq.

You are invited to call-in and listen to the program. It is an open call.

Toll-free Number: 866.740.1260
Access code: 2414586#


For 30 years the Iraqi people have endured three wars and for 20 years suffered under some of the most severe and comprehensive economic and political sanctions ever imposed against a nation and its people.

A war of choice starting in 2003 destroyed the infrastructure, left hundreds of thousands dead, opened the way to civil war/ethnic fighting, and created the largest movement of refugees and internally displaced in the region since the creation of Israel in 1948.

With the withdrawal of US combat troops by the end of this year it is time to look back on the past to better understand future challenges. Join us to explore the legacies of war in Iraq: war that has gutted our economy.


Kathy Kelly is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an outgrowth of a campaign to end economic sanctions against Iraq. With members of the Iraq Peace Team, she lived in Iraq during the 2003 U.S. invasion and initial weeks of the U.S. Occupation.

Mary Trotochaud was the AFSC country representative from 2004 – 2007. She worked with Iraqi women in early efforts to help create a new vision for their country. She later worked in Washington with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).

Rick McDowell has lead fifteen delegations to Iraq (1996-2003) to witness the impact of comprehensive economic sanctions. In 2002 he led a group of Nobel Laureates and was the AFSC Iraq Country Representative from 2004-2007 before working with FCNL.

Raed Jarrar is an Iraq specialist, political analyst and former AFSC consultant based in Washington, D.C. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Raed became the country director for CIVIC Worldwide, the only door-to-door casualty survey group in post-war Iraq.

Abdulla Al-Obeidi grew up in Baghdad. As a refugee in Egypt he worked with other Iraqi teens. He is now studying sociology/pre-med at Rowan University and active on campus – and community – efforts to bridge the gap between Middle Eastern and US cultures.

Celeste Zappala is a Gold Star Mother for Peace. Her son, PA Guard Sgt. Sherwood R. Baker, was killed in Iraq on April 2004. His unit was in charge of guarding those looking for Iraq's non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Moderator: Peter Lems, AFSC Program Director, Education and Advocacy for Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Time of Remembrance and Prayer
For Peace, Remember the Cost of War

Friday 30 December | 5 - 7 PM
Arch Street United Methodist Church | Broad and Arch

This solemn Candlelight and Bell-Tolling vigil will be the formal closing of the monthly vigil held since 2005 at the corner of Broad and Arch Street by Celeste Zappala, Gold Star Mother for Peace. Her son, PA Guard Sgt. Sherwood R. Baker, was killed in Iraq, April 2004, guarding the unit looking for Iraq's non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. The vigil will be followed by a special time of remembrance with music, prayer, and reflection beginning at 6 PM inside the church

Global Day of Listening | Occupy Your Heart

Global Day of Listening
21 December 2011

Talk with ordinary people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Yemen, and others. Check the schedule for times (4-5 hours).

Begins 7:30 PM Afghanistan time
10 AM Eastern | 7 AM Pacific (US)


Inspired by

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers,
Afghans For Peace, and the
Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project.

The last call was 21 September.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

24 Hour Bomb Tolls Reach 78 | Anand Gopal Analysis

A wave of violence continues to sweep across Afghanistan. Today, nineteen people were killed by a mine planted on a highway in Helmand Province.

The deaths come amid mourning for 59 people, mainly Shia worshipers, who were killed in twin bomb attacks in the country yesterday.

It brings to 78 the number of Afghans killed in the last 24 hours from bombings. The number is likely to rise.

Dawoud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, said the victims were among 24 people crammed aboard a minibus traveling from Lashkar Gah,the provincial capital, to the Sangin District, a dangerous part of the province where Taliban insurgents have been active. The minibus drove over the mine.”

Anand Gopal offers insights into the impact of yesterday's attack. Posing a dark question, "how do you end a war that no one can control?"

From Bad to Worse

“You would think that, after ten long and bloody years, there would be little new the Afghan war could offer in terms of brutality. But Tuesday's twin suicide strikes on Shi'a Muslim processions in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, leaving 58 dead and more than a hundred wounded, marks an unprecedented insurgent assault on civilians. Never before in the current war have Afghanistan's Shi'a been deliberately targeted, and rarely has an attack been so completely devoid of a military target.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Open Conference Call Briefing on Iraq | Raed Jarrar | Tuesday 13 December | 7 PM EASTERN

Ending the War in Iraq:
Elements of a Success Story

Tuesday 13 December

Toll-free Number: 866.740.1260
Access code: 2414586#

This is an open call. All are invited

Send your questions in advance to

The call will be recorded.

For seven years we have called for the complete removal of U.S. troops and bases from Iraq.

By the end of this month the United States has pledged to remove all combat troops and relinquish control of all bases. These are elements of a success story - for the people of Iraq and the peace movement. But it is accompanied by tremendous tragedy for Iraq and its people.

A war of choice destroyed the infrastructure of a country, left hundreds of thousands dead, opened the way to civil war/ethnic fighting, and created the largest movement of refugees and internally displaced in the region since the creation of Israel in 1948.

To better understand the legacy of this war, join us for a conference call briefing with Iraq specialist and former AFSC consultant, Raed Jarrar.

With broad experience in the region, Raed offers a clear-eyed analysis of the impact of the war, how we got to where we are today, and challenges for the future.

He returned from his most recent visit to Iraq last month.

Brief Bio: After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Raed became the country director for CIVIC Worldwide, the only door-to-door casualty survey group in post-war Iraq. He then established Emaar, (meaning "reconstruction" in Arabic), a grassroots organization that provided humanitarian and political aid to Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs). Emaar delivered medicine and food as well as helped initiate micro-enterprise projects for IDPs.

On Wednesday 28 December we will have a follow-up call exploring three decades of war and sanctions in Iraq with other Iraqi voices and activists.

Targeted Bombings Kill 60 in Afghanistan

One day after the after a Bonn conference dominated by state actors tragedy has struck in Afghanistan.

Coordinated noon-time bombings in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif have left 60 dead with many more wounded and traumatized. Eyewitness accounts report that 56 people were killed in Kabul where hundreds of Shia were singing at the Abu Fazal shrine. A third attack in Kandahar did not result in any deaths.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and a Taliban spokesperson has condemned them. The attacks coincided with the Shia festival of Ashura. An important day in the Shia calendar and observed as a public holiday in Afghanistan.

The on-going war threatens to deepen division across the board - ethnically, politically and regionally.

The escalating violence is fueled by all sides with 2011 likely to replace last year as the most deadly year yet for Afghans.

As the most powerful military and economic force in Afghanistan the U.S. must be clear in regional and internal dialogue that includes all groups involved with the violence. On that front Bonn was a failure.

Until that is clear the cycle will continue.

Targeted assassinations of government officials and targeted assassinations of ‘leaders’ by US drone strikes. Night raids on Afghan towns and villages and attacks on NATO/Afghan military outposts and personal. Cross border raids from Pakistan and attacks into Pakistan.

Additional coverage at NYT, BBC, Reuters

Ashura Attacks: Playing with Fire
Kate Clark, Afghanistan Analyst Network.

“Attacks have targeted Shi’as in two of Afghanistan’s major cities as they gathered for Ashura, to lament the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and members of his family in Iraq in 680 AD. The attack in Kabul was particularly serious and left dozens dead. Such violence is a new phenomenon, says Kate Clark, deeply troubling and potentially very dangerous for Afghanistan, which has managed to avoid the sort of sectarian and indiscriminate attacks suffered by Pakistanis and Iraqis in recent years. At least, she says, all parties so far, including the Taleban, have condemned.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bonn II Conference

President Hamid Karzai told the international gathering in Bonn this morning that Afghanistan will need the financial support of the international community for at least another decade beyond the 2014 departure of international troops.

The Associated Press has some details.

“During the one-day conference, about 100 nations and international organizations, including the United Nations, jointly pledged political and financial long-term support for war-torn Afghanistan to hinder it from falling back into chaos or becoming a safe haven for terrorists.”

“The United States announced it would free more than $650 million in support for small community-based development projects in Afghanistan, frozen because of financial irregularities in Afghanistan's key Kabul Bank.”

Jean MacKenzie writing for the Global Post has context and the reduced expectations.

Thomas Ruttig comments - Reading Between the Lines at Bonn II
“Finally, last but not least (and only because we have reported from their two-day conference on 2-3 December already), the statements from the two Afghan civil society representatives were extremely strong. They did not limit themselves – as I had feared for a moment – to politeness and indirect messages. The two who, deservedly, had more time than most foreign ministers, reiterated their message of the days before. Barry Salam said that ‘we have chosen democracy’ and ‘we want peace and reconciliation, but not when it jeopardises our fundamental rights and freedoms. […] Therefore we cannot change our constitution and compromise on our democratic rights’, Barry Salam stated. ‘We need a government that rules by law but not by the power of individuals’. His demand for the full inclusion of civil society in key decision-making processes could have been more direct, but should not be overlooked just because of this.

His female colleague, Selay Ghaffar, strongly advocated an ‘end [to] the prevailing culture of impunity’ and for transitional justice. She made clear that Afghanistan’s problems do not only lie in the Taleban or al-Qaida. She said that, ‘in the current system, there are elements in power who committed war crimes [and] need to be brought to justice. […] Giving a ministry to those who committed rapes and war crimes is like committing these crimes again.’ This is the strongest message of the day, and an explanation of the current quagmire which is not only military, but also moral. It is a message that Western governments probably still don’t want to hear.”

Last month, The State Department Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan reported that U.S. economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan has peaked in 2010 at $4.1 billion and would be reduced to $2.5 billion this year.

Additional Resources

Fact Sheet: Bonn Conference Unlikely to Produce Results for Afghanistan

International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn: Priorities for action

A Decade of Mistakes

Friday, December 2, 2011

We Meant Well | Peter Van Buren

We Meant Well, is an insider account of the civilian side of the surge in Iraq. The challenges and failures should be lessons for Afghanistan.

Of course there are differences; major UN agencies and well funded international NGO’s remain active in Afghanistan, and the country is one of the poorest in the world. However.

The odious role of military-controlled reconstruction teams linking humanitarian and development assistance to a military strategy is the same for both countries. As in Iraq, these opposing efforts led to confusion and resentment, becoming band-aids, symbolic measures to mitigate the destruction of escalating military action.

This book, and reports from many NGO’s on-the-ground make a clear call to end the military's role in development.

Here are the questions for Afghanistan. Will the U.S. learn these lessons as the military surge winds down in Afghanistan? Is it possible to offer transparent and sustained support to Afghan governmental and nongovernmental institutions seeking to heal the wounds of war?

We Meant Well:
How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
By: Peter Van Buren
“From a State Department insider, the first book recounting our misguided efforts to rebuild Iraq—a shocking and rollicking true-life cross between Catch-22, Dispatches and The Ugly American.

Charged with rebuilding Iraq, would you spend taxpayer money on a sports mural in Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhood to promote reconciliation through art? How about an isolated milk factory that cannot get its milk to market? Or a pastry class training women to open caf├ęs on bombed-out streets without water or electricity?

According to Peter Van Buren, we bought all these projects and more in the most expensive hearts-and-minds campaign since the Marshall Plan. We Meant Well is his eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge—that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world we had just destroyed. Leading a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team on its quixotic mission, Van Buren details, with laser-like irony, his yearlong encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world’s largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can’t rebuild a country without first picking up the trash.

Darkly funny while deadly serious, We Meant Well is a tragicomic voyage of ineptitude and corruption that leaves its writer—and readers—appalled and disillusioned but wiser.”

Additional Resources:

Democracy Now: State Department Veteran Defies U.S. Censors to Recount Failed Reconstruction in Iraq

Book Reviews:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bonn | Pakistan Boycott |Afghan Civil Society

Following the death of 24 soldiers in a US cross-Border raid, the Government of Pakistan is boycotting the Bonn II gathering.
“Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday said Pakistan’s decision to boycott the Bonn Conference in protest against the NATO/ISAF attack and violation of its sovereignty, was final and taken collectively. “How we can attend the conference when our sovereignty came under attack”

Josuha Foust writing in the Atlantic predicts failure.
“So a conference about the future of Afghanistan that is meant to leave a lasting, workable regional framework in place to manage the many diplomatic, economic, and security consequences of an American withdrawal might not include four of the most important participants: Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, or the Taliban. And yet, the other 90 countries that participate hope to accomplish something.

The sad reality of the U.S. endgame in Afghanistan is that it is happening completely outside a consideration of Afghanistan's politics. The war in Afghanistan is a fundamentally political war, and U.S. policymakers continue to ignore Afghanistan's (and Pakistan's) politics at tremendous cost. The worst political excesses get identified and removed, but the strategic planning -- what little there is -- is happening within American preferences and beliefs, not Afghan ones.”

In addition to the need for participation from all parties to the conflict, Afghan civil society networks have also lobbied to have more representation.

Afghan Civil Society Message to Bonn Gathering on what is expected from Government.
The second phase of transition (Inteqal) should be based on a thorough evaluation of the first phase and the lessons learned, giving full consideration to the necessary capacities, resources (human and financial), and the demands and satisfaction of the people,

Equal attention must be paid to the civilian dimension of the transition process (quality of the delivery of social services without any gender or ethnic discrimination, good governance, effective measures to curb corruption, promotion and protection of human rights, as well as the reform and independence of the judiciary) in parallel to the military aspect of transition (qualitative and quantitative support for Afghan security institutions),

It should give priority to implementing the rule of law, supporting and strengthening the democratic process and institutions (i.e. reform and independence of the electoral process, in particular), and to merit-based appointments,

It should strengthen healthy working relations between the judiciary, legislative, and executive, and specifically to establish a professional, effective, and responsive cabinet.

Beginning tomorrow you can start to check-in to a livestream of the civil society gathering that will take place on the 2nd and 3rd of December.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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