A few scheduling issues saw today end up a bit confused but ok. After one speaker changed his time we heard again from the AYPVs, a bit more about themselves and what they’ve been doing.
In the afternoon we were invited to go and hear from one of the organisations involved in the Transitional Justice Organisation.
We were here to listen to Afghans, so when Liah from Solidarity for Justice asked us to come so she could tell us more about her organisation, we didn’t hesitate. Besides, it would give me a chance to catch up on some of the presentation I’d missed the night before.
Unfortunately due to a mistake in directions my group arrived late (we always travel in small groups for safety reasons). I’d already missed the opening lines so the next hour and a half was a tad baffling as we all worked out why we’d been summoned. Gradually it dawned on me: we hadn’t been asked to hear about her organisation at all. She didn’t even mention it until the end of the session, and even then only offhandedly and because she was directly asked.
We internationals had been summoned to make sure the message we went home with was that the international troops are necessary and welcome.
What I had missed in the opening of the session before I came in was, “These boys are young and naïve and know nothing of the horror of war. If they want the troops to leave, they are pro-Taliban.”
Despite the boys’ protestations (after all, every one of them has some family or friend who has been killed in this war, many by the Taliban) the session went on. It became progressively more tense as we tried to explain, politely of course, that the intentions of the US and NATO were perhaps not as humanitarian as they would like to think (given the US military’s history anyway). The problem was, the more politely we tried to say it, the less clear we were. Eventually I think we achieved some clarity but could not reach agreement.
What this episode underscored for me is how much fear there is in Afghanistan of the Taliban returning – particularly for those who are some way up the social chain. So much so that they are prepared to ignore a multitude of problems which the occupying forces cause – civilian deaths, a hardening of the resistance, poor governance, etc. I can’t blame them. It takes enormous courage to shun the narrative that violence saves.
But generally speaking, my observation was – and I asked several Afghans this, and they agreed with me – that the closer to the top of the pile people are, the more they support the foreign militaries. The closer to the bottom, the less they have to lose and therefore less to fear. Afghanistan’s elites are few; the masses are at the bottom.
After dinner, we finally had Noor come and share with us. I wish we’d had a week with this man, whose life story is like something out
of a spy novel. He has fled for his life numerous times, held top positions in various NGOs and struck out on his own, living and working at the grassroots around the country. He is passionate about permaculture, and the idea that Afghans don’t need much aid, they have all the solutions themselves and just need facilitators who can help them realise it. He now has a position in the Department of Agriculture, apparently the only Ministry in the Afghan government not owned by a warlord.
Finally, we said a quick goodbye to the AYPVs. I gave them Chelsea and Ella’s drawings; folded paper dolls holding hands. Each one, I explained, was different, but they all held hands together. Finally I gave them a frisbee, a symbol of peace which has held significance for me since 2007, my first act of civil disobedience against war. Four friends and I walked onto a military base in Queensland to stop live-fire military exercises or “war games,” asking the soldiers to trade them in for peace games instead. Carole Powell, Simon Reeves, Krystal Spencer, Sarah Williams and I played frisbee with the soldiers, and for a brief time we saw frisbees floating peacefully between people instead of rockets and grenades. We were arrested, but it was too late; our hearts were liberated.
I assured them I would be in touch; friendships forged under such circumstances are not easily broken. I look forward to talking with them again soon.