Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers make Indian Journey

In January 2012 several Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, young peace activists from Kabul, made a learning journey to India. Maya accompanied them on the first few days of the trip. Most of these young people had never left Afghanistan before.

Join them by reading their blog and seeing their photos.

 

 

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Stunning Afghanistan Photographs from Guy Smallman

You can view some of Guy’s photographs here: http://www.tinyurl.com/peacenews345

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Public meeting / screening co-hosted by Peace News (www.peacenews.info) and Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

Photojournalist Guy Smallman has been to Afghanistan four times, working independently of the NATO media system. He is the only western journalist to have visited the scene of the Granai massacre in which 147 people, including 93 children, were killed by NATO bombing. Just returned from his latest trip to Afghanistan this January, Guy will be talking about his work, which documents the everyday realities faced by ordinary Afghan civilians, realitities that are ignored or obscured in mainstream media coverage and in party political debates: struggles with poverty, drug abuse and unemployment, as well as the direct effect of the war. There will also be a screening of his short film “Fifteen million Afghans”.

You can view some of Guy’s photographs here: http://www.tinyurl.com/peacenews345

Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, after three months in Baghdad, he left the British Army stating citing “illegal” tactics used by US forces there. In 2008 he stated: “I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured”, and is now subject to a life-time gagging order, preventing him from talking further about the topic. He is a founder member of Veterans for Peace UK: http://veteransforpeace.org.uk/

Guy Smallman’s photo exhibition “Afghanistan: 10 years on” is currently touring around the UK. Details for those interested in hosting this can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/guysmallman

 

Speaking Dates

Maya Evans will be talking about her recent peace seeking trip to Kabul, Afghanistan in various spots across the UK.

Saturday 4 February, London: 7pm, Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, N1 9DY (tube: King’s Cross).

Tuesday 14 February, Glasgow: time and venue tbc. 07584 307 209. Co-sponsored by Scottish CND and Scottish Stop the War.

Wednesday 15 February, Helensburgh: 7.30pm, Victoria Halls, Sinclair Street, Argyll & Bute G84 8TU. Organised by Helensburgh CND

Thursday 16 February, Edinburgh: 7.30pm, Friends Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, EH1 2JL. Organised by Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre

Friday 17 February, Stirling: 7-9pm, venue tbc. 07876 593 016. Organised by Stirling CND

Saturday 3 March, Darlington: 2pm, Friends Meeting House, 6 Skinnergate, Darlington, DL3 7NB. Organised by the Northern Friends Peace Board.

Friday 16 March, Stroud: 7.30pm, Painswick Inn, Gloucester Road, Stroud. 01453 751 010. Organised by Mid Glos Amnesty Group.

Wednesday 2 May, Faringdon: 8pm, Friends Meeting House, 4 Lechlade Road, SN7 8AQ. Organised by Faringdon Peace Group. 01367 710 308.

 

Peace News Afghan aid campaign continues

In December 2011, Peace News raised over £1,700 worth of aid for one of Kabul’s refugee camps (see http://tinyurl.com/kabulcamp), and it intends to deliver further aid to the camp this April. Donate here [LINK: http://tinyurl.com/kabulrefugees] and 100% of your donation will go to the Camp.

Maya Evans presents plea for aid for Afghan internally displaced refugees

Maya Evans presented her plea for aid for Afghan refugees to Hastings Against War at the Friends Meeting House Wednesday to a standing room crowd of about 60 people.

A substantial amount of money was collected to go to the refugee camp in Kabul.

See the write-up in the Hastings Observer.

Maya Evans discusses her Afghanistan visit

Jet lagged but enthusiastic, Maya will be in Hastings discussing her recent trip to Afghanistan.

Come hear her at a meeting sponsored by Hastings Against War at the Hastings Friends Meeting House, Tuesday 17 January, 2012.

“Afghan people are now living in some of the most extreme poverty in the world-I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Everyone welcome.

A collection will be made for the Peace News Kabul Winter Appeal

Visiting a refugee camp near Kabul, last week

(Maya is now in India, visiting a refugee camp there, and is expected home in Hastings on Sunday. Over the next few days she will try to catch up with reports of her visit to Afghanistan that she didn’t have time to write during her busy time there. )

Refugee Camp Near Kabul: As we approached a cluster of ramshackle mud huts on the side of a motorway, our driver (a friend of a friend) warned us to be careful as two foreign journalists had been kidnapped in a refugee camp in Kabul only last year. I asked my friend (a young man and member of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers) if he was comfortable with accompanying me into the camp, he agreed that he was as we both stepped out of the car with Kiwi journalist Jon Stevenson.

The refugee camp, near the Crystal Hotel in Karte Parwan, Kabul, is home to around 300 families, each consisting on average of 9 people per family. The camp is separated from a motorway by a large ditch which, judging from the strong smell of sulphur, contained raw sewage. We were directed over a rickety bridge to see the last sack of aid being carried away.

One of our associates had just delivered (with the help of the camp elders) £2,175 worth of aid consisting of a lorry full of fire wood, 3 tones of sugar, tea and bread-making flour which had been bought from a local wholesale market only a few hours before.

 I was introduced to Raz Mohammed who is one of the camp elders. I was to learn that the camp has recently doubled in size , because the municipal authorities in Kabul had just evicted a similar sized camp near the Kabul stadium. January is apparently the worst time of year, with the health hazard of pneumonia, TB and Flu. Also the little work which the men sometimes get dries up.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never been to a refugee camp before. I guess the closest I’ve come was camping at the travellers site Dale Farm in Essex during their eviction; to be frank that really wasn’t going to come close to the conditions at this nameless refugee camp near Crystal Hotel.

Children in the refugee camp Photo Jon Stevenson

Apparently the camp rarely receives visitors let alone foreigners. That, coupled with the fact that a load of aid had just been delivered, had created a euphoric mood especially among the children. By the time I started to walk around the camp a small bunch of girls had latched onto me as the honoured guest. They greeted me warmly with big smiles and hugs. I’m not sure who they thought I was but it felt like my status was close to Mother Teresa.

In hindsight the aid was perfectly timed as when I woke the next morning Kabul was covered with snow. I immediately thought about the people I’d met at the camp, the children without shoes walking over heaps of rubbish (which included used needles), the mud hut with little to no means of cooking let alone heating. My heart was with them and the 350,000 internally displaced Afghan refugees who didn’t receive aid the day before.

In 2011 Refugees International stated that Afghanistan has the most number of refugees in the world, reporting that air strikes and night raids by US/NATO forces were destroying homes, crops and infrastructure, traumatizing civilians and displacing tens of thousands of people. There is also the massive problem of foreign firms arming militia who have created violence in communities which also contributes to displacement. Indeed that very evening a story on Reuters about two British men detained in Kabul with 30 AK 47 assault riffles (without serial numbers), and “plenty of ammunition”. The private security firm, Garda World, was dissolved the next day by the Afghan Internal Ministry.

I was quick to realise corruption and mistakes are only too prominent in Afghanistan, only two weeks ago the chief of the UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency) Peter Nicolaus stated that policy towards refugees over the last 10 years has been the “biggest mistake UNHCR ever made”, largely because they encouraged the return of externally displaced Afghan refugees (UNHCR estimates that Afghanistan has the greatest number of refugees in the world, the figure is around 3 million). Those who have returned are now in the main, jobless, homeless and living in some of the poorest conditions currently experienced globally.

Afghan widow, Medina, talking to Maya Evans Photo Jon Stevenson

I spoke with the widow Medina who pleaded with me to tell the people of Britain of their extreme poverty: no food, no blankets and no means to cook. As a widow she is in an impossible position, it’s still a novelty for women in Afghanistan to work, it’s become acceptable amongst the professional middle classes but for the lower class sectors of society there’s still a long way to go.

Conclusion: On behalf of Medina I send a stark warning to the rest of the world, moreover NATO/US who have been able to find over $450bn to fight a disastrous and immoral war, the US/UK have spent only a tiny fraction of this sum on meeting genuine human needs in Afghanistan, with the result that millions of Afghans are now facing hunger and disease this winter. Refugees across Afghanistan urgently need aid otherwise deaths this winter will rocket.

Note to readers: Maya will be touring the UK in the next few weeks talking about her trip and raising money for Afghan groups. If you know of a group who would like to hear her story first hand, please  read ‘Maya’s Speaking Tour Info’

Maya’s Itinerary

Maya has left Kabul and is now in India. In a couple of days she will visit Kabul and will then return to Hastings this weekend.

Several new photos have been added to older entries to the blog. Click back though to get an idea what Maya saw and who she met on her trip to Kabul.

‘Tea for Peace’, in Chelsitun, Wasalabad, Afghanistan

Maya writes: We were lucky enough to receive an invitation to visit a self run community on the edge of Kabul, Chelsitun in Wasalabad; it’s a mixed Tajik and Pashtun community split into 8 sections, consisting of 2,000 households each having its own representative which implements Government initiatives and also manages security in the area.

We were told that the community practices religious and ethnic tolerance and has one of the only Mosques which welcomes joint worship by both Sunni’s and Shia’s with the two Muslim groups sharing funerals and ceremonies. When we arrived in Chelsitun the pathway were unusually set with concrete; an independent initiative by the community (paid for by the people within the area) as a move towards installing proper infrastructure.

Our group was directed into a compound and then into the office of the community elders. It was like stepping back in time into what I imagined pre-war Afghanistan to be like; exquisite prayer mats hung on the war, the traditional ornate Afghan rugs; a greenhouse conservatory made of improvised plastic sheeting with the lushest greenery I have seen since leaving the UK.

Afghan Youth for Peace Volunteers in the greenhouse

We were warmly greeted by an assembly of community elders clad in the traditional Afghan turbans, long white beards; many were wrapped in the classic camel coloured Afghan blanket. Once the greetings had been administered the elders took their seats cross legged on the floor. I was amused to see pinned up on the wall a very familiar poster which every co-op in the UK has displayed somewhere- the image of two donkeys tied with a rope heading in different directions trying to reach separate piles of hay, then a picture of the donkeys going towards the same pile of hay and both getting a share. The message: co-operation is better than conflict.

Once we sat down in the nicest of Afghan hospitality the secretary of the group “Tea for Peace” outlined the ethos of their work: “We want to control corruption in the area and the abuse of power especially among the marginalised of the community”. It was interesting to observe that a group of traditional Afghans had taken on ideas and practices you wouldn’t necessarily associate with such a culture, he continued to consult his written notes and explain the group further: “If there is a conflict in the community they bring the two parties together, have tea and aim towards bringing those parties together”.

 It quickly struck me that this community was practicing strong elements of Anarchy. The middle aged secretary with round Ghandi style glasses went to explain that their aim is to bring national unity, to get rid of discrimination whether religious of ethnic, that everyone is free and that no one should be discriminated against. He also emphasised that when interacting with one another they make sure there is no discrimination and that democracy and human rights are practiced within the community, they even have a letter of praise from the Human Rights Commission. They are all working in a voluntary way, and they do not take funds from the government.

Improvements to infrastructure

One of the other elders chipped in to explain some of the result of their community focus: a concrete pathway, schools and piping for the whole area. This was all brought about as people want control of their area and in affect they’re freed from difficulties with the authorities and the massive current corruption problem of land grabbing. The Land Mafia is a massive problem in Afghanistan, land is being snatched away from the people by force, it is very evident that Afghans need a government which is just so they can explain laws and behave in a proper way.

Another elder with a long white beard and intense eyes stated with passion:

“The people want peace so much, they take their lessons from the Qu’ran which says that peace comes from a place of well being, they have no problems with any human being- all people deserve respect”.

He went on to explain:

“Peace can begin to be built in this country if interference in the region stops and also interference by foreign forces- there has been a betrayal by international communities, especially when the killing of Afghans is silent.”

He went onto to explain that the people are under so much pressure with 44 NATO countries who are supporting the land Mafia and government , there are no honest people who work for the government, if the people rise they will face guns, the US are behaving like a dictator and that’s not what the people want.

I learnt that for their work within “Tea for Peace” they very much believe in empowering people, they feel it’s important for the people to get together and form a group, to work from the foundations addressing the root problem. To bring reconciliation where there is conflict they also use their faith.

Their words made be remember a teaching in the Quran which Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers Roz Mohammed had shared with us only the day before, it roughly translates that god made lots of tribes on the earth so people can get to know one other (apparently it is written in the prayer room at Kabul Airport).

There was strong consensus in the group of elders that involvement of international forces has been extremely unhelpful and detrimental on various levels ranging from the bombing of civilians on the one hand by international forces against the people- better for both sides to sit down together, no party left out of resolution process. Internationals need to support the people, if they don’t support the people they wont solve the problem.

Afghan Elder


I was interested to hear about how they would deal with the Taliban, especially as international forces use the Taliban as one of the main justifications for being in Afghanistan. The elder with the big white turban addressed the question:

“The Taliban themselves have been nurtured by foreign elements, the Mujahudeen had been armed by the US, the people of Afghanistan are trapped in a game which is hard to get out of, if there was no foreign interference then the Taliban could sit down with other Afghans and deal with their own problems, but with foreign interference there is always a condition which they will find impossible to accept. Afghans themselves can sit down together however it is impossible with foreign interference.”

Kathy Kelly asked a question relating to the planned Silk Road Path running through the country which will allow the transportation of raw materials mined within Afghanistan and will also act as a central trading route for the countries surrounding Afghanistan. A cross legged elder immediately jumped in:

It is very clear to Afghans that any minerals taken away from the country will not benefit the people. If in an ideal situation the pipeline and minerals went to helping the people of Afghanistan then that is acceptable, Afghan’s will not accept these initiatives, they can not accept if this mining is being owned by foreigners, foreign businesses must realise that they will not be able to exploit these natural resources unless the conflict is resolved.”

Two Afghan elders from 'Tea for Peace'

Another elder then chipped in:

“The people US/ NATO have placed in power are thieves and murderers, they need to be taken out of power and placed somewhere else. If they could fill the parliament with 100 members of the people then peace would come to the country.”

The meeting ended with the message that unity is the key to uniting the people of Afghanistan, with the elite in power they do not understand how the common people live, foreign money to the government disappears before it gets to them, if we want change then you can’t expect the current people in Parliament to bring it, we need representatives from the people.

 It was very exciting for me to hear these viewpoints, I got the impression that their opinions hadn’t been formed by reading political books but from their first hand experience, their wisdom and intelligence.

 We were then shown round the lush greenhouse warmed by the traditional Afghan wood stove. I got to duck into the living quarters of an elder (to use the restroom) whereby I was fortunate enough to meet children playing in the yard and some of the women. It was explained to me that an extended family of around 45 people lived in the homes surrounding the yard and there was a communal water well where those in the area without running water come for supplies. I was very impressed by the organization of the community and radical ethos of the “Tea for Peace” group, definitely not what I or most westerners would necessarily accept.

Maya Evans meets Afghan family

Maya meets a widowed mother and her children in an Internally Displaced Persons refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, in January 2012.

Photo by Jon Stevenson

See an interview with Jon Stevenson where he discusses torture of Afghan prisoners by security forces.