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As U.S. Intensifies Airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pashtun Men Stage 400-Mile Walk Calling for Peace

Web ExclusiveJune 08, 2018
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Image Credit: Omar Lemar - VOA Pashto

Extended conversation with Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She has made many trips to Afghanistan, and just returned from a trip this week. Kelly’s latest article for The Progressive is headlined, “Afghans, Parched for Water, March for Peace.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you Part 2 of our look at Afghanistan, where the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has just announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban to last until June 20th. The U.S. has said it will honor the ceasefire against the Taliban. This comes as the BBC is reporting, “the number of bombs dropped by the US Air Force has surged dramatically” since President Trump announced his Afghanistan strategy and committed more troops to the conflict last August. “New rules of engagement have made it easier for US forces to carry out strikes against the Taliban.”

So we continue our conversation with Kathy Kelly, twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She’s made many trips to Afghanistan and just returned this week from the country.

Kathy, this ceasefire, albeit just until June 20th, the U.S. saying they’ll respect that, what does that mean? Does it mean the U.S. won’t bomb? And what is the effect of the U.S. bombing? And what does this mean on Ashraf Ghani’s part? Does it mean that on June 21st the ceasefire is lifted?

KATHY KELLY: Well, the United States has said that it won’t bomb Taliban fighters or Taliban sites. But there is also the presence in Afghanistan of a group called Islamic State in the Khorasan Province. The United States would still bomb Daesh, or ISIS, or other sites. And so, it’s hard to see how the Taliban would be assured that they wouldn’t also be bombed, because it’s very, very difficult to distinguish between all of these various fighting groups. There are numerous groups right now that have taken up arms and are fighting as insurgents against the Afghan government, and sometimes fighting amongst each other. So, it’s unlikely that you’d have a ceasefire that would hold. I had just read this morning that there was an attack in Jalalabad, which is the second-largest city in the Kabul—well, near Kabul, heading toward east, eastern borders.

You know, there is an exhaustion, a war weariness, which has found expression in a very unusual circumstance. In the Helmand province, in the capital, Lashkar Gah, a group of people, following a suicide bombing, undertook a tent vigil, in which many people, including women, gathered publicly to say to the government and to the Taliban, “We want negotiations. We want an end to the war.” And they felt disappointed, because they weren’t heard, even after they had maintained their vigil. And so, to strengthen their movement, a group of Pashtun men declared that they would walk from the Helmand province to Kabul, which is a 400-mile journey, that they’ve undertaken during the month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims take no water and no food between sunup to sundown. And so they’ve been on this very demanding journey, and their numbers have grown. And in every city where they stop, they’ve been thronged by supporters. And I think, very importantly, when they got to Ghazni, which is primarily a Hazara tribal location, they were joined by people of a different ethnic group. The Hazaras joined the Pashtun people, showing support for this walk. So, they will be arriving in Kabul.

Now, you might say, “Well, President Ashraf Ghani has already ceded to their demand: He has declared a ceasefire.” But much will depend on what the United States does and how the United States is the most powerful, the most well equipped, the most dangerous of all the warlords in Afghanistan. How will the United States proceed in this time? Will they continue to use the incredibly sophisticated weaponry that they have to bomb targets all around Afghanistan? And will they also, in some assurance for the future, indicate that they will assist Afghanistan with reparations for the suffering caused in the past? Afghanistan must—to have a lasting peace, they’re going to have to create jobs and ways for people to survive the drought and feed their families, and greatly improve the economic situation.

AMY GOODMAN: We touched on this in Part 1 of our conversation, Kathy Kelly, but what you wrote about Donald Trump’s interest in Afghanistan under the ground, the mineral wealth, explain exactly what you mean and what people in Afghanistan understand about this. Is this new with President Trump?

KATHY KELLY: Well, scientists, geologists have known for a long time that there could be vast amounts of very valuable and increasingly valuable minerals under the Hindu Kush mountains, basically. Or, for instance, outside of Kabul, there is a huge copper mine, the Mes Aynak copper field, and there hasn’t been progress on extracting these minerals. In a way, that should be a huge relief, for instance, for people living in Kabul, because if they start to extract the minerals in that copper field, it will even further lower the water table. And it’s already become a desperate situation in Kabul to get water. I could maybe just mention that in the household that I visit, the Afghan Peace Volunteers community, the well ran dry. And it was—they were lucky, because the landlord began digging, but had to go down 17 meters to try to reach water. So the water table is already going down.

But under the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan, there could be a huge reserve of the kinds of rare earth minerals that are used for our cellphones, for our computers, for the batteries for solar—sorry, for the batteries that would eventually be able to power, as a non-fossil fuel source, means of transportation. I mean, it’s certainly becoming a world wherein many, many people are going to want to get their hands on those kinds of minerals. So, when President Trump was more aware of the trillions of dollars of mineral wealth that could be underground in Afghanistan, he seemed to be much more interested in the United States maintaining a stake in Afghanistan. Well, you know, they don’t have to even pay rent for these huge bases that the United States still has in Afghanistan. Even though the surge of troops has gone down, the United States maintains bases across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the comments of U.S. Army General John Nicholson, who said the ceasefire could free resources for operations against the Islamic State. You said it’s not going to work like this.

KATHY KELLY: Well, you know, how do they distinguish which fighter is part of which group? And what kind of assurance would people have who are believing that, you know, there’s going to be a ceasefire, if in fact the United States continues to bomb? And, you know, every time that there’s a bombing and people are killed, this, of course, raises the desire for revenge and retaliation. It creates enormous, enormous hardship for people who are—you know, a person might become a sudden widow. People are wounded, and they don’t have any way to get healthcare, necessarily, on a long-term basis. You know, if the United States continues the bombing, it’s hard for me to imagine that Ashraf Ghani will be able to say that his government is maintaining a ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: You have gone to Afghanistan—when was your first trip, Kathy?

KATHY KELLY: I first went to Afghanistan in December of 2010.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’ve been going there for eight years. How has it changed? I mean, this is the longest war in U.S. history. We’re looking at it from that U.S. perspective. But, I mean, for the people of Afghanistan, what they are going through, where do people find hope there? And what kind of organizing, as you were just describing the Helmand province peace walk, is going on?

KATHY KELLY: Well, the Helmand peace walk is very, very unusual. And I think it is bringing a measure of hope in the idea that people could assert themselves outside of the very, very, very corrupt government controls.

I mean, I have to say that a lot of young people—and it’s a very young country. You know, about 60 percent of the population are under 35 years old. Many young people want to get out. They want to find scholarships and study elsewhere, or they want to try to become people who can seek asylum in other countries. But even just in the last three months, some youngsters, whom I’ve known quite well, who tried to leave Afghanistan, have come back. It hasn’t been successful.

I know one young woman who says that in her extended family, 46 people are working—or, had been working either for the military or the police and were all killed. So, as the economy falters badly, as there’s not an availability of jobs for people, I think the desperation has risen.

I mentioned visiting a refugee camp. There was 700 families in this camp, many of them people who had come from rural areas where they no longer were able to sustain crops or livestock. And, you know, you have to have water. You have to have food. So people come to the cities. And so, in the refugee camps, for instance, there was one well that was created by a nongovernmental organization, and it could serve 200 families. But the well had malfunctioned the day that I was visiting, and so people were very, very desperate. “What are we going to do for water?”

The people that I know within the Afghan Peace Volunteers have steadily worked to find ways themselves, with support from people in the United States and the United Kingdom and Australia primarily—steadily worked to find projects that they could do to share their resources. There’s tremendous inequality in the society. There are still some people who, I think, primarily because of corruption, have been able to reap enormous profitable gains because of the war. But for ordinary people, surviving is so difficult. So they’ve created a school where street kids can come and get an education. But for each street kid that is in the school, the family is given a ration of beans and rice and cooking oil. And the mothers who come to collect that ration have really no other means to feed their families.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, we just have 30 seconds before we lose the satellite. Your final comments?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I believe the United States should pay reparations for the suffering caused to people in Afghanistan, who meant us no harm and who have suffered desperately because of an ongoing, protracted war.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, just back from Afghanistan, where she’s gone many times over the last eight years. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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