Kathy Kelly on Afghanistan: Destitution, Unemployment & Hunger Must Be Addressed to Achieve Peace

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban to last until June 20. The ceasefire comes after Muslim clerics in Afghanistan issued a fatwa—or religious ruling—against suicide bombings, after an attack Monday, claimed by ISIS, killed 14 people who had gathered for a clerics’ peace summit in Kabul. This comes as the BBC is reporting that the number of bombs dropped by the U.S. 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 U.S. forces to carry out strikes against the Taliban. We speak to 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.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show in Afghanistan, where Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban to last until June 20th. This was President Ghani’s first unconditional offer of a ceasefire since his election in 2014. The U.S. has said it will honor the ceasefire against the Taliban.

We go to Chicago, where we’re joined by 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 Afghanistan this week.

Kathy, if you can explain what’s just taken place? How significant is this ceasefire?

KATHY KELLY: Well, it’s very difficult to imagine a ceasefire with the multiple groups of insurgents in Afghanistan today. The Taliban are certainly the strongest, but they’re one group amongst many insurgent groups who have made steady attacks all through the year. And so it’s a very, very tense time.

But a lasting peace in Afghanistan would require a way to deal with the destitution, with the unemployment, with the inability of people to feed their families, because it’s, in part, because of that kind of desperation that people turn to joining military groups, police groups, because that’s the only way sometimes that they can get an income. Plus, very, very tragically now, 21 out of 34 provinces in Afghanistan are drought-stricken. So conditions are so harsh, so hard. And in Kabul, it’s become the least safe place in Afghanistan. I just returned from that city, and in a visit in a refugee camp, you get the sense of exhaustion, desperation and an inability of the Afghan government to respond.

AMY GOODMAN: So, ISIS claimed responsibility for a recent suicide attack that killed 14 clerics at a peace summit in Kabul. What happened? And was this the spark for President Ghani?

KATHY KELLY: Well, it’s called the loya jirga, and people were gathering to declare a fatwa against suicide bombings. And then a suicide attacker had managed to get inside, and that was when the clerics were killed.

I think that Ashraf Ghani, perhaps, right now is very aware that the Taliban have been able to surround various cities in Afghanistan and, in some cases, take over the cities temporarily. And so he is offering this ceasefire, perhaps, knowing that talks might at this point be indispensable for his government to continue. But included in his government are various warlords and sons of warlords. And so, it’s a very, very tense time.

Also, I think many people in Afghanistan are aware that President Trump has publicly opposed negotiations and talks with the Taliban. And he has expressed his interest in what’s going on in Afghanistan under the ground, not in terms of the water level lowering and the desperation, in a time of drought, to gain access to water. But he is interested in the rare earth minerals and other precious—

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, before we go, I wanted to ask you—BBC is reporting, since Trump announced the new Afghan strategy, committed more troops to the conflict, “the number of bombs dropped by the US Air Force has surged dramatically. New rules of engagement have made it easier for US forces to carry out strikes against the Taliban.” You wrote, “Donald Trump’s interest in what’s happening [under] the ground in Afghanistan is focused exclusively on the U.S. capacity to extract Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.” In this last minute we have, can you talk about these two issues?

KATHY KELLY: Well, one person from the Wardak province, when I was last in Afghanistan, said—when I asked, “Well, how is your family? This is an area where the strikes are so heavy,” he said, “We can’t find space to bury the dead. There have been so many bombings.” And yet, you know, I think President Trump’s main interest in maintaining troops within Afghanistan has to do with being able to control the possible extraction of wealth under the Hindu Kush mountains in the future and also being able to send signals to China and to Russia that the United States still has a foothold in that country.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to continue our conversation with you and post it as a web exclusive at democracynow.org. Kathy Kelly, just back from Afghanistan, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She has made many trips to Afghanistan.

That does it for our show. To see our video and audio podcasts and our transcripts, go to democracynow.org. Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid video production fellowships. Find out more at democracynow.org. And sign up for our daily digest, our news digest. Send the word “democracynow” to the number 66866, “democracynow”—one word—to 66866.

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