Thursday, 15 March 2012

Stop the bombs and talk to the Taliban

Stop the bombs and talk to the Taliban

By Hanan Habibzai


Keeping tabs on the events of the war in Afghanistan is not difficult. Press coverage includes daily reports of soldiers dying and killing, elections counts and recounts and even stories from the far flung tribal areas.

But there is little about what the ordinary Afghan thinks. What is his story? How does the war affect him? Does he want President Karzai to stay in power? Does he want more troops, be they from the US or France? Do they make him feel safe? When answered these questions weave the missing thread through the real story of the war. These answers tell a frustrating tale.

Look back to May, for example, when US air strikes killed more than 100 civilians. This is when the Afghan people first began to lose faith in President Barack Obama. As protocol required Obama and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton expressed their deep sympathy with the victims, and said sorry for the civilian deaths.

But a change occurred. Right at that moment that the ordinary people of Afghanistan lost faith in Obama’s commitments for peace and stability. After the death of yet more non-militants, they began to suspect that Obama could not keep his early promises to protect civilian live in Afghanistan.

Karzai, meanwhile, in the US at the time, and travelled back to the devastated area. He sanctioned the award of 100,000 Afghanis (US$2,000) to each of the victim's families.

This is the price of an Afghan life.

Along with the government 'gift', families were forced to sign a document to say they were happy with the settlement. Happy that the $2,000 should clean up the human mess that bombs leave behind. For those families with little money, their options were limited.

In the west, some countries have a law to protect animals. If anyone dares to harm an animal, he or she will face justice. In my country a human life can be taken very easily because there is little justice. Since the war began, mass killing has become part and parcel of everyday life. If any dare to challenge this notion or to call for justice, perhaps, they accused of being insurgents. This is the story of the ordinary Afghan.

The ordinary Afghan, who testimonies I have spent years collecting, does not understand why the international forces have not found Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. He does not understand his fellow countrymen and women are paying the price.

Three decades of war takes its toll.

Some of those ordinary Afghans killed in the bombs on two fuel tankers earlier last month, had survived Russian invasion. They would not be surprised by theirs deaths because of what they had seen once before.  When a small group of Taliban hijacked two tankers which carried fuel for NATO forces in northern Kundoz, local people saw it as a chance to get free fuel for their lamps.

They remembered a time back in 1980s, when Mujahideen gave out captured equipment seized from the Russian invaders. These included fuel, food, clothes and car spare parts.  On pondering further on the Russian invasion, the ordinary Afghan remembers that, despite war, the USSR considered attacks on locals’ haphazard and foolhardy way to conduct their military campaign. Such attacks would only bring retaliation and in turn cause a long drawn out battle.

The Russians strategy was to give to the Afghan government at the time. They didn't keep private jails and they tolerated petty looting.  But the Americans and Germans decided to frightened local people when the Taliban stole their tanks, heavily bombing them. After World War II it was the first mass killing committed by German troops in the history.

Isn't it strange, Afghans are saying to themselves, that while we did not expect peace from the Russian army because, well they were invaders and committed to no international treaty. Yet these Americans and Germans invaded Afghanistan under the cloak of an international treaty committed to peace. But so far, it poses a continuous threat to normal life.

Lives in countless Afghan villages have been threatened since 2003, for the lives of perhaps one or two Taliban militants were hidden there. Sometimes they are killed in these deadly air strikes, other times they escape. But what is consistent is that hundreds of ordinary villagers have been killed by wild card strikes.

Women rights, democracy, human rights and political stability are the constant battle cry of the invaders. But ordinary Afghans appreciation of such gifts is tempered by heavy bombs, which are damaging all hopes of democracy and justice. Meanwhile, the criminals and sadly comical farce of Karzai's government remains. After allegedly winning the elections last month, and a recount still not complete, hopes of competency governance is vanishing fast.

It seems unlikely that my country will be free of its current government, full of drug lords and war criminals, which care little for social justice and democracy and more about lining their already bulging pockets. This is just a snapshot of what my fellow Afghan witnesses day by day. He also sees a resurgent Taliban, offering an alternative.

And it is because of this that NATO must talk to the Taliban. There is no option but to negotiate. The Taliban alternative, while distasteful to some, is more palatable than the trekking across Europe sleep on the streets of Calais or to stay at home and hope the bombs do not fall.

This article first published in Demotix.com 

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