Last week I was in Gaza, just days after the 8 day Israeli attack on Gaza that killed over 180 Palestinians and subsequent rockets from Gaza that killed 6 Israelis.
This week I have been in Afghanistan where tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed since the United States began its military operations after September 11, 2001 to capture al Qaeda leadership, and where over 2 million have been killed in the past 30 years of war.
The United States now is in its twelfth year of war on Afghanistan. In fact, it was 12 years ago, almost to the day, that I arrived in Kabul on a small State Department team to reopen the US Embassy.
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After my resignation from the US government in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq, I have returned to Afghanistan three times, 2007, 2010 and now 2012.
On this trip, we have listened to women who have been deeply affected by the US war. Our hosts, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, initiated a sewing program to employ these women to make duvets, or heavy quilts. The duvets are given to families living in tents in the internally displaced tent camps in Kabul.
Last year during harsh Afghan winter, many people living in tent camps across from one of the US/NATO military bases in Kabul, froze to death because their tents had no heat. The military compounds are actually multi-billion dollar self-contained modern cities that have all the amenities for the occupiers of Afghanistan—heat, water, sewage, food—yet right across the road are the occupied—Afghans living in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances—and freezing to death.
The UN is estimating that 2 million Afghans are in danger from this winter’s extreme cold, so the Peace Volunteers’ small project is lifesaving to those who receive the duvets.
Our delegation from the United States, Ireland and Australia, including Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and renown peace advocate John Dear, met with the women and listened to their stories of pain and grief from the past 12 years of war. The women said that only with peace in Afghanistan could their lives be lifted out of the misery they were enduring. One woman said, “Afghanistan is a hospital. Everyone here is wounded.” Another said, “What have we done to deserve this pain?”
And another, reaching beyond her own pain to others in yet another area of conflict said, “I heard that the people in Gaza were attacked again by the Israelis. I know the women of Gaza have suffered much; we know what they are living through.” Having just come from Gaza, the woman’s comment brought me to tears. Here in Afghanistan, a country ravaged by war for 30 years, a woman whose country is described as a “hospital,” reached out to women in an area called “an open air prison.”
For the past year, the Afghan Peace Volunteers have had an international campaign “2 million Friends for Afghanistan.” The campaign is in memory of the 2 million Afghans who have died in the three decades of war the people of Afghanistan have endued.
On December 11, they organized a moving ceremony in which they delivered to a United Nations representative, a petition calling for all parties to agree to a ceasefire and to begin negotiations. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire gave a moving address relating her struggle for peace in Northern Ireland to the struggle for peace in Afghanistan. Maguire said that only through dialogue among all parties will the conflict in Afghanistan be resolved. She recalled that peace takes the efforts of citizens as well as governments and that the road to peace is not easy and maintaining the peace is a a constant challenge.
She called on President Obama to speed up the withdrawal of US forces and specifically to end the drone strikes in Afghanistan. This year the US military has used drones 447 times in 2012 to kill Afghans. Drone attacks now constitute 11 percent of the air war in Afghanistan.
More attention over the past months has focused on the CIA’s drone assassination program in Pakistan in which over 3,200 Pakistanis have been killed in the US undeclared war on Pakistan.
Meeting with the Afghan Peace Volunteers gives one hope that in time of conflict, there are remarkable people who, at great risk, will take action for peace.