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“A single eye witness was responsible for much of the intelligence guiding the decision to bomb two fuel tankers surrounded by more than 100 Afghanis, including civilians, reports the Washington Post.”

Source of image and summary: Daily News Network


Soap Box Blog

A few days ago I got a taxi ride home. I don’t normally get a taxi, but I’d missed the bus and it was bitterly cold. The taxi driver had an accent I didn’t recognise, so I asked how long he’d lived in Christchurch and then, where was he from. He said he’d lived here about 9 years and he was from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and its people had been in my mind a lot since the decision by US President Obama to send extra troops, the so-called surge in numbers and surge in effort. I had heard a spokesperson from the Afghanistan Association of New Zealand saying on the Radio New Zealand that “people there don’t want more soldiers sent,” and so I decided to ask the driver how he felt about this decision.

He explained how many people in Afghanistan had no choice. There was no work. It was difficult for many people to survive. So, when they find themselves caught between people who have contrary expectations and guns (i.e. Taliban, War Lords, Nato and Afghan troops) it can be very difficult.

I asked if he still had family in Afghanistan and he said yes, in the capital.

I got out of the taxi feeling very sad. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what I could say that would be helpful, so I found myself mumbling something about hope.

I don’t want to ever experience what it feels like to have to make choices that are not really choices, like the subsistence farmers in Afghanistan I read about who grow opium poppies because that is the only way they can feed their family. According to the research of Juan Cole, published in the Political Science Quarterly (Volume 124 Number 2 2009), “One in seven Pushtun farmers in Helmand who saw their poppy crops eradicated reported that they had had to sell one of their children as a result (likely it was a girl child who was trafficked).”

I don’t want to experience the terror of bombs because someone somewhere has designated me and or people around me as an enemy. As Marshall Rosenberg, founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication says, most of us are trained to think in enemy images, of good and bad and right and wrong. The good are to be rewarded and the bad punished – and punished violently – and many are trained or become habituated into enjoying the spectacle of this violence.

I think this conditioning is so widespread that many people in front of their screens (TV and computer) will actually experience excitement when they see images of people, like my taxi driver’s family, being bombed and their country destroyed.

The theatre of war is becoming increasingly like the screen games I see children playing for free in our public libraries – games full of crash, destroy and killing for pleasure – it’s all part of what many consider is fun.

I appreciate that it has become very difficult to be or to become a United States president without making a commitment to a war (see KiwiBlog cartoon and discussion). The on-going War on Terror has in many ways replaced a previous on-going Cold War.

The implication is that going to war against an enemy will enable Presidents to prove their strength and show themselves to be acting in the US interests, by helping make their citizens safe and prosperous.

In practice, there are of course many obstacles to this vision. For instance, with respect to Afghanistan:

The hearts and minds of civilians in Afghanistan will not be won as increasing numbers are killed and their country is destroyed. Afghan people are pleading for support to meet basic needs – water, food, livelihoods and safety.

Taliban and Al-Qaeda will continue to fill a gap if people can’t meet needs in other ways. In the meantime, Al-Qaeda are moving on to set up military training places elsewhere, in places like Somalia and Yemen.

The economics (around a million dollars per soldier per year) makes the chance of the US coming through the recession more problematic. Because most of the rest of the world is dependent on the US economy, they will also have to pay for this war.

Meanwhile, some possible economic benefits for the US, such as opportunities to exploit Afghanistan’s natural resources are being missed. As the US becomes bogged down fighting, non-combatant regional players, such as China, profit from lucrative deals, such as rights to one of the worlds largest deposits of untapped copper. (See TIMESONLINE article Spoils of war go East as Kabul looks for highest bidder)

Aside from the loss of US lives, the returning soldiers are often returning traumatized, angry and violent (See see The New York Times: At Army Base, Some Violence Is Too Familiar)

My own country, New Zealand supports a US military role. New Zealand’s primary policy focus has shifted from helping to help create infrastructure that would enable local people to meet their needs, to a military one, one of destroying the so-called enemy.

The first Village Connection Ladder Award was for the New Zealand reconstruction team working in the Banyam province in Afghanistan. They had an Award for taking time to get to know Afghan people in New Zealand who had Banyam connections and to understand the customs and how they could be helpful. Because New Zealand is small, bi-cultural (Polynesian and European) with traditions kept alive (including Maori tribes or iwi continuing to support their own social and economic needs and development), they could establish good rapport with local Afghans. These Afghans, in turn, helped to ensure the Kiwis were protected.

When New Zealand Prime Minister John Key met President Obama, I was hoping Key would draw attention to the success of this model

I thought that maybe he might also perhaps try and connect with Obama through their common links to the Polynesian world (Obama grew up in Hawaii, Key has a holiday residence there and works closely with fellow Pacific Leaders) and so build new kinds of connection between New Zealand, the United States and beyond with the more relational and less confrontational “Pacific Way.”

While I have some understanding of how Obama has come to see the need for an enemy to destroy in order to appear strong and to be securing his country’s interests, it is perhaps worth recalling some words of wisdom from historical US luminaries:

President Abraham Lincoln famously said:
“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends… Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

And US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said,
“Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them.”

I understand how New Zealand Prime Minister John Key admires the United States and wants to be valued as a friend. However, I think a true friend would stick up for the Afghan people and encourage Obama to support the development of its villages (drawing on the successful Pacific Way), rather than make them into lethal conflict zones. As Martin Luther King said,
In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

I’d be interested in your views.

See also Pacific Way Village Peacebuilding

Source: New Zealand Defence Force Image Gallery

School Visit, close to the Kiwi Base, Gifts of books, pens for students and radios were presented to the teachers by Captain Kalo Lalahi/

Afghan children make Kiwi connection

Helping to build communities from the grass roots is key, and does not necessarily involve an injection of cash.

In the past few months, members of New Zealand’s provincial reconstruction team (PRT) have helped school staff put in a well, repair a generator, and have offered advice on management and accounting.

1 Comment

  1. Tim Lalahi says:

    You have a picture of my sister in your article. More to the point I agree with you completely. its craziness over there.

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