by Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers
On the 22nd of October, 2013, the Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ) in Kabul, Afghanistan, had a Skype conversation with peace activists at Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island, South Korea, during which they shared solidarity in saying ‘No!’ to the U.S. war apparatus in Afghanistan and South Korea.
They represent the ‘small people’ of the world, ordinary Afghans who are opposed to the establishment of nine U.S. military bases in Afghanistan through the Bilateral Security Agreement currently being negotiated, and ordinary South Koreans opposed to the construction of a Korea/U.S. naval base on Jeju Island. They understand that these bases will serve as launch pads in the ‘Asian pivot’, as tools in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Vision 2020 for ‘full spectrum dominance’ of the world.
Both groups speak as and for common folk. They are not ignorant, and are certainly not terrorists. They wish for genuine security. They care for the earth they inhabit, both Afghanistan and Jeju Island having naturally beautiful areas designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
Their conversation was a time of discovering one another, and of connecting their protests to one another and to the people protests against elitist rule that are breaking out all over the world. With their unarmed voices, they were questioning the conventions of abusive power and thinking.
They represent the ‘faces’ and hope of a better world!
In that better world, the U.S. will no longer maintain more than 761 military bases in foreign countries and U.S. military personnel in as many as 153 countries.
Current U.S. plans to establish one more military base on Jeju Island and at least nine more military bases in Afghanistan will add to the destruction of both the earth and civilized, human relations. Below is a summary of their conversation.
APV, Ghulam Hussein: When did the people of Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island start their struggle?
Jeju Island activist, Sung Hee: In 2007, the Republic of Korea military quietly sneaked into the village, without the knowledge of most villagers. As soon as the villagers realized the navy’s intention to build the naval base in their hometown, the villagers non-violently protested in whatever ways they could, including walking around Jeju Island in protest. A Jeju-born female member of the South Korean National Assembly held a 27-day hunger strike. There are about 1,900 villagers in Gangjeong Village and in a vote on August 20 that year, 94% voted in opposition to the construction of Jeju Naval Base.
APV, Barath Khan: Have you met any resistance from the government authorities?
Jeju Island Activist, Paco: Since 2007, we’ve had more than 700 arrests, 500 court hearings, and so far, at least 28 persons have been sentenced to varying amounts of time in prison. Currently, we have a 22 year old girl on a six-month sentence in prison. Dr. Song Kang-Ho, whom you saw in the Al Jazeera video ‘A Call against Arms’, is in prison for the third time, this time since July 1st. A film critic is in prison for 18 months. The South Korean government does not merely consider us ordinary criminals, we are sentenced as criminals threatening national security.
APV, Barath Khan: Have the arrests and imprisonments dampened your struggle?
Jeju Island Activist, Silver: No. We are persisting with hope. I have participated in the struggle since 2012, and have observed consistent actions to resist the military base construction.
Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: We’ve had to use more and more creative ways of non-violent resistance.
APV, Abdulhai: We understand that Jeju Island has UNESCO Heritage sites. Has the UN or UNESCO protested against the military base construction?
Jeju Island Activist, Paco: UNESCO has been evading our requests for more information. We asked for a map of the exact boundaries of the UNESCO Heritage Sites because we had conflicting information, but they wouldn’t help us.
APV, Abdulhai: Afghanistan also has UNESCO Heritage sites like Band-i-Amir in Bamiyan Province. So, Afghanistan and Jeju Island have the same struggle against militarism destroying their land and people.
Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: It is so good to know that.
APV, Ali: Are people from other villagers in Jeju Island joining your struggle?
Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: Sadly, we haven’t had many people joining us from other villages. I’ve thought much about why this is so, and I think it may have to do with the trauma and memories of the islanders after the massacre at Jeju Island in 1938. I would expect that the decades of war in Afghanistan have also traumatized Afghans.
APV, Faiz: We also have many people who have experienced war trauma. The Afghan Ministry of Public Health has reported as many as 60% of the Afghan population having mental health problems. In 2013 till the month of September, 2500 women have committed suicide.
APV, Ali: The Afghan Peace Volunteers are mainly young. Are there many young people in your work?
Jeju Island Activist, Paco: Yes, we have people as young as 13 attending our week-long Peace Schools. We also have grandfathers and grandmothers.
APV, Abdulhai: Great, let’s arrange a conversation with the youth, the grandfathers and the grandmothers of Jeju Island! Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: Can you tell us about the general situation in Afghanistan?
APV, Faiz: The mainstream media has generally given the impression that there would be a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, and that the war will wind down. There won’t be a withdrawal. The U.S. military is not withdrawing from Afghanistan. Instead, the U.S. and Afghan governments are currently negotiating the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would establish the long term presence of U.S. troops on at least nine military bases across Afghanistan, and which would grant legal immunity to U.S. soldiers.
APV, Abdulhai: The South Korean government started contributing troops to the NATO coalition in Afghanistan since 2010. If you can, please tell your government not to send any South Korea troops to Afghanistan.
Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: We will. Wow, nine U.S. military bases in Afghanistan!
Jeju Island Activist, Paco: The young South Korean soldiers sent to Afghanistan are conscripts.
APV, Faiz: We understand that the South Korean soldiers have no choice. Likewise, U.S. soldiers need their jobs to earn a living. How difficult it is for them psychologically, doing something they’re not willing to do; 22 U.S. veterans commit suicide every day!
Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: How do you wish for us to support you?
APV, Abdulhai: Keep in touch with us, be our friends and give us courage. Tell others to connect with us and friends all over the world through our Global Days of Listening program.
APV, Faiz: Oppose drones! Oppose weapons production!
APV, Ali: Share with us your experiences and lessons in non-violent work for peace.
APV, Abdulhai: Thank you for your work and your time in speaking with us.
Jeju Island Activist, Sung Hee: Thank you for the opportunity! Your voices and stories of hope and peace are so important. You must never lose hope. Never give up. And share your ‘face’ with the world. The world needs to see your ‘face’.
Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young Wee), is a medical doctor from Singapore who has lived for the past 12 years in Afghanistan. In Kabul, he is the mentor for the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an interethnic group of young people dedicated to finding alternatives to war.