What Is the War Getting Us?

By Patrick Kennelly and Emmey Malloy

Kabul, Afghanistan– This is the phrase that ordinary Afghans keep asking the small group of international peacemakers who are in Afghanistan, at the invitation of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, to celebrate International Human Rights week. Ironically, this is the same question that many Americans are also trying to answer. It seems that Afghans and Americans are coming to the same conclusion—the war is not benefiting anyone except the war-makers. Those who are making money on the war in Afghanistan are those who push for its continuation.

Ordinary Afghans are keenly aware that each year the American and other International Security Assistance Forces remain in Afghanistan, the security situation continues to worsen. Afghan women repeatedly expressed to us their fear for their safety and the safety of their children. Women from a variety of groups repeatedly expressed their concern about suicide bombings, which are increasingly common in Kabul. They wonder why is it that despite the billions of dollars of aid money from the Americans, the children in the refugee camps located less than 20 minutes from the U.S. embassy, are still without blankets. They wonder why Americans claim to be friends of Afghanistan but then send drones that kill Afghan civilians, such as children gathering fuel in the mountains or families attending wedding celebrations. Afghan politicians, such as Dr. Bashardost a parliamentarian who took third place in the previous Afghan presidential elections, wonder why the international community continues to support the warlords from the civil war who committed human rights violations. The politicians ask why America supports a culture of impunity in Afghanistan. Dr. Bashardost asked our delegation clearly: why would Americans spend their blood and treasure to support this corruption, support people who commit atrocities, and a war that does not benefit Afghans or Americans?

Ordinary Americans have also tired of the war. We are wondering why American troops continue to die in combat in Afghanistan in a war without clear aims. We question the motives of our government in continuing this war. We ask why we are spending two billion dollars a week in Afghanistan when our public schools are in shambles, we are cutting benefits for teachers, union busting and exporting jobs to other countries. We are wondering as we approach the fiscal cliff why there is so little discussion of the military spending. It seems that ordinary Americans are also forgotten in this war.

In a meeting this week with the Political-Military Counselor at the American embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the question was posed by an American delegation of the international peacemakers gathered in Kabul for International Human Rights day: what are Americans and Afghans getting from this war? His response was that the war is benefiting both Americans and Afghans. He further claimed that America’s security was being protected and Afghans were receiving security and assistance. However, when presented with the concerns of ordinary Afghans, who have been interviewed by the international peacemakers delegation, such as why—despite the 2 billion dollars of American money spent weekly in Afghanistan—are children in Kabul’s refugee camps freezing to death? The Political-Military Counselor claimed that, despite all the American taxpayer money, neither the resources nor the capacity to “help everyone” is available. When asked about drone strikes, specifically: whose approval is necessary to authorize drone strikes, are drones used for assassination, and how many drone strikes have taken place, the Political-Military Counselor refused to answer any questions. In response to questions about support for corrupt politicians and those responsible for atrocities he did acknowledge that corruption was a problem, yet he claimed to know nothing about government atrocities. Even more shocking, but perhaps more telling, is that this official did not know Dr. Bashardost—the Afghan parliamentarian and third place candidate in the last presidential election. Dr. Bashardost, whose name literally means ‘Friend of the People’ has been referred to as the Afghan Gandhi and the people’s politician. He is known for meeting ordinary people in a tent, driving an old car with the Afghan flag painted on it and serving tea to those who meet with him.

More than a decade of massive amounts of American money and weapons aid have not met even basic needs in Kabul; perhaps the American government’s ignorance of the situation in Afghanistan, whether intentional or not, and their refusal (or inability) to be transparent is evidence enough for both Afghans and Americans skeptical of the U.S. government’s assessment of the war.

Ordinary Afghans and Americans know that the war is not benefiting us because we are seeing the cost in blood, land and money. Ordinary Americans and Afghans look at how the war is tearing apart our families, and impacting friends, neighbors, and country. This leads both Afghans and Americans to the same conclusion: this war is not helping us. We are tired of war. We want all sides to lay down the weapons. Our world and human family is too small for such careless destruction.

Patrick Kennelly and Emmey Malloy are participating in peacemaking efforts organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. They are in Kabul Afghanistan for Human Rights Week. Patrick Kennelly is the Associate Director of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking and can be reached at kennellyp@gmail.com