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From Marin to Afghanistan, Hopes for Peace
Saturday, 12 September 2009 05:03
by Norman Solomon

I'm about 7,400 miles from home, but that's the least of the distances between the pleasures of Marin and the agonies of war here in Kabul. Across Afghanistan, when the call to prayer greets a new day, the most fervent prayers are for peace.
To the ears of Americans, "peace" may sound a bit wispy or abstract - but here it's a hope-laced word for a lifeline that continues to fray. Thirty years of war have decimated Kabul and much of the rest of Afghanistan.

From the air, looking out on a vast panorama of sandy-colored mountains and valleys near Kabul, I wondered: Where are the trees?

They're gone - destroyed by war and deprivation - victims of countless bombs and the collapse of irrigation. At home, we push for green sustainability. Here, the streets are blowing with harsh dust, a brutal harvest of war.

Days ago, in west Kabul, I visited what's left of a bombed-out palace that was the government's defense ministry during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. In the city, rockets and other weapons killed upwards of 60,000 residents during those years.

Now, many of the same warlords who inflicted that carnage are central to post-election maneuvers. Some are top appointees and key allies of President Hamid Karzai. Others have teamed up with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, a former warlord with vast amounts of blood on his hands.

As documented in books such as Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars" and Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban," the U.S. government has backed a kaleidoscope of warlords since war began in Afghanistan at the end of the 1970s. Exercising its geopolitical calculations, Washington routinely aligns with powerful men whose human rights records are often no better - and sometimes even worse - than the actions of the Taliban.  Meanwhile, the priorities of war revolve around destruction.
Last year, while the U.S. government was spending nearly $100 million a day on military efforts in Afghanistan, an Oxfam report put the total amount of humanitarian aid to the country from all sources at just $7 million per day.

Some Americans believe escalation of warfare is necessary to defend the rights of women in Afghanistan. But war fuels poverty and violence against women - including in the home. One U.N. worker told me about a current estimate that 89 percent of Afghan women suffer very serious domestic violence. Such conditions are worsened - not alleviated - by war.

The average life expectancy of women now hovers around 40 years in Afghanistan, where medical care runs from sparse to nonexistent. Frequent maternal death during childbirth and sky high rates of infant mortality are reflections of what happens under the twin shadows of poverty and war.

A few days ago, I visited a nongovernmental office for women's empowerment. Staffers took me to a pilot project in one of Kabul's poorest neighborhoods, where women are learning small-scale business skills while also developing the knowledge, strength and mutual support to stand their ground for women's rights.

I took off my shoes and joined a circle on the floor with two-dozen women, who ranged in age from early 20s to late 50s. They talked with enthusiasm about how the workshops could help them to change their lives.

When it was time to leave, I had a question: What should I tell people in the United States, if they ask what Afghan women want most of all?

After several women spoke, the translator summed up. "They all said that the first priority is peace."
Norman Solomon of West Marin is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books. including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death."  

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