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The Afghan peace movement

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As we saw in the previous blog entry, in December there were three disastrous nighttime raids carried out by (so it seems) US special forces and/or CIA in Afghanistan. Two of them involved ground troops allegedly killing civilians at close range, while the third involved a deadly airstrike called in by special forces. In total the incidents killed some 24 civilians.

The reaction among Afghans appears to be quite strong. In the wake of the first incident, the Dec 7/8 attack in Laghman province which killed 12 civilians, Afghan parliamentarians reacted bitterly, as reported on Afghanistan's Tolo TV:

(Mawlawi Sayed Rahman, MP representing Laghman Province:) This is an aggression. This is an advanced way of occupying a country where a number of people are being killed or detained under several pretexts. In this way, they (foreigners) are insulting the people...

(Yunos Qanuni, lower house Speaker:) Basic principles of this country's policies for the coming five years should be presented (to the lower house). This should include debate about country's new policies about the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. [BBC Foreign Service translation]

Note that the Laghman MP calls the western presence in his country an occupation and that Yunos Qanuni, a very important Afghan politician, calls into question the legitimacy of that occupation.

In the second incident, a Dec 27/28 nighttime operation by US special forces or CIA resulted in at least eight civilians killed by ground forces. Agence France-Presse reports that President Karzai "strongly condemned" the Kunar killings, which is I believe the strongest language he has ever used in incidents of this kind. There are, however, reports that Afghan army soldiers were involved in the Kunar incident, so Karzai's anger may be a rouse to deflect attention from his responsibility.

The Kunar incident sparked at least three major protests in Afghanistan. On Dec 30, protests attracting hundreds of demonstrators were held in Kabul and Jalalabad, the major eastern Afghan city and gateway to Pakistan and on Dec 31 some 1,500 protesters hit the streets of Asadabad, capital of Kunar province.

Afghans burn Obama effigy over civilian deaths

JALALABAD, Dec 30 (AFP) - Protesters took to the streets in Afghanistan on Wednesday, burning an effigy of the US president and shouting "death to Obama" to slam civilian deaths during Western military operations.

Hundreds of university students blocked main roads in Jalalabad, capital of eastern Nangarhar province, to protest the alleged deaths of 10 civilians, mostly school children, in a Western military operation on Saturday.

"The government must prevent such unilateral operations otherwise we will take guns instead of pens and fight against them (foreign forces)," students from the University of Nangarhar's education faculty said in a statement.

Marching through the main street of Jalalabad, the students chanted "death to Obama" and "death to foreign forces", witnesses said.

The protesters torched a US flag and an effigy of US President Barack Obama in a public square in central Jalalabad, before dispersing.

"Our demonstration is against those foreigners who have come to our country," Safiullah Aminzai, a student organiser, told AFP...

A similar protest was planned in Kabul against the "killing of civilians, especially the recent killing of students in Kunar by foreign forces," said organisers from the youth wing of Jamiat Eslah, or the Afghan Society for Social Reform and Development.

"The demonstration is to show our hatred, anger and sorrow about the current situation," said Sayed Khalid Rashid.

"Our main request is that the American and NATO forces must leave the country and Afghan people must have political autonomy," he said, adding that he expected hundreds of people to turn out for the march through western Kabul... (link)

The organisers of the Dec 30 Kabul protest, Jamiat Eslah's youth section, issued this statement:

1. On behalf of the young generation of our country, we strongly condemn the recent killing of our innocent compatriots by US and NATO troops in the provinces of Kunar, Laghman, Baghlan and everywhere else. We condemn such operations by whatever name carried out, either it is called peacekeeping or enduring freedom, and want an end to cruelly massacring of our people.

2. We urge the Afghan government and law-enforcement agencies to seriously chase these killings and bring to justice the perpetrators.

3. The Afghan youth urge the United Nations, human rights watchdogs and the international community not to stay indifferent towards killing and massacre of civilian Afghans anymore. They must stop brutal killing of innocent Afghans via legal and legitimate ways.

4. The Afghan people believe that US and NATO must think about ending their war policies in Afghanistan, instead of sending out more troops to kill more innocent Afghans.

5. We urge the world community not to impose its mandate on the Afghan people. A nation that has lived together throughout the history can decide its own fate and can coexist as a sovereign nation with no need to foreign intervention.

6. We ask all Afghans to put away their factional and personal interests and work for higher national interests to make an independent, free and prosperous Afghanistan.

The Afghan youth will not allow foreign hands to exploit our disunity for carrying out their imperialistic agendas and destroy our country.

Long live Afghanistan (link)

Note that the Kabul protest statement does not explicitly call for all foreign troops to be pulled out (only that occupying countries "must think about ending their war policies"), though the spokesperson at the protest asserts that their "main request is that the American and NATO forces must leave the country."

On the other hand the Jalalabad students' rhetoric is notable for its bravado, as their statement says that if there is no change, students will take up arms.

One obvious question which arises is who is Jamiat Eslah's youth section, exactly? Information is scant but the parent organization Jamiat Eslah (Afghan Society for Social Reform and Development) appears to be a respected NGO, affiliated with ACBAR and the UN and recipient of international foundation money. Browsing through this flickr photo essay of the Kabul protest reveals a distinct blue headband motif. Can this be seen as a distinctly secular gesture? An echo of the so-called colour revolutions or Iran's green-adorned protesters, perhaps?

The current batch of peaceniks are not a lone voice in Afghanistan, as readers of this blog are no doubt aware. The recently well-publicized Malalai Joya has been calling for foreign troops to withdraw for some time now. And besides Joya and her supporters, the peace camp also includes RAWA and their supporters as well as the National Peace Jirga.

The current protests seem to be having no small effect, spurring the Karzai administration to strike out against the occupying powers over the explosive issue of civilian casualties:

Kabul demands foreign 'killers' handed over
by Sardar Ahmad Sardar Ahmad

KABUL, Dec 31 (AFP) – The Afghan government demanded Thursday to take into its custody foreigners wanted over the alleged killing of 10 civilians, sharply escalating a war of words with its powerful Western military backers... (link)

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