Afghanistan in the Days around Christmas


Kabul, Afghanistan ZW

Over the past week, I’ve received three email messages from my friend Zaher Wahab.  Each of them was written across the time he and his colleagues in the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) were in lock down – a rather horrifying protective captivity complete with razor wire, massively thick concrete walls, deep basements, and heavily armed guards on the grounds.  And, as Zaher says, a situation that is finally a privilege for a very few.

Zaher Wahab, Ph.D. is a colleague of mine from the 25 years we both held tenured faculty posts in the graduate school of Lewis & Clark College.  By the time I arrived he’d already been there for a good 15 years.  Zaher had come to the U.S. in his youth for university study, culminating in a Ph.D. in Education – the discipline in which he has had far-reaching and profound effect on teachers and teaching both here, and now back in his homeland – Afghanistan.  Zaher is founding faculty for AUAF and serves currently as the director of that university’s graduate teacher preparation program.

Zaher is a scholar – and he is the quintessence of activist, using every access he has gained to privilege and power to tirelessly address systems of oppression.  To that end, he uses his intellect to activate the intellect and confidence of each of his students.  He empowers teachers – those who in turn will be in positions also to empower.

Following these recent communiques, I’ve asked for permission to reprint some of Zaher’s writing here.  I do this because it is one action I can take.  And I do this reminding myself and each of us to listen, to keep our attention on the reality Zaher describes from his unique position.  To consider his political commentary and take it as it makes sense to each of us.  To move beyond our emotional and intellectual reactions to action – to using our privilege in support of peace, kindness.  Following Zaher’s lead in fortifying the radical sanity of social well being.

Listen to Zaher.  Get over your alarm and upset and feeling of powerlessness.  Make a commitment to getting better and better at living and acting out of kindness.  In the face of what’s happening in Afghanistan, that can feel like nothing – and in some ways it is.  But watch what happens in and around you.  Watch how kindness gives no ground for such horrors – they just can’t take hold.

Believe me or don’t.  But do watch, do listen.  From there, you decide.  How will you use your privilege to take action?

Dear All,

Greetings again. The few of us expats (I too am an expat!) at AUAF continue to be under lock down which went into effect in response to an imminent attack a week ago. The university and government forces are on round-the-clock full alert.  Snipers in towers, armored patrols, foot soldiers, plain clothes guards with AK 47 and/or M 16.  The few of us have been instructed to have our ‘grab bags’ ready just in case. It is a very strange situation, even in this country. Though a little unnerving, still we are part of the small privileged segment of the population in the wretched country.

The U has about 250 private and government-provided guards, and it spends about $2 million a year on security. It looks and feels like a high security prison – armed guards everywhere 24/7, thick high walls, blast walls, huge frescoes, concertina wires, watch towers, search lights, thick metal double doors, scanners, road blocks, fenced windows, body searches on entry and exit, changing routes when traveling, no going out at night, limited time and places for shopping, visible ID required on campus at all times, and  on and on. These are the conditions under which we live, work, and try to deliver education. 

Outside, the situation on the ground here is truly dreadful and incomprehensible. The American-made ‘Government of National Unity’ was inaugurated nearly three months ago, but it has yet to name a cabinet.  Right now, all the 25 ministers, 34 governors, and heads of major organizations – all remnants of the mafia-in-chief Karzai – are ‘serving’ as  care-takers. Nothing is done, other than plunder, pillage and treachery.

No wonder the vast majority of the people are openly disappointed, disgusted, and angry at the ruling syndicate and its foreign patron-supporters. This is why even the private, independent, non-profit AUAF is a target; though there is not one American student here at the AUAF.  No foreigner, myself included, or government security personnel is safe anywhere. 
There has been some kind of massive attack in Kabul almost every other day this month, the bloodiest month since I began coming here in early 2002. The National Director of Security told parliament the other day that they can only control 4 of the 26 gates to Kabul, due to open corruption in the police force. Thousands  of opposition forces have taken over villages, districts, and cities in several parts of the country, but the central government does not have the means and will to get any support to those areas.
Remember that Washington and Kabul signed a Bilateral Security Agreement and Status of Forces Agreement within hours of the presidential inauguration last September.  Remember, too, that Operation Enduring Freedom is now dubbed as ‘Operation Resolute Support’ with the US and NATO sending military hardware back home, destroying it or selling it to Pakistan at discount prices. But they are not equipping the proxy Afghan army. Fearing that Afghanistan may become another Iraq, Washington has abandoned the idea of ‘troop draw-down’ and legalized Afghanistan’s occupation through the imposition of these so-called agreements, leaving thousands of US/NATO ‘advisers’ and unknown numbers of private mercenaries in place. You may recall my saying the invasion/occupation would be permanent.
As I said earlier, essentially, there really has been no government since January.  Consider these facts:
  • UNICEF just issued a report saying half of Afghan children are malnourished; six million do not attend school; millions do hard slave labor; 1 in 4 die before age 5; thousands are killed or maimed in the war; large numbers are orphans; thousands of little girls are sold or married off; many children are abused in different ways; etc.
  • A report by the labor union states that half of the labor force is un- or underemployed; and that at least a million young adults enter every year with no prospect of finding work.
  • About 300,000 high school graduates will take the university entrance exam while the public post-secondary institutions can at best absorb about 50,000.
  • About 70% of the population is under 25, so you can see the time bomb ticking. Drugs, crime, prostitution, escape to other countries, joining the armed opposition, fighting as mercenaries in other places like Syria, are the only options for (young) people.
  • A recent Gallup World Poll found out that 6 in 10 Afghans, and more than last year, see themselves as suffering;  the worst of any country recorded by the poll since 2005. No Afghans saw their lives as thriving. A higher (65%) percentage of the rural people – where 75% live – reported themselves to be suffering. Suffering from poverty, war, insecurity, corruption, lawlessness, a culture of impunity, extreme violence,lack of government services, abuses by strong men, extremely cold weather, extremely polluted cities,etc.
  • Transparency International reports that about $2 billion were paid in bribes last year, and half of the people who dealt with the government paid a bribe. This in a country where per capita income is $532. 
  • The SIGAR reports by J. Sopko quote government officials say there is no money to pay government (including security forces) employees their salaries. So you can see why the opposition can bribe its way clear into Kabul’s chief of police office – an office that is inside the country’s ministry of interior. The armed opposition can buy its way to any where!

Yesterday, Obama, with Michelle sitting next to him smiling in Hawaii, said, “In a few days the war in Afghanistan will be  brought to a responsible end.” Just now, the Afghan press has reported that US bombing killed four and wounded several civilians in Logar (not far from Kabul) at about 4 am this morning. And only a week ago, US bombing killed five school children in Parwan just north of Kabul.

You may have seen J. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, saying the other day that, “As of January, the US will no longer consider the Taliban as enemy and fight them , as long as they did not pose a direct threat to US interests.”
A few days ago the Financial Times reported that the US war in Afghanistan cost about a trillion dollars. Imagine!  Afghans, even the pro American and those who cheered the initial invasion and occupation, are now scratching their heads, wondering out loud and angrily, why all the death and destruction for these 13 years.  Why all the lies?  Why America’s duplicity? And why their own Afghan governments’ collusion in this monumental historical crime? Good questions.


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