Twenty Years of War in Afghanistan: Dialogue is the Way to Peace
On September 20, 2021, Peace Boat organised an urgent online event to discuss the continuing turmoil in Afghanistan with guest speakers Taniyama Hiroshi, Ann Wright and Kiyosue Aisa, all of whom have been connected to Afghanistan for decades. The event focused on the so-called "War on Terror" that the US government has been waging for 20 years since 2001. It also looked at the human rights situation of Afghan women, used a pretext for the war, and what is required of the international community from the perspective of ordinary people in Afghanistan.
In his introductory remarks, Peace Boat Director and Founder Yoshioka Tatsuya spoke of his own experience visiting Afghanistan when Peace Boat worked to build a soccer pitch on land cleared of landmines. He stressed that the events of the previous 20 years in Afghanistan and the “War on Terror” had shown clearly how impossible it is to build peace by military means, a theme that continued through the event.
Taniyama Hiroshi of the Japan International Volunteer Centre (JVC) worked in humanitarian aid and development in Afghanistan for many years, He addressed many questions raised by the 20 year war in Afghanistan including structural problems that led to the US military's approach, which increased anti-US and anti-government sentiment among the general population and ultimately strengthened the Taliban. Mr Taniyama expressed his belief that the international community should not isolate the Taliban, and that the only way to achieve peace is through dialogue. "There are many hardliners in the cabinet, but there are also moderates who have contacts with the international community”. Talking about the role of Japan, Mr Taniyama said, "Since we have not sent any troops to Afghanistan, we have a certain level of trust from the Taliban as well as the general public. That is why we should make efforts to negotiate with them". As one of the few governments recognised by the Taliban, he suggested it could be possible for Japan to play a mediating role.
Ann Wright is a former US colonel and senior diplomat who was involved in reopening the US Embassy in Afghanistan in 2001 and resigned over the US invasion of Iraq. Ret.Col Wright explained the US rationale for its attack on and continued presence in Afghanistan during the four presidencies. While she acknowledged some partial benefits of the US military presence in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, such as improved access to education and healthcare, Ret.Col Wright said such benefits had been confined to urban areas and the situation in rural areas was probably much the same as 20 years ago. She also spoke of misuse of reconstruction funds from the US and international community, with rampant corruption leading to ‘ghost buildings’, medical centers and schools which were paid for but never built.
Ret.Col Wright emphasised the impact of the war on the local population, with US military operations having killed over 60,000 Afghans, including many innocent civilians in controversial night raids and assassin drone attacks - including a family in Kabul just weeks ago. Ret.Col Wright said she believed that it was a mistake to try to bring about political change by military means. Answering questions from participants about human rights abuses, she explained that the US government did not recognise the International Criminal Court and did not want any investigation into human rights abuses by the US military in Afghanistan. Moreover, 39 prisoners remain at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Many within the US establishment know that releasing or putting on trial these prisoners will shed further light on crimes perpetrated by the US; yet, activists in the US continue to speak out and demand the closure of the US military prison.
Kiyosue Aisa, legal and gender studies scholar at Muroran Institute of Technology and representative of a Japanese solidarity organisation working with The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has been conducting interviews with Afghan refugees and people involved in the women's movement for over ten years. She spoke in detail about how "women's rights" are being used politically as a tool to criticise the Taliban and to justify military action.
Today, the mass media’s simplistic narrative says the return of the Taliban means a return to the dark days of the past for women in Afghanistan, but in reality little changed under the Afghan government of the last 20 years. Furthermore, the narrative of foreign military powers in Afghanistan as the saviours of Afghan women denies the agency of those very women. Women in Afghanistan have long fought for their rights often under very difficult circumstances. RAWA was founded in 1977 and has been actively working for the empowerment of women and girls both in Afghanistan and with Afghan refugees in Pakistan for over 40 years. In recent months, women have been taking part in protests on the streets of Kabul, women of various backgrounds, not only the elite. Professor Kiyosue said that it is important that we pay attention to their activities and listen to their voices.
All three speakers spoke of the scars and devastating impact of the war on Afghanistan. Human rights and in particular the rights of women have been used as a pretext for the war but the reality is more complex. Lives have been lost with very little gained. The last twenty years have shown the dangers of trying to achieve political change through military means. Now more than ever, a negotiated solution and dialogue are vital to secure peace.