By Raz Dalili
On an otherwise ordinary Tuesday in early January, an Afghani man in his mid-30s was in the courtyard outside his house in the eastern part of the country, towards the border with Iran. He heard fighting far away, but his village seemed calm. Then, a mortar flew over his walls and exploded.
“It destroyed my house and wounded 11 members of my family,” he later told an interviewer from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Four of his children were seriously injured.
Peace and security are not abstract concepts in my country. Every day, every single day, people are killed and maimed, homes destroyed, livelihoods ruined by this war that does not end.
During the first six months of the year, the UN documented 4,853 civilian casualties, including more than 1560 deaths. The UN mid-year report notes that this is a 24% increase from a year earlier. But statistics do not convey the impact that insecurity and fear have on our lives.
Let me share with you two more stories.
A newlywed couple were traveling by mini-bus in a supposedly stable area of central Afghanistan, a little over a month ago, just before the Eid festival to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Taliban gunmen stopped the van, along with one other. They checked the passengers’ identity cards and then ordered the newlyweds and thirteen other people – including women and a child – to stand in a line outside. The gunmen shot and killed them, one by one, because they were Hazara, members of a Shiite minority group.
A few weeks before that, towards the end of June, in a northern district near the border with Turkmenistan, a ten year old boy was approaching the office of the district administration, pushing a hand cart with watermelons that he was selling to help feed his family. It was a busy day – the bazaar was open – so many people had come from their villages to shop. When the boy was about three meters from the gate, an IED – a remote-controlled home-made bomb – exploded.
“There was a massive explosion and I fell to the ground,” a witness later said. “When I opened my eyes, I saw that many people had been injured and the boy with the watermelon cart was dead. I knew this boy and had seen him every day working with his hand cart.”
Forty children are killed or injured in Afghanistan every week.
This is the reality that we must change.
We have been pegging our fate, in part, to new elections. Because, at least, this is one thing that citizens can control . . . or so we hope. An Afghani communications company called Lapis facilitated community interviews, civil society consultations and town halls across seven provinces from September 2013 to February this year. Almost everyone interviewed said that the presidential and provincial elections are “the best means possible for a peaceful political transition”.
The majority of Afghans were also willing to vote – despite the risks.
I can not understate these risks: during the Presidential run-off in June, in at least two separate incidents, armed men cut off the fingers of voters.
Yet, still, 8 million people — one in two registered voters – participated in the recent elections.
Where are we today?
The vote was marred by fraud. Each side accuses the other of cheating. The Independent Election Commission – whose independence has been questioned – is auditing the vote. The process could take months.
But we are not sitting still. GCAP Afghanistan and our allies throughout civil society are pushing the candidates, electoral bodies and government to place the national interest above their individual and party aims. We need a legal solution, not just a political one. Political actors must accept international norms for the audit of ballot boxes, work to prevent violence during the recount and promise to accept the results.
Building on conversations with women, men and youth in 34 provinces, Afghan civil society has also developed a road map for peace, that starts with tackling widespread corruption (including the embezzlement of public properties) and disarming local militias. We must address the impunity of the police and judiciary as well as local factional disputes that fuel broader conflict. Development across the country needs to be equitable, with a focus on education and empowering Afghan youth. Citizens are frustrated by a peace process that is led by power brokers and elites. We must protect and promote human rights, women’s rights and the rule of law.
We pushed the politicians to endorse this roadmap before the election and will work now to ensure that it is carried out. As international troops withdraw from our country, we also call on the international community to remember Afghanistan and work with us to end this culture of violence, poverty, injustice and instability.
Raz Dalili is the convenor of GCAP Afghanistan and executive director of the Sanayee Development Organisation. This article was written in collaboration with GCAP editor Michael Switow