New Internationalist

Welcome to Afghanistan, drone-strike capital of the world

Afghan National Army Soldier [Related Image]
An Afghan National Army soldier in Kabul. NATO Training under a Creative Commons Licence

Mention Afghanistan and most people think of the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, caves, drones, dust, and burkas. It’s a country few of us have a relationship with, even though our government has been at war with it three times, right now being the third and longest modern-day occupation for Britain to date. A total of 134,780 British troops have lived and patrolled here and 446 have died. British Reaper drone operators have launched at least 299 strikes, mostly from Creech US airbase just outside Las Vegas, but since April 2013 from British soil at RAF Waddington. The official Ministry of Defence line is that four civilians have been killed by British drones, but they refuse to release the names or numbers of those they have actually killed.

To date, the whole operation has cost us $60 billion – $25 million per day, or $3,000 per household since it began. It’s supposedly coming to an end, but with territorial, aerial and economic sovereignty off the table when NATO forces scale back (let’s not call it a withdrawal: the US wants 10,000 British and US Special Forces to remain), the idea of freedom is as cheap and disposable as the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) newspapers regularly dropped all over Kabul, which locals eagerly use for kindling for wood stoves (the main source of heating here) and chip paper.

Two million people have been killed in 40 years of constant war. Generations have grown up knowing nothing else. Poverty is extreme. Unemployment stagnates at an unofficial 60 per cent (and this is just for men, as women are not considered part of the workforce) and 90 per cent of all available work is in the casual sector: it’s men waiting at bridges to be picked up for construction work, cart pushers renting their backbreaking labour to market traders, women taking tailoring and embroidery into their homes, children selling incense blessings and chewing gum on the streets. Wages range from $1to $5 a day. Half a million remain refugees in their own country, defined as internally displaced. Those in Kabul live in old abandoned lots, on wasteland, opposite gleaming new hotels or an old amusement park. The camps are a full-on dystopia of plastic, sack cloth and mud shelters with open sewers. Children’s faces are tired and heat-scorched from wood fires. Intermittent aid drops have families scrambling for what they can under the machine-gun gaze of cops who steal their share with impunity. Above it all drift US surveillance blimps, data-mining this ‘adversary city’ for ‘advanced target acquisition’; scanning, ready to activate a ‘compressed kill chain’, as the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency defines it. A push of a button in a bunker can execute a person, or several, in seconds.

Afghanistan is the drone-strike and landmine capital of the world. There are 10 million landmines still littered around the country – one for every three people here. The US has 200 declared drones, Britain 10. It’s a laboratory for robo-war and socio-political engineering. Successive invasions, war lords, mafias and Taliban groups have all manipulated the four main different ethnic sects – Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek and Pashtun – against one another, using classic divide-and-rule tactics.

In the midst of this, in District 4, is a simple house with makeshift classrooms and workshops, home to seven young men, the core group of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (APV) and their mentor and group founder Hakim – a humble Ghandi and Martin Luther King-inspired doctor from Singapore gone native after 10 years of living here. In response to the brutal social engineering from above, Hakim and the volunteers are creating a kind of social engineering from below. The group consciously seeks to bring different ethnic groups together. It has a microfinance duvet-making project that employs poor women from different ethnic backgrounds to work together. The duvets are distributed freely to the poor, disabled and displaced

APV also runs a project for street kids, sending caseworkers to make contact with them and their families and giving them rice and cooking oil in exchange for allowing their children to come and receive free maths, literacy and English lessons.

The volunteers have harrowing pasts. Abdullhai, now 18, was forced to flee his village in Bamiyan when he was just five after the Taliban invaded. His older brother carried him on his back across mountains for weeks to a refugee camp where upon arriving he was apparently frozen stiff. He had to be suspended over a fire for two weeks to recover. When their mother joined them, she told them that their father had been murdered by the Taliban. Roz Mohammed, a smiley 21-year-old Pashtun from Wardak, lost his brother-in-law to a drone strike. US forces claimed he had been Taliban – he wasn’t. When Roz Mohammed’s nephew asked what had happened to his father, his mother said, ‘Your father was killed by a robot.’

Under this vertical oppression, from the government, from warlords, from occupation forces, from machines that kill, from a ruling class and aid industry that is often divorced from the poorest and most exploited, the idea of horizontal organizing from the grassroots up is rare and radical. The APV are deeply pacifist; here in Afghanistan, where violence is the dominant language, rejecting revenge and sectarianism and creating a safe space – for men and women – in one of the most violent cities in the world is revolutionary.

This blog is the first in a two-part series from Ewa Jasiewicz.

Comments on Welcome to Afghanistan, drone-strike capital of the world

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Jan Viklund 27 Jan 14

    Excellent and urgently needed article. Let's make this go viral.

  2. #2 Aryana 29 Jan 14

    salam, salamona

    Nice article. A really good read.
    Although I like to comment there are several grassroots initiatives, the APV is definitely not the only organisation. There are quite a few youth initiatives in Afghanistan, in Kabul and beyond, for peace, unity, education, women and even returnees (forcibly deported). On an international level Afghans are active too. There's lots going on, also for unity among Afghans, for peace and education, freedom of expression, Afghan grassroots community media and Afghan women organisations. All initiatives of Afghans themselves. And let's not forget the (international) developments of the Afghan gay community.

    It is really important the APV is more diverse now (ethnicity wise) and it is an amazing initiative.
    As a non violent peace group it surprises me that Badshah (Ghaffer) Khan is not being put forward as a big influence though. He was and is the non-violent example for Afghans (he was Pathan). He was equal to and a good friend of Gandi. He is not only forgotten in this article, but in all publications, also of the APV, Badshah (Ghaffer) Khan is missing.

    zenda bosheyn, zhowandai ossay

  3. #3 bhglennie 03 Feb 14

    Remote- controlled aircraft ( Drones) are a very profitable and convenient way to run a war. From the convenience of your computer, whilst sipping your latte coffee, buildings and people can be blown up and killed on the other side of the world. That way only the grunts have to be in the danger of the War Zone.
    Thank God for war or the capitalist system would have completely collapsed this time in the 2008 crisis.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

About the author

Ewa Jasiewicz a New Internationalist contributor

Ewa Jasiewicz is an activist and writer involved in various anti-capitalist, climate and solidarity campaigns including Fuel Poverty Action, No Dash for Gas, the Polish Campaign of Solidarity with Palestine and Witness Syria. She has worked as a union organizer for Unite the Union mainly with casual and migrant workers and has been involved in solidarity work in Iraq, Palestine and Syria over the past 10 years. 

Read more by Ewa Jasiewicz

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Popular tags

All tags

New Internationalist Blogs

New Internationalist hosts several different blogs, from the Editor's Blog to the Majority World Blog, the Gaza Blog to the Books Blog

New Internationalist Blogs