Seeking Peace in Afghanistan
U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now represents the longest war in U.S. history. The involvement of North American Treaty Organization (NATO) forces constitutes the largest military operation outside of its role in Europe. For Afghans, the current war involving more than 100,000 foreign military troops is simply the latest in a long history of foreigners trying to impose by military might their own agenda in Afghanistan.
While generals and government officials all acknowledge that there is “no military solution” in Afghanistan, they continue to place their primary trust in weapons. Yet the psalmist reminds us, “The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save” (Psalm 33:17).
Tragically, the situation on the ground has worsened. The number of U.S./NATO foreign troops in Afghanistan has tripled since 2008,  and so has the number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Consequently, civilian casualties have escalated significantly, with many going unreported. The majority of the public in the United States and NATO countries opposes ongoing war and troop involvement. Most Afghans want an end to decades of war and for foreign troops to leave.
Since 2006, the steady increase of troops has fanned popular resentment at foreign troops and the corrupt Afghan government officials they support. More troops—both foreign and Afghan—has increased the number of violent attacks by insurgents and coalition forces alike and devoted precious resources to weapons rather than health care, education, and community development.
The war has expanded to Pakistan as well. Armed insurgent groups operate on both sides of the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, and the United States has greatly increased unmanned drone strikes in remote Pakistani villages. Very little effort is made to account for civilian casualties from these strikes, and some bombings are based on faulty intelligence. Such remote bombings—especially in noncombat zones—create widespread resentment among the families and communities hit, making them a recruiting tool for armed groups. These attacks in noncombat zones are similar to targeted assassinations or extrajudicial killings that are strongly prohibited under international law and sharply criticized by the United Nations Special Raporteur on Extra-Judicial killings and numerous human rights advocates. It sets a disturbing precedent for governments to take the law into their own hands.
For more than 30 years, governments and armed groups have pumped billions of dollars in weapons into Afghanistan with bitter consequences for the people. The continuing militarization of Afghan society has taken significant resources away from diplomatic and development work in a deeply impoverished, war-torn land. United Methodists have long expressed concern that those who suffer the most in war are women and children. Indeed, Afghanistan has one of the highest infant  and maternal mortality  rates, and average life expectancy is mid-40s. While each year the United States and other governments devote over $100 billion dollars to weapons and soldiers,  one in four Afghan children still will not reach the age of 5.  By contrast, for more than 45 years United Methodists and other humanitarian organizations, in partnership with local Afghans, have supported health care and community development work in Afghanistan.
The United Methodist Social Principles recognize that “Conflicts and war impoverish the population on all sides, and an important way to support the poor will be to work for peaceful solutions” (¶163E). United Methodists also recognize that women have long taken the lead in calling and working for peace. In October 2001, Women’s Division directors adopted a resolution that asked United Methodist Women to: “Urge the president to use diplomatic means to bring the perpetrators of terrorist acts to justice and to end the bombing of Afghanistan.”
We recall the words of U.S. representative Barbara Lee (California) in September 2001, who was the lone voice at that time in the U.S. government to question military action against Afghanistan. She warned in a House of Representatives floor speech on September 14, 2001, “If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children, and other noncombatants will be caught in the crossfire. … [W]e must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.”
We confess that years of war and pumping of weapons into Afghanistan, along with years of silence by too many of us in churches, has not served the needs of people—in Afghanistan or at home—but rather prolonged a cycle of militarism, violence, and suffering. Today the United States as 5 percent of the world’s population devotes almost the same amount of resources to military spending as the other 95 percent of the world combined.  Forty-five years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death” (“Beyond Vietnam” speech, April 4, 1967). We are haunted by the prophet Habakkuk’s lament, “Their own might is their god!” (Habakkuk 1:11). May we find the courage to join with Afghans and neighboring Pakistanis and all who seek to transform today’s glut of swords into plowshares.
In November 2009, 79 United Methodist bishops signed an open letter to the U.S. president calling on him to turn from military escalation “to set a timetable for the withdrawal of all coalition forces by the end of 2010.” Our long-standing conviction that “war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ” and our call into discipleship as peacemakers have led us in our Social Principles to declare, “We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government” (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2008, ¶165C).
Now in the ongoing war in Afghanistan we must also challenge any preemptive arguments for prolonging war and militarization of the society. The argument that more than $100 billion per year should be devoted to waging war in the hopes of “denying a future safe haven to terrorists” when those same funds devoted to meeting the Millennium Development Goals in health care would save tens of thousands of lives across the globe is neither moral, sustainable, nor realistic.
We offer the following points for reflection and action as we seek to live out our Christian vocation as peacemakers:
- Urge prompt and complete withdrawal of U.S./NATO forces as a necessary step toward demilitarizing the region and promoting Afghan-led peace talks among all parties. We urge an immediate unilateral cease-fire, an end to night raids, and an end to bombings as initial confidence-building steps toward demilitarization and reconciliation. We support peace that includes Afghan women in all negotiations in a substantive way.
- We call for an immediate end to drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have escalated exponentially since 2008. We support full and independent investigations into all such bombings to account for civilian casualties.
- End the militarization of Afghanistan. Most U.S. foreign aid to Afghanistan currently goes to training, equipping and funding the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and to private security contractors. Foreign aid has helped train several hundred thousand Afghan men as soldiers and police while funding training for only 2,500 Afghan midwives.  This is neither just nor sustainable in the short or long term. Lasting human security and stability in Afghanistan will come through diplomacy, education, and health care, not more weapons, more police, and more soldiers. We urge an end to all arms shipments from all sources.
- Shifting resources from military spending and training to health and education, where many more women work, is one of the best ways of supporting and empowering Afghan women’s leadership. We recognize and commit our support to the creative ways Afghan women are organizing and working in their communities despite war and conflict.
- Ongoing war in Afghanistan costs $100+ billion per year. It costs $1 million per year for each U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan.  These funds are beating plowshares, classrooms, and hospitals into weapons. Teachers, firefighters, and other public employees are facing layoffs in part because the U.S. government keeps redirecting tax dollars from local communities to war overseas. Each dollar spent on war in Afghanistan is taken from women and children and communities in the United States and around the world. War spending endangers civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the home countries of U.S./NATO forces.
- Military spending should be shifted to humanitarian work that is not at all connected with any military forces. Humanitarian work should be nonpolitical and not connected with any of the warring parties. Nongovernmental organizations report that health and education work in highly militarized areas is now far more dangerous for internationals and Afghans alike, and many parts of the country are no longer accessible for aid workers. We call for an end to Provincial Reconstruction Teams and a strict separation of humanitarian work from military operations as called for in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Code of Conduct.
- The apostle Paul reminds us, “God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow” (Galatians 6:7). Corruption is best challenged by “first examining the log in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3). We urge cutting off the source of funds for bribes. The huge amounts of foreign money flowing into Afghanistan are largely diverted by warlords and private contractors (both international and Afghan). U.S. forces end up subcontracting warlords to secure the vast military supply line. According to U.S. Representative John Tierney’s (Massachusetts) June 2010 congressional report “Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan,” $400 million per year of U.S. security funding ends up in the hands of Taliban—more than they get from drug sales. Military contractors and defense corporations (e.g., Blackwater/Xe Services LLC, Dyncorp, Halliburton, Lockheed, etc.) are among the most unaccountable actors in Afghanistan. Cut off funding for private security contractors, as it masks the level of U.S. war spending and personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Urge all United Methodists to:
- Call for a “swords into plowshares” approach in government spending and to develop church and peacemaker alliances with local governments to press national governments to redirect money from war spending to meet human needs.
- Many young people facing unemployment are being targeted by the military for recruitment. Support peace education, provide counseling on selective conscientious objection, and offer alternative service education options for all high school students, with an emphasis on impoverished communities.
- Support veterans, families of veterans, and Afghan civilians facing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It has been reported that in 2009 and 2010 more U.S. veterans and active duty soldiers died from suicide than were killed in combat. Raise awareness about the high number of suicides, the increase in domestic violence, and other destructive behaviors brought on by war-related trauma. Support full funding of health care, especially mental health care and traumatic brain injury (TBI), for all affected by war.
- The war has been used to justify ongoing war spending and increasing repressive measures that stifle dissent and encourage racial profiling of Arab and Muslim people in many countries (see other General Conference resolutions: “Taking Liberties: On the Stifling of Dissent” and “Prejudice against Muslims”). We call on United Methodists to stand with communities facing discrimination and urge all governments to restrain their use of measures that increase racial profiling and scapegoating.
- Support regional negotiations and diplomacy throughout Central/South Asia with all parties to build cooperation. We support and encourage our partners to monitor that women’s leadership is central in these negotiations; women must be involved in all peace negotiations, and this participation must be real and not simply a token gesture. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 adopted on October 31, 2000, directly calls for women to participate equally and fully in all levels of peacemaking and decision making, from conflict prevention and mitigation to postconflict recovery and transformation. It also calls to end impunity against those who commit violence against women. Durable peace, security, and reconstruction in Afghanistan will not occur without the direct participation of all in the society, including women, who represent half of the population.
1. Elisabeth Bumiller, “Troops in Afghanistan Now Outnumber Those in Iraq,” New York Times, May 25, 2010, available: http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/troops-in-afghanistan-now-outnumber-those-in-iraq/. The total number of NATO troops as of November 2010 is 130,930 (BBC News, “Afghan Troop Map: U.S. and NATO Deployments,” November 19, 2010, available www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11795066). The total number of NATO trips in 2009 was 55,100 (International Security Assistance Force, North American Treaty Organization, “ISAF Regional Commands and PRT Locations,” January 12, 2009, available: www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/placemat_archive/isaf_placemat_090112.pdf).
2. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision (New York: United Nations, 2007), available: www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2006/WPP2006_Highlights_rev.pdf (see Table A.18).
4. Amy Belasco, The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2011), available: www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf (see Table 1, p. 3).
6. Christopher Hellman and Travis Sharp, “The FY 2009 Pentagon Spending Request,” Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, February 22, 2008, available: http://armscontrolcenter.org/policy/securityspending/articles/fy09_dod_request_global.