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“100 Untold Stories of War and Peace by Afghan Women”

Book Launch - Afghan Women’s Peace and Freedom Organization (AWPFO) and Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kabul Key Note Speech for Ambassador Ole Andreas Lindeman 21st December 2020

A very good morning to you all.

Thank you Ms Hareer Hashim for your kind introduction, thank you to the WILPF and AWPFO for inviting Norway to be your partner in this important project.  

 “100 Untold Stories of War and Peace by Afghan Women” invites us into a room we seldom go, to personal and deeply intimate experiences from over 4 decades of war and conflict in Afghanistan.

The 100 stories are told by women – as they have been lived by women. There are millions more stories to be told. Some are also told by men.

These are stories covering the last 40 years – a historical period of violence: Soviet occupation, victory of the Mujahedeen, internecine wars between the Mujahedeen, arrival of the Taliban, departure of the Taliban, arrival of international forces, it’s adverse effects,  raids by government forces, suicide attacks, explosions, targeting of civilians, starvation, homelessness, sexual abuse, gender based violence, surge in criminality, impunity and lack of justice, unbridled corruption - and the stories go on.

There are also stories of love and affection - and finally, of love and a yearning for peace.

Perhaps Afghan women are a true symbol of the mountains of this land, which, despite all the troubles surrounding them, are still proud and dignified – still standing tall, in spite of all!

This is a book of solidarity – solidarity and empathy with the women of Afghanistan. But also in sympathy and solidarity with all women victimized by war and conflict in all of the world.

Untold stories are stories that are never told – because they are the stories of victims. Victims seldom have a voice, the right to speak is usually accorded only to victors.

Victors define history, the victors are typically men. But also men suffer, yet all too often another story is told. In this book also men tell their stories as victims.

There is an understated irony about untold stories: All know of them, they are known to everyone, many have lived them, all families have lost someone and are bereaved.

Yet no one tells the stories.

Until now.

Why have they not been written down before? The reason could be that they are too painful, too sensitive, that it hurts to reopen old wounds?

But when no one tells, no one can listen – no one can learn, and nothing may change.

Now they are being told – finally. Thanks to the personal courage and dedication of Jamila Afghani. Thanks to the support of WILPF, and AWPFO.

This is more than a book of solidarity. It is a book that will comfort all those who now understand that they are not alone.

It will provide some moral reparation to all who feel that they have been wronged.

The book gives us 100 lessons to learn – and 100 reasons for change.

To me this is maybe first and foremost a book that compels us to change our ways. Because, if we do not make changes, then we have learnt nothing, and our solidarity and sympathy is to no help.

Who does not feel heartened when reading the story of Ms Nazifa Jalaly, who, I believe is joining us here today. But, still, I cannot help to note that she won recognition and respect only when she could surprise the village elders, men of course, by reciting the Holy Verses of the Quran. And only by winning the respect of men could she win the trust of her community and realize her intention to educate girls.

Who does not feel the compelling need for change when he or she reads the stories of attacks and bombings resulting in death and injuries to innocent civilians – like the mother who lost her husband and 5 of her children. She was left with 2 sons. The mother had lost one of her hands, the one son a leg, the other had both hands amputated. “They divided work between themselves.”

Then there is the story about Maiwand who served in Helmand, whose commander told the family in Ghazni that their son, Maiwand that is, had taken leave and was coming home. The next day the doorbell rang – and when the father opened, he saw a black box covered with the Afghan flag and his sons name on it.

This story made me think of Malala Maiwand, the journalist and civil society activist who recently so cowardly was assassinated and lost her life.

There is a story of “Malala / Malalai of Maiwand” – from Pashtun folklore after the battle of Maiwand in 1880. And as the legend would have it, she rallied the Afghan fighters (who were men, of course!) towards victory – and became later known as the “Afghan Jeanne d’Arc”.

Maybe this illustrates how reality becomes legend, and heroism and sacrifice are somehow being used to give meaning to something which is basically meaningless.

When a mother sends off two sons, to either side in the conflict, and they both die in combat, another of the stories, it makes no difference who and what they fought for – only the loss remains.

Finally, there is one clear message emanating from the book – a voice speaking for all the stories in it. That is the voice of the Afghan people saying that they want peace.

We may find confirmation of this in a recent survey on Afghan Perceptions of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, conducted by the Assessment and Analysis Group – AAG.

Key findings are that Afghans are frustrated with the slow pace of the peace talks and lack of progress. Afghans have grown weary of war and conflict, nearly half of the respondents say they need security by whoever can provide it.

This is also the case in areas controlled by Taliban or where they are active – although the Taliban are not perceived to provide the types of social services associated with the state, such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation, and electricity.

The message is clear. The Afghan people are ready for peace, peacebuilding must start, as well as state building and the provision of social services, and jobs and wealth creation. This is also a message that we the donor community listen to – and it echoes the voices that are no longer silenced, the 100 stories that are no longer untold – but now told!

I recognize the great effort by Jamila Afghani in realizing this important project – and her vision of peace, and her personal courage.

Thank you Jamila Afghani, thank you all 100 who have spoken up.

Thank you dear friends for your kind attention.