Friday, December 4, 2009


In January I leave for India and after spending three days a week, every week at Amnesty, I am interested to see what working for an NGO in Pune will be like and how applicable my time at AI will be once I am abroad in a unique center of India civil society movements.

The protection and promotion of human rights remains at the forefront of my interests and studies and I am excited to travel to a nation with a rich history of social justice movements and to learn from Indian culture. After three months of being the one who writes the press releases I am ready to be part of a team that is on the ground in a situation, creating the research that goes into the reports I so frequently read at my job.

So as my internship at Amnesty is coming to a close and finals are next week, I exist in a state of disbelief. Next semester I will be a senior, next semester I will not be in DC, next semester I will be in India. While abroad I will be representing America as a student and traveler, and the US is not always the easiest nation to represent. So for this final blog post I want to talk about war.

Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is difficult to support from the standpoint of human rights. While the decision may increase security for the troops already deployed and potentially provide the surge of military force to stabilize the region - I don't believe that's an assumption I would be willing to make.

Wars have always brought greater periods of human rights abuse, whether freezing civil and political rights in the name of national security or the simple fact that war will mean civilian casualties. Our time in Afghanistan follows in this history of war and the increase of troops will not minimize this reality.

So many things have been said about the decision to increase troops in Afghanistan this week and I find it difficult not to reiterate much of what I have already heard. While I do not mean to sound trite, what I think of in reflecting on Afghanistan is the concept of modern warfare. The Taliban create promotional videos that can be accessed online to recruit new members and today when we talk about conflicts in war zones we talk about one man with a bomb strapped on his body in a market place not a battle fought between soldiers and insurgents in classic combat style.

When we talk about war in the 21st century, there is no prototype. The directed combat of the World Wars are antiquated and even the "guerrilla" war style of Vietnam has limited application when analyzing Afghanistan, or any of the other conflicts of the 21st century.

In 1991 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers started the use of the suicide belt. While suicide missions have been a part of warfare for centuries, the introduction of the mechanized detonation of explosives on an individual has dramatically reshaped the notion of warfare. Terrorist groups use of suicide bombings foils the concept of expansive military operations and the power that large scale troop deployment. While the guerilla warfare of the Vietcong led to mass death and destruction like what the terrorist groups hope to achieve today, when the US military chose directed retaliation it was against a group of people, not a person. There were high civilian casualties during that war and egregious violations of human rights but today when a military retaliates against the terrorism it is even more difficult to justify.

Like in India, Israel or Chechnya, communities are destroyed in order to kill one individual or a reported cell planning an attack. Such action destroys the lives of many in the pursuit of few and the seemingly random attacks of suicide bombers do not end despite the unprecedented retaliation sent to stop them.

It took 25 years to end the terror of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, one of the few big wins in the war on terror. But that was an internal conflict that took place on an island 25,000 miles in area and there was no Pakistan next door, no bountiful mountain range in the east for terrorists to hide. While Afghanistan is vastly different from Sri Lanka, the history of Sri Lanka's battle against the Tamil Tigers displays the power of terrorism in destroying a nation, the violations of citizens' human rights necessary to provide the foundation to implement a total war on terror and terrorist organizations' inability to quickly collapse in the face of large military operations.

What makes Afghanistan and modern wars so difficult is that suicide attacks by fringe organizations may never end. Now that individuals can access technology and create suicide vest and understand how utilize fear in a globalized world, what can justify a win or an end to war?

Luckily Obama seems to understand that our role in Afghanistan is to clean up our "mess," so to speak, establish order in the area and help stabilize the country. While this thought resonates with my feelings about how to deal with Afghanistan, why would so many more troops be needed? Reports indicate that there are less than 100 members of Al Queda in Afghanistan yet we need to send 30,000 additional troops to the region to stop them and stabilize the situation. It seems that things like providing electricity and establishing access to clean water and health facilities are initiatives that could stabilize and improve the well being of the region.

War remains an obstacle in the protection of human rights and the promotion of progress in any nation. While a solution for the manner in which we pull out troops is difficult to decide on, the installation of more forces seems to be counter intuitive to Obama's plan to end our time in the nation and redirect the way that the US fights terrorism and promotes the protection of human rights abroad.

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