Emergency in Afghanistan

On the 10th of April a hospital operated by the Italian Non Governmental Organization Emergency in Lashkar-gah in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan was attacked and shut down by Afghan police and Afghan secret service in cooperation with the British military, who secured the perimeter outside of the hospital. The surgical center was entered by Afghan armed forces who then went directly to a storage closet where they identified several boxes that contained suicide vests, grenades and other armaments. Three Italian staff members were arrested along with six Afghan members of the hospital staff.

The role played by the Italian based medical relief agency Emergency in Afghanistan has been the antithesis of NATO’s war for peace onslaught on the Afghan population. Emergency established a presence in Afghanistan in 1999 and operates three surgical centers, a maternity clinic and a network of 28 health centers in Afghanistan. Emergency is neutral and has a policy of treating all victims of war regardless of what side they may be affiliated with. Emergency’s surgical center for victims of war in Lashkar-gah has treated over 66 thousand people since it began operating in 2004.

After a week of wild accusations from the Afghan authorities and in the British media, condemnations of Emergency by elements of the Berlusconi government, and a mass mobilization in Italy on behalf of Emergency and their clear stance against the war, the three Italians were freed on Sunday the 18th of April. The Karzai government cited lack of concrete evidence as a the motive for the release of the Italians, but it is now being stated by some elements of the Afghan negotiating team that the Italian government promised to stop the operation of Emergency’s hospital in Lashkar-gah in exchange for the Italians’ release.

The three Emergency workers who were arrested in what looks to be an effort to stop and discredit the work of this forceful anti-war organization are logistical coordinator Matteo Pagani, nurse Matteo Dell’ Aria and surgeon Marco Garatti. One of the accusations against them is that they were involved in a plot to assassinate the governor of the Helmand province and that they had received 500,000 dollars to carry out this attack. Elements of the Berlusconi-led government, including Maurizio Gasparri, president of the majority for Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party in the Senate, and Ignazio La Russa, minister of defense, were quick to denounce Emergency as a disgrace to the Italian people and as supporters of terrorism.

The media outlets in Britain were the first internationally to report on Emergency’s troubles and the pro war elements in Italy, usually quick to denounce the British media as anti-Berlusconi Stalinists, seized on the accusations in an attempt to discredit Emergency’s work and anti-war stance. Emergency’s founder Gino Strada denounced the attack on the hospital in Lashkar-gah as an obvious attempt to frame the organization and stop their support and care of the civilian victims of war. He pointed to the corrupt governor and police force of the Helmand region, in cooperation with NATO as the culprits for this attack on the NGO and hindrance of their work.

During the week from the 10th to the 18th there was a mass mobilization on behalf of Emergency throughout the Italian peninsula. The social networks such as facebook were abuzz with “I am with Emergency” lists and pages being created in support of the organization and its’ captive workers. “I am with Emergency” Banners were flown from balcony’s across the country and on Saturday over 50,000 people rallied in Rome’s piazza San Giovanni to call for the liberation of Emergency’s workers and an end to the war as the solution to the world’s conflicts.

Emergency is neutral in their administering of medical treatment but forcefully partisan in their stance against all wars, the use of landmines, and the constant attacks on the civilian population witnessed daily in NATO/American led “war on terror”. Emergency repudiates war and documents the civilian toll of injuries and death the “war on terror“ continues accumulate with its campaign of indiscriminate bombings and shootings, decimations of entire villages and staged television battles.

Emergency reported that over 41% of the victims of war that they treated at their Lashkar-gah hospital in 2009 were children under the age of 14 years old, and that well over 50% of the victims were civilians. These are numbers that NATO, and in particular the British who operate in that area along with the Afghan forces, would not like the public to know as they continue to hope that their Orwellian war for peace doublespeak will eventually convince people of their just cause in opening the floodgates of Heroin and developing a natural gas pipeline through indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population.

Endless war seems the only refuge for this insane Global Economy based on the exploitation of human and non-renewable natural resources and intent on making this planet unlivable for future generations. Emergency does not buy into Obama’s and NATO’s “just war” argument awarded by the Nobel commission. An open letter from Gino Strada that was published by the Italian daily la Repubblica on Thursday the 15th of April states:

“We will not be silenced, Emergency has a high idea of politics, we think in terms of the objective of finding a way to be together on this planet, to be a global community. We believe that we can find a way to live together, leaving intact our diversity, but avoiding killing each other. Emergency is inside this goal. We believe that the use of violence creates other violence, we believe that only gravely insufficient brains can love, desire, and praise war. We don’t believe in war as an instrument, it is horrible, and monstrously stupid to think that it can function effectively. Can we remember ‘the war to end all wars’ of American president Wilson? It was in 1916. And how can we think to end all war if we continue to make them? The last war can only be one already concluded, not one still underway.

The response of Emergency is simple. We learned from Albert Einstein that war cannot be made be made pretty, or rendered less brutal: ‘War cannot be humanized, it can only be abolished.’ In our idea of politics, and in our conscience as citizens, there is no space for war. We have excluded it from our mental horizon. We repudiate war and want its abolition the same as the abolition of slavery.

Utopia? No, we are convinced that the abolition of war is a political project to realize, with great urgency. For this we cannot be silent in the face of war, any war. We are guilty of proposing the abolition of war.”

Billions of dollars continue to be spent on endless wars of Imperial Conquest. Meanwhile the ecosystems on our planet continue to be ravaged by Global Capitalisms destructive engines and war based economy. The American military industrial complex is still the dominant reality and the ever more devastated environment is always pushed aside. When will humanity make a shift away from utter stupidity and begin to address the irreparable damage that our species has done?

MICHAEL LEONARDI currently lives in Calabria. He teaches English at the University of Calabria in Cosenza and at the Vocational Highschool in Maratea for training hotel and restaurant workers. He can be reached at mikeleonardi@hotmail.com



Michael Leonardi lives in Italy and can be reached at michaeleleonardi@gmail.com