Challenge! Peace Action in Tora Bora (1)

[Original by Maki KATO, Afghanistan Project (September 2, 2019); Translated by M. Goto/K. Takemura]

One day in February, I got a Skype contact from Sabirullah, the representative of the local office in Afghanistan. He said, “Maki, finally!”

A provincial map of the Nangarhar province that is located in the east of Afghanistan. Tora Bora (marked by a red star) is in the south of the Pachir Wa Agam district. It is bounded by steep mountains in the south, beyond which lies Pakistan. It has been the base of many armed forces since the invasion of the former Soviet Union.

Today is a very special day in our peace action activities. Seven villagers of the Kuz Kunar district, where we have implemented our projects, are going to visit another area with JVC staff and experience interaction with the villagers there! This program required long time for preparation, since the area is so insecure that even the transportation of people is difficult.

The destination is an area called “Tora Bora” in the Pachir Wa Agam district, which is located in the south of the Nangarhar province. Tora Bora borders Pakistan with steep mountains. It is the most dangerous place where the Afghan government forces cannot take control. Many armed forces such as Osama bin Laden, the former commander of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and “IS” have been based there.

Nobody else desires peace more than the people in this area, where their daily life has continuously been broken by the heavy fights between armed forces and the government army. That’s why some people of Pachir Wa Agam actively participated in the peace action held in Kuz Kunar last time.

The security situation in Pachir Wa Agam has been improved theses months as the government force has regained its power. The residents strongly requested to have a peace workshop there. After carefully checking security information, the JVC staff finally judged that they can visit the place now by taking various safety measures.

The JVC staff and Imran (center) on the way to Tora Bora. Ajmal (right) looks a little nervous, smiling awkwardly.

Sabirullah was in a car when he skyped me. He said, “Everything is all right so far. We passed a checkpoint safely.” Another staff Ajmal and Imran from Kuz Kunar were also in the car.

We will soon enter the Tora Bora area. There are even some soldiers who were previously the members of IS”. Isn’t it amazing, if they attend our peace action and change from former “fighters” to “peace ambassadors”? It might be the first step to it today, Maki!!”

I could feel the excitement of Sabirullah from his voice to go to a new place, especially Tora Bora. Meanwhile, Ajmal looked a little bit anxious, probably because of nervousness, and sometimes couldn’t stop laughing for no reason. They told me later that some JVC staff hesitated to visit this area and wanted to stay at the office. Imran was also stopped by his friend to visit this place. The visit was so nervous even for JVC staff who had hard experiences in the past. I got also nervous in Tokyo during talking on the Skype.

They were stopped by a police officer on the way. There are many checkpoints in dangerous areas. He inspected our car, found our peace booklet, and asked, “What is this?” As he could not read letters, he took the booklet to his boss. After reading, the boss understood the activities of JVC, and asked them to give him some copies! Since they had to use the booklets in the workshop, they gave him only one. In that way, they could unexpectedly leave the message to police. That’s good, they smiled each other.

They kept going and finally arrived at the area.

Tora Bora means “black cave” and it is a stone’s throw from Pakistan. Steep mountain ranges and many caves are the reason why it has historically been the base of various forces. The highest mountain in this Spin Ghar range, which divides the two countries, is 4,761 m high! Staff and the villagers got off the car and headed toward the workshop place against the towering mountains. Imran, the representative of the villagers of Kuz Kunar, walks with a bunch of peace booklets under his arm. Elders follow him wearing traditional patoo (cape). A splendid scenery! What kind of interaction will be born at Tora Bora, a symbolic place of talking about peace? Are residents already waiting there?

The driver slowly drives the car into the village.

“Finally we are here….” (Ajmal)

Villagers of Kuz Kunar and JVC staff are heading toward the workshop place (cool).

The Spin Ghar mountains are in the distance.

Arriving soon at the venue.

(to be continued)

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