‘Enough of war’: Why Afghans are hunger striking in Lashkar Gah

Dozens of Afghans set up tents demanding an end to the war after a car bomb killed more than 20 in Lashkar Gah.

Helmand protest
Six protesters were hospitalised after a hunger strike calling for an end to violence entered its second day [Mohammad Omar Lemar/Al Jazeera]

Dozens of Afghans have launched a hunger strike in a desperate attempt to call attention to the violence in the southern Helmand province, which witnessed a deadly car bomb attack last week. 

The strike, in a bid to get the Taliban to make peace with the Afghan government, started late on Thursday in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, after more than 20 people were killed by a car bomb blast outside a sport stadium on March 23.

Activists pitched tents at the site of the attack, where Afghan men, women and children are holding a sit-in hunger strike. 

“Many people like me have lost several members of their families in this brutal war that has taken away our right to live peacefully,” said Bashir Jan, who lost his uncle and three cousins in the attack. 

Jan, who is participating in the protest, told Al Jazeera that he feels hopeless.

“We want the government and the Taliban to finally come to a peaceful solution for the sake of Afghans,” he said. 

At least six people were hospitalised as the hunger strike continued into its second day. 

Two people were taken to the emergency hospital on Friday night after they were found unconscious in the sit-in tent set up by protesters. Four were hospitalised early on Saturday.

Pacha Khan, another protester, said Afghans live with a sense of insecurity.

“We have asked the government and the Taliban to make peace, why can they not, together, put an end to the violence we face each day?” Khan told Al Jazeera. 

Women from the ethnic Pashtun-dominated region also participated in the hunger strike alongside men.

“This war has been brutal on us, women whether young or old, children whether babies or toddlers, all have been victims of this war, when will it stop?” Bibi, who wishes to go by her last name, told Al Jazeera.

Protesters told Al Jazeera they would later march to the Taliban-controlled districts in Helmand, which is a source of Afghanistan’s opium cultivation and has remained the stronghold of the Taliban group for years.

In a statement released by the Taliban, the group’s spokesman told protesters to demonstrate instead at Camp Shorab, the largest US base in Helmand, to end what they consider a military occupation.

The government has not responded to the hunger strike.

Afghanistan suffered more than 10,000 civilian casualties in 2017, as deadly attacks killed and injured more people than any previous year in the war-torn country, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s annual report. 

President Ashraf Ghani offered peace talks with the Taliban last month but the armed group did not officially respond to the offer.

The Taliban, however, expressed interest in direct talks with the US. The group issued a letter in February calling on Americans and “peace-loving congressmen” to convince US President Donald Trump to join negotiations.

‘Killing terrorists’

In December, General John W Nicholson Jr of the US Army said his country would deploy more troops in an advisory role to Afghan forces in 2018, on top of the 14,000 American soldiers already stationed in Afghanistan.

The expected increase follows Trump’s pledge in August 2017 to continue to fight in the country.

“We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists,” Trump said at the time. 

The US declared a “war on terror” in Afghanistan in 2001. It has become the US’ longest military intervention since Vietnam. It has also been the costliest, with more than $100bn spent so far.

“It has been too long now, there will either be a solution or continuous deaths,” Pacha Khan told Al Jazeera.

“Jung bas day [Enough of war],” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera