Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

AFGHANISTAN: No Refuge For Victims of Violence

KABUL, Oct 26 2009 (IPS) - The rate of civilian casualties in Afghanistan during 2009 has increased exponentially if compared with previous years.

When he first took command of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces in Afghanistan this summer, U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal placed an emphasis on the reduction of civilian casualties. Since then, though, civilian casualties have increased as the result of both NATO air strikes and insurgent’s attacks.

When 23,000 fresh U.S. soldiers arrived in Afghanistan over the spring and summer, they were ready to fight Taliban groups face-to-face, but insurgents changed tactics, increasing suicide bombings, roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and remote control explosives.

In the past few months insurgents have detonated a bomb in front of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in downtown Kabul, sent a suicide bomber to his death near Kabul airport, exploded car bombs in Maiwand and Almar districts, exploded a giant fuel tanker in downtown Kandahar and, most recently, set off a massive explosion near the Indian embassy and the Ministry of Interior in the capital city.

In all, hundreds of civilians have died and this isn’t even counting the running battles between NATO and insurgent forces.

Not only is each of these deaths a tragic waste of life, but many of those who died were the sole supporters of large and extended families. Children were orphaned because of this violence, forced to the streets because of Afghanistan’s inadequate child welfare safety net.

The Oct. 8 attack is the second time that the Indian embassy in Kabul has been hit. The first one was in July 2008 and killed 58 people. Again, most of the dead were civilians.

Making matters worse, some of these actions may actually have little to do with internal Afghan affairs.

The attack on the Indian embassy is a good example. Pakistan and India have long been bitter rivals and the embassy bombing, according to Afghan officials accusing the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI of masterminding it, was likely yet another bloody skirmish in this antagonistic relationship, with Afghans caught in the middle.

In Nimrooz too, many of the suicide attacks have been organised and funded by groups inside Iran, some intelligence sources evaluated.

It would seem that those involved in these larger conflicts care little for the lives of Afghan civilians. And they are not alone.

Taliban groups also seem to have little regard for those not directly involved in their conflict with the Afghan government and the foreign troops.

In a recent Eid message, however, the leader of Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, mentioned that civilians should in fact be protected. His missive surely did nothing for the families of those who died in the October attack in Kabul.

One of the more troubling aspects of this is that the Afghan government is unable to fight the insurgency or keep Afghans safe.

Recently, President Hamid Karzai claimed that insurgents have placed their forces in northern Afghanistan – particularly in Kunduz, Baghlan and Samangan provinces – through air-borne insertion, meaning that they used helicopters to transport fighters and flew away undetected.

“Even today we received reports that the furtive process [of airborne insertion] is still ongoing,” said the president, according to ‘Outlook’, an Afghan daily. While Karzai did not share evidence of this with inquiring journalists, he did say that a comprehensive investigation was underway to determine just which country the helicopters belonged to.

Such attacks weaken Afghan’s confidence in their government. Unfortunately that is exactly what the insurgents want.

The government has not done much to win their trust back. Basic necessities, like ample electricity and clean water, are sorely lacking while in an emergency many people feel they cannot trust police.

To begin to rectify this lack of trust the Afghan government needs to speak directly to the people, particularly to the families of those killed in attacks.

Instead of security officials going before the Afghan Parliament to offer sanitised explanations, they should take time to engage the victim’s families and explain how this could have happened and what they will do to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Such action will likely have little effect toward assuaging the grief of these family members, but perhaps it could be a positive step toward rebuilding the trust that citizens of every nation need.

*Killid is an independent Afghan media group. IPS and Killid have been partners since 2004.

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