Civilians complain about impact of fighting on their lives

For Janaan, 11, it is not important who killed his father, Shier Mohammad. He only knows that his father died during a clash in the Sangeen District of southern Helmand Province in March 2007.

“Yes, I miss my father a lot,” was the nostalgic answer of the orphaned child.

Shier Mohammad’s death has had big implications for Janaan’s life.

Being the eldest son of his mother’s four offspring, he is, according to local traditions, considered the guardian of his family.

Immediately after his father’s death, Janaan dropped out of school in order to feed his siblings. This was the beginning of a new life in which he is expected to make big decisions for himself and those for whom he is responsible.

According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, hundreds of schools in volatile provinces remain closed due to the insecurity. Aid and many other services are effectively not reaching restive areas.

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“Nine out of 10 of our villagers are affected by the conflict,” said Fazlu Rehman, an inhabitant of Andaar District in southeastern Ghazni Province.

“Our children cannot go to schools and we cannot do business freely,” added Rehman.

Civilians said killed

On 18 June, heavy fighting between Taliban fighters and NATO forces in the Chora District of Uruzgan Province, resulted in the death of more than 50 civilians, according to local officials.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Maj John Thomas, said all the dead were insurgents and that no civilians perished in the air strikes.

Qasim Khan, Uruzgan’s police chief, gave a different account.

“About six civilians and dozens of enemy fighters have been killed in the aerial bombing,” Khan told reporters after the 18 June incident.

On 20 June, Obaidullah Barakzai and several other men came from Chora District to Kabul to convey their concerns about the impact of the armed conflict on their lives to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, NATO-led forces and the US military operating in Afghanistan.

The delegation, contrary to NATO’s report, said most of those killed in Chora were non-combatants.

“We told the Americans and our president that we are neither terrorists nor Taliban, so we should not be harmed in their military operations in Uruzgan,” Barakzai told IRIN in Kabul.

Non-combatants

According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), so far this year over 270 civilians have been killed in military operations by international forces.

Over 270 non-combatants have also died in Taliban attacks, the AIHRC said.

A spokesman for the UN in Afghanistan, Adrian Edwards, said on 2 July: “The overall number of deaths attributed to pro-government forces, which include the ANA [Afghan National Army], ANP [Afghan National Police], NDS [National Directorate of Security] and international military forces, marginally exceeds that caused by anti-government forces”.


Photo: Benawa
Children injured during an armed conflict in Helmand province lie on the floor of a local health facility

Taliban insurgents are widely blamed for atrocities against civilians. The UN and several other international organisations have repeatedly accused elements associated with the Taliban of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In Kabul, a former interior minister during the Soviet invasion of 1979-1989 and now a member of parliament, Saeed Mohammad Gholabzoy, said international forces should not repeat the mistakes the Soviets made in Afghanistan: “Stop bombing villages and civilian locations,” he said.

Given the high number of civilian casualties due to bombing, the AIHRC has called on multinational forces to minimise their current reliance on air strikes and, instead, increase ground operations which are believed to cause less harm to non-combatants.

Pessimism

IRIN asked people in the most volatile provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan and Ghazni about the armed conflict and possible ways of ending it.

Most said ordinary people had no role in the efforts to end the conflict and that they feared the Taliban would target them should they start to try to mediate to end the conflict.

People also said military means alone would not defeat the insurgents.

However, Taliban leaders have consistently rejected calls for negotiations and peaceful conflict resolution efforts.

Supported by international forces, the Afghan government has succeeded in persuading only low-ranking Taliban elements to lay down their arms.

Sulaiman Shafiqqi, a member of parliament, doubts the Taliban and the Afghan government can sit down and discuss their differences.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the “radicalisation and polarisation” of the conflict had significantly reduced the scope for dialogue.

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