Tag Archives: Kandahar Civilian casualties

Kandahar Massacre: Their Disregard and Our Hypocrisy

Much have been written and said about the Kandahar massacre. The American soldier Robert Bales has been officially charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of assault and attempted murder. In an interview to a US radio, the journalist told me Bales’ lawyer wants to visit Panjwai and “investigate” family members of those murdered. He says actions of his “clients” were not premeditated, and Bales has history of brain injury and does not fully understand the allegations against him.

Family members of the victims have been paid ‘assistance’ money of $50,000 for each of the slain, and $11,000 for injured by the US. The Afghan Government had earlier compensated the victims with $2000 for each murdered, and $1000 for those injured. A Government delegation visited the families and offered condolence. They came under a Taliban attack briefly in the area. I happened to see a video of the incident, in which an angry local villager was asking an ANA soldier to give him his weapon to fight with those who had attacked. The delegation included two brothers of President Karzai, Chief of Army Staff and other senior Government officials.

The US military and civilian officials have responded irresponsibly to this tragic incident. Regardless of the controversy that Robert Bales was alone or it was a group of soldiers who went to the houses and killed 16 people, it would have been proper if some senior US officials had joined the Afghan delegation to offer condolence to elders of the area during the funeral. I wonder what the cultural and religious advisors of the US military do. Later a group of area elders and family members of the victims were invited to Kabul by President Karzai. The US military and Embassy officials did not bother to meet them for a formal condolence offering. It might sound ridiculous from an ordinary Western perspective, but it got symbolic and traditional importance in our part of the world, when the guilty side visits the victims during funeral and offer sincere apology.

In contrary, the US officials and media were talking more about reaction and protests across Afghanistan, rather than looking into the human side of this tragic incident. My friend Ahmad Shuja puts it in the following words:

The debate following the Kandahar massacre shows that Americans at home and in Afghanistan still don’t quite understand the meaning of events in that country. Domestically, the calls for a swifter withdrawal is not only divorced from the realities of logistical constraints but also display a reckless disregard for the negative consequences of a hasty pullout on Afghans. In Afghanistan, an instinct of fear pervades the US and ISAF reaction, which leads them to ignore the grief of the victims.

This approach is precisely the wrong one because disregarding the human suffering and concentrating on “Afghan anger” and threat of a “backlash” dehumanizes the people affected by this incident and paints them not as victims but as potential aggressors. From a practical standpoint, it is especially counterproductive that the mission charged with protecting the civilians is taking the fear approach, because it separates them from the population and prevents a more human connection with the population in grief.”

The ignorance is not exclusive to the US military and civilian officials and political elite. Another friend Josh Shahryar has summarized the disregard of the victims of Kandahar by the mainstream US media in following words:

What disgusts me as an Afghan is the degree to which the victims of this massacre have been ignored. Imagine if this was a serial killer who committed this crime in a suburb of Chicago? By now, you’d have pictures of every victim, published in neat collages in every major newspaper in the US. The US mainstream media has people on the ground in Afghanistan. They also have access. Yet they have not documented names or pictures or stories. Afghan tragedies have been left for Afghans to cover, even when that tragedy is caused by an American.”

Josh points to an editorial on the Kandahar massacre published by the National Review Online referring to Afghans as “primitive”, and says:

“An American soldier goes to Afghanistan and massacres 16 civilians inside their homes, then burns their bodies. And we are the ones who are primitive”.

Almost a week after the incident, Wall Street Journal has been the only US media outlet to have interviewed the victims in Panjwai. Seeing the way mainstream US media have covered this massacre, I am not surprised that Robert Bales’ lawyer actually wants to visit Afghanistan and “investigate” family members of the victims for his “client”. There is little doubt Bales’ action were not premeditated. But his lawyer will try best to prove that Bales has mental problems and should go away with 16 murders.

In Afghanistan, people have been patient and there were no riots as feared by US officials and media pundits. But Afghan media should highlight the hypocrisy of our political and religious leadership and ordinary people regarding our reaction on such issues.

Taliban kill civilians every day. A day after the Panjwai massacre, an IED by the Taliban killed 5 women and 4 children in Uruzgan. The next day a blast killed several innocent people in Helmand. Taliban blow up mosques, they are responsible for majority of civilian casualties, but I remember only few cases in which people took to streets chanting against Taliban atrocities. If only President Karzai would have invited victims of any of the daily Taliban atrocities, media had highlighted in the way they reported Panjwai massacre, and people had protested like the riots after Quran burning, Taliban would think twice before sending a suicide bomber and killing civilians. If the US officials and media have shown utter disregard and ignorance, our hypocrisy has not been less in degree. Rather our collective hypocrisy has been more harmful than their disregard.

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Civilian Casualties; US Troops Not Serious to Avoid and Taliban Cause Larger

The tragic incident of firing on civilian bus in Kandahar killing four including a woman and a child, has intensified the anti-US perception of people in South. Why does it happen again and again? After each tragic incident of civilian casualties, the forces are thought to have learnt from their blunders and avoid such blind firing, but we see it happening again very soon after the previous incident. The forces seems to be very ill-trained regarding the confrontation with civilians. Recently the US and NATO military officials restructured their engagement approach to avoid civilian casualties, but we see each day with a worst of it happening repeatedly.

Such incidents will only cause to intensify the anti-NATO perception of people, whom the US is trying to win by hearts and minds. Talking of that specific tragic incident in Kandahar, it has been reported that the bus didn’t stop approaching the convoy of troops after warning signals. Traveling on Kandahar-Kabul highway is one the worst in Afghanistan. Taliban try to make an appearance on the highway almost daily, in order to keep their fear of presence in the minds of people. Almost everyday there is a firefight between NATO and Afghan troops patrolling on the highway and Taliban militants and many times civilians come under fire. NATO vehicles have sign of “stay away” which all the civilian vehicles follow to avoid being killed!. But in very rare cases, be it misunderstanding due illiteracy or newcomers, of driver or his attention not being to the military convoy, causes deadly consequences. Forces could simply avoid all those casualties by some warning shots on mirror of the bus, or around it, or on tyre of the vehicle, but opening up indiscriminate fire on the vehicle shows the same mentality recently shown in the Wikileaks video from Kandahar where civilians are being killed like a battle in a video game. The other video promised by Wikileaks about Afghanistan civilian killings, to be released soon might prove this mentality.

Why civilian casualties happen again and again? Don’t they really take it serious? Civilian deaths have been one of the major reasons behind driving out young suicide bombers from the family of victims who are thirsty of the blood of those who killed their loved ones.

On the other hand, Taliban are responsible for majority of civilian casualties. Taliban IED and suicide attacks killed three times more civilians than the victims of the US, NATO and Afghan National Security Forces operations last year. When protesting against civilian casualties, the people need to condemn Taliban militants also, besides chanting “Death to America”, wish there was someday a protest rally against any Taliban atrocity with slogans “Death to Taliban” “Stop bombing schools” “Stop beheading people” and so on.

If the foreign troops in Afghanistan will not be serious about avoiding civilian casualties and making all out efforts to avoid any innocent  lives, they would never win the hearts and minds of people. Our Government and the people must be honest and realistic about their outlook. Taliban kill larger number of civilians, this should also be condemned by the President and people.

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