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.