PHOTO-FEATURE

Mountain of misery

As Afghanistan descends into yet another cycle of violence

gallery-image Dashed dreams: Two-year-old Ansarullah was playing outside his home when a stray Taliban bullet hit him. His right arm was amputated. His father, Muhammad Youssef, a farmer, is inconsolable.
gallery-image Crutches lined up inside the Emergency hospital.
gallery-image Mohammed Sodek, 44, was also injured in the attack.
gallery-image In search of answers: a doctor examining the x-ray of ali khan eshag, who was injured in the april 22 attack on a voter registration centre.
gallery-image Sabray, 16, is the victim of a land mine explosion | Source: ACAPS.ORG

In Afghanistan, war is a way of life; its signs scarily evident among its hapless citizens. Eyes lost in explosions, vital organs torn apart by shrapnel, arms and legs amputated, and stray bullets sparing none, not even innocent children.

In the last few months, the situation has only worsened, largely because of two things. The first is the decision by US President Donald Trump to favour an open-ended military response over negotiations. The second is the fratricidal war between the Taliban, the oldest and the most entrenched anti-government group, and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, the local branch of IS, active since the end of 2014. Violence has intensified as a result, killing more people and leading to wanton destruction. There was a brief respite during Eid, but, on June 17, the Taliban launched yet another attack, killing 30 Afghan soldiers in Murghab district.

Barring brief interludes, the attacks have been unrelenting—targeting voter registration centres, police stations, markets and shopping centres, leaving a trail of blood, death and terror. Some attacks have been particularly bloody, like the one in January at the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul, and the one in May, when a truck bomb killed 150 people, right in the heart of the capital city. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, there have been 2,258 civilian casualties (763 dead and 1,495 injured) from January to March this year.

Fear and desperation are writ large on the faces of victims at the Surgical Centre for War Victims, a hospital run by Emergency, an international humanitarian organisation. Open since 2001, the hospital has treated more than two lakh victims. When THE WEEK visited the hospital, it was full of victims of the April 22 attack on a voter registration centre in Kabul. There were also victims who got trapped in the battle between the Taliban and the Afghan army. The smell of blood and the screams of the injured filled the air. Doctors and nurses were rushing around, in a desperate attempt to provide the best possible care.

“The country has changed. There is no security, and corruption is rampant,” said Edhaiat, a 38-year-old surgeon, who has been working in the hospital for the past 14 years. “People have lost hope about things getting better. Now, they want to escape. The best people are leaving the country,” he said. “I am still here for my family, but I am paying a very high price for it. The price is fear.”

gallery-image Narrow escape: Noorsa, an eight-year-old who survived the April 22 explosion at the voter centre.
gallery-image Ali Khan Eshag, who survived the April 22 attack.
gallery-image Bleak future: Youssef, an ICU nurse at the Emergency hospital.
gallery-image Nadim, who lost his left arm and leg in an explosion, with his father.
gallery-image Journalist AhmadShah Azimi, who survived a bomb attack.

He looked older than 38, which he said was because of work pressure. “My eyes have seen too much pain. But every time a patient arrives without a leg or with his face unrecognisable because of burns or with his abdomen torn open by shrapnel, my heart is destroyed,” he said. “I cannot get used to it. Every person we receive here is like a new wound in our soul.”

Ali Khan Eshag is one such patient, who was injured in the April 22 attack. The 28-year-old social science student was looking for voter registration cards for the next elections. “Suddenly, there was an explosion and I fell down. I fainted for a while. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was a child screaming, and another one looking for her mother among the corpses. Beside me were dead bodies of two or three policemen and of dozens of men, women, and even children, some still wearing their school backpacks,” he said. “I studied social sciences, and I have been working as a tailor to pay for my studies. My wife cannot read or write, but was working to support my studies. But now, I do not believe that our life will be better.”

In the intensive care room, there were three children who survived the April 30 suicide attack in Kabul in which ten journalists lost their lives. Youssef, a nurse, said life in Kabul had changed completely compared, with the situation ten years ago.

“We never feel safe,” said Youssef. “People would like to walk, drive, or ride a bike, without being worried about dying. Everyone here has lost something or someone because of the violence in the country. In the mornings when I leave home, I say goodbye to my wife as if it were the last time.” Ten years ago, about four people used to come every month with gunshot wounds. Now, 10-15 patients come every day. “This war is like fog, because the end is not clear,” he said.

According to a recent BBC analysis, the Taliban is openly active in about 70 per cent of Afghanistan, considerably more extensive than in 2014, when a major chunk of foreign troops left the country. Although the United States is spending billions of dollars to subjugate the Taliban, it has not really been effective.

People from areas such as the Ghazni province, where the Taliban is engaged in a bitter battle with the government forces, arrive on a daily basis at the hospital with bullet and mortar wounds. Muhammad Youssef, a farmer, has brought his two-year-old son Ansarullah, after the child was hit by a bullet.

“My wife and I are humble farmers, and we were working. Our children were playing football near the house,” said Muhammad. “I went back to the house to wash. As I was washing, I heard my son shouting. I opened the door, and he ran in crying. He no longer had his right arm.”

“Life in Afghanistan is like this,” he said. “Your children are playing, and suddenly a bullet comes from the mountains that are so beautiful, yet so dangerous, and destroys your child’s life, for no reason.” Muhammad could not hold back his tears. “You can do nothing but listen to him crying. You just look at the eyes of a child who has become sad and maybe will remain sad forever.”

Nation of trepidation

JUNE 16-17, MURGHAB

Taliban fighters kill at least 30 Afghan soldiers

JUNE 11, KABUL

Suicide bombing in front of a ministry building kills 13 and injures 25

MAY 21, KANDAHAR

A car bomb attack leaves 16 dead and 37 injured

MAY 13, JALALABAD

An insurgent attack on a government building kills 12 and wounds 36

APRIL 30-MAY 6, FARYAB

Belchirag district falls to Taliban. Over 9,000 people internally displaced

MAY 1, KUNDUZ

Taliban takes control of several villages. Over 5,000 people internally displaced

APRIL 30, KABUL

Twin suicide attacks kill 29 people

APRIL 22, KABUL

Suicide bombing kills 60 and wounds 129; Islamic State (IS) claims responsibility

MARCH 21, KABUL

Suicide bombing kills 29 and injures 52. IS claims responsibility