27 Aug 2017
Writer: Mohammad Reza Gulkohi

Years of collateral damage

Civilian life and property are of little concern to combatants in the Afghan conflict.
Heartbreaking incidents like in Mirzawlang in Sayad district of Sar-e-Pol province or the targeting of worshippers in Herat province, airstrikes on civilians in Haska Mena of Nangarhar province, killing of two women and one child in Garmab area Trinikoot city, Uruzgan, or the massacre of members of a family in Faryab by a rocket fired by the Afghan national army soldiers have become nearly daily occurrences.
Afghanistan's never-ending wars have created waves of refugees and internally displaced peoples. The earliest round of fighting was in the 1980s, between the Soviet army and mujahedin backed by the US, which was followed in the early 1990s by the civil war years of fighting between factions of the mujahedin that ended only after the Taleban captured Kabul (1996) in bloody battles that led to more civilian deaths and displacement until in late-2001, the Taleban regime was ousted by a US-led military force that later installed a new Afghan government but even that peace was not permanent.
Afghanistan is the battlefield of proxy wars, and civilians have never been spared.
Mohammad Husain Ahmadi, a landmine survivor who has a lifelong disability says, "Unfortunately the involved sides in war and their supporters, specifically the insurgents, have no respect for international treaties so they have no qualms of targeting civilians."
Aref Akbar is a political expert. He sees the situation as a result of proxy wars that have roots in big regional and international conflicts. "The active combatants in Afghanistan have not been sensitive to civilian deaths and as a result there is a weakening of the government and government institutions," he says. It is not just armed opponents of the government who kill civilians but government forces and their allies have also civilian blood on their hands.
Habiba Adel, a civil society activist, believes that massacres are often due to imprecise identification of military targets. Each time civilians have been killed in airstrikes by foreign forces or by Afghans neither national nor international forces have been held responsible and prosecuted, which would serve as deterrence.
What is the way forward? Can the bloody serial killing of civilians in Afghanistan be brought to an end?

Take responsibility
Legal and political experts think the current situation faced by civilian can be solved if national and international human rights organisations were to pressure combatants and force all sides to take responsibility for the loss of innocent civilian lives.
What if the security forces were to win over the hearts of minds of civilians so anti-government groups cannot set up bases in civilian areas? Civilian deaths would fall sharply as a result. Maybe even civilians could help security forces identify armed opponents.
Jawed Hasas, lecturer in Ghazni University says, "The international community as well as the national and international human rights groups should not be just spectators, looking on as crimes are committed and issuing statements in condemnation."
According to Sharifa Sahel, a resident of Kabul, "Unfortunately no side cares to protect human rights and adhere to International Humanitarian Law, or law of war, in the current war. Prevention of loss of civilian life is not a concern."
UNAMA reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict shows a steadily declining situation since the UN started monitoring. The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war remained at "record high levels" in the first six months of this year, with Kabul remaining the most dangerous city in the country, according to the most recently published mid-year report.
More than 60 percent of deaths have been blamed on Taleban, Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami, ISIS and other armed opponents of the government, while the responsibility for 23 percent was put on Afghan security forces and foreign allies.
Long-term strategy
Dr Qasem Elyasi, a human rights expert, believes there has to be concerted efforts to protect civilians. "What is important is a decisive, long term and comprehensive strategy for prevention or at least decrease (losses of civilian lives) as the human tragedy is otherwise increasing day by day and the strategies set by the government and other concerned institutions are at best interim."
Analysts say government efforts to protect civilians in the conflict zones have been at best symbolic and ineffective.
Mohammad Qarabaghi, writer and analyst says, "The government in Kabul has not taken practical steps to reduce civilian casualties. Earlier a joint board that works under the national security council had asked all the concerned international institutions to monitor Afghanistan security agencies and independently assess the situation so as to tackle the problem but little has changed."
The reality is that the assessments may have taken place and the results may have been put down on paper but it has not had an effective impact and decreased civilian deaths since on the one hand armed anti-government forces shelter among civilians and on the other hand Afghan security forces do not have the equipment to counter opponents. As a result civilians are caught in between in the ongoing war.



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