By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
“Troops had marched male villagers out of their homes, near a place in Panjwaii district called Mushan. The women and children were segregated in another part of the village. The men were lined up against a wall and made to sit in the blinding sun. An Afghan intelligence officer in a black leather jacket and with his face obscured by sweat cloth went along and picked those he deemed suspicious. There was no rhyme or reason to the choices, at least none that I could see. The soldiers with the test kits dutifully swiped the hands of the chosen, looking for gunshot residue. A small Afghan boy, in a compound that had yet to be searched, yanked aside a worn woolen blanked that served as a door. He looked around with a fierce expression that belonged to a much older face. He moulded his forefinger and thumb into the shape of a gun, aimed it at us and pretended to shoot. One of the soldiers made as though he was going after him and the boy bolted back into the compound with the flourish of a startled bird. The other guys laughed.”
Murray Brewster, The Savage War
This is but one of the numerous graphic scenes which fill the pages of Murray Brewster’s first-hand account of the incredibly inhumane and utterly degrading treatment Afghans receive on a daily basis. But it is not the line of men standing under the blinding sun that deserves a comment; it is the small Afghan boy, whose childhood has been snatched away, who is important in this real scene. The boy’s attempt to show his fierce reaction against the foreign soldiers says it all: after more than a decade of occupation, millions of dollars spent on propaganda announcing the arrival of freedom, and untold deaths, the Afghan boy is still fiercely independent: he wants the foreigners to be annihilated. His soul remains unshackled. He is witnessing the barbarity of the foreign soldiers, who have rounded up his father, uncles, and relatives and for him there exists only one reality: these soldiers have no place in his land.
In the NATO countries, the Afghan war is now no more than a forgotten episode; most people have only a dim realization that their troops are still out there, but now even the returning dead bodies do not raise much concern. This is not accidental: there has been a systematic effort to wipe out Afghan war from public conscience. In Canada, flags are no more lowered on the Parliament Hill, pictures of coffins do not flash on TV screens, the conservative prime minister has banned all of this. The situation is not very different in USA and other NATO countries.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has been continuously glorifying Canada’s “heroic” role in the Afghan war ever since 2001. Its radio show, “Afcan” is a sickening effort to construct a glorified role of Canada’s involvement in this brutal and ruthless effort to make US occupation of Afghanistan a noble venture.
Since Afghanistan does not make headlines anymore, the public is utterly indifferent. No one actually knows how to handle this interminable war. The public callousness is simply mindboggling. When the Washington Post published the news on December 7, 2011 that the US Air Force has dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, far more than the military had acknowledged before, there was but only a subdued reaction. Such is the inhumanity of this war that it has numbed all.
The United States army had even concealed the landfill dumping from families, but the families had, nevertheless, authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a “dignified and respectful manner.” This is their existential need. They have to do something with the remains of their kin, and more than anything, it is the cost of disposing the remains that becomes a deciding factor.
The callousness of US officials can be gauged from the fact that US Air Force and Pentagon officials said last month that determining how many remains went to the landfill would require searching through the records of more than 6,300 troops whose remains have passed through the mortuary since 2001. “It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually,” Jo Ann Rooney, the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.). Holt, who has pressed the Pentagon for answers on behalf of a constituent whose husband was killed in Iraq, accused the Air Force and Defense Department of hiding the truth. “What the hell?” Holt said in a phone interview. “We spent millions, tens of millions, to find any trace of soldiers killed, and they’re concerned about a ‘massive’ effort to go back and pull out the files and find out how many soldiers were disrespected this way?” He added: “They just don’t want to ask questions or look very hard.”
For the veteran families, the tragedy of a son, daughter, husband, wife, or uncle dying in a faraway land is a personal tragedy of great importance, and their only solace is to embrace the official lie which has two facets: our troops are dying to protect us from terrorists; they are dying for the noble cause of bringing freedom and prosperity to the Afghans. Both lies are repeated ad nauseam; both are fake, utterly false pretenses for an otherwise indefensible war.
Everyone knows that there is absolutely no threat to any of the NATO countries from the ragtag Taliban and the notion of freedom to Afghans is equally fake, as anyone stepping into the slaughterhouse that is now Afghanistan can see.
Afghanistan has been turned into a huge concentration camp; anyone can be rounded up any time of the day or night. The fortunes of warlords keep shifting but raw violence determines the fate of all: from the half-brother of the lord mayor of Kabul to the most wretched gun totter on the street, all are vulnerable to a donkey carrying explosives and no one has a way to stop this barbarity.