Despatch from Kabul | International

Afghan children caught in the crossfire

Injured boys receive treatment in a hospital after a car bomb attack in Ghazni province, central Afghanistan, Sunday, July 7, 2019. Afghan officials say a car bomb in central Afghanistan has killed a few people and wounded dozens of people, many of them students attending a nearby school.

Injured boys receive treatment in a hospital after a car bomb attack in Ghazni province, central Afghanistan, Sunday, July 7, 2019. Afghan officials say a car bomb in central Afghanistan has killed a few people and wounded dozens of people, many of them students attending a nearby school.   | Photo Credit: AP

A massive truck bomb exploded close to a school in the heart of Ghazni city in Afghanistan last Sunday, causing one of the highest child casualties reported in a single day. The explosion caused more than 100 casualties, a majority of them children. The target though, as claimed by the Taliban, was a National Directorate of Security facility close by.

“The bomb exploded around 8.30 a.m. close to Afghan Rahmati School... a private institution for primary kids, and as a result most of the victims were below 11,” Muhib-ur-Rahman Ansar, the provincial director of education from the Ministry of Education, told this correspondent. Mr. Ansar was among the first few to reach the site of the attack to help with rescue operations. “There was so much blood, a few woman teachers were also wounded. The scenes were graphic. I have a few photos but I can’t even think of sharing them,” a discomposed Mr. Ansar said.

Total casualties have crossed 120, which include 59 children, an official from the Ghazni Public Health Directorate confirmed, adding that at least six people died, including two children. “The children have been admitted to hospital, many with severe injuries. Doctors tell us they are treating serious shrapnel wounds,” Mariam Atahi, communications manager at Save The Children in Afghanistan, said.

Peace talks

The deadly attack came on a day when Afghan representatives gathered in Doha for a rare intra-Afghan meeting with leaders of the Taliban to negotiate peace in the country. Incidentally, one of the aspects discussed at the meeting on Tuesday, two days after the attack in Ghazni, was an assurance of reducing civilian casualties. In a statement issued alongside Afghan representatives, the Taliban agreed to not attack schools, universities, mosques and markets, as well as residential areas.

The Taliban has already been in several rounds of talks with the U.S. seeking an end to the war. At the same time, they have escalated attacks in several parts of the country, with exceeding civilian casualties. A similar attack on a defence facility in Kabul a week ago also hit a school nearby, causing more than 100 casualties, half of them students.

Security analysts predict that Afghanistan will remain the deadliest conflict zone in the world in 2019, far surpassing the levels of violence witnessed in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and other hotspots. This surge of violence is causing discontent and anger among locals. “The peace talks are happening in Qatar but there is bloodshed in Afghanistan. Both parties are trying to showcase their power so they can make a better bargain during the peace deal,” said Nasratullah Sultanzoy, an Education Ministry director and a colleague of Mr. Ansar.

He recalled helping two wounded third grade boys. “They wanted to quickly get back to school after their treatment to prepare for a test the next day. They even offered to help clean the classrooms,” he said. The school building in question stands in complete ruin. “Watching them and their determination towards education moved me to tears. Their dedication gives me hope for the country,” he added, choking up at the memory. “We can’t do much, all we can do is ask for help from God.”

The indiscriminate violence, especially towards children has evoked a strong response from the international community. Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for children, with 8 out of 10 conflict-related child casualties, the result of explosive weapons. “Children are at increased risk to these kinds of attacks and their bodies even less able to withstand the force of a blast. Physical injuries can pale in comparison to the emotional scars many children may carry with them for years after experiencing a traumatic event like this. This is simply unacceptable,” Onno van Manen, country director at Save The Children in Afghanistan, said, appealing to all armed groups in the country to stop the killing and maiming of innocent children. “Think of the future generations.”

Agreeing with Mr. Manen, Mr. Ansar, the Education Ministry official, added: “Avoid killing and hurting the children of Afghanistan, else we will be left with an entire generation scarred and disabled.”

(Ruchi Kumar is a journalist based in Kabul.)

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 1:37:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/afghan-children-caught-in-the-crossfire/article28422129.ece

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