Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Resurgent Taliban target women and children
Civilian casualties in the worsening war in Afghanistan are up just over 30 percent in the current year, the United Nations said in a mid-year report this week, holding the Taliban responsible for three-quarters of the deaths or injuries.
More worrying, women and children seem to be taking the brunt of the violence directed by a resurgent Taliban, which will only stoke more concern about the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamist group.
Indeed the Taliban have been blamed for a series of horrific assaults on women in recent weeks, which must be distasteful to even those pushing for a deal with them as a way to end the nine-year conflict.
A 48-year-old widow was given dozens of lashes in public and then executed for alleged adultery by the insurgents in the northwestern Badghis province on Sunday, according to a Reuters report, citing a provincial police officer. This came hard on the heels of a Time magazine cover picture of an 18-year-old woman allegedly disfigured by the Taliban for trying to flee abuse by her husband.
The UN report, documenting attacks on women and children, makes for equally grim reading. It said that in the first six months of this year, 55 percent more children were killed or wounded by the Taliban and other anti-government groups than in the same period in 2009. The number of women killed or wounded by the Taliban and other insurgents increased by six percent. Here is a PDF of the report.
It’s not just accidental deaths that we are talking of here, or people getting caught in the middle of crossfire between soldiers and insurgents. These were targeted killings, especially in the case of children, often suspected of spying for the government. Here are three cases listed in the report :
- A 17-year-old student was abducted allegedly by the Taliban from his home in Wardak province on March 8. His body was found the following morning. The Taliban had reportedly accused him of being part of the government.
- On June 29, a 12-year-old boy was publicly executed allegedly by insurgents in a district centre in Ghazni province. The motive for killing the boy has not yet been established.
- A seven year old boy – yes he was all of seven – was publicly hanged in Sanjin district in Helmand province reportedly by the Taliban. Although tribal tensions may have been a factor, the Taliban had accused the boy of spying for the government.
The insurgents also targeted anyone with a taste for music or films. The UN report said it found cases in which improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were deliberately planted outside shops selling music, DVDs and sweets. In Khost, two ice cream shops were bombed twice, wounding children. In Nangahar province, an explosive device detonated as dozens of children stood around a convoy of foreign and Afghan army soldiers. Four children were killed and more than 50 wounded. The home-made device was reportedly filled with shrapnel, and other sharp objects.
Bombs have also exploded near parks frequented by women and children, the report said.
The Taliban also remain implacably opposed to education, especially the education of girls. Night letters were disseminated throughout the southern, southeastern, central and northern regions of Afghanistan, warning teachers and pupils not to attend schools. The head of a girls’ school in Pul-i-Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan, received threat letters allegedly from the Taliban, warning her to close the school. They said they would kill the girls if she ignored their warning.
In several cases, the insurgents placed IEDs on routes used by female students to walk to school, resulting in casualties.