Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Afghanistan’s civilians caught in the middle


Reuters correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison has written a moving and disturbing story about an 8-year-old girl badly burned by white phosphorous after being caught in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan.  Like everything else that happens in Afghanistan, the question of who fired the shell that exploded in her house is in dispute. Her family said the shell was fired by western troops; NATO said it was “very unlikely” the weapon was theirs; and a U.S. spokeswoman suggested the Taliban may have been responsible.

But beyond the dispute, what comes across powerfully in Emma’s account is the story of the girl. 

“Life as 8-year-old Razia knew it ended one March morning when a shell her father says was fired by Western troops exploded into their house, enveloping her head and neck in a blazing chemical,” she writes. “Now she spends her days in a U.S. hospital bed at the Bagram airbase, her small fingernails still covered with flaking red polish but her face an almost unrecognisable mess of burned tissue and half her scalp a bald scar.”

Do read the whole story.

And now to the broader question of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai has called on the United States to halt air strikes following attacks on two villages this week that Afghan officials said killed 147 people. Washington has acknowledged that some civilians died, but the U.S. military said it could not confirm with certainty which of the casualties from the fighting this week were Taliban fighters and which were non-combatants, because those killed had all been buried.