New year's eve, regardless what calendar you adhere to, is for many about turning a new leaf and making resolutions about what to do better the next year. In Afghanistan such a leaf was turned, but for many of us it is not about things getting better, but things getting worse.
While out with friends in Kabul we heard about last Thursday's attack on the Serena Hotel, which the Taliban later described as a 'planned martyr attack' targeting 'foreign invaders along with the top-level local officials and lawyers.' The Taliban says 'The Mujahideen fighters started searching each rooms of the hotel thoroughly to discover the identities of the guests and selectively took down their targets.'
If that is true, I want to know how it came to be that the wife of journalist Sarda Ahmad and two of his daughters, along with Ahmad himself, were killed in such an attack. What exactly was their crime? The third child, a small boy, is lying in hospital struggling for his life with a bullet in his head. The shooting, using small pistols and small bullets (after all, they hid them in their shoes) indicates that even the children were killed at close range (not in crossfire as claimed later) by attackers that were said to be rather young, possibly still teenagers.
These four targets clearly did not fit the profile of international and top-level officials the Taliban was after (though some internationals were also killed). It is hard to imagine that shooting small children at point-blank can be considered a martyrdom attack.
My heart broke today when I read the words of one of the two little girls who was killed, which somebody reposted on Facebook:
My girl, five-year-old Nursery student Nelofar: Baba (father), do the Taliban kill animals as well?
Me (Ahmad Sarda): No!
Nelofar: I wish we were animals...
Nelofar did not get her wish and was killed. It's sad to say that, while the Taliban may not kill animals, it does kill little children and women (not even counting the other innocent civilians which the Taliban would put into its so very broad 'non-civilian' category).
I want to ask Taliban leader Mullah Omar how he can reconcile this particular killing with what he said in his Eid-ul-Fitr Message last year:
I order the Mujahideen to block the way of activities of these tyrants if possible and increase efforts for prevention of civilian casualties and help the newly-founded office of the Islamic Emirate which has been established to prevent civilian casualties and present on ground facts to our people and the public of the world.
So, Geneva Convention aside, either children have joined the non-civilian list, or Mullah Omar is not keeping his word, or he is not following the Taliban's own codebook (the Lahya). Or perhaps he has simply lost control.
The war is getting dirtier. We have to assume that everything and everybody is fair game in the Taliban's fight against – well, it raises the question of 'against what?' and 'against whom?' and possibly also 'for whom?'
When the Taliban first swept into Afghanistan in 1996 it had a reason: to liberate the Afghan people from the terror of mujahideen rule. But where does the terror come from now? When one speaks to ordinary Afghans, both in rural and urban areas, the main terror now comes from the Taliban (and of course some also from the Afghan government and international military, which I've written about in the past). It rules by fear and not support, and it seems to no longer care about the very constituency it claims to defend – the Afghan people.
This also became apparent in some recent research in which I took part: many communities in Afghanistan are starting to question whether the Taliban is still an Islamic movement or a defender of Islam. After all, it kills those accused of spying without a trial (Sharia forbids this), denies funerals to members of Afghan National Security Forces (every Muslim has the right to a funeral) and kills and beats up mullahs who do their job, such as hold funerals for ANSF members.
There is clearly something wrong here. When I spoke to somebody who used to be with the Taliban, I listened for four hours to how Islamic the Taliban was, how it followed Sharia, how punishment was always according to Sharia, how it is the Westerners who are bad. I kept coming back with examples such as those named above until he finally admitted: 'It is war, the end justify the means — but once we are back in power, this will all cease.'
But how can you trust a movement that violates its own principles? Who can trust inconsistency?
Before I am accused of bias, sorry Mr Taliban, but I call it how I see it. When an American soldier killed one of my journalist friends in Uruzgan two years ago, I also wrote about it, and I deplore it as much as these recent killings. My only bias is against the killing of civilians. It is wrong, regardless of what religion you adhere to. From what I understand from Islam, you are not supposed to kill the 'innocent' and who more innocent than children?
In closing, let me get some things off my chest:
- I agree with the late Ahmad Sarda (below): journalism is not a crime! Nor is being a civilian (ie. not carrying a gun).
- Regardless how you define civilians, the killing of children is just plain wrong, and there is no way around it — see the pleading of some Afghan kids above.
- President Karzai: are you sure you still want to call these people your brothers? If you can hold a three-day mourning for an ex-warlord, how come you cannot do the same for the innocent killing of a family? Who are your allegiances to?
- And before I forget, a question to all internationals: is this really what we want to leave behind? A population under siege? A changed Taliban movement (thanks in part to the 'kill and capture' policy by the international military)? I guess, we are done, but can we truly say 'Well done'?