Stern steps needed to protect Afghan civilians - GulfToday

Stern steps needed to protect Afghan civilians

Afghanistan blast

An injured man moves away from the site of a bomb blast in Kabul. File/Reuters

Deadly violence has been taking a heavy toll on civilians in Afghanistan despite the ongoing peace negotiations and that’s not acceptable.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has in its latest report stated that more civilians were killed by Afghan and international coalition forces in the first half of this year than by the Taliban and other militants, which they should take a serious note of.

Distressingly, at least 3,812 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019 in the war against militant groups, including a big increase in the number of casualties caused by government and foreign forces.

The fighting has been forcing civilians to live under the constant threat of being targeted by militants or being caught up in ground fighting, or becoming inadvertent victims of air strikes by Afghan government and foreign forces.

Raids and clashes caused the most civilian casualties, followed by bomb attacks and air strikes.

Taliban and Daesh fighters killed 531 Afghans and wounded 1,437 between Jan.1 and June 30. The groups deliberately targeted 985 civilians, including government officials, tribal elders, aid workers, and religious scholars, as per UNAMA.

On the other hand, pro-government forces killed 717 Afghans and wounded 680 in the six months to June 30, a 31% increase from the corresponding period in 2018.

As in most conflict zones, women, children and the elderly are forced to face the brunt of the violence. At least 144 women and 327 children were killed and more than 1,000 wounded across the country.

The air strikes are said to have caused 519 civilian casualties, 150 of whom were children.

UNAMA human rights chief Richard Bennett is absolutely correct when he says parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics, but the fact remains that only a determined effort to avoid civilian harm, not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing the intensity of the fighting, will decrease the suffering of civilian Afghans.

The situation on the ground remains worrisome. Deadly violence marred the start of Afghanistan’s election season on the weekend, after President Ashraf Ghani insisted “peace is coming” to the war-torn nation.

The death toll from a suicide attack on the Kabul office of Amrullah Saleh, Ghani’s running mate in September elections, reached 20 with at least 50 wounded, officials confirmed on Monday.

The violence came on the first day of campaigning for the upcoming presidential elections, serving as a grim reminder of Afghanistan’s woeful security situation and the sort of mayhem that beset previous polls.

The deliberate targeting of educational facilities during armed conflict is a war crime, UNAMA had stated recently after a bomb detonated near the entrance to Kabul University, in the country’s capital.

Earlier this month, a car bomb exploded in Kabul during rush hour, claiming three lives and injuring more than 90 people. Detonated by militants, who then stormed the building, a seven-hour gun battle ensued. Scores of children were among the casualties, as they sat in nearby classrooms.

The country has been bleeding for years and the situation has to change. Ordinary Afghans should not anymore be forced to live in constant insecurity and fear.

There is a strong desire among Afghan people for sustainable peace and that should be respected. All sides should wholeheartedly embrace a peace process that ensures the long-term prosperity and stability of the country.