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'For Afghans, There Is No Refuge'
Humanitarian groups' study of 700 civilians reveals shocking pattern of continuing misery
For most of her life, the young Afghan woman was fleeing war. But everywhere she went it stalked her.
"She was very quiet and shy, and you could barely hear her speak," said Ashley Jackson of Oxfam. "When the civil war began in the early 1990s, she left Kabul and went to the border. But her son was killed by a rocket attack.
"She went to Pakistan and lived in a refugee settlement, and her daughter was taken by a man who wanted her. When the Taliban fell and the family finally got back to Kabul, her husband was killed.
"For Afghans, there is no refuge."
The story of the Afghan woman is one of 700 that form a shocking pattern of abuse, trauma and death suffered by Afghans caught in three decades of war – misery that did not end with the defeat of the Taliban and entry of thousands of Canadian and international troops.
Their stories are detailed in a study, The Cost of War, published Tuesday by Oxfam, the Afghan Civil Society Forum, the Afghan Peace and Democracy Act and five other humanitarian groups that spent months travelling through the country's 14 provinces to collect the experiences of ordinary people.
It shows Afghans blame poverty and corruption more than the Taliban for the continuing conflict.
Seventy per cent of interviewees believe poverty is driving the conflict; 48 per cent blame the corruption of the Afghan government; and 36 per cent blame the Taliban. Eighteen per cent hold international forces responsible, and 17 per cent blame lack of world support.
The study was based on 700 interviews with randomly selected participants.
"People have been driven from their homes multiple times, arrested, tortured and abused," said Jackson, the study's author, in a phone interview from Kabul. "The numbers are startling. It's inspiring that they were able to survive, but also depressing that they are still suffering in this way."
During wars that began with the overthrow of president Daoud Khan in 1978 – and led to the Soviet invasion, a bloody turf war among militants, the Taliban takeover and the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew them – one in 10 Afghans was detained at least once, one in five was tortured, and three in four were forced to leave their homes.
The fighting left an overwhelming number of impoverished people, many without prospects. Since the slide in security in 2006, civilians have been increasingly caught in violence between the Taliban and international forces.
On Monday, 14 civilians died in a rocket attack on a crowded market in the eastern Afghan town of Tagab, where French troops were battling to dislodge the Taliban.
Najibullah Rahimi, a member of the district council, told reporters, "The people are demoralized by both sides. The foreigners and insurgents fight but the civilians are the ones who are sacrificed."
Many in the survey agree, Though it doesn't claim to be comprehensive, it gives a wide-angle view of post-Taliban Afghanistan, providing clues for Canada and other countries whose troops and aid projects are in the battered country.
It says the international community must commit and deliver more effective aid that employs Afghans; hold the Afghan government accountable and support its efforts to tackle corruption and criminality; and bolster local peace-building and conflict resolution initiatives that include restitution for the abuses Afghans have suffered.
The study says Afghans overwhelmingly long for peace, but not at any price: "Not just an end to the physical violence ... but respect for basic human rights, the alleviation of poverty, an effective and accountable government and access to basic services such as health care and education."
The foot-dragging of the international community has been damaging, but not fatal, said Jackson.
"We'll be working with Afghanistan for 10 or 20 years. In the end, the Afghan people will have the ability to carry on."
With files from Associated Press