Collateral Murder

The Frontier Post, Peshawar, Pakistan, October 24, 2001

World Press Review, January 2002


When President George Bush announced military strikes against Afghanistan, he promised these would be precise and targeted, and "collateral damage" would be avoided. Three weeks into the U.S. blitzing and there are already around 1,000 unconfirmed civilian casualties, including old persons, women, and children, who have lost their lives to the deadly arsenal raining down from the skies. The bomb that reduced the Herat hospital to rubble and killed 100 patients may have gone astray and violated the original war script, but this does not _ _ reduce the severity of the guilt and remorse the United States

Neither can the holes dug into the skulls of two Afghan children, whose photographs were carried by the press, be explained away as a case of wayward targeting.

By all accounts, what the United States is committing is collateral murder; any definition other than this would be an attempt to paper over a despicable reality. For a war machine that preens itself on being the most accurate, these inadvertent killings are a stigma that it may have to carry on its sleeve forever. For the Pentagon, the revolting killings of innocent people is a verdict on its inability to restrict the war to specific targets. This has totally blurred the line separating a "conscientious" and "righteous" president from a terrorist damned for trampling humanity.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to craft a suitable definition for what Bush is undertaking under the garb of reprisals to answer the infamy committed in the United States. The U.S.-led campaign has really begun to incite worldwide criticism and protest for its blind ferocity. This resentment is manifested in the rising number of rallies against the demolition of civil facilities like the U.N. demining office, the Red Cross warehouse, hospitals and clinics, and the casualties resulting therefrom. There may be some exaggeration about the deaths and injuries caused to civilians, but the very fact of their being bombarded cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. After Sept. 11, the United States had perched on a high moral plane; it seems to be sliding down from it rapid y.

Very soon, it may find its assaults placed on a par with the callousness associated with terrorists. The smirk on the face of the U.S. general while denying the claims of civilian casualties and the administration's arrogant brushing aside the criticism of its misdirected adventure are a bad omen for the people of Afghanistan.

Sensing the colossal rage of the United States, thousands of Afghan nationals are daily thronging the borders at Chaman and Torkham. The desperation to get into a country that has already provided refuge to some 2 million of their compatriots has compelled many of them to sally forth even in the face of firing in the air by the border security forces. The incident in Chaman in which nearly 700 Afghans managed to rush into Pakistan while defying the warning shots by the border guards is evidence of this grim reality.

Obviously, the United States cannot inculcate security in the people of Afghanistan by first dropping bombs and then following it up by bread. They are fleeing their country to save their lives and, in the process, putting a further strain on Pakistan's economy Besides, the spectacle of dead and disabled Afghans is likely to fuel the protests on the streets of Pakistan.

By presenting these deaths as inevitable, the United States may well have assuaged its conscience, but it may not be able to escape the consequences of its ruthless dispensation of killings of the civilian population. It must lend an ear to the voice of the people questioning the rationale of its tactics.

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