Disabled Afghan War Vets Protest in Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Hundreds of disabled Afghan war veterans, many missing arms or legs and dressed in rags, staged a protest rally in central Kabul on Tuesday, accusing the government of failing to pay them monthly stipends and misusing aid donations.
The men gathered outside the Health Ministry around noon, but were blocked from marching to President Hamid Karzai´s office by a cordon of riot police carrying plastic shields and night sticks.
They dispersed after a protest leader, Haji Rahim Shah, said he would meet with Karzai and report back on the meeting´s results. There were no known arrests or injuries.
"We´re here demanding our rights," said Mohammad Akbar, who lost his right leg from the knee down in a land mine explosion. "We´re not terrorists, we´re sons of the nation who sacrificed and suffered."
Many protesters claimed they hadn´t been paid their promised $2.20 monthly stipend in more than six months. They said that amount was too little anyway and demanded bigger payments, along with coupons for cheap food, subsidized housing and jobs with the new government that was founded after the fall of the hard-line Islamic Taliban regime in late 2001.
The demonstrators were a mix of former soldiers in the Soviet-backed Afghan government army and "mujahedeen" rebels who were their bitter foes during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.
That fighting, and the civil war that followed the Soviet pullout, left about 80,000 soldiers with lost limbs or other permanent disabilities. Many are now destitute, forced to live among Kabul´s war-devastated ruins and survive on handouts.
Mohammad Abdullah, a graduate of the former government military academy, said many veterans could be useful office workers despite their disabilities.
"I´m an educated man. I´m not illiterate. Yet they won´t give us the opportunity to make a decent life, so we live like beggars," said Abdullah, who lives with his wife and six children in a hillside shack rented for $17.80 a month.
Abdullah, who has an artificial leg, said he supplements his income by running a fruit stand, but still can´t afford to pay for his children´s school supplies or doctor´s bills.
Abdul Rizal, a former government soldier, was shot three times and lost his right leg in fighting in the 1980s. He said veterans want a full accounting of how the Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled Affairs has spent international aid funds. He said veterans believe ministry officials are misappropriating aid.
Martyrs Minister Abdullah Wardak said the veterans´ complaints have been discussed with Karzai and officials are looking for ways to increase stipends and find them jobs. However, he denied that monthly stipends had not been paid.