The Telegraph, November 24, 2009
Afghan victims of Taliban violence suffer in silence
The stench of sewage hangs in the air as barefoot children clamber up a suburban hillside in Kabul, past green flags that flap over the graves of Afghans killed in suicide attacks.
By Lynne O'Donnell
Perhaps a third of the tombs, each surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, are marked as the final resting places of "martyrs", as the victims of Taliban attacks are known.
The son of Abdul Wakil Dilawari, who was killed during a suicide attack against Italian soldiers in Kabul,holds up a photo of his father (Photo: AFP)
Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries, but three decades of war and an increasingly brutal Islamist insurgency have left it rich in martyrs and the misery their deaths leave behind.
In little more than three months, in Kabul alone, devastating suicide attacks have killed around 100 people. About 300 people have been injured."Where is Daddy?" three-year-old Weda asks her mother Yalda every day.
Abdul Wakil Dilawari - Yalda's husband and father of eight children aged three to 13 - was killed on September 17 when an explosives-packed car rammed into a Nato military convoy in front of his tiny shop on a busy highway.
The blast, heard across Kabul, was so big it left a massive crater in the road and killed six Italian soldiers in heavily armoured military vehicles.Ten Afghans were killed on the spot - a wide stretch of road lined on one side by a row of ramshackle buildings housing shops, pharmacies and doctors' surgeries.
Dilawari, a 37-year-old former soldier, rented out catering supplies for weddings, funerals and other functions.
When Yalda, 31, heard the blast around lunchtime, she and her mother-in-law, 55-year-old Shah Jan, screamed as they ran from their home on the hill towards the carnage, knowing their lives had just changed forever.
Across the country, and in a rising trend this year, more and more civilians are becoming collateral damage in the escalating war between the Taliban and Afghan government forces, backed by more than 100,000 international troops.The senior commander of the armies fighting under US and Nato flags, General Stanley McChrystal, has ordered measures such as reducing air strikes to minimise civilian casualties and deaths.
Taliban leaders have said they have the same aim, but the overwhelming number of victims of their suicide attacks are ordinary people and their grieving families.
The Afghan government says it has no idea how many people have been affected - indeed it does not even know the country's population, estimated at anywhere between 26 million and 30 million."We have no information because suicide attacks take place every day," said Suraya Paikan, deputy minister of public works.
Victims' families are entitled to financial compensation, of between 100,000 and 200,000 afghanis (£1,205-£2,400), she said.
With no official recognition of their existence - let alone a law that protects the rights of the disabled - people such as Yalda and her fatherless family have little hope of official support.The International Committee of the Red Cross calls them "invisible victims" because they slip through the bureaucratic nets, largely left to fend for themselves economically, emotionally and psychologically.
Like many Afghan men, Dilawari supported not just his wife and children but his mother-in-law and a handful of other relatives.
Since his death, the shop has not reopened and the promised government compensation has yet to arrive. The women do not work and little comes in - just the pittance two of the boys earn working in nearby shops after school.
"We are wondering how we will survive," said Shah Jan, tears streaming down her face. "We are getting short of food and there is the bank loan he took out to fix up the shop to be repaid."
Dilawari was her oldest son, she said. Weda has not been told he is dead.
"We don't know who did this - the Taliban, the Germans, the Americans. Why should people who have nothing to do with war be victims like this?"I hope whoever did this to us has the same thing happen to them," she said.
Yalda, too traumatised and fearful for the future of her family to cry, hid her face behind her white headscarf and called her husband's killers cowards."This is not 'jihad'. If the Taliban want to do 'jihad' they should do it face to face, they should fight like men, facing the foreign troops and not killing innocent people.
"We could never wish this upon the house and family of non-Muslims. But it has happened to us," she said.
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