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IRIN, August 7, 2012

AFGHANISTAN: Kunar attacks undermine civilian livelihoods

One recent early morning, Bibi Hajira was milking the cows when a blast knocked her unconscious. "When I woke up I was in the hospital with head injuries. My left arm and right leg had both been hit. I don't remember anything else but that blast."

When Hajira returned home, she found her cow dead, and her goats and sheep injured. "I still get very scared every time I hear the sound of a rocket. It has a nasty sound."

Hajira is just one of several dozen injured in the ongoing shelling in the eastern province of Kunar, bordering Pakistan. The attacks, widely attributed to Pakistan, began in May and have recently intensified.

Afghan officials accuse Pakistan's military of firing the rockets across the border to target insurgent havens in the remote area, a claim Pakistan denies. While estimates vary, Fazlolah Waheedi, the governor of Kunar, told news agencies that in the past three months, 3,160 attacks have taken place in five districts of the province, killing eight people and wounding 25 others.

Marawara district in the Eastern Kunar Province
Marawara district in eastern Kunar province shares a border with Pakistan. Dangam district, the most affected area in the recent cross-border attacks is situated directly above Marawara. (Photo: Bethany Matta/IRIN)

The assaults were described by Ilija Todorovic, deputy representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as "a series of volley of shells being rained down over a short period of time, randomly destroying houses and killing people".

The attacks have also resulted in a no-confidence vote by the Afghan parliament on the ministers of defence and the interior, who now only serve ad interim, after they were accused of not doing enough to prevent the incursions. Many fear the vote could further destabilize the already shaky transition from the International Security Assistance Force to national security forces.

Pattern of violence

''It was during the evening when 30 or so rockets landed in my remote village of Barkanday on the border," said Haji Bado Khan, a farmer from Dangam District.

"There was a sudden bang, and after few minutes I saw everyone laying in blood. My two grandchildren and wife were injured. My cattle was killed. My chickens had heart attacks and I even had shrapnel in my left arm. And then more rockets came. The nearby forest caught fire. Villagers brought their mules and donkeys and took us to a hospital, but we all lost a lot of blood on the way. My cattle was my income so now I am left without a job. I can't sell milk, yogurt or butter anymore.''

UN and government officials said this year's shelling and rocket attacks are similar to those that took place about the same time last year, but while the previous year's assaults tapered off around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, this year's attacks show little sign of letting up.

So far 559 families from about seven villages have been displaced from Dangam and surrounding areas. The majority of these families have moved to neighboring villages and districts.

"If last year gives us any indication of what will happen this year," said UNHCR's Todorovic, "a large number of families will wait it out, until the attacks die down or stop, and then return home. Some - similar to last year - will remain in displacement permanently."

"No one knows when it will stop," said Walid Akbar, spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society. "The government and international forces cannot get in [because of the insecurity] and if the people just return back home to their villages and return to work on their land, unfortunately, it will start again."

Compounding the turmoil, many of the same villages and families affected in the 2011 attacks are being hit again this year.

For most Afghans living in the area, the fear has been overwhelming. "The rockets continue to land. Sometimes dozens, sometimes a few, and sometimes I lose count," said Sayedo Jan, another farmer from Dangam District. "No people have been injured or killed, but the children are terrified."

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