IWPR, June 13, 2013
Emergency Aid for Afghan Bomb Victims “Stolen”
Investigation indicates that large consignment of medical supplies was diverted and sold off illegally
By Abdul Maqsud Azizi
Bombs have become so common in Afghanistan that the attacks themselves, still less the human costs months and years later, are rarely reported.
When a bomb went off at a clinic in Logar, a province south of Kabul, in July 2011, 30 people were killed instantly and at least ten died afterwards as a result of the injuries they sustained.
In response, the provincial health department dispatched a large consignment of medical items to help the injured. The emergency shipment never arrived, and one local politicians believes this contributed to the deaths of at least ten people in the weeks following the attack.
A parliamentary fact-finding mission uncovered evidence of wrongdoing, but no one was sure what became of the missing shipment. A five-month investigation conducted by IWPR’s team in Afghanistan now suggests that the supplies were stolen and then sold off on the open market.
The evidence points to the chairman of Logar’s provincial council, Dr Abdul Wali Wakil, who denies all allegations of wrongdoing.
Afghan man sits next to a victim of a blast. A bus burned after it collided with the wreckage of a truck that was attacked by Taliban insurgents in Maiwand district, Afghanistan on April 26, 2013. (Photo: AP)
At around 10:30 in the morning of July 5, 2011, a driver sitting in a truck packed with explosives flicked the detonator switch outside the gates of the Akbarkhel health clinic in Azra district. The blast destroyed the one-storey building, killing 30 people on the spot and injuring 55.
Gol Mina, a widow from the village of Janikhel in Azra district, was with her 14-year-old son Ahmad at the clinic, waiting to see a doctor when the bomb went off.
“The corridor was full of patients and visitors when a great noise sound shook the ground,” she recalled. “Darkness and dust covered my eyes and I could not hear. I don’t know what happened next.”
When Gol Mina came to, she found she had been seriously injured.
“I felt a burning in my right shoulder and left leg…. I wanted to raise my arm, but I realised that my arm and one leg had gone,” she said.
Mina Gol called out for her son, only to be told that he was dead.
A medical consignment worth more than 100,000 US dollars had already been earmarked for the Akbarkhel clinic before the attack, but a decision was taken to accelerate its delivery to help the victims
Dr Zarif Nayebkhel, director of public health for Logar province, told IWPR that within a few hours after the explosion, he had the shipment loaded onto four trucks. He made plans for the consignment to be accompanied by provincial council head Wakil, by Faqir Mohammad Khaleqyar, director of the French NGO Medical Refresher Courses for Afghanistan, and by ten doctors and four journalists.
Nayebkhel said that in the past, medicines had been delivered to Azra by road in coordination with tribal leaders so as to prevent Taleban attacks. This time, he wanted the supplies to be transported by air because of the urgency of reaching the victims.
“We had option but to use helicopters,” he said.
According to Nayebkhel, the consignment was first taken to the Afghan National Army headquarters at Pul-e Alam, the provincial capital, in the hope the military would help to get it to Azra, some 90 kilometres away. The local brigade commander, General Abdul Razeq, agreed to co-operate.
When the supplies failed to arrive, Nayebkhel wrote a series of letters to the commander asking what had happened.
General Razeq told IWPR that he replied saying his troops were unable to deliver the consignment themselves, so they took it to the United States military’s Forward Operating Base Shank, three kilometres south of Pul-e Alam, for onward transport by helicopter.
“I fulfilled my responsibility and handed all the medicines over to the Americans,” Razeq told IWPR.
Over a month later, the medicines were still missing, and Nayebkhel went to the national health ministry, which in turn referred the matter to parliament’s health affairs committee for investigation.
A parliamentary delegation including three Logar lawmakers – Ali Mohammad, Mohammad Akbar Stanekzai and Saheb Khan – and two members of the provincial council was despatched to find out what had happened to the shipment.
Stanekzai told IWPR that the delegation’s enquiries indicated that at the US base, the medical consignment was handed over to Wakil, who informed the Americans that he was an elected official and had transport vehicles available.
The parliamentary team found that after the supplies were handed over to Wakil, he then sold the contents to pharmacies in Pul-e Alam.
Another delegation member, Saheb Khan,said the provincial branch of the National Directorate of Security, NDS, confirmed this story.
Although IWPR contacted the NDS in Logar several times, officers there refused to discuss the case.
Ghulam Yahya Ahmadzai, deputy chairman of Logar provincial council, said ten people died following the suicide bombing as direct a consequence of the lack of medical supplies.
Abdurrahman, from the village of Dara-e Mangal, said his brother Abdullah was among them.
“A suicide attacker did not kill my brother,’ he said. “My brother died because of lack of medicines.”
His brother had travelled 22 kilometres by donkey to the Akbarkhel clinic to get treatment for malaria. Caught in the blast, he suffered head wounds which refused to heal.
Abdorrahman said he brought him to the now ruined clinic five days in a row in an attempt to get the bleeding stopped. But there were no medical supplies for staff to use.
He then borrowed 10,000 Pakistani rupees, about 100 dollars, from a friend and loaded his brother into the back of a pick-up truck to take him to the city of Jalalabad to seek hospital treatment. Forty kilometres down the road, Abdorrahman saw his brother was no longer breathing.
“I will avenge my brother’s death one day,” he told IWPR.
DRUGS SOLD ON THE MARKET
Bakhtiar Gol Ashrafzai, who was chief of police in Azr district at the time of the explosion, said he and more than 20 tribal elders had lobbied both the district and provincial governors to send medicines to the Akbarkhel clinic.
“In the end, we found out that our medicines were stolen by our representative, Dr Wakil,” said Ashrafzai.
IWPR spent two months trying to locate how and where the medical supplies were sold. It was no easy task getting people to talk, since concealing or selling stolen government property is a serious crime punishable by up to ten years in prison.
At the market in Pul-e Alam where medicines are on sale, one trader said on condition of anonymity that that in July 2011, he bought eight cartons of medicines, clearly from state sources, for 3,000 US dollars. He went on to sell the medication for 6,000 dollars.
The trader gave IWPR a detailed list of what he had bought, including bandages, surgical gloves, intravenous solution and equipment, antibiotics, painkillers and neo-natal provisions.
Another trader told IWPR how he too bought six cartons of medicines for 2,220 dollars in July 2011, again from someone did not know. He made over 1,200 dollars on the resale.
This man said he assumed the goods had been stolen from an NGO, which would account for the low asking price. Asked why he was nevertheless willing to buy them, he replied, “The shopkeeper looks to his profits, not to the letter of the law.”
IWPR obtained a copy of the list of the medicines destined for Akbarkhel. A comparison of the 14 cartons bought by the two market traders showed that 70 items matched the description.
According to Stanekzai, the parliamentary health committee filed an official complaint with Afghanistan’s attorney general, calling for the arrest and prosecution of the provincial council chairman.
IWPR has a copy of this document, dated October 5, 2011.
However, no action was taken, a fact Stanekzai says he found shocking. He believes the reason was that “powerful individuals in government supported Dr Wakil in this case”.
Wakil, who is a qualified doctor, has been chairman of Logar’s provincial council for four years. IWPR was able to interview Dr Wakil in his office, although after answering a few questions, he insisted the reporter leave.
He emphatically denied any involvement in the disappearance of the four trucks of medicines, and said that any documents that suggested otherwise were wrong.
“You say that the medicines are lost, but I say they are not,” he added. “The medicines were transported to Azra… and [police] commander Bakhtiar Gol [Ashrafzai] is aware of that, too.”
IWPR’s reporter pointed out that the provincial health chief, police chief Ashrafzai, the NDS, tribal elders and others had named Dr Wakil.
In response, Dr Wakil became angry and said, “I don’t care who’s right or who is lying. These are all accusations. That’s it – I don’t want to talk any more. Go!”
Asked to explain how some of the medicines were traced to drug traders who sold them on, Wakil again told the journalist to leave his office.
“I didn’t sell the medicines,” he said. “Go, or else there might be violence.”
Abdul Maqsud Azizi is an IWPR-trained reporter in Afghanistan.
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