ON Dec 1, 2018, The New York Times published a story, titled A Generation of Widows, Raising Children Who Will Be Forged by Loss, by Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi. It is about two young women who were widowed in the relentless, merciless war in Afghanistan.
The story sent me into a spin of depressive thoughts all evening. Despite my claim of stoicism, I must confess, a gush of silent tears sprang in my eyes, and I gnashed my teeth thinking of the ghastly figures of those who started this war, and who continue to prolong it, for avowed public motives and unexpressed private ones. Knowing history, the story did not offer any new revelations, but a reminder of ongoing tragedies will sometimes reignite a storm of anger at the merchants of war, local or foreign.
Mashal Kakar lost her husband, Sabawoon, a journalist, in a bombing in Kabul in April this year. She was eight-months pregnant at the time. Eight of his peers were also killed in the attack. His toddler son, Benyamin, still asks his mother when his father will come home. “How do you explain a death to a three-year-old? Mrs Kakar, her baby, Sarfarz, in her arms, tries to distract him with toys. But when Benyamin keeps crying, she takes him to the balcony and points to the brightest star shining through Kabul’s polluted sky. ‘Aba is there,’ she says.”
Rahila Shams also lost her husband in April. A district governor, Ali Dost Shams was killed in a Taliban raid. At the time, this 22-year-old widow was six-months pregnant with her second daughter. “When her daughter was born, the family named her Shamsia, after the father she will never meet. ‘I lost my love, my friend and the father of my two daughters. Everyone says “stay strong,” but no one says how,’ she said.”
An entire generation has been lost in the war in Afghanistan.
It was in the hours after Rahila gave birth to Shamsia that she broke down. “‘I was in pain, but the loneliness of it was much stronger,’ she said. ‘I cried a lot — for being a woman, for being a widow at 22, for being a mother of two girls. I thought about the future, about Shams, about loneliness.’ … ‘I just want to leave this country and go somewhere peaceful. Somewhere where no one is killed and no one loses their life.’”
The authors published the stories of Mashal and Rahila in The New York Times thinking, perhaps, that it was an influential paper, that it might sway the movers and shakers in the US out of their apathy and towards bringing the war to an end. A forlorn hope it is.
The establishment in US, or anywhere, in fact, will devote their years to the military-industrial complex, to the Pentagon and GHQs where the generals sit, plan, execute and seek glory in subduing people for the sake of the swollen egos of their presidents. They care more about capturing the resources hidden beneath the earth than of the people living on it. Every living being — man, woman, child — is, to them, merely the collateral damage of war, just like a wall of bricks destroyed by a bomb. Rahila will never find a country or a place on earth where people do not die of either war or wanton acts.
When wars are planned and then waged, the process is totally devoid of empathy, concern and sympathy for the widows, orphans, the disabled, the unarmed civilians and the injured soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The reason is simple.
The heads of states justify war in the name of their countries to make them more secure and prosperous. The generals happily go along with their plans because they seek the glory of having brought victories to their country. Historians, meanwhile, are worthy of scorn as they write about the exploits of war in glowing terms. It is the pages of their history books that such leaders seek to enter into.
Most wars have nothing to do with safety and to safeguard the interests of a country. The US would not have been less safe if it had not invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. The West would have been just as prosperous and safe if it had not conspired to interfere in Libya and Syria, bringing ruin to millions both living and killed. Had Saudi Arabia been more circumspect, the biggest famine in Yemen would not have resulted in starving babies looking more like writhing worms than human forms.
These are a few present-day examples. There is no just war, sanctified by the UN or not, except that which is fought in self-defence.
The establishment in Pakistan may be exulting in pride to hear that the war in Afghanistan cannot come to end without its help. It is a false and inhuman pride to be able to help bring a war to an early end and not do it. Sincerity of spoken words is fragrant. Lip service is foul breath.
Many tragedies can be avoided if private morality such as empathy and concern for human beings are allowed to enter into the world’s war rooms. This is perhaps too idealistic to expect, but must be repeated all the time, as it is what makes us human.
The writer is a former civil servant and former minister.
Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2018