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The hidden costs of war

September 04, 2012

THERE’S an alarming report by Anna Badkhen, ‘Afghanistan -- state of shock’ (Aug 24), that exposes a largely hidden aspect of the wars in Afghanistan and several other places.

Of American troops, she says: “One in five American veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan — as many as 400,000 men and women — suffers from severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

This malady, PTSD, is a mix of depression, hopelessness, panic attacks, psychosomatic pains, rage, and insomnia.

A recent US army report notes that the suicide rate among active soldiers has also gone up by about 2.5 times between 2004 and 2011 and by last June more active-duty troops had died of suicide than in combat.

Furthermore, the PTSD also spawns domestic violence and returning troops are three times more likely to abuse their partners than American civilians.

Ms Badkhen then turns to the residents of war-wrecked countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. There, the trademark symptoms of war trauma — depression, anguish, and hyper-aggression — leave whole populations envenomed with sectarian and ethnic mistrust, and with the certainty that only violence can end violence.

As an example, one Afghan taxi driver told her that “he felt threatened by government troops, police, Taliban, ethnic militias, and neighbours belonging to different ethnic groups — in short, by almost everyone who was not his kin.”

In 2009, a gallup poll showed that two-thirds of Afghans felt unsafe walking alone outside at night.

An official US survey in 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban, found that 42 per cent of Afghans suffered from PTSD and 68 per cent from major depression. This was a full decade before the war.

“Feelings of hatred and revenge, and the desire of acting on that … directly affects the peacemaking process,” says a psychiatrist who oversaw that survey. Talking of countries like Kosovo, Somalia and Uganda, such feelings existed there too, but in Afghanistan it reached almost 80 per cent.

About Uganda, another survey in 2007 had found that nearly 74 per cent of Ugandans suffering from PTSD were more likely to favour violent means to end the conflict than civilians who were not, thus proving trauma begets trauma -- and violence.

The writer concludes that vicious sectarian rampages pit neighbour against neighbour. In the most recent conflicts, at least nine out of 10 war casualties are believed to be civilians, says another psychologist.

The purpose of writing this is to wake up the government and the public to the dangers Pakistani civilians and soldiers are faced with, where the situation is exactly similar in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to that in Afghanistan etc. Besides, risks are quickly becoming like that in places like Balochistan and Karachi.

Urgent steps should be taken to remedy this through peaceful means for violence only begets violence, and it will soon become an incurable cancer.