Bombing Deepens Despair in a Stricken Afghan City
By Taimoor Shah / August 26, 2009
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — This city is no stranger to bombings. There have been many here over the years of war. But the one on Tuesday night — the deadliest — may have done more than any other to deepen Kandahar’s sense of isolation and tip its people into despair that someone, anyone, has the power to halt the mayhem that surrounds them.
The bombing produced an entire city block of devastation, gutting shops and homes and reducing many of the structures to mounds of rubble. On Wednesday, residents searched at the scene and hospitals for missing loved ones, as the death toll rose to 41, with more than 60 wounded.
Abdul Nabi, 45, a shopkeeper, could find only two of his six sons in the wreckage. “I rushed to the hospital and found my sons in very bad condition,” he said. “Three of my sons are still unconscious. One 7-year-old son just opened his eyes now.
“To whom shall I complain?” he asked.
His frustration is distressingly common in this city in southern Afghanistan, an area to which President Obama has sent thousands more American troops — bringing the total in the country to about 60,000 — to battle the Taliban insurgency.
Afghans say they feel trapped between both sides in an intensifying war as they watch the power of their own government wither.
On Election Day last Thursday, few in Kandahar Province could safely vote, as the Taliban lobbed rocket after rocket at towns. Now the candidates are fighting over the tallies. On Wednesday election officials gave President Hamid Karzai 42 percent of returns nationally, and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, 33 percent. But only one million votes were counted from 17 percent of polling stations, and allegations of fraud continued.
For the people here, there is no authority to appeal to, no easy way to understand or explain what seem to be increasingly deadly and unfocused attacks coming from all sides.
“We don’t know what the Taliban wants from Afghanistan, and we don’t know why the coalition forces are here, but things are getting worse day by day,” said Niamatullah, 30, a high school teacher, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
“Sometimes rockets are fired and sometimes it is suicide bombers and sometimes car bombs, and the victims are civilians,” he said. “And even sometimes bombing by coalition forces. It looks like Afghans are created by God to be killed by human machines. We don’t feel safe anywhere, even at home.”
Home is where the blast found many of its victims on Tuesday evening, as they broke their daytime fasting during Ramadan, timing that made the attack all the more demoralizing.
The bomb exploded with such force that it was felt even by people miles away outside the city. Not only was the scale unusual, but also the fact that the attack appeared to be aimed not at the police or coalition forces but at civilians.
“Everybody was busy breaking their fast; there were lots of people sitting on the floor at the front of their shops, and some people were inside their shops,” said Gul Muhammad, 45, a vegetable seller. “It was a very scary moment for me. I thought I lost my sons, but they are alive.”
“Anything can happen to ordinary Afghans,” he added. “We are not safe. We are without value. We have no right to life.”
On Wednesday the Taliban denied responsibility for the bombing, though the feeling among many here was that almost anyone would disavow it, given the public revulsion. Few doubted it was the work of the Taliban.
Crowds gathered at the city hospital on Wednesday, and in the city center dazed shopkeepers and residents tried to sweep up the glass and debris to restore some order to the streets. For many the anxious hunt for the missing continued.
“I have been searching for my son since last night, but I did not find him yet,” said Musa Khan, 35, a laborer. “I have been to the morgue, I have checked the list of injured and dead, but I did not find him. Life is so bitter in Afghanistan,” he said.
Another shopkeeper, Ahmadullah, 40, lamented: “These people were the poorest in Afghanistan. All were laborers and workers.” He said he was in a mosque, praying, when the bomb went off. It killed two of his nephews, he said, and injured two cousins.
Not long afterward, he pointed to a 6-year-old boy who was lying unconscious with an abdominal injury. “His father was killed — who will take care of him, his mother and sister?” he said. “This is the life of all Afghans.”
Indeed, Afghanistan is a country that has lived with three decades of wars, fought in numbing sequence. But even so, the scale of the attack Tuesday stunned many here.
“In the entire world we have not seen this kind of situation, especially in this holy month of Ramadan, a month of worshiping Allah,” said Hajji Agha Jan, 44, who was at home when the explosion occurred. “Last night was like doomsday for Kandahari people.
“Where is the government?” he asked. “Who is Taliban? Why is it all happening? I don’t understand the kind of politics. I don’t understand the deep, barbaric action against poor Afghans.”
Neither could Niamatullah, the schoolteacher. “I am telling all enemies of Afghanistan, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, to gather one day and use all power against the Afghan people and kill us in one go,” he said. “That would be kind to all Afghans — they are killing us every day, which is painful — kill us in one go.”
Sharon Otterman contributed reporting from New York, and Mark McDonald from Hong Kong.
Source / New York Times
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