Thursday, June 4, 2009

How I Found Afghanistan

<From Cambridge to Karachi". We are extremely grateful to Nadia Naviwala for allowing us to share her blogpost with you. This post has been taken from her blog "From Cambridge to Karachi." The post below accounts for a day from the recent trip we made to Afghanistan>>

In Jalalabad, we visited Save the Children. I wanted to know what programs were in place to deal with children traumatized from the effects of war.

In thinking about international security, I have never thought much about children. But that changed in January, when I spent time in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps. It was during Israel's operations in Gaza, and I watched as children in the camps struggled to cope with the graphic images and stories that were being constantly reported. Aggressive behavior was already a common problem. It did not take much guessing to figure out how at least some of the kids I met would end up, as they grew up into an atmosphere full of militant groups, weapons, and anger.

U.S. airstrikes take place around Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, the most famous of which was "the wedding incident."

TIME Magazine reports: "According to U.N. figures, 2,118 civilians were killed in conflict-related violence last year, a jump of nearly 40% compared to the year before. Of that figure, pro-government [coalition and Afghan] forces were responsible for 828 deaths."

Save the Children told me that the kids in a nearby village still wake up in the middle of the night crying, "American bombs are coming!" They also showed me pictures of child soldiers recruited by local commanders (anti-Taliban) in the area. But when I asked if there were any efforts to help these kids deal with the trauma, they were confused.

We are already seeing the effects of post-traumatic stress at home, in the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But nothing seems to be in place to deal with the generations coming out of war in our overseas combat zones. If it only takes one person, or a few, to produce a suicide bomber, then the violence we are seeing today might only be a foreshadowing of the instability and global terrorism that is to come.

Similarly, among IDPs from Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas and SWAT, I worry about the effects of war trauma. But Afghanistan and Pakistan are struggling just to provide medical care to the victims of war. They are not equipped to provide specialized psychological care to children. The international community must lead the way, starting in urban IDP camps and training locals to provide long-term care.

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