[VIEWPOINT]Guttering Candles in the Afghan Wind

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[VIEWPOINT]Guttering Candles in the Afghan Wind

Once again, I woke up suddenly from sleep last night. I have been this way ever since hearing the news of an imminent U. S attack against Afghanistan. I have been haunted by the images of innocent children who would become the new victims in this new war.

In 1996, I entered Afghanistan from Iran. On passing the border, I heard the roaring explosions of mortars and grenades.

Saying that the sound came from far over the mountains, the Afghans tried to comfort me. There were lots of people in the street without legs and arms. They said it was because of mine accidents.

The reason why I, despite not being a war correspondent, entered the country then was just so I could go to Russia. Because of my audacity, I was almost hit by bullets fired by the rebel army, and at that moment I made an important resolution.

When I was passing some shanty quarters, some 20 children thronged me with strong curiosity to see a foreigner, especially a female Asian; at that time, lots of people lived in shanty towns or refugee camps near the borders because Afghanistan had been at war for 20 years, either with the Russians or internally.

For a while, I enjoyed playing with the children, communicating in body language and with drawings on the ground. I amused the boys with my Taekwondo poses and the girls with rings I draw on their tiny fingers. I also played school with them as they answered a question I posed; what they most wanted to do was to go to school.

The adults, however, opposed my presence; they were afraid of being investigated by the fundamentalist Islamic Taleban for secret communications with a foreigner.

When I was about to leave the place, praying to God that the children would survive the war, a child with a shy face handed me a piece of bread. She was a pretty little girl, with shining black eyes like wild grapes, though one leg and one arm had been mangled by a mine.

She was giving a "friend" with whom she had played for a while some precious food, which was hard to get there. As I merrily bite into the bread, the children near me started clapping their hands and shouting. What beautiful smiles they had on their faces! What innocent, joyous laughter!

That was the day I resolved I would work for refugees, especially children, with all my heart and soul. Now the lives of innocent children are once again in danger, like a candle ready to be blown out by the wind. Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked country. Though it once had a rich Islamic culture, now the land is devastated and people there suffer from a severe shortage of drinking water.

The tyrannical government of the Taleban made the country resonate with fear during my visit there. In places occupied by the Taleban, under their law, women could not go to school or get a job. The people were so scared that even seeing the white flag of the Taleban froze them numb.

While helping me find a place to sleep, they were jittery because of the Taleban. Stroking their beards was a sign to warn that the Taleban was around, they explained to me. Those persons do not live in the same world we do. They might not even know that they are the target of a U.S. counter-terror attack. The Taleban bans the use of any communications with the outside world, so they are without radios or telephones.

These are the people the United States vows to punish. Although the target is the Taleban, the United States says, how can bullets target only Taleban soldiers? Afghanistan has only 30,000 armed soldiers with out-of-date weapons, compared to 5 million U.S. soldiers with state-of-the-art equipment.Imagining the heaps of corpses and the blood makes me wince with disgust.

They cannot even escape from Afghanistan. After deciding to support the United States, Pakistan is now blocking refugees from crossing the border, and the same news is heard from Afghanistan's border with Iran. The Taleban are also using force to block attempts to flee the country.

Where should the innocent Afghan people go? Will they be killed there because they were born in a doomed land? What of the human rights we advocate so often?


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The writer is a travel writer.

by Han Bi-ya

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