What happened in a maternity ward in Afghanistan shattered this writer’s idyllic CMCO peace.
ON Saturday I learned of an act so evil that I broke down in tears. It was the murder of pregnant women, new mothers, infants and nurses in an Afghan hospital.
The killings took place on May 12 but the local newspapers I subscribed to only reported it in their print versions on Saturday. Even then, it was a mere single column article in one and a second lead story in the other. And that was it.
Sure, there is a lot going on now, so much so it buried this shocking act of carnage in faraway Kabul where decades-long violence and suicide bombings have numbed the rest of the world to this country’s suffering. But surely the story deserves more attention.
Oh yes, I too could have written yet another column on our current virus-inspired state of conditional movement control order (MCO) or vent about the eyebrow-raising Riza Aziz deal or rail against the ongoing ludicrous “Why did the politician cross the road?” shenanigans.But throughout the weekend, the Kabul slaughter stayed in my mind and that’s why I must write about it.
In case you missed the stories on the attack, what happened was three gunmen disguised as the police entered the hospital that is supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
According to MSF head in Afghanistan Frederic Bonnot, it was “a systemic shooting of the mothers.”“They went through the rooms in the maternity (ward), shooting women in their beds. It was methodical. Walls sprayed with bullets, blood on the floors in the rooms, vehicles burnt out and windows shot through, ” he said in a statement.
Official sources say 24 people died, including 11 mothers, three of whom were in the delivery room, two newborns and at least 20 more were injured. Ten others survived by hiding in safe rooms.
An AFP report recounted how one mother had to give birth without making a sound and the midwife who delivered the baby girl had to sever the umbilical cord with her bare hands.
As a woman who has given birth three times, I can imagine how terrifying the ordeal must have been.
A woman in labour is already at her most vulnerable. She is made almost helpless by immense pain and yet must draw on all her mental and physical strength to bring the child she had carried for nine months into the world safely and hope not to die doing it.
“We saw mothers in labour trying to escape gunmen shooting at them and their babies, ” Dr Bina Najeeb, a paediatric cardiac surgeon told thehindu.com.
“This is not the first time a hospital has been attacked in Kabul but what was truly worse was that this was a maternity hospital with mothers and their children, ” he added.Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a baby, a child or a mother, says Unicef, and access to a hospital or health facility is beyond the reach of most.
It has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and thousands of Afghan women die every year from pregnancy-related causes.
What cruel irony it is that these pregnant mothers were in what was assumed to be a safe place to give birth but were snuffed in cold blood by men who did it in the name of what? Justice? Tribal power? Religion?
What happened to the teaching that “Heaven lies beneath the feet of mothers”?
Throughout history, women and children have long been innocent, hapless casualties in wars for glory, gold and god.
But what was “opportunistic rape and pillage of previous centuries”, says a BBC report, “has been replaced in modern conflict by rape used as an orchestrated combat tool.”
Amnesty International’s Lives Blown Apart report says sexual violence is used to destabilise communities and sow terror, citing the example in Colombia, where rival groups rape, mutilate and kill women and girls in order to impose “punitive codes of conduct on entire towns and villages”, so strengthening their control.
As for children, they have been used as cannon fodder and human shields and thousands of young boys have been turned into child soldiers in conflict zones around the world.
Today’s society may have become – in the words of Kazakhstani Bishop Athanasius Schneider – “ever more cruel and full of hatred” but how wicked must one be to shoot a woman in labour? What goes through a person’s mind as he pulls the trigger on a newborn?
Neither the Taliban nor Islamic State (IS) has so far claimed responsibility for the hospital carnage.
The United States, desperate to restart peace negotiations with
the Taliban, blames IS but the Afghan government thinks it is the Taliban.Indeed, no one doubts either group’s capability for committing such an act as both have long records of brutal violence and terrorism.
Many moderate, progressive Muslim nations like Malaysia have rejected and fought against religious extremism and violence, so it is sad that not a single one has come out to condemn the slaughter, as far as I could ascertain.
The leaders must be too busy managing the Covid-19 pandemic and/or just plain busy politicking away for their own survival.
Or to take a Trump-like view, what’s the death of a handful of mothers and babies compared to the hundreds or even thousands dying from Covid-19 in their own countries?
But what makes it even more sickening is the murders took place during Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims. It is a time for them to fast, pray, self-reflect and do good, not evil deeds.
The three gunmen who committed the soul-damning sin were killed by security forces.
So we can assume they went straight to hell. Taliban or IS, whoever it was who brainwashed and armed them to commit the atrocity, may they burn in hell too.
In the aftermath, Afghan women activists, Mary Akrami from the Afghan Women Network; Wazhma Frogh, founder of the Women and Peace Studies Organisation; and Mahbouba Seraj from the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre, are calling for an end to this horrendous cycle of violence and death.
In an op-ed on NPR.org, they write: “The deal, signed on Feb 29,2020, between the US and the Taliban, was supposed to reduce the daily violence against Afghans.”
Instead, they say the deal is “a farce” because “our people are targeted and killed on a daily basis”.
All they want is to be able to go to work and return home safely; to be able to pray with their children and families in mosques and temples without the fear of being killed.
“We are asking that our children and newborn babies not be killed
in their beds, in schools or in maternity wards, never once having drawn a breath in safety. Our children are being born into this violence and dying in this violence.
“Are we really asking too much?”
No, absolutely not.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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