As the new season of the world's longest-running current war, in Afghanistan, is warming up, the Afghan civilians and children are falling prey as easy victims. Early this month, a NATO airstrike killed 11 children, aged between two months and seven years in the Shigal district of Kunar province bordering Pakistan. At the same time, with the Western combat drawdown in advance of a scheduled withdrawal of the bulk of Western troops by the end of 2014, the violence would likely take a turn for the worse.
The inability of local army and police to fight the insurgents alone and their increasing dependence on NATO's air support complicates the armed conflict within the country even further.
The endless war in Afghanistan has brought about a social, economic and cultural environment in which children become increasingly vulnerable. UN sources indicate that as many as 60,000 of over one million opium addicts in Afghanistan are children under the age of 15 years. Contrary to the claims by the government in Kabul, currently five million children in Afghanistan still do not have access to education.
The wider effect of the war across the country encourages internal and external child trafficking. Thousands of Afghan children are regularly being trafficked within the country for cheap labor, crimes and prostitution. Internally displaced population is massing in the Afghan capital and other major cities. Life in abject poverty and desperation force hundreds of Afghan families to sell their children in order to feed the rest of their family members.
Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and central Asian countries are among the common destinations of child trafficking. In a new hostile setting in other countries, children fall prey to forced labour, forced begging and prostitution. The flourishing safe havens in Pakistan give enormous opportunities for the insurgents to recruit and train children as would-be suicide bombers. Western failure to close Pakistani terror havens helped Pakistani military and its infamous Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to shelter and coddle those insurgents who kill foreign troops inside Afghanistan. According to Western sources, lethal groups of the Afghan insurgents continually receive training, weapons and even some operational support from Pakistani ISI.
The ruling warlords in Kabul are another factor that destabilize the country to the core. According to the New York Times, the warlords run private security companies and local gunmen and militia around the country. They pry on local population and work independent of any government control. Besides controlling the opium production and trade, the wealthy ruling warlords enjoy the official imprimatur for sexual violence against children, especially boys. In recent years, the northern Afghanistan has turned to an open paedophilia bazaar. Warlords themselves exploit boys as sexual partners, often dressing them as women and use them for pleasure and entertaining. The U.S. State Department in its annual human right reports mentions the practice saying, "Members of Afghanistan's security forces, who receive training and weapons from the U.S.-led coalition, sexually abused boys in an environment of criminal impunity."
Furthermore, In December 2010, a WikiLeaks cable reported that the U.S. company Dyn Corp was involved in purchasing young boys for Afghan policemen. The selling of boys as sex slave is still rampant in Northern Afghanistan.
Under the American security sunshade, the ruling warlords dominate the Afghan political power structure by using President Hamid Karzai as a Shakespearean clown. Economically, however, the powerful Karzai's family members have a substantial share in looting Afghanistan's national wealth. They also prey on dollars coming from Western donors and national wealth of the country.
During my six month stay in Kabul in 2008, I saw with my own eyes the tragedy of misusing and looting of Western money. Everyone in the higher echelon of the Karzai regime was about to do everything just to get rich and get the hell out of Afghanistan when the right time arrives. The owner of an influential TV channel in Kabul told me that Afghanistan could build a dam by using the bags of American dollars. I also saw numerous children as young as three years old selling goods on streets in Kabul or working in factories and shops.
An appallingly corrupt government in Kabul, safe havens of terror in Pakistan and Western disentanglement from the country would make life hell for the Afghans, especially civilians and children. All telling signs indicate that Afghanistan would be sliding down hill fast into a civil war, once the Western drawdown is completed by the end of 2014.
Dr. Ehsan Azari Stanizai is an Adjunct Fellow, Writing & Society Research Centre, University of Western Sydney