His rifle, his boots full of rocks, And this one is for bravery, And this one is for me
Kabul – Nearly four members of the Afghan National Security Forces have died each day in the last 10 years, but one of the nation’s youngest parliamentarians says the Afghan president has done little to support the men and women who have died defending their nation.
Shortly after 21 Afghan soldiers were slain by Taliban fighters in a February 23 raid, Baktash Siawash, MP from Kabul, began a sit-in to demand that Hamid Karzai, the outgoing president, “take one day to visit the families of the ANSF martyrs.”
Siawash’s tent, erected across from the American University of Afghanistan, receives dozens of visitors each day. A young man from Parwan province came to relay a message of support from the northern province’s students. Another student said he came as a representative for 4,000 youth who have joined in Siawash’s call for the president to “prove his support of the forces under his command.”
The criticisms of the current administration’s treatment towards its security forces is nothing new. Shortly after an April 2012 complex attack, Afghanistan 1400, a youth-led political movement erected billboards across Kabul in honour of the ANSF.
But the February attack on the Kunar province military outpost, seems to have struck a particularly raw nerve for the Afghan public.
For those that have staged protests in the days and weeks following the 100-Taliban-strong Ghazi Abad raid, it was Karzai’s treatment of the February 17 killing of Mawlawi Abdul Raqib, a former Taliban leader in Pakistan, that showed the president’s priorities.
Reports that the president referred to Mawlawi Abdul Raqib as a “Martyr of Peace” only served to heighten a years-long criticism of Karzai for calling members of Afghanistan’s largest armed opposition movement “brothers.”
To many in the crowd at a separate February 26 rally in support of the soldiers killed in Kunar, the air transport of the body of the Taliban-era refugee-affairs minister to his home in Takhar province was further evidence of the fraternity between Karzai and the Taliban. Many referenced the fact that families of slain ANSF still struggle to return to their loved one’s bodies home after being “martyred.”
One protester put it quite bluntly when he said: “More dangerous than the Taliban’s return is the return of Taliban thoughts in the Arg,” presidential palace.
Gardoo, 46, was one of the 120 rain-soaked protesters gathered at a youth-led demonstration in Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw Park last month.
For Gardoo, Karzai’s actions have shown that: “our enemy’s blood is worth more than our own.”
Siawash used one of his visitors in the West Kabul tent as an example.
“He had to hire a taxi to transport his son’s body back to their home in Ghazni.”
The journey across Highway 1 would see the elderly man travel across dangerous stretches before arriving in Ghazni. As a known Taliban stronghold, the dangers would not end for the old man and his driver upon arrival in the eastern province. In recent years, the Taliban have issued strong statements saying they would target the Afghan government and those who support them. As the father of an ANA soldier, this could put the man squarely in the group’s sight.
In a March 4 statement, the Office of Administrative Affairs, cabinet, secretariat, said 13,729 families of slain security force personnel had been awarded financial support. Another 16,511 families were compensated after a relative was wounded.
Of those, 4,551 were soldiers killed through March 2013.
However, Siawash said support of the armed forces is not merely a financial matter.
Instead, he said support is about the morale of men and women who are “willing to sacrifice their lives to fight the enemies of the nation.”
“All they have to do is tell one orphaned child ‘your father is a martyr, your father is a hero and the person who martyred him is an enemy of the nation.’”
For the protesters in Kabul, the 13,729 recorded ANSF deaths in the last decade are further proof that not enough is being done to keep the security forces out of harm’s way.
“Canons, tanks and planes, our forces need them,” they chanted.
The call for increased armaments in a nation that has seen more than three decades of armed conflict may seem disconcerting from the outside, but for those gathered in the park, their demand was that the ANSF be given a fighting chance.
In November 2013, Kabul asked New Delhi for among other things, 150 battle tanks, 120 field guns and 24 attack helicopters.
In 2012, ANA soldiers in Logar and Paktia provinces told the Associated Press they lacked even proper night vision goggles to target the armed opposition.
“Our commander-in-chief, for us, or for our enemies”, they shouted.
Though they would not comment directly on Siawash’s campaign, the presidential palace said the government does in fact support its forces.
“The president meets with families of security forces as needed. He has also instructed the reverent government institutions to provide necessary support to them on regular basis”, Adela Raz, deputy presidential spokesperson, said.
Still, the movement embodied by the likes of Siawash and the protesters in the park, is calling on Karzai to use the dwindling days of his administration to set the tone for the winner of next month’s presidential polls.
Karzai’s tenure as a military leader has been “stained” by his lack of support of the forces under his command, said Siawash.
All Karzai has to do is tell the armed forces that his lack of attention of was “not intended to say that: ‘you, and your blood have no value’. The shortfall was with us.”
Ali Mohammad Faqeri, who has gone to visit Siawash’s tent several times, said the president must not look at such a statement as an admission of defeat. Instead, he should look at it as a final chance to connect with the nation.
“It’s a good last opportunity for Karzai to possibly earn a place in the Afghan people’s hearts, especially those unhappy with him. He should look at it as a positive step for his legacy.”
This, said Siawash would also send a clear message to the victor in the April 5 presidential ballot to not repeat their predecessor’s decade-long mistake.
For Shokib, a member of the Afghan National Army in the northern province of Takhar, for the president to make his support of the nation’s security forces would be an important step towards showing that the deaths of his colleagues, including those in Kunar, was not without impact.
“The real power and emotion of such a loss can only be understood if officials continue to promote the love and responsibility for one’s nation among the people. They should let these young men die in vain.”