On the second day of Eid ul Adha, August 12, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces surrounded a house in Zurmat district of Paktia province and reportedly killed 11 civilians – mostly teachers and students. The victims are said to have been brought out from a guesthouse and shot one by one. United Nations and local people confirmed the tragedy while the NDS is in denial saying it targeted a Taliban hideout and among the 11 dead militants were two commanders. Eleven people from two families are said to have been killed in the overnight raid. “Some were students who came to home on Eid holidays and some were teachers. My cousin who was an employee in the education sector was among the dead,” a grieving relative, who lost four family members in the attack, said.
It’s a matter of grave concern as civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been increasing, despite stepped-up efforts for peace negotiations to end the war. A report released by the United Nations last month said that nearly 4,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of the year. Worst of all is that the toll includes a big increase in the number of casualties inflicted by government and US-led foreign forces. Unfortunately, experiencing the ravages of war since the past 40 years, civilian killings are now commonplace in Afghanistan. As usual, every time there is a case of civilian killing, all parties express their condemnation followed by nominal probes which never see the light of day and have no tangible or convincing results. The parties to conflict then turn a deaf ear to the cries and pleas of the vulnerable citizens – who long for justice and peaceful life. Now there comes the Zurmat incident – which is only a case in point among many – and reveals that no party into the war has regard for the safety of innocent civilians. All of them are complicit in the killing of civilians whether it’s the US, the Taliban or the government.
Now, as senior Afghan and US officials are in Paktia to assess the security situation, as well as the civilian casualties’ incident, it should be the beginning of an end to the civilian casualties and the warring parties should translate their claims of protecting civilians into practice. The probing team in Paktia should investigate the tragic case meticulously to determine what led to the killing of civilians and why such erroneous combat operations occur consistently across the country? Afghan civilian casualties are no more tolerable and this utterly disgusting trend should be brought to a halt. While all sides claim that protection of civilians remains their top priority, the situation on the ground suggests otherwise. They should, from now on, exercise their utmost care to prevent such happenings and those who are found guilty and have committed negligence in this regard should be arrested immediately and faced with justice to be a lesson for the rest. Now, it’s high time that all parties walked the talk and acted on their speeches of civilian protection because the Taliban and the US have reportedly made significant progress in talks to reach a peace pact, which will the pave ground for all-Afghan negotiations and end Afghan war.