Few Afghans have been safe from the ongoing fighting across the country. The violence has been brutal and often close to home. The war has destroyed hospitals, schools, mosques, wedding halls, and other public places. Yet the cycle of violence continues.
The dream of peace is distant as ever in a country where violence is a means to win the war through gaining leverage over negotiations. With the derailed peace talks villages are once again under siege, improvised explosives devices continue taking lives and widespread combat breaks apart mothers who wait for their sons to come home from the frontline. The Afghan people are trapped inside the fire.
Militants Stage Gruesome Hospital Massacre
One tragic episode of violence that impacted a young mother is indicative of the horrible effects of this war on families. Ms. Zamira Hussaini, a 32-year old, gave birth to her sixth child on May 5 in a Doctors without Borders hospital in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of Kabul. The family named the newborn Hadia — which means Gift in English. Hadia was born into the carnage of a ruthless war.
The doctors told Hussaini that Hadia had breathing trouble and Hadia was kept in the ward. Hussaini stayed with Hadia and visited her home once to take shower four days after giving birth. She then went back to her Hadia who was due to be discharged on May 12.
“There is a suicide bombing and I want to come home,” Hussaini told her eldest daughter over the phone on that morning of May 12. “Whatever happens to me, please do not cry.”
‘I Was Crying, and I Was Feeling Alone’
Hussaini’s wheelchair-bound husband Sayed Qurban Hussaini called back two minutes later, but she did not pick the phone. Hussaini went in his wheelchair to go look for her.
A local community elder stopped Mr. Hussaini on the street and told him that it was too late to save her from the violence. Meanwhile Hadi — Ms Hussaini’s 16-year old son — rushed out onto the streets, wandering into each hospital to find his mother.
“I was crying, and I was feeling alone,” Hadi said, “I was hoping that my mother might have been wounded” and he could still find her alive. That evening as Hadi dialed the phone number of his mother again, a doctor picked up the phone and told him to come collect the dead body of his mother tomorrow. The young baby Hadia had survived. The news broke Hadi’s heart and the hearts of his entire family.
Three militants had attacked the hospital and thrown a hand-grenade inside the maternity ward. They shot everyone in the hospital including newborns, new mothers, unarmed guards, and nurses. Ms. Hussaini was killed along with 23 others including two newborns, three women with unborn babies, and 16 women.
The Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the massacre. The United States blamed the Islamic State for it. The Taliban denied the claims, and no other group claimed responsibility for the massacre of newborns and new mothers.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan ordered the Afghan forces to go back offensives against the Taliban, leaving their previous “active defense” gestures. In response, the Taliban said they were ready for renewed war. The violence surged across the country against the wishes of people who were expecting less violence with the US-Taliban deal.
The United States signed a deal with the Taliban on February 29 in a bid to open the door for negations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The process stalled over prison release, with the Taliban demanding the release of 5,000 prisoners and the government refusing to do so. The Taliban waged war.
Amid ruthless violence, the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire on the occasion of Eid-Fitr. The Afghan government, as well as neighboring countries and other countries, welcomed the move. The government announced the release of 2,000 prisoners of the Taliban in a bid to keep the ceasefire and take the process to the next level of direct negotiations.
The ceasefire seems to an empty promise now for the people who have even recently lost countless loved ones to the war. The war takes the lives of people like Ms. Hussaini who leaves behind a broken family. Losing Ms. Hussaini to the shooting has been devastating for her family, as her husband Mr. Hussaini is disabled and she was the breadwinner of the family. Ms. Hussaini was the hope of her family living in a poor neighborhood of Kabul.
Born in a remote village of Daikuni province, they married at 16. Mr. Hussaini left home for Iran to work, just like thousands of Afghans do in desperation. Mr. Hussaini did day laboring and once was digging a well where he fell down, suffered a serious injury and lost the ability to walk.
‘I Never Thought My Life Would Reach This Point’
“I never thought my life would reach to this point, who can think?” said Mr. Hussaini. “Everyone wants to have a good life and wishes to build the best life for his children.”
Crippled, Mr. Hussaini returned home to find out that he needed to relocate from Daikundi to Kabul in search of hope and work. Once the family settled in Kabul, the struggle had began. Ms. Hussaini stepped in and took responsibility.
Ms. Hussaini used to work as a home cleaner and tried to make ends meet for her family. She borrowed money from relatives to carry on. The family’s condition deteriorated so much that they were on the edge of selling off one of their daughters.
The Hussaini family is just one of the thousands of families who had reached the point of selling their loved one for the survival of other family members. In Afghanistan, 54 percent of the population lives under the poverty line and 12.5 million Afghans are severely food insecure, according to the World Food Program.
The Mirage of Hope
Then the Hussaini family was offered a golden opportunity: The International Committee of Red Cross helped the couple to learn new skills and set up a small business. Mr. Hussaini learned to repair smartphones and mobile phones. Ms. Hussaini learned to tailor and set up a shop one year ago close to her house.
“Every responsibility was on her shoulders,” explained Hadi. “She used to go to work in the early morning and return home late in the evening. She always told us to study and not to work.”
With revenue from her shop Ms. Hussaini fed six people, including her husband and five children. She also took on two interns. One was Hawa, a 29-year old girl who was hit by an explosion in the civil war that took place between 1992 to 1996 in Kabul. Ms. Hussaini offered her a chance to learn a skill and build trust in herself, as many other disabled women in the country face discrimination.
Ms. Hussaini was the hope of her family and she was close to lifting her family out of poverty. In the blink of an eye, Ms. Hussaini was taken away and her death left her family back in poverty struggling desperately to survive.
‘I Remember Her Every Moment … She Was My Everything’
“I feel like I am orphan now,” said Mr. Hussaini. “When I wake up in the morning and I can’t believe it. I remember her every moment. How she was hit? What happened to her at the last moment? How much she suffered. She was my everything.”
The family now faces an uncertain future, so does the country. President Ashraf Ghani and former chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah brokered a power-sharing deal to end months-long bitter over the result of the 2019 presidential election. With the deal, both of them share 50 percent of the power and Abdullah Abdullah takes over a high council of peace, a body to make peace with the Taliban.
The deal raised hope for moving the country toward a broader deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But the year-long negotiation between the U.S. and the Taliban shows a complicated process lies ahead of a country that has been burring in the war for 40 years now.
The Empty Promises of Afghan Politicians
“In Afghanistan, such things [peace] are meaningless,” said Mr. Hussaini. “They [politicians] say whatever they like to say on TV, but when they go away from the TV screens, they forget what they said in front of the TV.”
The decisions made by the Afghan government and the Taliban and others shape the future of millions of children including those the late Ms. Hussaini. Hadi is old enough to understand that he lost his mother. Four other children are too young to understand they lost their mother to the war and young Hadia will grow up in deep poverty and instability.
One of the other surviving is 14 years old. One is 9 years old. One is 4 years old. Mr. Hussaini is caught between grieving and thinking of the future of his children. The prospect of his repairing phones does not seem promising, though he says he will try his very hardest to make sure his children will study. “It is very, very, very, very hard,” he said.
The eldest child, Hadi who is 16-years old, seems to be one option for the family to rely on for survival. As many other Afghan families rely on child labor for survival, the family of Hussaini lacks other options than sending Hadi onto the street to sell gum or cigarettes to strangers.
The youngest child, Hadia survived the war, but not poverty. When relatives of Mr. Hussaini received Hadia from the hospital, a couple who had been unable to have a baby for 18 years quickly reached out to Mr. Hussaini and requested adoption.
“They wrote a paper that Hadia belongs to them,” said Mr. Hussaini. “After this, I have no right to demand her back.”