Afghanistan's Frozen Children
Almost without exception, the North American media have portrayed the NATO soldiers in Afghanistan as saviours, welcomed by the population, and grateful for their deliverance from the Taliban religious fanatics. But a recent article in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel explodes this myth. It portrays a confused and deadly mêlée that pits trigger – happy NATO soldiers and pilots against a loose coalition of clan chiefs, religious zealots, border smugglers, and poor peasant mercenaries collectively but misleadingly referred to as the “Taliban” in the West. Most of the civilian population is caught in the middle. On the one hand, they know the Taliban coalition offers a bleak future. But NATO bullets and bombs have produced so many civilian casualties that a rapidly increasing number of ordinary Afghans have turned against them. The fear engendered in the population by NATO troops is palpable, as most Afghans have come to believe that they will “shoot at anything that moves”. Most poignant is the heartrending plight of the chidren. To protect them, their parents teach them to freeze in place like little statues when they spy NATO troops or vehicles, fearing – and not without reason – that the slighest movement could trigger a burst of machine-gun fire. These “frozen children” are a metaphor for a population paralyzed and fearful, caught between forces it cannot control. Reporters “embedded” with NATO forces often speak of the number of Taliban killed as a measure of NATO’s success. But in reality, the mission’s success will truly be measured by the number of Afghan children who can play and laugh in the streets without fear.