Crippling legacy of interminable civil war

As Afghanistan's conflict goes on, a young boy becomes its latest victim. Tim McGirk reports

Kabul - Ghulam Sadiq, 12, had gone without even a piece of naan bread for a day and a half when he left his mud-walled home in the cliffs above Kabul and went in search of firewood for his family.

Running along the sewage-filled ravine, Ghulam passed the cemetery, where many of his neighbours and relatives lie buried, killed by stray rockets during Afghanistan's interminable civil war. Silver tinsel wreathed their muddy, fresh graves.

Further down the hillside, friends of Ghulam who were carrying buckets of water from the well watched him amble across the stone bridge ("Built by the English," Afghans say proudly). There, on the opposite bank of the Kabul river, beside the zoo where most of the animals have died of hunger or been eaten by the ragged mujahedin fighters, stood several gaunt trees maimed by shellfire. It was there that Ghulam sought to find some branches that would bring a few minutes of warmth for his family.

But the boy stepped on a buried mine. It was not a big mine, not big enough to kill him outright. Instead, the mine blew off Ghulam's foot just below the shin, and it sprayed shrapnel up his chest and into his head, blinding him in one eye.

The thudding boom of a mine exploding is a sound that everybody in Kabul knows and dreads. Foreign sappers have discovered 52 minefields in and around Kabul. Every changing tide of battle between the rival mujahedin factions has left another minefield in its ebb. After one big skirmish a year ago, in which President Burhanuddin Rabbani's government forces chased out a rebel faction in the southern flatlands of Kabul, more than 500 people who returned to the neighbourhood stepped on mines. Nearly all were civilians. Most were women and children.

The explosion brought a militia commander, Said Mahmud, running over to the howling, bleeding boy. Plenty of children die from mines in Kabul, but this commander, a strapping man in his twenties with a beard, decided it wasn't going to happen to Ghulam. The militiaman picked up Ghulam and carried him out into the road, where he halted a taxi. For carrying the injured boy to hospital, the taxi driver demanded 20,000 Afghanis (pounds 3), or three-quarters of his militiaman's monthly wages. Said paid up.

The hospital had no blood for Ghulam. With so many daily casualties, coupled with an Afghan superstition that giving blood saps a man's strength and virility, few Kabul hospitals have enough blood stocks for even routine operations. "By Allah, I'll give all my blood to save this boy," Said told the doctors. They proceeded to drain 700ml from Said, nearly twice the amount usually taken from donors.

It was a rare opportunity to get blood for the hospital staff; until an injured person's relatives arrive to give their blood, nurses make do by taking donations from a few beggars sprawled on the hospital steps like sleeping dogs. "Their blood is as weak as tea," one nurse complained about the beggars. "They have no money for food." One French relief agency, ACTED, is trying to break the taboo on blood-giving by offering donors a 140kg sack of coal.

Ghulam was moved to the Indira Gandhi children's hospital. Cold as a morgue and without electricity, the hospital at least had a few bandages for the boy's severed leg and his eye. Ghulam was given painkillers and put in an unlit room with other injured children. His voice was hardly a whisper, like the hissing of a punctured tyre in the darkness. "Please turn me over. It hurts so much. I'm going to die," Ghulam wheezed.

An orderly in a dirty smock bent over Ghulam. "Tell us where you live. We'll fetch your parents," he insisted. Ghulam winced. "I'm not going to say where they are until you turn me over. Please," the boy begged deliriously. The hospital had run out of antibiotics, so a contribution was taken up and somebody dispatched to a chemist for penicillin. The boy was not only torn by shrapnel but also by dirt and stones blasted deep into his wounds.

Back in the boy's neighbourhood, word had spread fast that Ghulam had stepped on a mine. Someone at the well had raced up to tell his mother, Asifa. Shocked, she sat by the door, fearing the worst. Ghulam was the family's second casualty. Another son had been injured in a mortar attack on Kabul, a barrage so intense the family had been forced to flee their home.

Donning a turquoise burqaa like a sheet that hid her face and entire body, Asifa hastened to the hospital. She wept under her burqaa. "He'd had no lunch and dinner since yesterday, and when I offered him some bread this morning, he said, 'No thanks, Mummy. I'm full.' I tried to get him to take one kiss from his brother, but Ghulam just went rushing off."

At her son's bedside, Asifa lifted aside her burqaa and caressed and soothed her son. After she saw to it that he was taken to a room with a few rays of pale winter sunlight, she drew the burqaa back over herself and, cocooned in her grief, she slumped down in the hospital corridor like a pile of dirty laundry. "Somebody here in the hospital has stolen his money," Asifa cried out to nobody in particular. "He had 7,000 Afghanis [about 75p] this morning, and now there's only 1,000 left."

At this children's hospital in Kabul, they said it was an easy day. Only one mine injury. Usually, rockets are falling on the city or battles are being fought by rival militias, and this one child's misery in Kabul is magnified a hundred times.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game