By Erika Klein
The campaign to bring democracy and human rights to Afghanistan is still an ongoing uphill battle. NATO forces have been at war in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2001. Afghanistan hasn't had a moment's peace in decades. The current war being fought is the fifth phase of civil war, following a long history of power coups, bloody battles and terrorism that has left millions dead and scores homeless.
It was reported in the news recently that US military soldiers are taking their own lives in record numbers and the suicide rate is higher than that among the American population. Coincidentally, the suicide rate of Afghan women is at the highest its ever been, according to a human rights report by the Canadian Foreign Affairs department. Though the United Nations and other countries around the world have denounced certain practices of Shariah Law and traditional practices (e.g., rape in marriage, honor killings), Afghanistan's record on issues like women's rights, children's rights and poverty are among the lowest in the world. In a country marred by bloody violence and Taliban rule, the situation is dire.
It is precisely this desperation and hopelessness that is driving so many involved and affected by the conflict to suicide. About 30 percent of soldiers' suicides occur while deployed, the rest happen at home after returning from a tour of duty. Afghan women as young as twenty are setting themselves on fire and burning themselves to death. They see no other alternative to the war, oppression, and poverty they suffer on a daily basis. Thousands are suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder. As for the orphans, they are left to the streets and orphanages and continue to endure through a grave humanitarian crisis, if they survive at all.
Generations of Afghans have only vague memories of peace. After Russian forces withdrew in 1989, Afghanistan's civil war raged on. And now, the Taliban continues to fight NATO forces. The newly elected democratic government is still controlled by ultra-Islamic traditions and warlords. And a resurgent production of opium from poppy cultivation is earning more revenue than ever before. It makes one wonder what is really going on. As an outsider looking in, it seems that every faction and stakeholder wants nothing more than power and control. Not a single party seems to have any thought or care to the people of Afghanistan. Surely the citizens of Afghanistan don't want to be ruled by the Taliban, and surely they dont want foreign occupation either.
President Obama recently ordered a record number of troops to the region and passed a military budget that was the highest in US history. Canada and other countries continue to assess whether a war can be won and debate how long troops should be engaged in battle. Many people are convinced this is a holy war or jihad, but I am convinced that any political or religious group will utilize whatever ideology fits their agenda for absolute power.
The death toll is in the millions. Women and troops alike are ending their lives because they see no end to the many injustices. I wonder how peace can ever be achieved and when the bloody massacres will end. In 2001, Afghanistan ranked lowest in the world for human development in all areas. Life expectancy, illiteracy, malnutrition to name only a few. It's 2010 and nothing has changed. How will world leaders work to end the war? How many more people will succumb to utter hopelessness? The need for peace has never been greater.