Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

Mohddin is angry. His eyes glare at me while he speaks and he sits on the edge of his chair so that he can lean forward and emphasize his complaints. Unlike the majority of civilians who visit the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Kandahar, he has not lost a close family member or had his property damaged. But he is angry about the life that he and his neighbors are being forced to endure. It is a life of insecurity and hardship – caught as they are between the Taliban and the international forces.

Mohddin came to the AIHRC office because he feels the situation is unjust. He was particularly frustrated with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – the international forces in Afghanistan. He told me he couldn’t understand why ISAF was hitting civilian targets. “They have sophisticated technology. Surely they can distinguish between the Taliban and the people,” he said, jabbing the air with his finger to emphasize his anger. “Now the people are beginning to think that the ISAF are deliberately targeting civilians. Their perception is that the ISAF forces are committing abuses and this is driving people more towards the anti-government forces.”

Mohddin told me that night raids had occurred in his village and that at least two of his neighbors had been “taken away by international forces.” Every day, the villagers were scared they’d be attacked – by the air or by land. ISAF forces, in particular, he said, failed to gather sufficient information and so they made fatal mistakes. “The government should bring security,” he told me, “and ISAF should also coordinate with the government in every military action they are taking. And they should also work closely with the civilians and try to regain our trust and then they can succeed.”

I asked Mohhdin about the biggest need facing his village, expecting him to mention a lack of food, or the need for the fighting to end. Instead, he responded immediately with a different request: “The biggest need is for the foreign troops to educate themselves more about Afghan culture. The night raids in particular are really bad. They are going into people’s houses and taking people and this is not right. When the people are taken, they are not really Taliban or anti-government people. They are innocent. And the foreign troops realize this and so they give the civilians to government officials. But the government is really corrupt and they will not release the people so once they are put in prison they will be there for a long time. If they are not rich people, they cannot bribe officials to get out.”

Whether or not Mohhdin is accurate about what is happening to civilians, his perception is what matters. It is important to recognize the growing anti-ISAF sentiment in Kandahar. More work is clearly needed on cultural sensitivity and showing civilians that they are not being deliberately targeted in military operations. Unless this happens, any effort to win the “hearts and minds” of civilians in this province will surely be a fruitless endeavor.

Image courtesy of CIVIC