Wednesday, January 6, 2010
It's the Taliban, not British troops, who are persecuting Muslims in Afghanistan - as the story of a gravely ill six-year-old shows, says Liz Hunt.
By Liz Hunt from the Telegraph
There are few uplifting stories to come out of Afghanistan, but The Daily Telegraph reported one of them yesterday and it was a joy to read. It was also a perfect antidote to the poison being spread by Anjem Choudary, the leader of a radical Islamic group, who this week accused British forces in that country of "war crimes and many atrocities".
The story centred on a six-year-old boy, Rahmadullah, who was close to death when he was airlifted to a hospital at the British military base at Camp Bastion. He was suffering from pneumonia, lapsing in and out of consciousness, and deteriorating rapidly. Initially, doctors were baffled by his condition. They told his father Neknazar, a farmer from a remote area of southern Afghanistan, that the boy had only a 10 per cent chance of survival.
He was put on a ventilator while tests continued; eventually tetanus was diagnosed and the appropriate treatment begun. When Neknazar had to return home, nursing staff adopted the little boy temporarily. They fed him the bourbon biscuits he'd developed a taste for, sat with him while he watched his favourite film, Finding Nemo, pushed him around in his wheelchair, and comforted him when he cried for his father.
Major Sue Snaith, a reservist at Camp Bastion who normally works as a specialist oncology nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital, described Rahmadullah as "one of our miracles". Given the usual workload for her colleagues – dealing with the bloody aftermath of the improvised explosive devices that have claimed the lives of or horrifically injured scores of British servicemen – one knows that she did not use the word "miracle" lightly.
Today, Rahmadullah is making a full recovery – evidenced by that impish grin for the cameras. Neknazar's relief is also unmistakable, and his gratitude heartfelt. "My son is happy now," he said. "The doctors and nurses have been fantastic. My son would have died if I had not brought him here, so of course I am very pleased."
Contrast those smiles and words with the cynical antics of Mr Choudary. He is behind plans for a demonstration in Wootton Bassett, the Wiltshire town that has become a symbol of our renewed appreciation of the courage and sacrifice of British troops in Afghanistan. In a cynical gesture that mocks the solemn repatriation ceremonies that take place there all too frequently, and belittles the grief of bereaved families, Choudary's followers plan to parade empty coffins through the streets, to highlight the "persecution" of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yes, Muslims are being persecuted in Afghanistan – but British troops aren't guilty. It is the Taliban who are responsible for so many of the atrocities against civilians and so many of the deaths.
Talk to any British serviceman with experience on the front line, and they'll tell you of the futility of trying to win hearts and minds when locals live in terror of the repercussions that even the most minor fraternisation can bring.
As for Rahmadullah and his father, one can only hope that basic compassion for a young child will safeguard them from any form of retribution when they return home. The irony, of course, is that his illness need never have occurred in the first place. For there used to be a vaccination programme in southern Afghanistan for tetanus and measles – until the Taliban put an end to that, too.