When a Conflict Collapses on a Child: An (Aborted) Medical Evacuation of a Hazara Toddler During the Kabul Airport Blast and the Taliban Takeover

Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics 13 (3):167-170 (2023)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:When a Conflict Collapses on a Child: An (Aborted) Medical Evacuation of a Hazara Toddler During the Kabul Airport Blast and the Taliban TakeoverAyesha AhmadI work in the capacity of an academic researching conflict in Afghanistan. My commitment is rooted in the firm terrain of friendships that merged into sisterhood of the Afghan terrain spaning decades of war but which is also the home of poetics and legacies that refuse to be clouded by the traumas of the land.As a medical ethicist situated in global health, I perceive the inadequate focus on recognising the mental health needs born from living in war as a moral injustice and a form of silencing the suffering. This injustice should be held by the geopolitical hands that play the chords of conflict.However, such research is all too often concluded before it can develop as too dangerous, or too risky, or even as unethical because potential participants are perceived (often, unjustifiably so) to be too vulnerable.Another peril of research is the boundary drawn between a particular experience of the research objective and the life experience of the research participant. Connecting as a researcher and in a personal capacity, I fell into a chasm unseen in the context from where I work in London, United Kingdom.I remember the evening before Kabul city fell to the forced control of the Taliban. My friends reminisced during a nightfall reflection on the battles where the city walls had barricaded its inhabitants from centuries of invaders trying to access the valley of a city surrounded by mountains. Kabul city is a haven for war. Its geographic location makes it desirable to conquer, but part of its desirability is because of how the mountains envelop where the languages, ethnicities, religions, and stories of the Silk Road have settled and rested. Once conquered, the city protects you. And Kabulis felt safe. And to that end, on that fateful night, we ended our conversation in the confidence of hope; that Kabul city would not fall, and with the heart of the country still intact, Afghanistan would be saved.The dawn arrived and so did the approach of the Taliban to the city gates. There were frantic and rapid whispers that transformed into screams. And then the moment came, the Taliban were within the city walls.The juxtaposition between the regular London traffic heaving and breathing, and the frantic, panicked sounds of horns and vehicles fleeing in Kabul that I heard through WhatsApp audios in the background to friends narrating their journey home, was as stark as the peace and war they both echoed. [End Page 167]Soon the stories started speaking, pleading, paining, pressuring—stories seeking survival. In the dawn, instead of the sun breaking the sky, I broke the morning to a friend during a telephone conversation who had just awoken and had not yet received the news. I told my friend that the Taliban were in Kabul city. The reaction was grief, just like the grief I had heard in their voice a few months prior when their beloved father had passed away and entered the grave before they had breathed the new dawn. In the dusk, instead of the moon shining upon the city, women, families, and children were sheltering from the darkness of the grave closing amid their breathing bodies.Then, the blast came. In the energy of the quest for safety, people, walking like pilgrims, surrounded Kabul airport, queuing like worshippers. Prayers died. Hell rose. The waiting crowd was fired upon. The air did not offer breath; instead, a final moment of the sound of war that had blighted lives.In the crowd was a family who I dedicate this article to. I write the story of the father, the mother, the daughter, and the son of that day. The family was Hazara, a disputed and discriminated ethnic minority in Afghanistan, of a legacy traced to the invasion of Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire. Theirs is a story of travellers and a soil of stories; a particularly profound story because the parents had specialised in geology and were experts of the stones of their long heritage. Yet, still, they...

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