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Buddha came down out of shame
By Mohsen Makhmalbaf

There has been no rigorous collection of statistics in Afghanistan in the past two decades. Hence, all data and numbers are relative and approximate. According to these figures, Afghanistan had a population of twenty million in 1992. During the past twenty years, about 2.5 million Afghans have died as a direct or indirect result of war—army assaults, famine, or lack of medical attention.

In other words, every year 125,000 or about 340 people a day, or 14 people every hour, or 1 in about every five minutes, have been either killed or died because of this tragedy. This is a world wherein the crew of that unfortunate Russian submarine was facing death some months ago and satellite news was reporting every minute of the incident. It is a world that reported nonstop the demolition of the Buddha statue. 

Yet nobody speaks of the tragic death of Afghans every five minutes for the past twenty years. The number of Afghan refugees is even more tragic. According to more precise statistics the number of Afghan refugees outside of Afghanistan living in Iran and Pakistan is 6.3 million. If this figure is divided by the year, day, hour, and minute, in the past twenty years, one person has become a refugee every minute. The number does not include those who run from north to south and vice versa to survive the civil war. 

I personally do not recollect any nation whose population was reduced by 10 percent via mortality, and 30 percent through migration, and yet faced so much indifference from the world. The total number of people killed and made refugees in Afghanistan equals the entire Palestinian population, but even among us Iranians our share of sympathy for Afghanistan does not reach 10 percent of that for Palestine or Bosnia, despite the fact that we have a common language and border. 

When crossing the border at the Dogharoon customs to enter Afghanistan, I saw a sign that warned visitors of strange looking items. These were mines. It read: "Every twenty–four hours seven people step on mines in Afghanistan. Be careful not to be one of them today and tomorrow." 

I came across more hard figures in one of the Red Cross camps. The Canadian group that had come to defuse mines found the tragedy simply too vast; they lost hope and returned home. Based on these same figures, over the next fifty years large numbers of Afghans will step on mines before their land is safe and livable. The reason is because every group or sect has strewn mines against the other without a map or plan for later collection. The mines were not set in military fashion to be collected in peace. This means that a nation has placed mines against itself. And when it rains hard, surface waters reposition these devices turning once safe remote roads into dangerous paths. 

These statistics reveal the extent of the unsafe living environment in Afghanistan that leads to continuous emigration. Afghans perceive their situation as dangerous. There’s constant fear of hunger and death. Why shouldn’t Afghans emigrate? A nation with an emigration rate of 30 percent certainly feels hopeless about its future. Of the 70 percent remaining, 10 percent have been killed or died and the rest (or 60 percent) were not able to cross the borders or if they did, they were sent back by the neighboring countries.

This perilous situation has also been an impediment to any foreign presence in Afghanistan. A businessman would never risk investing there unless he is a drug dealer, and political experts prefer to fly directly to Western countries. This makes it difficult to resolve the crisis that Afghanistan is faced with. This adds to the ambiguity of crisis in a country burdened with such an enormous scope of tragedy and ignorance on the part of the world. I witnessed about twenty thousand men, women, and children around the city of Herat starving to death. They couldn’t walk and were scattered on the ground awaiting the inevitable. This was the result of the recent famine. That same day Sadako Ogato also visited these same people and promised that the world would help them. Three months later, I heard on Iranian radio that Madame Ogato gave the number of Afghans dying of hunger to be a million nationwide. 

I reached the conclusion that the statue of Buddha was not demolished by anybody; it crumbled out of shame. Out of shame for the world’s ignorance towards Afghanistan. It broke down knowing its greatness did no good.

In Dushanbeh in Tajikistan I saw a scene where 100,000 Afghans were running from south to north, on foot. It looked like doomsday. These scenes are never shown in the media anywhere in the world. The war–stricken and hungry children had run for miles and miles barefoot. Later on the same fleeing crowd was attacked by internal enemies and was also refused asylum in Tajikistan. In the thousands, they died and died in a no man’s land between Afghanistan and Tajikistan and neither you nor anybody else found out.

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