She Was Daddy’s Little Girl. At 3, She Watched Him Shot Dead.


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It was a daddy-daughter moment. It turned into a reminder of the lasting trauma of the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan.

Amanullah Watandost, 42, a government employee, was behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla on Thursday afternoon. His 3-year-old daughter, Madina, wearing a dress with a pink bottom and two pink bows, was in the seat next to him. They were out shopping for groceries in Arghandab, a district in the south that has long been a hotbed of Taliban militants.

Mr. Watandost was particularly close to his daughter, often bringing her along wherever he went. He and his wife had adopted Madina after not being able to have a child of their own in 20 years of marriage, according to family members. Mr. Watandost had lost four of his brothers to the war; like him, they all worked for the security forces.

Madina was his distraction from the sorrow weighing down the family.

On a quiet stretch of the road, an assassin pulled up and emptied three rounds into Mr. Watandost through the car window. No one else was close enough to hear the gunshots.

When other cars and passers-by saw the vehicle in the middle of the road, they noticed Mr. Watandost’s body collapsed to the side. Madina was standing in her seat, looking over her father’s closed eyes.

“We did not hear any shooting; nobody heard any shooting,” said Haji Shah Aka, a neighbor. “He was dead in his seat, and his little daughter was in the front seat traumatized.”

In the photos of the assassination that spread on social media, he is slumped back, the wound on his shoulder visible — one of the three spots where Mr. Watandost had been hit.

In all of the photos, Madina seems shellshocked. No tears. In one, she’s staring at the distance. In another, she is glancing at her father’s closed eyes, her arms clasped around her stomach.

“After I saw the photo, I got such a headache that I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 a.m.,” said Iqbal Khyber, the leader of a people’s march for peace, a movement that has traveled around the country trying to raise the collective consciousness about the daily violence. “Both sides have picked up guns against each other and have said they will kill each other.”

“But what about this child? What say did she have in her father’s decision?” he said. “She is traumatized for the rest of her life.”

The war has dragged on so long, and has spread so far, that any conventions of conflict — or local traditions of chivalry to protect women and children — seem forgotten, broken by both sides.

The militants carry out suicide bombings in mosques and wedding halls, boundaries rarely crossed before. In places like Kandahar, they have repeatedly assassinated female government employees, often their young children at their side.

Government soldiers barge into homes in the middle of the night, accused of shooting and killing as women and children watch. Both the American and Afghan militaries carry out frequent airstrikes, sometimes resulting in civilian casualties.

No one has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Mr. Watandost, which the government blamed on the Taliban. Within 24 hours, the Kandahar governor’s office said the assassin had been killed in a raid by intelligence forces.

For more than a decade, Mr. Watandost had worked for a C.I.A.-backed strike force that operates out of Kandahar. Such units have been repeatedly accused of abuses, including summary executions. A Human Rights Watch report recently detailed more than a dozen such cases for which the units have not been held accountable.

Last May, one the C.I.A.-backed units barged into a home in the middle of the night, killing a father, his two adult sons and one grandson. The grandson, Adel Shah, 10, received a shrapnel wound from the initial blast when the forces detonated the gate with explosives to create an entry.

Adel’s father was sleeping in the yard. In warm weather, many Afghans bring charpoy beds outside.

“My father was shot in his bed,” Adel, his eyes bloodshot and his wounded head patched up, said the day after the raid. The women and children in the family were all put in one room and told not come out until an hour after the forces had left the house — or helicopters would shoot them.

In that period, Adel’s father bled to death in the yard.

Civilians — along with children who become both witnesses and victims — are often caught in the increasingly ruthless violence carried out by both sides. In the Darqad district of northern Takhar Province on Saturday, a roadside bomb killed at least five children on their way to school and wounded three.

Mr. Khyber, the peace activist, said what troubled him the most was that the frequency of violence had desensitized Afghans so much that gruesome episodes like Madina’s watching her father’s death only briefly captured the national attention.

Then people move on, shocked by something more extreme. He likened it to the example of the homeless people who sleep in a train station, their slumber undisturbed by the loud noise of the trains.

“The biggest misfortune is that we are used to this daily killing,” Mr. Khyber said. “Today the people paused, but tomorrow they forget about it. The next incident needs to be even more cruel than this to be noticed.”

Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Source : Nytimes