peshawar, pakistan -- while the U.S. insists it has no knowledge of the civilian casualties of its bombing blitzes, traumatized refugees stun journalists with their tales of death and destruction.After all the opinions and rhetoric, the war on terror suddenly hits home when I feel the steel rod poking through Rais Khan's leg, supported by a rope jerry-rigged to a weight made of two bricks.
It's not enough that Rais, a 22-year- old farmer, was bombed at 3 am in a hamlet in southern Afghanistan, says his cousin. He then had to endure an agonizing 12-hour ride in the back of a mini-truck over battered roads to the nearest surgeon -- in a hospital in another country, Pakistan.
Now his impoverished family, like many across Afghanistan, owes a massive debt to warlords and loan sharks to pay the transport drivers' outrageous fees, which have increased exponentially as western news organizations offer hundreds, even thousands of dollars for lifts.
Just down the road from where Osama bin Laden helped form al Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan, near the Afghan border, Hayatabad Hospital is more war zone than the consumer marketplace promised in the giant Pepsi sign fronting the hospital. American war jets taking off from nearby Peshawar airport rattle the walls and windows in the dingy, cramped room housing Rais, his cousin Aziz and six other bombing victims and their families.
Like the two bricks weighing down Rais's shattered leg, war -- and the resulting greed for foreign cash -- is feeding upon isolated Afghans.
"There's no value system left at all," says Dr. Abdur Rahim, deputy chief of Hayatabad Hospital, in an interview Tuesday. "Everybody's so terribly confused. Within this, the warlords are making money."
Feet blue and black and fingernails a fading red, Rais is going to get better, say doctors and nurses. He's in better shape than most of the 44 patients carried to Pakistan to have surgery that's currently impossible in much of Afghanistan.
Four patients -- serial numbers 1, 2, 28 and 43 on the hospital's chart -- have "expired." Many from Kabul and other far-flung regions have head injuries or shrapnel wounds from American bombs. Some survive epic 48-hour journeys to the hospital, Rahim says.
Gundhi Gul would still have legs to walk on if not for the 12-hour journey to Pakistan via mini-truck and ambulance, says his cousin Isman Safillah.
"My cousin was crying in the truck until he lost consciousness. What can you do?" says Safillah, who has spent the last three weeks with Gul and the orthopedic ward's overworked nurses.
Another patient lost both eyes and both legs and then returned to fight, say hospital workers requesting anonymity. For lack of clinics and ambulances, many victims are just left to die in the desert, say doctors. Aziz thanks Allah his cousin is at least conscious and alive.
But recovering from the debt for transport and health costs won't be so easy, especially for young villagers rendered unable to work. Rais's family had to pay 4,000 Pakistani rupees (about $70 U.S.) to an Afghan mini-truck driver to take Rais from Mangar Gabla hamlet in Paktia province across the border to an Arab NGO's clinic for X-rays and then farther north on treacherous roads to Peshawar.
The amount is more than some Afghans earn in a year. The price increase makes the trip cost 10 times more than a similar journey across Pakistan.
"We had to borrow money from other villagers to pay the Afghan transport driver," says Rais's cousin Aziz. "We don't know how we're going to pay that back."
Many patients in hospitals as far away as Karachi will have to rely on loan sharks to settle hospital bills.
"Everybody's making a fortune out of this misery," says Rahim, fatigued from his Ramadan fast. "Local commanders, the Taliban, warlords who control the highways used by journalists and aid workers, common drivers -- this war is about money. People collecting scrap metal from bombs are shooting each other over that. People are asking me to go to Afghanistan. Should I ask them how much I can make out of it?"
Mobs hoping to cross the border won't let genuinely dying people go through, Rahim reports.
Pakistan has an official policy of allowing the sick, injured and elderly across the border. But to keep out refugees and warriors, border guards only allow ambulances to carry two relatives for every casualty. They also sometimes ask patients to count their fingers to find out if they're really unconscious or faking it.
Says another Peshawar doctor, "The government is worried that everyone crossing the border is Osama."