Forgotten victims of Pakistan's Taliban war

Published: April 25, 2011
Shadi Khan, a patient at the Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM), shows his prosthetic legs in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP

Shadi Khan, a patient at the Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM), shows his prosthetic legs in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP

Disabled military veterans at Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) perform exercises in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP Disabled military veterans at Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) perform exercises in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP Shadi Khan, a patient at the Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM), shows his prosthetic legs in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP Shadi Khan was once a proud soldier fighting the Taliban, but today he quivers in pain after a bomb blew off his legs. PHOTO: AFP

RAWALPINDI: Shadi Khan was once a proud soldier fighting the Taliban, but today he quivers in pain, socks bagged around metal pins after a bomb blew off his legs on Pakistan’s deadliest battlefield.

His unit had arrested 10 Taliban operatives and killed another eight, and was heading back to base camp in South Waziristan when the bomb exploded. That was August 2010. He is still in hospital.

“It was as if I had been shot. It was a huge pain. Both my legs were blown up and I was injured in the stomach. I was conscious for the whole thing, but after around three hours I passed out,” he says.

One soldier was killed and Khan was the most seriously wounded out of four who were evacuated to a field hospital. He’s since had multiple operations and both his legs have been amputated above the knee.

“Now I’ll go home and just connect to my God. I’ll remember him. I’m still young, but I can’t walk at my home, where the land is rough. What else can I do? Perhaps I can teach students, if I can get a job in any school.”

Under US pressure to root out Taliban and alQaeda-linked networks in its northwest and districts on the Afghan border, more than 2,795 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in fighting since 2004. Another 8,671 have been wounded. Those official statistics overshadow the more than 2,403 foreign, mostly American, soldiers who have been killed in 10 years in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s war has also ignited revenge bombings that have killed another 4,200 people since July 2007, destablising the nuclear-armed country and forcing the establishment to fight hard against homegrown Taliban.

Khan is a patient at Pakistan’s Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) in Rawalpindi, the country’s only hospital of its kind that helps maimed and disabled soldiers rebuild their shattered lives.

Their best efforts barely make the pain better for Khan. His family are in the southern province of Sindh, hundreds of miles away, and he has received only one visit – from his father – since he was injured.

“I got some irritation,” he said, shaking. His new legs were fitted only four days ago. An earlier pair didn’t fit and had to be changed. Staff say they are desperately short-staffed and under-equipped. With only 100 beds and 147,000 troops committed in battle across the northwest, the work load has grown tremendously.

Major General Akhtar Waheed, head of the hospital, said 750 patients are treated each day. He lists his main staff as five specialists, 13 general nurses, three psychologists, two speech therapists and 10 physiotherapists. While the military has agreed to help build a new block to raise the number of beds to more than 150, it is only in the planning stage.

Major Zahid Rustam has been staggered by how much things have changed in the six years he spent training in Australia, Britain and the United States. “Oh my God, the work load has tremendously increased. When I went, you know, we used to find some patients who had a fall or something like that, but now we have a lot of amputees. We have a lot of spinal cord injured patients. “We have a lot of work, a lot of work.”

Compared to hospitals in Pakistan, Afirm has impressive facilities, is hygienic and seemingly well run. But compared to hospitals where Rustam and other medical officers have trained, its staff are over-stretched. “We need people who are specialised,” Rustam told AFP. “We have like only three occupational therapists in the whole hospital and where I’ve been working, one ward would have like 10-15 occupational therapists, so how are we going to do?”

Lieutenant Colonel Khalil Ahmad says staff work to rehabilitate soldiers to their fullest possible capabilities, but the brutal reality for the most seriously wounded is early retirement and even life in a wheelchair.

It can take six months to a year for an amputated soldier to be fitted with a prosthetic limb. Officers who can stay in uniform are priorities. Sayed Altaf Hussain is one of the lucky ones. He lost his foot in battle on November 26, 2009 but has been allowed to return to duty in North Waziristan, even if in his own words he does “nothing much”. He is 34-years-old and has served in the army for 14 years. “I can’t quit right now. I’ve got four years left. I want to complete, so I can get my pension otherwise I’ll lose out financially.”

Despite risking his life for his country, Hussain receives a salary of just 14,670 rupees ($174) a month to support a family of 14.

“There’s been a lot of inflation in Pakistan and it’s very hard to manage. “I joined the Frontier Corps to defend the country number one and number two because there is poverty and we need to do something to earn money.” Some of the more seriously wounded are taught data entry or skills that officers say can turn them into assistants for mobile repair men, electricians, mechanics or tailors.

But when AFP asked to visit a wounded soldier who had been discharged, at home, to see how he was coping, the military refused permission.

Major General Waheed concedes that the consequences of horrific injuries have a “massive impact”. “It affects the whole family, even in the troops because so many soldiers from this unit, or this platoon, have been affected and so that’s naturally quite disturbing. “Once you rehabilitate them, train them in a specific job, give them something to do, I think the impact becomes much less, quite less,” he said. For some parents, brought up on the doctrine that India was public enemy number one, the war against the Taliban is not one that Pakistan should be fighting in the first place.

Colonel Abbas watches as his once talented commando son, Captain Qasim, is helped into a wheelchair after a physio session. Thanks to therapy at the hospital, he can now walk a little after a brain injury that left him on a ventilator for two months.

“This army is not meant for this. There are no goals, there are no aims. We’re fighting against Muslims. Muslims are killing other Muslims.”

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Reader Comments (12)

  • A. R.
    Apr 25, 2011 - 11:45AM

    Selfish fools. If they had not been employed by the army they would have made less money and gotten no compensation, no treatment for any injury they may have suffered in their daily work. Accidents and amputations are not confined to military men. If my leg gets broken because I slipped badly at work my company wont even keep me employed let alone pay for my treatment and rehabilitation.

    Thank God you are alive, thank the army you are being looked after. If you are skilled enough and can earn more money than what the army is paying you go and work there instead.

    But I still thank and appreciate the men and women of the armed forces that dedicate their lives to protecting mine. Recommend

  • S. Asghar
    Apr 25, 2011 - 2:45PM

    Respect for our real heroes. Recommend

  • Apr 25, 2011 - 2:53PM

    “This army is not meant for this. There are no goals, there are no aims.” Sounds eerily similar to a certain report that came out recently. Can we spare our sons of the soil and get rid of the menace once and for all. Or are we going to continue to see men and women killed or maimed in “skirmishes” and “raids” in areas where supposedly the Talibans back has been broken?

    In addition the psychological impact on those injured or even those who seem physically healthy must be looked into and support provided. Recommend

  • Jay
    Apr 25, 2011 - 2:54PM

    @A. R.: First you call them selfish fools and then thank them for their services… make up your mind!! Secondly, you obviously don’t work at a good place!!! More and more organizations have now started becoming HR focused and inclusive, where people with handicaps are also hired based on their skills that can be utilized despite of their their physical disability…. medical is also provided to employees according to service years, seniority, levels, etc. Recommend

  • Jay
    Apr 25, 2011 - 3:22PM

    @TightDhoti: “our sons of the soil”… how inclusive of you!! Recommend

  • A. R.
    Apr 25, 2011 - 4:02PM


    Selfish fools are the ungrateful one’s complaining that not enough is being done for them

    Thanks to the ones that keep on doing their job, knowing the dangers that abound

    The organizations that provide extensive medical facilities are either profit makers like Pakistan Tobacco or muft khoras (free loaders) like the government of Pakistan, State Bank etc. No normal company in Pakistan provides extensive and expensive medical facilities because they just can’t afford them

    Dont compare to 1% outliers, compare to 99% of the standard deviation to get an accurate analysis.

    As for the colonel that asks ‘whats the point’ he should know that soldiers are not paid to ask whats the point. It’s part of the job description. Secondly, if he thinks muslims are killing muslims, he’s failed to realized that there’s little ‘islamic’ about the conduct of the army while the conduct of the militants is usually totally un-islamic. Recommend

  • Roflcopter
    Apr 25, 2011 - 5:14PM

    what about the forgotten victims of US drone terror attacks?Recommend

  • John
    Apr 25, 2011 - 6:45PM

    What about the forgotten victims of NY, London, Madrid, Mumbai, US and NATO soldiers also.

    My heart goes out to all those soldiers and civilians from all walks of life get caught in this Taliban idiots gorilla warfare.

    PAK people hopefully have come to understand these talibans, they are not those who fought soviet occupation. These guys are alien species and are trying to establish control over PAK through political means for their control over their lost kingdom of Afghanistan.

    These guys care no one except themselves and use every means unimaginable to achieve their aim.

    The road to Kabul starts at Peshawar and goes in east and west. Recommend

  • FMR
    Apr 26, 2011 - 8:53AM

    @A. R.:
    When you serve in ARMY… you are being paid literally nothing for risking your life. Just imagine yourself in that situation with the family to feed on and with amputated legs. Don’t go around calling our heroes fools. They are the reason why you sleep easily at night because they are trying to curb the move of terrorists and limit them near the border rather than just chilling around as had the fight been in cities, it would have led collateral damage. Our army needs to get more beds in this rehabilitation center for these heroes and come up with something to employ these people on the side by either putting them into the uniform production company or other decent jobs. Our heroes need more. I salute you… Pakistan Army naujawans! You make us proud. Long live Pakistan. The day we get rid of these terrorist issues… it’s no but because of your love for the country. I wish I can see that one day. Inshallah… Recommend

  • M Ali Khan
    Apr 26, 2011 - 10:00AM

    you mean the dead Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters deliberately taking sanctuary in civilian areas of FATA, knowing well that they pose as much a danger to their naive hosts as themselves?

    are they your ‘forgotten victims of drone attacks’?Recommend

  • Imran Chaudry
    Apr 26, 2011 - 4:20PM

    These poor soldiers got injured fighting America’s war. At best they will get about US$ 80 per month as disability pension. The US should pay them a handsome disability pension. It is criminal that the US Aid is used to stuff the pockets of Corrupt Pakistani Generals and politicians. Recommend

  • ihsan shah
    Apr 27, 2011 - 4:35PM

    If we think of past before Musharaf Govt,We will come to know that people all over the world used to visit Swat to enjoy its green hills and clean rivers,but due to Musharaf wrong policies and obviously to keep army officers in extraordinary protocols . Swat was converted into battle field and aim was to receive money from America and to continue their enjoyments. Now only poor soldiers are killed in these battles with occasional injury/death of an official.I think to come out from that havoc we have to change our policies. Recommend

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