Measuring human life in monetary terms is highly disrespectful. Human life, according to me, should never be matched with sums of money. But in order to compensate for loss of human life, countries all over the world have to assign a monetary value to human life. However, unfortunately, not all human life is assessed to have the same value. Some are valued more than others. As an Afghan, the purpose of this piece is to assess the value of an Afghan life in the eyes of the world.
On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian jet airliner, was shot down by US missiles as it flew over the Strait of Hormuz. While flying in Iranian airspace (over the country’s territorial waters) in the Persian Gulf area, it was destroyed by United States Navy guided missile cruisers. All 290 people onboard, including 66 children and 16 crew members, perished. The incident is ranked amongst the deadliest disasters in aviation history. After a long drawn diplomatic battle between the two countries, the United States agreed to pay 61.8 million US dollars, an average of 213,103 US dollars per passenger, in compensation to the families of the victims.
On December 21, 1988, a civilian aircraft flying from Heathrow Airport in London to John F Kennedy Airport in New York was destroyed by an in-flight bomb, killing 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board and 11 people in Lockerbie, the town in Scotland the plane crashed in, bringing the total dead to 270. The bombers were suspected to be from Libya. Muammar Gaddafi, the head of state of Libya, admitted his nation’s responsibility in the bombing and offered 2.7 billion US dollars in compensation (10 million dollars per family) in 2003 though he maintained that he never personally gave the order for the attack.
On February 3, 1998, near the Italian town of Cavalese, a United States Marine Corps Prowler cut a cable supporting a gondola of an aerial tramway. This act resulted in the death of 20 people and led America to put the pilot of the aircraft on trial wherein he was dismissed from the Marine Corps. The United States government compensated the families of the dead by paying 2 million US dollars.
On May 7, 1999, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, five US JDAM bombs hit the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Belgrade killing three Chinese reporters. President Bill Clinton apologised for the bombing and stated that it was accidental. The Chinese government and its ambassador to the United Nations called it a “barbari[c] act”. Four months later, America agreed to pay 4.5 million US dollars to the families of the dead and injured.
On January 27, 2011, an official from the United States Embassy in Islamabad killed two Pakistani civilians in Lahore. Between 1.4 and 3 million US dollars was paid to the families of the deceased as compensation.
In essence what we are seeing is the monetisation of the victims of such injustices. States have their own economic models in place to determine the monetary value of the life of an individual, in this case – a dead one, by which they estimate the economic value of the loss of civilians as a result of such acts. The value arrived at is then sought to be compensated from the actor at fault.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his officials, members of parliament, ministers (specifically the ones who’ve been educated abroad and the ones who hold advanced academic degrees), economists and philosophers should read the examples stated above and realise that a strong economy and a powerful military do not guarantee immunity from the humanistic duty of repenting wrongs and paying reparations for wanton acts of violence.
Below are a few examples that provide a vivid picture of Afghan lives as valued by the president and his colleagues:
On July 1, 2002, a wedding party in Urozgan Province was bombed by an American plane which resulted in the deaths of 200 people. The media, backing American interests, gave conservative estimates of the total number of dead and injured. The Americans at first distributed blankets and tents to the families of the victims and later agreed to pay 200 US dollars each to the families of those killed and 100 US dollars each to the families of the injured. This was welcomed by the Afghan Government, including the president and the foreign minister.
On June 29, 2006, a 13 year old boy selling pizzas in Kabul was killed in an accident involving an American military vehicle. The media hid the story from the public. Much later, the American authorities paid 200,000 Afghani (less than 4000 US dollars) to the family of the victim as compensation.
A similar incident involving a school-going boy, who was returning home from school at the time of the attack, took place a month later. Again, the media failed to report the incident.
Many such incidents have occurred in the past and the authorities have on most occasions placated the matter by offering indemnity to the families of the dead. The following link has more information on the same (most have to do with Iraq but a few relate to Afghanistan): www.aclu.org/natsec/foia/log.html
The amounts paid, mostly ranging between 150 and 2000 US dollars, are an insult to the victims as well as to the families of the victims. It seems that in the eyes of Mr Karzai, one Chinese citizen is worth one 150 Afghans and one American citizen equals 1000 Afghan nationals in value. The saddest part, however, is when a victim’s life amounts to only three words – We are sorry.
[Khalid Yousafzai is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science and a foreign student from Afghanistan. He can be reached via email at: khalid.yousafzai5 [at] yahoo.com]
[Views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Jamia Journal.]