To the Editors:
Your readers may want to know about the Bureau International Afghanistan (BIA). This organization was formed soon after the Soviet invasion at Christmas, 1979, by people who knew the Afghans and were anxious to help them. (I was myself formerly a British Ambassador to Afghanistan.) The BIA has become the most politically active Afghanistan support organization in France and it has the greatest number of European volunteers working inside Afghanistan—over 400 medical personnel since the invasion, including a number of very brave young women.
BIA has organized a number of international conferences on Afghanistan as well as the International Commission of Humanitarian Enquiry, under Professor Theo van Boven of the Netherlands, which in April this year produced a sober, well-argued and horrifying report on conditions there. (This report complements the one to the UN Human Rights Commission in 1984 by Felix Ermacora.) But we fight an uphill battle because the Soviets allow no non-communist observers to see even their own side of the war and life for the few Western journalists who go in with the mujahedin is rough; no Western troops are involved; and communications are slow.
War is being ruthlessly waged against the non-combatant population, to deprive the mujahedin fighters of their food, shelter, and support. Armoured helicopters destroy homes, burn crops and shoot anything that moves, including chickens; tanks flatten the villages; passes and mountainsides are sown with small plastic anti-personnel mines which blow off a hand or a foot, especially injuring children, whose traditional task has been to watch the grazing flocks.
There is plenty of first-hand information about what is happening as well as photographs; but these come from relief and medical teams, not professional newsmen. And in such conditions war in a far country, however spectacular and shocking, improves neither newspaper circulation nor TV ratings, so the Afghans are, as the Soviets intend, forgotten.
We European associations do our best to keep interest alive, and many of us, including my own group, AFGHANAID, and Health Unlimited in England, send humanitarian help of various kinds into Afghanistan. If any of your readers would like to know more about our work, or better still contribute, they can write to me at the BIA, 24, rue de Chaligny, 75012 Paris, or to my home address below.
Dean Land Shaw
Sussex RH17 6HX, England
February 27, 1986