Patched Up in Pakistan Red Cross Hospital Treats Taliban and Children

Hasnain Kazim

By in Peshawar, Pakistan

Part 2: 'We Treat Everyone the Same'


The beds are occupied by all kinds of people, including civilians and extremists. Sometimes there are members of the Pakistani security forces and sometimes fighters from the ranks of the Taliban. "We do not ask if they were actively involved in fighting or who they are fighting for," says the hospital's manager, Richard Cook. Most patients are traumatized by what they have experienced and don't want to talk anyway, he says. "We treat everyone the same. The ICRC is impartial and neutral," says Cook, who is originally from New Zealand.

Recently the ICRC came in for criticism after it was reported in international media that the organization had allowed Taliban fighters to participate in first-aid courses in Afghanistan. "Naturally we also train Taliban, although not here in Pakistan but in Afghanistan," says Cook. "We are proud of that. We are there to help everyone in armed conflicts."

Horrors of War

The hospital is full of victims of the horrors of war. Zubair, 13, is lying in his bed, staring silently at the ceiling. He was tending cows in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan in early June when he stepped on a mine. The surgeons in Peshawar had to amputate his right leg below the knee.

An unknown assailant shot Mohammed Sajid, 13, in the face as the boy was watching a cricket match. The bullet shattered his jaw. His attacker has not yet been caught.

In the tent next door, a Hungarian surgeon and his Greek colleague are operating on a man who was wounded in the head. His brain swelled up, and the doctors now have to saw open his skull. On the neighboring table, an Italian surgeon is treating a young woman with a leg injury. A Mexican anesthesiologist goes backwards and forwards between the two patients.

'A Victim Is a Victim'

People from areas all along the Afghan-Pakistan border come to the Red Cross hospital. Currently, 72 beds from a total of 120 are occupied. There are no ambulances -- patients have to get there by themselves. The travel costs are covered by the Red Cross, which provides a flat sum of 2,000 rupees (around €19 or $23). In this region, one can travel for several hundred kilometers with that kind of money.

The only condition for being accepted at the hospital is that the patient must have an injury caused by armed conflict that was suffered within the previous two months.

What happens if the patient is a wanted terrorist? Cook shakes his head. "A victim is a victim," he says. "Medicine does not differentiate between people in that respect." If the intelligence agencies make inquiries, they are given access to documents and allowed to enter the hospital. The ICRC prefers not to say how often that happens. Overall, the Red Cross enjoys considerable trust from all sides, Cook says.

Soap and the Koran

Representatives of the insurgents confirm that they appreciate the work the Red Cross is doing. They also appreciate the fact that ICRC employees visit imprisoned Taliban fighters who no one else cares about. Red Cross workers try to ensure that such prisoners receive humane treatment. They bring them soap, clean clothes and books, including the Koran, and deliver letters to their relatives.

In the tent for the most seriously injured patients are men with long beards. Some have bomb shrapnel in their chests, while others have broken shoulders. Some are missing arms and legs. They don't want to say anything about their past, talk about what they have experienced or say whose side they are on.

"We just want to get well," says one man. "And then go home and live in peace."

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