Kabul: Afghanistan is the most heavily bombed country in the world, which has witnessed more than 1000 known drones’ attacks between 2008 and 2012.
“Lots of people who were in the restaurant were all killed in front of his eyes,” says noted Afghan journalist and filmmaker Najibullah Quraishi.
A report of Aljazeera says that according to US Central Command figures during this period there were over 36,000 armed drone flights with an average of 25 per day.
Sadiqullah worked as a cook in a hotel in Afghanistan’s Pech District when US drones targeting Taliban fighters hit the area. Six years later, the 26-year-old recalls the horror of the attack in his memory. Seated on a woven cot in the courtyard of his family’s home in Jalalabad, Sadiqullah exhibits the acute symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trapped in a cycle of mental distress and beating his chest and weeping.
There are many others like Sadiqullah; over 60 percent of the population suffers from a mental health problem. Generations of Afghans have been suffering for about 40 years of the conflict.
The impact of drones has been particularly devastating in Taliban-controlled areas, yet there is little information about these strikes, who was killed or how this constant threat affects the communities targeted.
Many foreign soldiers returning to the West devastated by war have been diagnosed with PTSD. But for the people of Afghanistan, where there is no escape from the conflict, there is little help for people who need psychological care.
Afghanistan only has only a few regional government hospitals, but many people do not even know they exist or realise that many of their services are free. A social stigma associated with mental illness also discourages many from seeking help in the first place.
Living Beneath the Drones follows journalist Quraishi, who has reported on the war in Afghanistan since 2001, as he uncovers his country’s dire mental health situation and the impact and trauma caused by conflict and the newest weapon of war – drones, which constantly fly overhead.
Quraishi meets Dr Mohammed Nader Alimi, a psychologist who helped establish the country’s only specialist mental health hospital, and sees thousands of patients a year. He treats civilians, soldiers, and even Taliban fighters.
The film includes critical commentary from Peter Singer, a US expert on robotics warfare and drones, and remarks from retired US Air Force General David Deptula, who introduced the drone programme to Afghanistan and claims it is the safest form of modern warfare.
But even when they do not strike, the drones’ very presence terrifies and the uncertainty of not knowing whether they could attack at any moment has exacted a steep psychological price.
Quraishi speaks to drone attack survivors and their families. He revealed one of the darkest channels for psychological treatment. But patients there are treated more like criminals and they are shackled in prisons.
The shrine guardians, with little knowledge of Islam and no medical training, claim to “cure” people with charms and prayers. Living Beneath the Drones is a dramatic look at people’s stories, a powerful and urgent examination of mental health in Afghanistan and the reality of imprisonment by the omnipresence of drones.