Mohammad Rahid never failed to inspire. As a gifted student at Kabul University, captain of the debate club and an English language tutor, the 20-year-old student was an achiever. In his free time, Rahid created inspirational videos as a way to uplift his wounded nation.
In one of his recent videos, Rahid is urging people to smile “even if it is tough and painful”. In another post on Facebook, he is seen articulating the collective grief of Afghans who’ve suffered from decades of conflict. “Tough times come and go, you would know who helped you, who was with you…I am trying to turn my wounds into wisdom,” he wrote.
On Monday, Rahid’s life was cut short when three gunmen stormed the Kabul University campus, killing over 22 students, professors and employees in an attack that has been claimed by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP).
Around 10.30 am, students heard the first shots being fired. “When the attackers entered, they just started shooting in all directions and at everyone. Then they went into classrooms and shot each one of them,” 20-year-old Nida, Rahid’s friend and classmate, told VICE News.
This is the second such attack by the insurgent group on an educational institute in Kabul in the last ten days. ISKP took responsibility for the suicide-attack on a private learning center in West Kabul killing 42, mostly students, on October 24.
Nida, a public policy student, said that many students jumped from windows of the second floor to survive. “But when they [assailants] reached Rahid’s room, they started shooting at everyone in the class. Some managed to run while others were taken captive and then killed. He couldn’t escape. They shot him,” said Nida, trying to hold back her tears. “I was lucky to have hid in the library.”
Twenty-three year old Ali Doosti was preparing for the second class of the day when he heard repeated gunshots. “We screamed and everyone just panicked and started to run towards the hallway,” Doosti recounted scaling walls to escape the attackers who were shooting indiscriminately. While running for his life, Doosti noticed several professors helping students in the hallways to safety and locking their offices. “I hope those professors and students made it out safely too,” he said, unsure of the fate his classmates.
Even after reaching safety, Doosti's phone was inundated with calls and texts from students stuck in the campus and seeking help through Whatsapp groups.
Despite the ongoing meetings in Doha between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the violence in the country has remained unabated. According to the latest report by the UN, the conflict has claimed 5,939 civilian casualties as of September this year.
Admitting to intelligence failures, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh also blamed the Taliban and “their allies next door”, a reference to Pakistan. “Attack on Kabul University is an intelligence failure and a human disaster for us. But it shows the conscience of the Taliban and their allies.,” Saleh said in a statement.
Nida was rescued two hours into the standoff between the attackers and security forces that lasted over seven hours. She sustained minor injuries. But the scars, she said, are deeper and likely to stay with her forever. “Apart from being my friend, Rahid was also my ustad (translated into ‘teacher’).”
Increasing attacks are likely to impact the hard-earned rights to education, especially for girls in Afghanistan. “They have little control over their lives, and obviously attacks like these will prevent us from education,” said Nida.
Nida is not sure if she will return to the campus. “Nowhere is safe, and I am fed up. Some of my friends won’t continue their education because shaheeds (martyrs) will be graduating from Kabul University.
Additional reporting by Hikmat Noori.
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