Remembering the 22 students slain by ISIS fighters in Kabul University
On November 2, Afghanistan once again witnessed a carnage as terrorists killed 22 students and injured another 27 at the Kabul University. The ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a message to the media. Earlier, the group had carried out a deadly attack on a maternity hospital on May 12, where dozens of infants were killed. The outfit had also killed 24 people in Dasht-i-Barchi earlier this year.
The latest ISIS attack was carried out at a time when a book fair was being held at the university. The media later showed images of blood-stained handbags, shoes and walls covered in blood.
Announcing a three-day mourning period, President Ashraf Ghani called the massacre an attack on the pride of the Afghan nation and vowed that the enemies would not escape the government’s revenge. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzi tweeted that the killers of the innocent students would not be pardoned and would be dealt with an iron hand.
The attack began when guests, including the Iranian ambassador, were expected to arrive in the university to inaugurate the book fair. A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the university’s northern gate. This sent many students fleeing. However, most were trapped inside. Two gunmen dressed in police uniforms then started shooting at the students. They went into several rooms and shot the students in those. Some students tried to escape by climbing the walls and through the windows. The massacre only stopped hours later when the two terrorists were shot dead by security forces.
Rahimullah Sahi was in a classroom when he heard the sounds of gunfire from a distance. He and his fellow students initially believed that it was an attack just outside. However, they soon realised that the whole campus was under siege by the terrorists. Rahimullah Sahi, fortunately escaped unhurt from the attack. A fellow student, Roqayya, lost her life.
Lamenting Roqayya’s death, her friend Zohal said that they had been friends since childhood. “I was only informed after the funeral and burial had taken place. We used to play games when were kids.”
A female student from the Journalism Department said: “We were present when the terrorists entered the university and started killing the students indiscriminately. We were told to flee but found every gate we approached closed. At last luckily we found an open gate.”
The ISIS has been operating in Afghanistan since 2015 when it announced the establishment of its Khorasan chapter in the country. The group then appeared in Nangarhar, Farah, Zabul, Helmand and Logar areas and has carried out dozens of attacks against the Afghan Army, NATO forces and civilians. The ISIS fighters have also challenged the Afghan Taliban’s dominance and claimed to have uprooted the Taliban from several areas.
Although, the US has claiming to have eliminated the ISIS outfits from Afghanistan, many have raised questions over the claims. In April 2017, the US military used a weapon dubbed as ‘the mother of all bombs’against an ISIS hideout and claimed to have killed 36 militants. However, many Afghans call such claims as false and questionable. Even former Afghan president Hamid Karzai views US accounts of such operations with suspicion. During an interview, Karzai had raised serious questions about the poor security arrangements. Karzai questioned how the ISIS warriors could openly operate in Afghanistan in the presence of the US troops? He said the US came to Afghanistan in order to save the people. Karzai accused the US troops of encouraging the ISIS. “In my view, Daesh [ISIL] has emerged in Afghanistan. It has a significant presence - surveillance, military, political, intelligence.” He lamented that the US was unable even to protect the Kabul airbase.
“There was a stream of never-ending calls on these cell phones. I attended a few, but did not dare to tell the callers, who were mostly parents, that their children were no more. One dead student’s mobile phone rang 142 times before this message appeared on the phone in Persian: ‘Kuja hasti jan-e-padar’ (the life of your father, where are you?).”
Omaid Meharyar, a rescue official, says he was tasked with gathering the bags, mobile phones and other valuables of students who had been shot or injured at the Kabul University.“There was a stream of never-ending calls on these cell phones. I attended a few, but did not dare tell the callers, who were mostly parents, that their children were no more. One dead student’s mobile phone rang 142 times before this message appeared on the phone in Persian: ‘Kuja hasti jan-e-padar’ (the life of your father, where are you?).”
Shazia Haya, a representative of an international news service, visited the site of the attack. Standing at a classroom, Haya saw blood-stained books and bags. “In a notebook, the student was writing about good governance when the attack occurred. The terrorists left a flag in the classroom.”
Haya also visited the hospitalised students. In a video clip, Shazia is seen asking the wounded students lying on the bed about the Monday attack and the injured students burst into tears while remembering their mates who were no longer with them.
An intra-Afghan dialogue is continuing in Doha but an agreement between the Ashraf Ghani government and the Taliban is not in sight. A wave of terrorist attacks can sabotage this process. The government side has been demanding that the Taliban announce a permanent ceasefire. However, the Taliban are not ready to do so at this stage. On the other hand, the ISIS is trying to sabotage the peace process and frustrate any hopes for stability in the war-torn country. Both the government and the Taliban should show flexibility to end this war and save the sons and daughters of Afghanistan from the senseless violence.
The writer is a lecturer at Degree College, Zhob, and a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org