Hazara community in mourning but defiant after more than 60 people killed in school bomb blasts
by Stefanie Glinski in Kabul
Latifa and Hosnia had been sharing a wooden bench in their classroom at Kabul’s Sayed Al-Shuhada school for the past three years.
When Latifa transferred to Sayed Al-Shuhada, the two girls were immediately drawn to each other and became best friends, always together in their free time, studying side by side, walking home together after school. They found comfort in each other’s presence; support in a place that has never been easy for girls and women.
Last Saturday, their paths split forever. A series of explosions near their school – in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi district; mainly home to Afghanistan’s Hazara people – killed more than 60 people and wounded at least 150 more. Many remain in a critical condition in hospital.
By chance, Latifa had skipped class that day, trying to finish a carpet she had been weaving. The 13-year-old’s part-time job, contributing to the family’s small income, probably saved her life.
But Hosnia was walking home, in her school uniform, when the powerful car bomb exploded, followed by two smaller blasts, all of them strategically targeting girls and young women who had just left class – Sayed Al-Shuhada school teaches in three shifts with afternoons between 2.15 and 4.30pm dedicated to girls.
“I would have been walking home with her. Instead, I was at my house when I heard the blast,” says Latifa, sitting in her school’s empty classroom with its concrete floors, yellow walls and old wooden tables, her words disappearing into sobs.
She rests her hand on the bench, in the place where Hosnia usually sat. The school had been the only hope for many in a poor neighbourhood that offers few opportunities and scant prospects of a job.
“I didn’t have any details of the attack at first, but I was worried. I couldn’t stop thinking about Hosnia and wondered if she was well. I walked over to her house a few hours later. All of her relatives were there and in the middle of them, I saw her dead body on the floor. She looked like she was sleeping, but I knew she wasn’t coming back,” Latifa says. Five of the girls’ other close friendswere also killed.
Hosnia’s family buried her the next day on a mountainside overlooking the Afghan capital. Several other families were burying their daughters near the 13-year-old’s grave. Their neighbourhood – although it had seen little development – had seemed peaceful: a cluster of brick and mud houses on the city’s outskirts, surrounded by green fields and dirt roads; the air cleaner and less polluted.
Since seeing her daughter’s body, Nikbakht, 30, has neither eaten nor moved much from her living room. Her face is pale, her eyes absent, her body wrapped in a large black scarf. She stares into the distance as she speaks. “Hosnia was my life; she was the air I breathed. Everything has been taken from me,” she murmurs, adding that her only trips outside had been to the mosque: here, women gather most days, crying, hugging and offering one another support.
Hosnia had been her middle child; a girl full of ambition and drive.
Tahera Hossaini, one of Hosnia’s teachers at Sayed Al-Shuhada, said it was now especially important for parents to keep fighting for their children’s education.
“Of course families worry, but we need to show these attackers that we will never give in; that we’ll always choose to educate our daughters.” The school, she says, would reopen after this week’s Eidul Fitr holidays.
Violence has again been on the rise in Kabul – and across Afghanistan – while peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have reached stalemate. The US has announced that it will withdraw all its troops by 11 September – and many Afghans fear a violent future that could see a resurgence of civil war or a takeover by Taliban militants.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, warned that “problems will certainly be compounded” in response to the US delaying its troop withdrawal date, months after the initial 1 May deadline.
Saturday’s attack has not yet been claimed by any group, with the Taliban quickly denying involvement. Islamic State (Isis), which has previously targeted predominantly Hazara neighbourhoods, has not commented either.
Latifa says going back to school, sitting alone on her bench, will be very hard for her.
“I can’t accept that she’s dead, that any of them are dead,” she says. “Hosnia had dreams. She wanted to finish school and study at university. I will make both of our dreams come true. I will do what I can to help build a better and more peaceful Afghanistan.”
The article originally appeared in The Guradian newspaper.