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The Killing Of A Promising Young Afghan Scholar

Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak
Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak

I immediately tried to reach my friend Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak after learning about a militant attack on the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul late on August 24.

Khpulwak was an assistant professor at the university, and I was worried for his safety. I called, but his phone rang with no answer. I then left him messages on Facebook and Viber.

When I woke up in the morning on August 25, the news was not what I’d been hoping for. I was devastated when I saw a message from another friend, who said Khpulwak was among the 13 killed in the 10-hour attack.

I did not want to believe it, and I wished it was wrong.

Everything about Khpulwak went through my mind: his jokes, his uncontrollable laugh, and his love for endless political debates.

It is difficult to believe that a man I knew for 14 years is no more. I met him at a literary gathering in Jalalabad in 2002. He approached me and said, “Are you Bashir Gwakh, the poet?” I smiled and nodded in confirmation. He told me he wanted to have a similar literary gathering in his village so that people could learn from well-known writers and poets.

During my trip to Kabul this month, we had arranged to meet for lunch, but with Kabul’s busy life, it didn’t happen.

As I waited for my flight at Kabul airport last week, I called him and apologized for not being able to meet.

He said he understood, and told me, “yar zinda suhbat baqi” -- Dari for “If friends live, they are bound to meet.”

Khpulwak was a kind person. He always helped those in need. He told me he was working with AUAF to establish a series of merit-based scholarships for talented students who were too poor to pay the fees.

He always insisted on staying closer with Afghans, and therefore he never left his country even though he could have found better professional opportunities elsewhere.

Khpulwak, a Fulbright scholar and Stanford Law School graduate, died a hero. His family members told me that during the attack, he told them over the phone that he and six students had taken shelter in his office on the second floor.

Thousands of mourners participated in Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak funeral in Nangarhar province.
Thousands of mourners participated in Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak funeral in Nangarhar province.

​“We spent the whole night searching for him at every hospital. We couldn’t find him anywhere,” his longtime friend Israr Ahmad Karimzai said of the tense hours before Khpulwak’s bullet-ridden body was found in one of the buildings.

Authorities have told his family that he was killed while trying to help students escape through the window of his office.

Khpulwak, 32, was from Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar. As a Fulbright scholar, he earned a master’s of law degree from Stanford University’s law school in 2013 and later received an M.A. in Comparative Politics and Security Studies from Old Dominion University-(GPIS).

Khpulwak’s Standford classmate Varsha Iyengar too remembered him in a Facebook post.

“No words can describe the shock and the deep sense of disbelief, helplessness and sorrow that follows the hearing of such news,” she wrote. “Earlier this month, when I heard about the attack on two professors from the University, I panicked and inquired about him. He quickly replied: ‘They have kidnapped two of my colleagues from AUAF. But I am safe so far.’ I dismissed the ‘so far’ of that response and wished him well.”

At a time that most Afghans are leaving Afghanistan in search of a better life in the West, Khpulwak chose to stay. During my recent trip he told me he got an offer from an Australian firm but that he wasn’t going to accept because he loved teaching and helping his students in Kabul.

Mubarak Shah, a 2014 alumnus of AUAF, remembered Khpulwak as a cooperative and friendly teacher. “You would always see him smile. He was young and more like a friend than a professor. His office was always full of students asking for advice,” he said.

Like many young Afghans, Khpulwak loved good poetry and cricket. In fact, it was his love of cricket that earned him more friends in Kabul. Aziz Amin Ahmadzai met him at a mutual friend’s house while watching an Afghanistan match against Scotland.

“I found him one of the most well-versed young Afghans who had a full grip over regional politics,” he recalled. “A couple of months ago, when we were expressing our doubts about the country’s future, he put his hands over my shoulder and said, ‘Buddy! We will rule this country. This country belongs to all of us. We are the future, and we can give hope to this country.’”

Ahmadzai said violence is killing Afghanistan’s future.

“Khpulwak was one hell of a gem,” he said.