KABUL, -- Mohammad Rahed, 21, was known as a brilliant student and motivational speaker. He taught English and was at the top of his class at Kabul University’s Policy and Public Administration School. He lived by the motto “Smile in the face of hardship.”
But his promising life and career were brutally cut short on November 2 when he was killed in an attack by the Islamic State militants on the campus of Afghanistan’s largest university. He was among 22 students and teachers killed, and 27 people were also wounded.
“They began with killing my son,” his mother, Khatema Sherzad, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They didn’t spare his head, back, or feet,” she added. “He was riddled with bullets. They didn’t even give him a chance to rise from his seat,” she said.
“He wanted to become a politician to serve our homeland,” she added. “Now, he’s not allowed to chase his dreams.”
Rahed was among the department’s 16 students who were killed in the attack -- the latest in a long line of heart-wrenching tragedies Afghans have endured almost daily in four decades of war.
The killing of unarmed students at Afghanistan’s premier seat of learning, attended by more than 25,000, has set off widespread condemnation and outrage. The attack poses fresh questions about the fate of the country’s fledgling peace process; while the Afghan government and the Taliban appear no closer to a compromise after nearly two months of talks, daily violence chips away at their chances of reaching common ground.
Rahed’s friends and extended family crowded at his house in Kabul’s Allauddin neighborhood on November 3. Everyone is trying to make sense of what happened. Some are crying, while others appear shell-shocked.
“No one can take Rahed’s place,” his father said between sobs, surrounded by relatives. “I hope he is the last victim. May God protect other young students,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Baheeja, Rahed’s younger sister who is also a university student, is determined to fulfill her brother’s dream. “He was my role model,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Everything I have today is because of him.”
Baheeja, who goes by one name only, says her brother achieved much in his short life. In addition to excelling at his studies and debating, Rahed helped earn money for his family by teaching English at a local language center.
“I feel great pride to be called Rahed’s sister,” she said. “His friends and I will now do our best to see that his dreams come true.”
Samiullah Mahdi, Radio Free Afghanistan’s bureau chief in Kabul, taught Rahed at the Policy and Public Administration School. He says Rahed was one his brightest students. “He was a very brave, charismatic, charming, and talented student,” he told RFE/RL Gandhara.
Mahdi says that in addition to teaching, Rahed did a host of menial jobs to support his family. “He always talked about his big dreams. He wanted to one day become someone who could influence people, someone who could do something for this devastated society.”
Like many on the university’s faculty, Mahdi spent most of November 3 attending funerals, consoling families, and following up on those still being treated at local hospitals. The attack has sent shockwaves through Kabul as mourners flock to funerals, hospitals, and the homes of victims.
“The attackers want to show they are against this new generation of Afghanistan and the country’s bright future,” Mahdi said. “These students were our future, and the terrorists took that away.”
Many of the survivors are traumatized. Nusratullah Tarnak, one of Rahed’s classmates, witnessed the attack and is now being treated at a Kabul hospital.
“All of us, whether dead or injured, were drenched in blood,” he said of the scene when the class was indiscriminately massacred by militants. “Later, Afghan Army commandoes entered and told us to stand up. Those of us who were able to stand stood,” he recalled from his hospital ward. “It was a very tough moment.”
Mehnaz, a female student, had only recently started attending the university. She witnessed some of the fighting on November 2 and hid in a campus police office for half an hour before being rescued.
“All of the girls were crying,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Their families went through so much anguish,” she added. “Many felt as if they were experiencing a nightmare. Some felt physically sick from the anxiety.”
On November 3, Afghanistan observed a national day of mourning to honor the victims. “We will not remain silent. We will take revenge," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a video message. "Our brave forces are after you everywhere, and they will eliminate you.”
Later that day, Mahdi returned to the classroom where he had taught Rahed and other students. He doesn’t know when he will be able to teach again, but he sees they have a duty to carry on.
“We should be courageous enough to continue what we have been doing,” he noted. “We should not give up dreaming of the end to this tragedy that has lasted for over four decades.”