As millions of Afghans prepare to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha this week, insecurity is preventing hundreds of university students in the capital, Kabul, from joining their families in remote restive regions across the country.
Essa Khan Mohammadi is saddened by the prospect of staying at his Kabul university dorm while most of his friends, roommates, and classmates celebrate Eid al-Adha with their families.
Pursuing a degree in journalism, Mohammadi says he would be risking his life to attempt to make the more than 350-kilometer journey to his hometown, Kunduz, in northeastern Afghanistan. He’d have to traverse dangerous countryside where insurgents control large swathes of territory.
Yet he misses home and longs to meet his parents, siblings, and other relatives.
“I am disappointed, and it is very hard to celebrate Eid al-Adha away from home,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I do, however, hope that one day I will be able to utilize my education to help my country.”
On August 20, Afghan forces claimed to have freed 149 passengers several hours after the Taliban took them hostage as they traveled from Kunduz to Kabul. Afghan officials said the insurgents continued to still hold 21 more hostages. It was not immediately clear whether they were members of the Afghan security forces or government employees.
Waseem, another university student in Kabul who goes by one name only, says visiting his family in the remote Khogiani district of eastern Nangarhar Province has become practically impossible because Islamic State (IS) militants still hold parts of the region and frequently target Afghan civilians.
“Daesh is everywhere in Khogyani, and it is next to impossible to avoid them,” he said, referring to IS by the Arabic acronym widely used in Afghanistan to identify the ultra-radical group.
Lawmaker Abdul Qadir Qalatwal, a member of the Afghan Parliament’s higher education commission, called on the Afghan authorities to look after the students staying behind in university hostels.
“If nothing else, they should be remembered and given some sweets to show that we care about them,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Like Muslims elsewhere, Afghan celebrate the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha holidays with their families and loved ones amid festivities and prayers. The latter is marked by the obligatory sacrifice of animals for those who can afford it. In Afghan villages and cities, the three-day holiday is often accompanied by traditional sports, concerts, and dances.
Hundreds of Afghan students attending universities or vocational schools are virtually stranded at their dormitories during the Eid holidays, when life in the capital grinds to a halt for the holidays comes to a halt.
Faisal Amin, a spokesman for the Higher Education Ministry, says the authorities are aware of the students’ plight and are doing everything they can to help.
“As in previous years, a delegation from our ministry will try to meet with these students while some might be invited to celebrations inside the Afghan presidential palace,” he said. “They also receive money from the president or the government.”
Sharafuddin Azami, a psychology professor at Kabul’s Shaheed Rabbani Education University, says Afghan television stations could also help the students by inviting them to the concerts and other shows they typically stage to mark the Eid festivities.
“It’s important to prevent them from being lonely and to give them reasons to be happy,” he noted.