Afghanistan will recover from this terror.. just as I did
PUBLISHED: 10:17 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:17 01 February 2018
Two years ago, MOHAMMAD ANIL QASEMI was almost killed in a terror attack on his Kabul university. As he prepares to resume his studies, he explains why he can still feel optimism for his country
I will tell you something about death: it's dark, mysterious, sad, final, lonely and cold. I began to feel myself yielding to it as I lay on the grass outside the American University in Kabul almost two years ago. I was a bloody, broken wreck, thrown out of my classroom, two storeys up, by a hand grenade randomly tossed through the door by some guy who knew nothing about me or my hopes and my dreams.
Life has become all too cheap in Afghanistan, but this assault on a place of learning - which left 22 of the brightest and best members of my generation dead and many more injured - still made the headlines. Somehow, with a severe shrapnel wound to my head, among other injuries, I managed to will myself back into consciousness and heaved my body to a place where the terrorists, shooting at everyone in sight, couldn't hunt me down.
I don't expect my return to the campus to resume my business studies course to make the headlines, but for me it means everything. If I have seen the worst of what humankind can do, I have also seen the best - my family, some very patient friends, some good-hearted staff at the university and some great doctors have made this miracle happen. I am not normally an emotional man, but, when the university asked me back to make a speech earlier this month, tears welled up in my eyes when I was given a standing ovation as I said that books and learning were the only real way to avenge what happened at the university.
My country is going through great pain at the moment. Terrorist acts, each one spreading misery far and wide, have become a part of our daily routine. In little more than a week, four attacks have killed well over 150 people and left many more injured. An attack on the the Save the Children office in the eastern city of Jalalabad claimed two lives and injured 14. On Monday, there was an assault on Afghan troops near a military academy in Kabul which killed at least 11 soldiers. Suicide bombers, meanwhile, drove a vehicle disguised as an ambulance down a crowded street in the capital city and exploded it, killing more than 100 men, women and children. We were still mourning the dozens who had been butchered in the attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel when that happened. A man I was proud to call a friend, Hares Mohmand, who recently started his career as a diplomat and who was among those who helped me so much after I was injured, was among the dead. He was a peace ambassador and advocate for youth and community empowerment.
We must seem to the outside world a uniquely self-destructive people. There is no doubt that we have given the Islamophobes, who are making their presence felt in Western politics, great heart. Afghanistan could almost be said to have become the poster boy for everyone who argues that "foreign aid" is about throwing good money after bad.
Let me tell you now it's our only remaining hope. I travelled a great deal through rural Afghanistan before the attack and this is what made what happened to me seem almost predictable. More than 30 years of continuous war have left schools no more than piles of rubble, there is no access to responsible media, no healthcare and no government services for the isolated communities that live off the land.
Cut off completely from the civilised world, the country people have become easy prey to outsiders who have an interest in destabilising Afghanistan. They tell them our country is being invaded by foreigners who are spreading different religions or corrupting our women and they offer them cash and that is how radicalisation begins. For all that, the bloodiest of the attacks that we have seen in Kabul have been perpetrated not by our own rural people, but rural people from other countries across our borders. It's almost expected these days, when terrorists are taken alive, to find they have foreign papers and do not speak our language.
But if terrorism is being imported into Afghanistan, so, too, is enlightenment. The greatest symbol of this, in my view, is the American University that was founded in Kabul in 2004 during the second Bush administration. It offered hope for youngsters in Afghanistan who, like me, wanted to make something of their lives. Certainly, when I had started at the university at the age of 23, I had every reason to be optimistic about my life. I had won many awards, including from the Afghan Parliament, conferences and academic institutions, and had been much involved with voluntary work to improve the lot of my people. It had always been my ambition to get in involved in the politics of my country and I wanted especially to help to educated our country people. I had my eyes on nothing less than the presidency.
What happened at the university on that dark August night in 2016 was an attack on hope. I cried a lot in the days and weeks and months that followed and and there were times when I believed that instead of being an asset to my country I could only be a burden to it. My doctor prescribed anti-depressants. The university authorities were compassionate and agreed to finance a trip to the Batra Hospital in New Delhi, which had the specialist doctors and equipment that I needed. In May last year, I journeyed there with my father. They conducted a series of tests and found I had a displaced right occipital bone and my eyes and spine had been affected. The prognosis was, however, a lot more encouraging than I had feared. They provided me with medicine which has helped me enormously with my recovery.
Hindus, as well as Christians, Jews and Sikhs and those with no faith at all helped put me back together again. They gave me back, in the process, my hope. My particular heroes were Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan; Kenneth M Holland, the President of the American University of Afghanistan; Julie Barker Holland, its First Lady and Registrar; Leslie Schweitzer, the President and Chairman of the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan; David Sedney, the former Acting President AUAF; Ershad Ahmadi, Vice President of Development AUAF; and so many others, not least everyone who was on duty at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul the night I was brought in.
I am a faithful Muslim, but now, more than ever, I believe, too, in common humanity. I believe, too, that Afghanistan - if it is helped by good people to recover, as I was - can once again be a great member of the community of nations. Members of all religions have taken their turns being resented by others, but those who see the world in terms of Muslims versus Christians don't understand the real conflict of our time and the one that poses the greatest danger to us all. It is between those who have education and those who don't. Yes, of course, we need improved security, but what my country really needs now, more than ever, is schools.
Mohammad Anil Qasemi is a first year student at the American University in Kabul majoring in Business Administration