By Jim Seaton
A Night of Horror
Taliban militants stormed the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul one night last August. Attackers went from room-to-room, cutting down students and teachers. When security forces retook the campus the next morning, 15 were dead, including seven students and a professor. Dozens were wounded.
Students and faculty members were trapped in classrooms overnight. Many tweeted messages for help. Some lay on the ground for hours, wounded and alone. Some played dead so the gunmen wouldn’t shoot them – or in some cases, shoot them again.
After the shooting stopped, this oasis of higher education in war-torn Afghanistan closed. But not for long.
A Night of Celebration
The campus reopened just seven months later, in late March.
At a dinner in Washington, DC last week, the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan celebrated the reopening and honored those who died in the attack. That dinner renewed my faith in the human spirit and in the power of human resiliency.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by Breshna Mosazai’s message of hope? This from a young woman who suffered the effects of childhood polio in her right leg, and the aftermath of three bullets in her left one:
“I believe the terrorists will get tired of killing us but we won’t get tired of our hope. Our faith is stronger than their guns.”
When AUAF opened in 2006, it had barely 50 students. Only one was female. When it reopened this spring, the coeducational private university enrolled more than 1,700 full and part-time students. And, more than 40 percent of the newest students – those who enrolled since the attack – were female.
Former diplomat and acting university president David Sedney led the rebuilding effort. USAID and generous donors and organizations provided funding. Students and administrators engaged online and in-person during the campus closure. And young men and women thirsting for an American-style liberal arts education crowded the campus upon its reopening. They couldn’t wait to take back their future.
Education will prevail
Violence and risk are constants for AUAF students and faculty. The Taliban kidnapped two professors, an American and an Australian, last summer. Neither has been released. An adjunct professor and an AUAF graduate died in a recent truck bomb explosion in central Kabul that killed more than 150.
Violence isn’t stopping students’ quest for a better future; if anything, it is toughening them for the challenges of leading tomorrow’s Afghanistan.
“In one attack we’re safe and in another we’re not. We have accepted this as the reality of our lives.” – Samiullah Sharifi (student body president)
For a better tomorrow
AUAF’s mission is to prepare leaders for Afghanistan and the region. A significant number of graduates acquire jobs in Afghan Government ministries. More than 60 graduates are Fulbright Scholars.
Funding for AUAF and other targeted foreign assistance programs is key to helping Afghans take back Afghanistan. This support is a bulwark against the Taliban, ISIS and others who plant and water the seeds of darkness and destruction.
It takes more than military forces to counter those who wish to take Afghanistan backwards. It takes independent thinkers who question the status quo, who are open to new ideas and who have an eye on the future. Those traits are often associated with a liberal arts education.
“This is my country. I was raised here. I belong to this community…. Escaping is not the solution. I want to prove to the attackers that they were wrong.” – Rahmat Amiri (student wounded in the campus attack)
We celebrated a miracle of the human spirit last week. Though we were at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, our hearts were on the AUAF campus in Kabul as our eyes looked at Afghanistan’s future.
Jim Seaton is a retired Marine Corps Colonel. He spent 13 months in Afghanistan during 2010 and 2011 and recently moved to Jacksonville, FL.
Credit: Students arriving for orientation at American University of Afghanistan, March 2017 (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)