“Where are you, dear daughter? I wish I could take Hanifa’s Dead Body to Doha and Place it on the Negotiating Table”
“They showed them to me, one by one. All were the same, covered in blood. I couldn’t recognize her, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t recognize Hanifa. I was even scared to call home and ask my sister what Hanifa had been wearing so I could identify her from her clothing. I leaned against the wall of the hospital corridor. The morning that had gone by flashed back before my eyes and I cursed myself, ‘Habib, why didn’t you even pay attention to what Hanifa was wearing?’ If she was dead, you didn’t even get to have one last good look at her alive.”
He is sitting in front of me with an ashen face. Looking at a crumpled picture of Hanifa, he says, “Who has even had enough of their children as I have been forced to? Does anyone know what I’m going through these days and nights? Who can I complain to that I regret not looking at my dear daughter that day for a little longer?” He covers his face with his hand and for a few minutes, no sound other than the sound of a mourning father crying is heard. This is Habibullah, the father of Hanifa Afshar, a fourth-year student at Kabul University’s Faculty of Public Policy Administration, who was killed in the November 2 terrorist attack on the university.
When I asked him how he was informed about the incident that took place that day, he said, “That morning, Hanifa asked me for money to buy a new book for the new semester. I gave her 250 Afghanis and asked whether it was enough. I was so engrossed in my thoughts and daily tasks that I didn’t even pay attention to the clothes she was wearing, or whether she had eaten breakfast or not. It was noon and I was having lunch on top of a building under construction when my brother-in-law called to ask where Hanifa and Gull-Ara was. At that moment, the spoon fell from my hand and I froze. All I could say was that Gull-Ara was at home, but Hanifa that had gone to the University. I wish she had not gone to university that day.”
His story illustrates the scene in Kabul University on November 2: “It was past noon and I kept calling Hanifa’s phone but she never answered. My heart trembled at that moment. I told myself that maybe she was injured, or maybe…. who knows? In front of the university, there was chaos, like it was doomsday. From any gate that I tried to get inside, I was denied entry. The sound of fighting and gunshots could be heard. We were outside the university and our loved ones were inside. From among the crowd, a shout could be heard from time to time, reporting that another corpse, or another injured person had been found.”
“Minutes and hours went by but no news came. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock went by and even at seven o’clock, we still weren’t allowed to enter the university. I parked my motorcycle somewhere and left to check the other gates, but it was the same. Someone from the crowd said that the bodies of the dead and injured had been taken to the 400-Bed Hospital and without thinking about it, I went to the hospital. There were eight bodies of female students there and my heart was drowning in a sea of blood when I thought that Hanifa could be one them…I hoped against hope that she wouldn’t be. They showed them to me, one by one. All were the same, covered in blood. I couldn’t recognize her, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t recognize Hanifa. I was even scared to call home and ask my sister what Hanifa had been wearing so I could identify her from her clothing. I leaned against the wall of the hospital corridor. The morning that had gone by flashed back before my eyes and I cursed myself, ‘Habib, why didn’t you even pay attention to what Hanifa was wearing?’ If she was dead, you didn’t even get to have one last good look at her alive.”
He continued, “Hopeless, I went to Estiqlal Hospital, and then to the Emergency Hospital, but I still couldn’t find her. I was neither happy nor upset. It had gotten late, and I went back home and paced the yard all night long. When morning came, I told Gull-Ara, Hanifa’s sister who was also a student at Kabul University, to prepare herself to come with me, as we needed to find Hanifa.”
We went to Kabul University and Gull-Ara saw her sister’s photo on the poster on the wall. She called out, “Dad!” but she couldn’t bring herself to tell me that we would not be seeing her anymore. The bodies were beside each other and the families had come to identity them. I looked at each of them one by one, ‘Not this one, not this one, not this one…’ Suddenly, Gull-Ara cried out, ‘Dad, this is Hanifa. I recognize her from her headscarf. She asked if she could wear my headscarf yesterday.’”
When we reach this part of the story, Hanifa’s father becomes restless. His narration is given with a trembling, tearful voice. He tries to get a hold of himself but the grief over Hanifa won’t let him. He says, “The first thing I noticed after identifying her body was her small and thin frame. What must my youthful 21-year-old have endured in those moments? When we received her phone, there were 252 missed calls from me alone. My body became rigid at the thought that the owner of this phone would not answer it anymore.”
He continued, “A hand grenade tossed by the attackers had hit my daughter. She had bled, and continued to bleed, so much, that I couldn’t even wash her body. Blood was flowing from the tube attached to her. On Tuesday morning, the same week, we moved Hanifa to the Sahibul-Zaman Afshar Mosque and buried her in the cemetery there. filled with grief.”
Habib says, “Hanifa and Gull-Ara’s mother had passed away long ago, and my financial situation is not so good. I’m a construction worker, but right from childhood, I always believed that my daughters should study. Hanifa was six years old when I enrolled her in Afshar Girls’ School. I took her and brought her back, in heat and cold. How is one to know, that despite trying one’s best and investing on one’s children, they can be torn to pieces in a matter of seconds? What happens to all those beautiful dreams my daughter had? We always thought that schools and universities were safe for our children, but it turns out that they aren’t.”
When I ask where Gull-Ara is, as I would like to talk to her, he replies that she is at university. “Right after classes resumed, I sent her off to her classes. With faith in God, I can’t have her behind in her classes.” I feel like the point our conversation has reached is making him uncomfortable, as he’s experiencing mental anguish and talks with great difficulty. He says at the end, “As a victim of war, a mourning father, and a damaged citizen of city, I don’t believe in this peace. Peace is not when they talk about hopes in Doha, while we sit on top of our loved ones’ graves over here.”
“I wish I could take Hanifa’s dead body to Doha and place it on the top of the negotiating table and tell them that this is the reality of Afghanistan. The body of my young daughter, who was filled with a thousand and one beautiful dreams is covered in blood so that you lot can continue to make deals. How can I believe in this peace and these negotiations when a wound is inflicted on me that has no possibility of healing? It is as if that hand grenade had impacted my body and it’s me who is bleeding and torn to pieces.”
Even if the attacks on Kabul University hadn’t taken place, how many other families are in mourning like myself? The end of war and peace will be meaningless when every day, a child becomes an orphan, a parent wears black in their grief for their child and a woman loses her husband. Who is responsible for answering for all the blood of civilians that has been spilt?
Habib sheds a tear once again and says that this is enough. “I can’t, anymore.”