At Least 24 Dead In Suicide Attack In Afghan Capital
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Now to Kabul, where a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an education center as students were preparing for college entry exams. At least 24 people are dead, including several teenagers. The big picture - Afghans fear attacks like yesterday's will get worse as foreign forces leave Afghanistan. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from neighboring Pakistan.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Muslims believe it's a kindness to bury the dead quickly. So as the day began in Kabul, shopkeeper Haji Muhammad Ali Ayubi farewelled his nephew, who he says was killed by the enemies of knowledge.
HAJI MUHAMMAD ALI AYUBI: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: He was studying at the Kawsar educational center when the bomber struck on Saturday. He says his nephew was preparing for university exams. He was 18 and wanted to be a doctor. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which was a copy of one they conducted two years ago when they dispatched a suicide bomber into a classroom, killing more than 40 students.
FRESHTA KARIMI: I think it's heartbreaking.
HADID: Freshta Karimi is an education specialist. She runs a charity that creates mobile libraries for kids across Kabul.
KARIMI: I'm encouraging children to go to schools, go to education centers to learn. But is it the right thing to do? - because they're not safe.
HADID: While the Taliban weren't behind the educational center bombing, in recent weeks, they've intensified their attacks on government forces, and civilians are paying the price. In recent weeks, thousands of families fled as the Taliban overran their villages. Tens were killed by the Taliban's roadside bombs. And last Wednesday, as the Taliban clashed with Afghan forces, a government airstrike that was meant to repel the insurgents instead hit a mosque. And residents said that's where children were studying, and 12 were killed.
SHAHARZAD AKBAR: Our city is exhausted. Our country is exhausted. Our people are exhausted.
HADID: Shaharzad Akbar is the chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. She says the Taliban's fighting has not only killed civilians; it's also left them more vulnerable to ISIS attacks.
AKBAR: Regardless of Taliban denial of the attack, the current environment of war enables this ongoing and senseless murder of civilians.
HADID: The violence comes at a critical time. American and NATO forces are leaving Afghanistan as part of a deal that the U.S. struck with the Taliban. Most should be out by April. As a part of that deal, the Taliban began peace talks with the Afghan government a few weeks ago. But negotiators are stuck on procedural issues even as the fighting continues. Karimi, who runs the mobile libraries, says this moment Afghanistan is in feels like a precipice.
KARIMI: I'm 28 years old, and I have never seen an uncertain situation like this one. The deadline for withdrawal is coming closer, and we are not having enough progress on the negotiations table.
HADID: And if there isn't peace...
KARIMI: The alternative to not having peace is civil war if the U.S. withdraws and if the situation continues like this.
HADID: Something she says worse than what exists now. And now, parents aren't even sure when they send their kids to school, they'll come back alive.
Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.