He recalls the dreams and aspirations the students shared with him: Some were getting an education to better Afghanistan or fight for women’s rights, while others just wanted a secure life in a country racked by 20 years of bloody conflict.
But those dreams were cut short when gunmen attacked Kabul University and indiscriminately shot and killed 22 students and teachers.
Among them was Mohammed Rauf Arif, 23, who visited Mahdi’s office a few weeks before his death.
“He was telling me, one day he will be capable enough to do something for his country. And throughout our meeting, I was in awe of his determination,” Mahdi, who teaches Conflict Resolution and Negotiations, told Al Jazeera.
“He told me his family was telling him to get out of the country because it is not safe, but he smiled and said: ‘I am not going anywhere, I will stay here.’”
Yet again Afghanistan lost a promising group of students after attackers went on a rampage through the sprawling campus firing indiscriminately in the worst attack on the elite university.
The assault on Monday started after two attackers entered the university’s training centre – located at the two-storey Law Faculty building – throwing grenades and firing bullets in classrooms.
It took six hours for the Afghan forces to end the gun battle after they killed the attackers. An affiliate of ISIL (ISIS) claimed the attack that left 22, including 18 students, dead.
The Public Administration Faculty (PFA), which saw 16 of its students killed, is housed on the first floor of the same building.
One survivor, Homa Mirzakhel from the PAF, described the scenes of the carnage where she saw some students on the second floor jumping out of windows.
“There were five classes going on at the time of the attack, three downstairs and two upstairs. As I wasn’t in a class, I managed to get out of the university immediately,” Mirzakhel told Al Jazeera.
“I have lost three classmates. Mohammad Rahed Amin, 22, Daud Eshaq, 23 and Idris Azimi, 23. When I close my eyes to sleep, I get flashbacks of the attacks. It is very difficult for me.”
One of the three classmates, Amin, a fourth-year student of the PAF, was a motivational speaker and ran his own YouTube channel.
Some of his videos are titled, Surround yourself with optimistic people, Life is a Race and Know your Value, but in one video that is making the rounds on social media, he says: “Smile in the face of hardships.”
The tragic incident has plunged Afghans into mourning, with many expressing their anguish on social media.
محمد، یکی از قربانی های فاجعهٔ امروز… pic.twitter.com/c6ZYdFVRpV
— | فهیم فرواک (@FFarwak) November 2, 2020
Ahmad Ali Mohammad, 23, student of PAF, was also among those killed in the attack. His elder brother, Bismillah Mohammad, described the day as the longest of his life when his brother, youngest of five siblings, was not answering his calls.
“My younger sister called me and informed me about the attack. I rushed to the scene, but all roads were blocked. We waited in front of the university for hours. I called him more than 100 times,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It was getting darker and I was losing hope. When the attack was over, we got the chance to go to university and check. He wasn’t there.”
Bismillah said he then called Ahmad Ali’s classmates but could not get clear answers from them. Some said he was killed, others said he was injured. One of Ahmad Ali’s friends told Bismillah about his death.
“He said the attackers shot Ahmad Ali right in front of his eyes. He was shot on both legs. He had jumped off the window; his one leg was also broken. He is no longer among us.”
The attack on the university has caused anger, with demonstrators demanding a boycott of peace talks currently being held between the Afghan government leadership and the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The Doha talks, aimed at achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan, were envisioned in the US-Taliban agreement signed in February. US President Donald Trump has pushed for the agreement with the Taliban as he wanted to withdraw American troops to end its longest war overseas.
While ISIL claimed the attack, the second such attack in less than two weeks targeting students, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the killings with First Vice President Amrullah Saleh pointing fingers at the group.
Denying its involvement, the Afghan armed group blamed the government for failing to provide security against ISIL.
Last week, nearly 30 people, most of them students, were killed in an attack on a private education centre in a predominantly Shia area.
Violent attacks in Afghanistan have surged by 50 percent in the three months to the end of September when compared with the previous quarter since the Taliban launched the Doha talks, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report on Thursday.
The watchdog said this quarter there were 2,561 civilian casualties including 876 deaths, up by 43 percent from April to June.
As per the Doha agreement, to which Kabul was not a participant, the Taliban pledged not to attack American forces. But the Taliban, which has waged an armed rebellion since it was toppled from power in 2001, has continued to target Afghan forces.
Back in Kabul, Mahdi, the lecturer, fears such attacks targeting civilian places will continue to take place.
Sohaila jan, I am sorry!
Once Sohaila was answering a question and I cut her short. I didn’t know that she was hurt. After the class she asked if her answer was wrong. I said no, your answer was perfect. She said that she thought I stopped her because she was wrong… pic.twitter.com/2eArSOvrxq
— Sami Mahdi (@Samiullah_mahdi) November 4, 2020
Kabul is still reeling from an ISIL-claimed attack on a maternity hospital in May where fighters killed 24 people, including babies.
“There is no guarantee that attacks like this won’t happen in future. They target young people, this generation is under attack because I know they have the capability to change the country for the better,” he said.
Mahdi, who is also bureau chief of Radio Azadi, the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe, said it would be very hard to go back to the university and continue teaching in the same classes where he lost his students.
“But no matter how hard it is, we have to find the strength and go back to teaching young Afghans. It will continue.”
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