KABUL, Afghanistan – Fatima Khalil, who got a job at the Afghan Human Rights Commission at the age of 24, was far from being a refugee girl who almost failed at birth. The midwife went out before she even cut the umbilical cord.
She spoke six languages, had a strong foundation in religious studies, and graduated from the American University of Central Asia with two major subjects. But friends remember most of all a young woman, deeply confident but sensitive, who was absolutely in love with life. She wore bright colors – an orange dress for her birthday – and surpassed everyone on the dance floor, but was afraid of the dark.
As Ms. Khalil and a driver, Ahmad Jawid Folad, 41, were killed on Saturday Another ubiquitous explosion against civilians in Kabul resulted in one Feeling of deflation in the Afghan capital. In a time of deep uncertainty for the country, in which an endless war often takes more than 50 lives in many days, she embodied the brilliant promise of an entire generation that is going to be bloody.
In the violent 18 years since the Taliban regime was forced by power, a Generation of young Afghans has grown up with freedoms and opportunities that now feel threatened by the prospect of insurgents returning to the government. The United States is already withdrawing troops, which was agreed with the Taliban this year.
However, bloodshed intensified before negotiations on the division of power between the government and the Taliban began. Many of the target groups represent elements of the new life that has taken root since 2001: journalists and moderate religious scholars, creative artists and activists – and women in public roles.
“As an Afghan woman from a patriarchal society, it gave me courage to be Fatima – so difficult. Just know your mind – as a woman you are told every day that you have no mind, you have no opinion. She had an opinion on everything, ”said Shaharzad Akbar, chair of the independent human rights commission in Afghanistan. “Raising a Fatima requires so many different factors, many of them by luck, to raise someone like this. And then just go away. “
Ms. Khalil was born in Pakistan to a refugee family who, as the sixth child of two former teachers, had fled an earlier chapter in the 40-year violence in Afghanistan. Her father opened a grocery store in Quetta, Pakistan, and barely earned enough to get through. Her sister Lima said the midwife left in the middle of Fatima’s birth, angry that the family was unable to pay her full fee.
“She didn’t even cut the umbilical cord, my mother did it herself,” said Lima, now a graduate student in the United States, who was unable to make her sister’s funeral in time due to coronavirus travel restrictions. “We always teased her – that the doctor ran away when you were just half-born.”
Although the family was driven out several times, Fatima was excellent at school. She started her education at a refugee school in Pakistan that was founded by a Saudi charity. After the family returned to Afghanistan, they graduated from Kabul High School at a competitive Turkish international school that they had attended on a scholarship.
When she received a double degree in anthropology and human rights studies from the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, she was fluent in Arabic, Urdu, English, Russian and the Afghan languages Pashto and Farsi (also known as Dari).
Her friends and relatives called her Natasha, the nickname her mother gave her, and she had hugs and nicknames for everyone. She was self-confident, even blunt, but in heated arguments about politics and ideas she defused conflicts with humor and charm: “Simple, simple, brake the sister!” Or “patient, patient, patient!”
Her disgust and frustration with the place of women in society and politics as well as people’s preoccupation with the appearance and clothing of women are evident in her social media posts.
But she also found energy in this struggle. She adored Afghanistan’s first ambassador to the United Nations. She increasingly helped her boss with more substantial projects on international human rights mechanisms.
“She tried to live a life free from the constraints of society and tradition,” said Khaleda Saleh, who met her when she was deployed as a roommate at the Turkish school and remained lifelong friends. “Sometimes people judged her for it. She would return to them with calm and patience – that a piece of cloth does not define a person’s personality and heart. “
At the international university, she was part of a generation of young Afghan women who developed self-confidence and boast and lost part of the victim’s identity. She passed her class and then celebrated with such excitement that she had no sense of where she had come from. She loved Maya Angelou’s poem “I’m still climbing“so much (“Are you annoyed by my sassiness?”) That she repeatedly asked her friends to join her to get tattoos from it.
“She believed that the poem told the story of each of our lives in a way,” said Benazir Noorzad, who intersected with her at the university.
After graduating last year, Ms. Khalil considered going straight to a Masters degree. Her sister Lima encouraged her to gain work experience first.
“She said,” I’m going somewhere else – I’m not going back to Afghanistan, “Lima recalls. She reminded Fatima of how her father had been driven to return her family to Afghanistan.” Please, you come back, ” she said to her sister, “People like you are needed.”
When she arrived at the Independent Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan to apply to be an international aid coordinator, she had interviewed several national and international organizations, including the United Nations. Ms. Akbar, 32, had just taken over the chair of the Commission and was revising it to improve funding and consolidate her direction.
Ms. Akbar stated openly to Ms. Khalil: The commission was a mess, her relationship with the donors a struggle. She may be able to do her job, but she may not be able to pay her a salary for a few months. Ms. Khalil accepted the job.
“I had many interviews and the interviewers presented their organizations as the best in the country,” she wrote to Ms. Akbar in an email. “You were the only person to say that the Commission faces many challenges. So I think I could be more useful. “
When Ms. Khalil’s body was brought to one of the old cemeteries in Kabul on Saturday, her colleagues and friends cried when her father remembered her devotion.
“This wasn’t just my daughter – she was fighting for the country,” he said at her grave. “There has always been war in history. But this war of assassinations, this war of suicide bombings – that’s the dirtiest, the damnest war. “
There were files of unfinished projects on her small desk at the commission on Sunday, and a miniature replica of the blasting walls that saturated Kabul was transformed into a work of art: a rock star, microphone in hand, was painted over the barrel of a balanced tank. On her wall was a painting of a girl in a bright lime dress on a swing. The printer was covered with sticky notes.
Ms. Akbar said the hardest part of it all was not knowing who was behind the explosion that killed Ms. Khalil.
“Surviving all of this, moving to a place, fighting, studying, then serving – and then being killed, and we may never know who committed the murder.
“Then you think: OK, I tell all these people to take the risk, but will it get better?” she added in agony. “Are you getting better?”
Fahim Abed contributed to the reporting.