On May 8, an explosion occurred near a girls’ school in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The attack took place in front of Sayed Al-Shuhada girls’ school when a car bomb went off, followed by two subsequent IED explosions. The death toll has surpassed 80 and more than 140 people were injured in the incident, with the majority of the victims being girls. There has been no claim of responsibility yet and the Taliban has denied allegations of its involvement in the explosion. The blast occurred in an area that has a large community of Shi’ites from the Hazara ethnic minority, which has been targeted in the past by the Islamic State.
Devastating accounts from the May 8 bombing have described overwhelmed hospitals and desperate families searching for their children. Due to the proximity of the blast to the school, many bodies have been irretrievable. The bomb went off as students were leaving school, causing children to run away from the area while bystanders and families ran towards the blast site, only to have another two explosions go off shortly after.
This incident follows a series of car bombings in Afghanistan in the last few months, reflecting the country’s lingering security challenge. Many Afghanis have been critical of their government and blame authorities for not ensuring civilians’ safety. Many have also emphasized the continuing strength of armed groups, such as the Taliban. A brother of one of the girls killed told CNN he is fed up with the situation and that every day they face terrible incidents, especially among the Hazara minority. Nevertheless, despite the risks, residents have emphasized they want people to enroll their children in schools to show the perpetrators that education will not be stopped.
The Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, has joined other leaders and authorities in condemning the attack. In her statement, Fore said “violence in and around schools is never acceptable,” and that schools should be peaceful sanctuaries. UNICEF has called on all parties to protect children and ensure their safety, saying “children must never be the target of violence.” The targeting of civilians in barbarous attacks must cease with an immediate end of violence to ensure the safety of students, women, girls and all Afghani civilians.
Concern for civilians’ safety is widespread despite the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiating teams in Doha, Qatar. It also comes on the heels of President Biden’s announcement of complete American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021; a decision which has prompted criticism and many questions. Many have warned of the danger that foreign troop withdrawal could result in escalating violence and pose a threat to Afghan women’s rights. The recent bombing of a girls’ school highlights the very real potential for both outcomes.
There has been a surge in fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghani security forces since the announcement of American troop withdrawal. This is part of the continuing cycle of violence in Afghanistan that has been raging since 2001. Many Afghani civilians fear being subject to oppressive Taliban rule once again if the United States withdraws. Foreign troop withdrawal must be done carefully to ensure that the safety and hard-won rights of Afghanis are not jeopardized. This recent bombing represents a senseless act against innocent children, girls and civilians, and leads many to worry about continued future violence against the people of Afghanistan.
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