A killing in Kabul – and a face I knew

A killing in Kabul – and a face I knew

Why We Wrote This

Almost inevitably, reporters make human connections, which contribute perspective. For the Monitor’s Scott Peterson, that connection took a “statistic” from a tragic Kabul story and gave it a sense of personal loss.

Rahmat Gul/AP

Afghan women cry at the site in northern Kabul where gunmen fired on a car, killing two women judges who worked for Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, Jan. 17, 2021. It was the latest attack in the capital during talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials in Qatar.

Loading…

February 8, 2021

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

Two female judges from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court were gunned down in a Kabul street. At first I filed the grim news away as simply the latest in a long string of recent Taliban assassinations now gripping that country.

But then I saw a tragic image posted by a friend in Kabul, mourning the death of his mother. Suddenly, the killing had a face that I knew, connected to a broken heart that revealed the personal impact of jihadist violence that continues unabated across Afghanistan.

“I don’t really understand what is going on in this country,” Wali Yasini texted me, after I sent condolences. I called Kabul.

“I learned a lot from her; the things that she told me in my life really changed it,” Wali told me, his voice quivering with emotion. Among the lessons: an ability to overcome negative thinking so common in Afghanistan.

“In our family, we are always positive – especially my mother, she always said the world is beautiful. Every single person is beautiful,” he says.

“It’s up to you: If you see the world ugly, it’s ugly. But if you see the world as beautiful, it turns beautiful. This is a positivity, and it is really something different in this country.”

LONDON

At first I filed the grim news away as simply the latest in a long string of recent Taliban assassinations now gripping Afghanistan: two women, judges from the Supreme Court, gunned down in a Kabul street.

But then I saw a tragic image posted by a friend in Kabul, mourning the death of his mother, Judge Qadria Yasini.

“My mother’s handbag, which she tried to protect herself from the terrorists with,” the caption read. The photograph showed Judge Yasini’s bullet-riddled black leather handbag and the everyday items in it – including a Mother’s Day note from her two sons, thanking her for “self-sacrificing for us … from the first time that we opened our eyes to this world.”

Two bullets had pierced the note.

Suddenly, a killing in Kabul had a face that I knew, connected to a broken heart that revealed the personal impact of jihadist violence that continues unabated across Afghanistan. It was a powerful reminder of the innate humanity behind every death, in a country where such loss is so common that it too often distills to an abstract, impersonal concept.


After a ‘post truth’ presidency, can America make facts real again?

As peace talks stall, and as President Joe Biden decides how to end America’s longest-ever war – possibly by withdrawing the 2,500 remaining U.S. troops by May 1 – an influential woman who inspired her sons and personified hope for the future of women in Afghanistan has been silenced.

“When will we be able to sleep comfortably in our homes and feel safe about ourselves?” Wali Yasini texted me, after I sent condolences. “I lost my mother [who] was my closest friend in life just because she was a successful judge. I don’t really understand what is going on in this country.”

On paper, Judge Yasini’s death may be just one more statistic. But for Wali, she was the fount of mother’s love and understanding. I called Kabul.

“I learned a lot from her; the things that she told me in my life really changed it,” Wali told me, his voice at times quivering with emotion. “I still feel her. I can’t really believe that I’ve lost her. Because if I imagine myself without her, it’s as if I have no soul.”

Courtesy of the Yasini Family

Wali Yasini, his face blurred for his security, takes a selfie with his mother, Judge Qadria Yasini, who worked with the Afghan Supreme Court and was killed by gunmen with her colleague, Judge Zakia Herawi, on Jan. 17 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mr. Yasini says he was inspired by his mother’s humanity and positive outlook, despite decades of war in Afghanistan.

At 17, Wali is a gifted artist with a passion for languages. We met by chance in 2019 when I visited his one-building school in north Kabul. He was eager to try out his self-taught English, and that night regaled his mother with the story of his first conversation with a foreigner.

For security reasons, Judge Yasini, the author of several books on law, kept secret her work confirming the legality of rulings at the Supreme Court. She also refused TV interview requests, aware that a public profile could make her a target.

Unlike many Afghans targeted by the Taliban, she never received threats or warnings to quit her job. So she refused, a few weeks before her murder, a government offer of a pistol for protection, as the nationwide campaign of assassinations grew.

“My mother had no trouble with anyone,” says Wali. “And you know what? She was so happy, because she said, ‘I haven’t hurt anyone, so no one will hurt me.’ She always said this. Why would anyone want to hurt such a person?”

Wali’s older brother, Abdulwahab, survived the Islamic State attack on Kabul University last November that took some 35 lives. Their father left years ago; now the brothers are alone.

Wali’s mother left for work early that morning on Jan. 17. After the office van collected her colleague, Zakia Herawi, the attack began. CCTV footage showed three gunmen escaping on motorcycles, shouting the words Allahu akbar, God is great.

Wali says he was shocked to see that the assassins were teenagers, like him. They killed the two judges, not the driver or the third passenger, in an attack that required hard-to-acquire details about the two targets and their schedules.

“This is completely clear for everyone, that behind all of these things is Taliban and those being trained by the Taliban,” says Wali. “These teenagers, they are just part of the group – they are the Taliban.”

Such violence raises questions for Wali – as they do for many other Afghans – about whether ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks created by a U.S.-Taliban withdrawal deal signed a year ago can lead to real peace.

“We think that these talks are not going to work, because those people think that we should be killed, no matter what,” says Wali, referring to a widespread belief among Taliban rank-and-file that Kabul, especially, is a city of infidels. “It’s like a religious command on them.”

That pessimism, bred from bloodshed, is a far cry from the optimism that prevailed after U.S. troops toppled the Taliban and ended their puritanical rule in 2001. Wali says his mother often told him the story about how, when he was a newborn, an American saw him and gave a small amount of cash.

“This boy is a wonderful boy, because he has come with us to change this country,” the soldier supposedly told Wali’s mother. “He said, ‘We see a beautiful future in him,’” Wali recounts. “That was the moment she felt that, ‘These people are so kind.’

“Usually people think, ‘These [Americans] are infidels, they are unreligious,’” says Wali. “But she told me that, ‘No, it is not such a thing.’ Maybe because of these thoughts, this is the reason she was targeted.”

Wali’s mother imparted something else, too, he says: an ability to overcome negative thinking so common in Afghanistan.

Get the Monitor Stories you care about delivered to your inbox.

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy.

“In our family, we are always positive – especially my mother, she always said the world is beautiful. Every single person is beautiful.

“It’s up to you: If you see the world ugly, it’s ugly. But if you see the world as beautiful, it turns beautiful. This is a positivity, and it is really something different in this country.”

You’ve read  of  free articles.
Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Already a subscriber? Login

Digital subscription includes:

  • Unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.
  • CSMonitor.com archive.
  • The Monitor Daily email.
  • No advertising.
  • Cancel anytime.

Subscribe

Related stories