After spending two oppressive weeks in Saudi Arabia, where the sky was hidden behind a grey haze, the air was filled with sand and the piety police (official or self appointed) made me overly paranoid—landing in Kabul was like stepping into the free world.
Boys being boys
The clear blue sky welcomed my plane as it landed at the newly refurbished Kabul airport. A jetway met the plane door ushering us directly into the terminal—not the norm in this part of the world. The customs official was polite and speedy and Kabul’s fresh air was a welcome reprieve to my asthmatic lungs.
Kabul mountain range
Once safely tucked into my cousin’s white Toyota, we caught up on family, current events and Kabul security— he assured me Kabul is very safe. I didn’t tell him that the US State Department travel alert said differently.
In the short car ride to his house I noted the number of women roaming Kabul streets without a burka. Having spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia, where women were covered from head to toe, the Kabul scene stood out.
Beautiful women of Kabul
Near Kabul University, young girls sporting skinny jeans and long tunics walked with locked arms, sporting small thin head-scarves that barely covered their stylish hairdos.
How could this be the same city where Farkhunda was brutally murdered three weeks earlier while a mob cheered on the killers?
Kabul is cleaner and more orderly than my last trip three years ago, but it felt more dangerous. The checkpoints with machine gun toting policemen peeking into cars made me feel I was in a city preparing for siege.
Despite the fragility of the city, I found a unity in people’s reflection on Farkhunda’s killing, uncommon for Afghans. Everyone I met—man, woman and child—recounted where they were when they heard about Farkhunda’s brutal beating. Everyone I met, renunciated Farkhunda’s killing with shame and horror. Everyone I met, said they will not allow something like this to happen again. It’s not often people are satisfied with the police under such circumstance but surprisingly, many feel the government has done a good job of identifying and arresting the criminals. Now they wait for real justice, the verdicts of the trials.
Shahed Shamshayray Mosque where Farkhunda was accused of burning the Quran
The Kabul city officials have honored Farkhunda by naming the square near Shahid Shamsharay Wali Mosque—where she was murdered—Farkhunda Square.
"Martyred Farkhunda Square"
Several hundred yards down the road from the mosque, a banner asking for justice, hangs where Farkhunda’s savagely beaten body was dropped into the dry Kabul riverbed before it was burnt to a crisp. A man has put up a red poster stating “My martyred sister Farkhunda” with a poem in her honor. Men and women stop to pray and tie shreds of colorful fabric commemorating Farkhunda’s martyrdom.
Farkunda’s legend grows with stories appearing on Afghan social media—in one recount, her father recounts that when she was ten, Farkhunda dreamt that in seventeen years she would die a brutal death.
Forty nine people were arrested. On Wednesday May 5th, four were sentenced to death by hanging, eight were sentenced to 16 years in jail and 18 were set free due to a lack of evidence. The court is adjourned until Saturday. The remaining 19 suspects are policemen—we wait for the new Afghan government to showcase the rule of law and justice in the verdicts for the indictment of police officer who stood by for the the duration of two hours when Farkhunda was beaten, run over by a car, dropped into Kabul riverbed and burnt. The result of this trial will set the course for the future of Afghan women's rights, gender equality and humane treatment.
My trip highlight was meeting these delightful children in Kabul, I want them to enjoy the same rights and educational opportunities as my daughters. I left my heart with them.