Editor’s Note: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a CNN national security analyst and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
How do you extinguish hope in Afghanistan, a country that despite four decades of war has somehow managed to keep dreaming of something better?
Kill its brightest lights, bomb by bomb, assassination by assassination.
Eleven of them have been extinguished in just six days: nine in a bomb that killed dozens and two in separate targeted killings. A nation that cannot afford to lose even one of its talented and educated citizens has now been robbed of several of its future leaders.
One of them was Ebadullah Hananzai, a 26-year-old graduate of Kabul University. Hananzai would have celebrated his first wedding anniversary on May 8.
And then there was cameraman Yar Mohammad Tokhi, who was due to marry at month’s end, his friend shared. Here is his engagement ring.
Another was Shah Marai. A friend noted that the photographer served as both the eyes of his nation and of his family: Marai “came from a family of many unable to see. Including his oldest son. Walked & sat by the fresh gravestone, he heard a sermon on how his father’s ‘heaven’ will be greener than Guldara – valley of flowers – he was laid to rest in.”
And there was Mahram Durani, in her third year of law school at Kabul University. She sought education to provide her fellow citizens the best information journalism could provide.
“When I began working in media, one of my first bosses asked me why I was studying Islamic law but working in media,” Durani told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty during a February phone-in program. “He said these are not related subjects. But I said, ‘No, that’s not true,’” Durani explained. “It’s very much related because the media can provide information to all people.’”
On Monday, the same day as the bombing which killed all four of these chroniclers, a young BBC reporter riding his bike was assassinated in the eastern part of the country. This only days after a journalist and father of three in Kandahar was murdered by a gunman while sitting in his car.
For years, I have heard grim words about Afghanistan and America’s effort in it: hopeless, basket case, backward, from the dark ages. Often, these unrelenting words are issued by people who had never crossed its borders.
And, for years, I have countered that the single greatest factor which immediately offers hope can be found in three words: the young generation. In a nation where close to two-thirds of the population is younger than 25, the country’s youngest people are battling history, legacy and an old generation loath to transfer power.
They give you hope when you meet them. Hope that the past is not prologue but actually past. Hope that education can lead to opportunity and a more informed citizenry. Hope that the generation which comes after them will at last know something they never have: peace.
During years of writing about Afghanistan, I have met young people starting tech companies. I’ve gotten to know activists who have fought from inside and outside the government for transparency. I’ve spent days with midwives traveling the country to save women’s lives – and seen girls look up to them as they watched how respected they were for their life-saving work. And I’ve watched brave fathers and their daughters weather family disapproval, Taliban threats and the risk of acid attacks by extremists just to go to school.
So much courage. So much valor. And yet so few outside the county see it.
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Now, targeted death once again swallows daily life in Afghanistan, and the whole country feels the loss. The campaign of killing the nation’s greatest treasure, its young and its educated, has scored a win – at least for this day filled with the suffocating grief of what might have been.
But neither the attack aimed at disfiguring the country nor the mourning now underway should obscure one truth: Afghanistan is not simply a basket case or a lost cause. It is a bleeding home to a rich treasure: a courageous young generation fighting for something better up ahead.