Gulsoom covers her tear-streaked face with her hands.
“I wish I hadn’t allowed my son to go to work [with my husband] that day, otherwise he would be sitting next to me now,” the 43-year-old says.
Gulsoom’s teenage son and husband were killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan’s capital on November 7.
A bomb targeted a minibus taxi in Mahtab Qala area, a Shia-Hazara neighborhood of west Kabul. Seven people were killed and 20 others were injured in the explosion, the Taliban’s police spokesperson in Kabul said.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility, the latest in a spate of attacks on the Hazara population.
Two weeks earlier, on October 27, there was an explosion inside a sports club in the same Shia-Hazara neighborhood. At least four people were killed and nine others were injured.
Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, it also used to carry out targeted attacks against the Hazara people and other civilians. The attacks killed and maimed thousands of unarmed Afghans with the aim of terrorising and destabilising the country to regain power.
But to Gulsoom, warring parties trying to undermine each other means nothing. Her husband and son are dead.
“I wish they had not both been martyred,” she says through sobs. “How does anyone cope with life?”
A mother’s intuition becomes her worst nightmare
Like many Afghans mothers, especially those in the Hazara areas of west Kabul, Gulsoom would feel a deep sense of dread and alarm after hearing about terrorist attacks. But on November 7, a strange thing happened – her body felt the dread before she knew of the attack.
“I was cooking dinner in the kitchen. I felt restless and went to the living room to check the clock – it was quarter to six,” she says. “When I returned to the kitchen, my whole body was covered in a cold sweat. I remember asking myself, why did I become like this?”
Not long after, her phone rang. It was her husband’s cousin who had been travelling with Gulsoom’s husband and son in the minibus.
“He told me in a light voice, ‘There has been an explosion. I am hospitalized in Ali Jinnah Hospital. I don’t know about Mustafa jaan and his father,’” Gulsoom says.
Overcome with emotion, Gulsoom began to shout, her only thought was her relative who had been wounded.
“With my shouts, I made everyone understand that our uncle’s son was injured in the explosion, completely unaware that the sky of my life had turned black, that I’d lost my son and my husband.”
Gulsoom’s husband Mohammad Nasim, 46, was a construction worker. Their 18-year-old son Mustafa was one of their six children and in his final year of high school. He had gone to work with his father that day to help earn some extra money for the family.
More than three weeks after the bomb blast, Gulsoom struggles to speak about the events of that night. Her older son Qasem comes to sit with her.
As the neighbourhood knows well, the families with missing loved ones head to the nearby hospitals to search for them after an attack.
Denial – the first stage of grief
Gulsoom went with several family members to Ali Jinnah hospital as they couldn’t get through to Nasim or Mustafa by phone.
“I lied to myself that nothing had happened,” she says.
There was a heavy Taliban presence at the entrance to the hospital, interrogating people about why they were there. No one was allowed to enter. Gulsoom waited with dozens of other families in the rain, waiting to hear a list of names read out of those inside who were wounded.
When she heard the names, neither her husband or son were mentioned. She rejoiced a little in her heart.
“I was saying to myself, their phones must have fallen somewhere. They have gone home themselves. I felt that they were waiting for me. I was just comforting myself with thousands of ideas and my imagination.”
A wave of tears wells up in Gulsoom and she can’t keep talking. Qasem puts an arm around her shoulders to comfort her. “Mother, I am with you,” he says. “These days shall pass.”
Hoping against hope, a family seeks answers
After hearing the list of names at Ali Jinnah hospital, Gulsoom, Qasem and the family move on. Everyone in west Kabul knows that if a loved one is not in one hospital, they might be in the next.
At Estiqlal hospital, similar scenes play out. No one is allowed inside. Taliban forces block and harass families. Finally a family member is allowed to enter.
photo: Rukhshana media.
“Only my uncle went inside, we sat waiting. Those minutes that passed were hard for me and my mother,” Qasem says.
“Then my uncle called me on the phone to say we should go home. I started to ask him, ‘What about my…?’ My uncle interrupted and said he was coming with my father and brother. Suddenly, I felt happy. I said to myself that my father and brother must be fine.”
The uncle’s wife and son were with Qasem and his mother, so the four of them went in a car together to return home. Qasem recalls it was about 9pm and the rain was heavy. On the way, he and his mother realized that the car was heading to the mosque.
“When we got out of the car, I was numb. I asked the driver, Why did you bring us to the mosque? The driver did not answer,” Qasem says.
“He is right, why did you bring us here?” His mother shouted.
“My aunt replied with a trembling voice, ‘He should have brought you here.” Qasem understood in that moment what his aunt meant. And he screamed.
When they entered the mosque, there were saw two bodies wrapped in sheets left to be claimed.
Growing anger towards Taliban authorities
Fatima, 38, was injured in the November 7 blast and is still receiving treatment in Ali Jinnah Hospital. The mother of five has severe wounds on her legs. Her face is still bruised, and she has a drip inserted.
“When we were returning home, we got into the minibus taxi because it’s cheaper. When we reached Mahtab Qala area, suddenly I heard a terrible sound from the front of the car. Then everywhere was blood. I could hear different voices, but I fell and when I regained consciousness I was in the hospital,” she says.
Fatima’s husband Mohammad Zaki supports his family by selling vegetables in Kabul. He says that he has been paying his wife’s treatment with loans.
“The Taliban have not helped the wounded and the families of the martyrs in this regard,” he says.
Many families of the victims of the attacks accuse the Taliban of not doing enough to ensure the security of the residents, especially in west Kabul.
Taliban leaders claim they have killed or arrested the majority of ISIS members in Afghanistan, but the attacks persist.