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Hero Guard Gives Life To Defend Afghan Schools

A girl peers through the damaged windows of a classroom, one of scores attacked in Pakistan and Afghanistan by militants who object to what they regard as un-Islamic teachings.
While media attention was focused on the aftermath of the Koran burning in Afghanistan last month, a story that otherwise would have made headlines everywhere went virtually unnoticed. It's the story of Shah Mahmood, a young Afghan from war-ravaged Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan who saved a school by giving his life.

Shah Mahmood was apparently doing his routine duty of guarding two schools in the Bolan area of Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, when two men appeared with explosives and an intent to blow up the schools. Mohammad resisted but was viciously beaten by the two armed men.

The official Kandahar media office's press release had more details:

Leaving him unconscious and thinking that Shah Mahmood was dead, the terrorists started to plant land mines inside the school building. However, Shah Mahmood stood up and opened fire on the men with his gun killing one and wounding the other.

Shah Mahmood and the wounded attacker were later taken to a Lashkar Gah emergency room. "Unfortunately Shah [Mahmood], as a result of the severe beating [at the hands] of the Taliban, died there," the press release added.

Insurgents have been blowing up schools across Afghanistan because they think the students are taught Western and un-Islamic values and lessons. Southern Afghanistan is considered a stronghold of the Taliban, so few schools are open in that region. Sensing that the situation had gotten out of control, the Afghan government reached a deal with the Taliban, according to Kabul-based research organization Afghan Analysts Network.

Amid all this, a young Afghan sacrificed his life to save these schools, a seemingly rare story of proud defiance against violent extremism.

To highlight the issue and encourage media coverage, I started a Facebook Group for Shah Mahmood. It was flooded with comments. They include: "Shah Mahmood, we are proud of you," "Shah Mahmood, you are the real hero of Afghan people," and, "Shah Mahmood's principle was patriotism and he proved that."

The group's members eventually asked the Afghan government to do the following:

  • Name a Helmand city square, a road, and one of the schools after Shah Mahmood
  • Inaugurate an educational award in Shah Mahmood's name
  • Provide care for Shah Mahmood's family and ensure their safety and education

The Facebook campaign attracted international attention. Shah Mahmood was described by his father and other relatives as a kind and generous man who was engaged and trying to bring his bride home soon. Since the tragedy, Shah Mahmood's family of 19 has moved to the city of Lashkar Gah; but his father says they don't even have money for rent.

Now, BBC's Pashto service has quoted Afghanistan's education minister, Dr. Farooq Wardak, as saying that President Hamid Karzai issued personal instructions to the government to continue to pay Shah Mahmood's salary to his grieving family. As well, Wardak said, one of the schools will be renamed from Shamsul-Uloom to Shah Mahmood to honor the man who gave his life to save the school and its students.

-- Malali Bashir