Defy Taliban through education, Karzai tells Afghan children

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KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai Saturday urged his country’s young people to defy the Taliban in honour of the two young children shot dead in a militant attack on a Kabul hotel.
Four teenage attackers gunned down nine people on Thursday evening at the city’s Serena hotel, including AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of his three children. 
The attack on the supposedly safe venue, favoured by foreign visitors, was the latest violence ahead of the April 5 election when Afghans will choose a successor to Karzai in what will be the country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power.
Ahmad’s infant son remained in intensive care on Saturday being treated for bullet wounds to the head, chest and leg. In a speech marking the start of the school year Karzai urged Afghan students to honour the slain children by getting educated and leading the country forward.
“Two of our children that were killed the day before yesterday at the hands of terrorists... would be happy to see that though the terrorists have killed them, millions of children are going to school with a smile,” Karzai said.
“These millions of children, our lion sons, are a caravan of success that is moving forward, a caravan of development, a caravan of the dignity of Afghanistan.” But Ahmad’s nephew Torak Mohammad criticised Karzai, who last month described the Taliban as “brothers” in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times.
“If Karzai calls Taliban brothers, he should come to our house and see the four coffins, see the bodies of the kids,” Mohammad said on Saturday.
The Taliban, who claimed Thursday’s attack, have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the presidential election. 
The polls of 2004 and 2009 were badly marred by violence and another bloodstained ballot would damage claims by donors that the costly intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state. Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi described the gunmen’s bloody onslaught after watching CCTV footage. The attackers hid small handguns in their socks to smuggle them past the Serena’s security checks and retrieved them once inside the hotel, he said, before heading for the restaurant. They opened fire first at a member of parliament who was sitting at a table.
“When another MP, Farhad Sediqi, saw this, he threw a tray with plates at the attackers and managed to escape, running out of the room,” Salangi said.
“Sardar and his family had no chance to escape as they were in the corner and shot in the head and face by the attackers.”
Some Afghan journalists have said they will boycott coverage of the Taliban for 15 days in protest at Ahmad’s killing.
Four of those killed at the Serena were foreigners, including a Paraguayan election observer with the US-based National Democratic Institute.
The brazen assault on a supposedly secure venue is the third serious attack in Kabul this year targeting foreigners or places where foreigners gather.
It comes after militants stormed a popular Lebanese restaurant in January, killing 21 people including the International Monetary Fund head of mission, and the deadly shooting of a Swedish-British journalist in the street earlier this month.
The surge in this type of violence will raise fears that independent poll monitors will be unable to work effectively, threatening the credibility of the April 5 vote. US-led NATO combat troops are withdrawing from the country after 13 years of fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, which erupted when the Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
A disputed result would put whoever wins the election in a weak position as Afghan security forces take on the Taliban without NATO’s 53,000 combat troops behind them.
The election front-runners are Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in 2009, former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani. 

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