Devastating Attack Still Leaves Afghan Journalist's Hope Alive

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Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Bilal Sarwary is a local correspondent for the BBC in Kabul, and over a week ago, he was called to report on yet another insurgent attack that left civilians dead.

This particular attack, however, was different for him. Among those killed were Sarwary's friend and fellow journalist Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of his three children. A third child is recovering in a Kabul hospital. They were eating in the restaurant at the luxury Serena Hotel when gunmen opened fire. Five other people were killed in the shooting.

It's one of several attacks launched by the Taliban in Kabul ahead of this week's presidential election. On Saturday, the heavily fortified election commission headquarters came under fire. But the attack on the Serena Hotel resonated with the close-knit community of Afghan journalists in a different way.

Sarwary tells NPR's Rachel Martin that he was covering the news that night without knowing his friend was killed. He didn't find out until the next morning that Ahmad and his family were at the hotel.

"Once we found out we had lost one of our closest friends along with his family ... I felt like the weight of the entire world was sitting on my shoulders," Sarwary says.

Sarwary went to the morgue and identified his friend, but in hindsight says he shouldn't have gone, because now he has to live with those images. But that is the sad reality of Afghanistan, he says.

"The people of Afghanistan have been born into war [and] the people of Afghanistan continue to bear the brunt of this conflict," he says.

Sarwary says living and working as a reporter in Afghanistan is very difficult when you have to wake up to explosions and deal with corruption. He says he's lost relatives in the violence as well, but there is hope.

"I always believe that there is a very powerful human story," he says. "There's always the story of a family. ... There's always the story of a young Afghan who was nowhere in 2001, when Afghanistan was a destroyed society, [and] today she's a high school graduate and speaking English.

"That's what makes me not lose sight of Afghanistan, the fact that they have not lost hope," he says.

Regarding the upcoming election in Afghanistan, Sarwary says he gets the sense that the Afghan people expected more clarity and vision from the men running to replace President Hamid Karzai. But he says it's important to remember what elections mean to the people of Afghanistan.

"When you compare it with the '90s, Afghanistan today is a very different country, but it's a country with wounds of war," he says. "And I think it will take some time for Afghanistan to be the Afghanistan that the people of Afghanistan will want: a normal, stable and prosperous country for its people."

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