A young woman, who survived a deadly Islamic State-plotted suicide bombing in Afghanistan two years ago, is being celebrated locally and internationally for securing the top position in the war-torn country’s national university entrance exams.
Shamsia Alizada, the 18-year-old daughter of an Afghan coal miner, sat in the exam this year along with more than 170,000 other students and earned the highest score, the education ministry announced Thursday.
Alizada, who wants to become a medical doctor, told VOA’s Afghan service her aim “is to try to bring change and serve” Afghanistan, an impoverished country of about 35 million people, where receiving an education remains a major challenge for girls and women.
“My goal will be to prepare myself to become even the president [of the country],” she vowed.
The United Nations estimates about 2.2 million Afghan girls are not receiving an education in school, and fewer than 30% of women are literate.
Alizada was attending a tutoring academy in Kabul when a suicide bomber in August 2018 stormed the lecture hall and detonated explosives strapped to his body. The ensuing blast, claimed by the Afghan branch of Islamic State, killed at least 40 students and wounded many more.
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said in a statement the success of Alizada and other young people in the exam is a sign of “hope for a bright future in Afghanistan”
The acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul offered his “enthusiastic congratulations” to Alizada.
“Your brilliance and grit are undeniable, just as your accomplishments underscore how much progress #Afghanistan has made over two decades,” tweeted Ross Wilson, the U.S. charge d’affaires.
Wilson noted women’s education, inclusion and representation are essential to Afghan peace.
The remarkable achievement of Alizada comes as a Kabul government negotiating team is holding talks with the Taliban in Qatar to seek a political settlement to Afghanistan’s four decades of war.
The Islamist insurgent group had barred Afghan girls and women from schools and outdoor work in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
“Congratulations Shamsia Alizada in Afghanistan. Women everywhere have the grit & determination to rise up to all challenges,” tweeted Shireen Mazari, neighboring Pakistan’s minister for human rights.
Kabul's bombed Mawoud Educational Center was offering free education to top position holders from underprivileged families, Alizada said. She recalled that one of her friends also was among those killed in the deadly attack.
“It’s very painful when young people are getting martyred. Rohaila was also a first position holder in our school, and she was expected to get first position in the exam. Sadly, she is dead now with all her dreams,” Alizada told the local Kabul News outlet.
The Afghan peace talks are a product of the deal U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration signed with the Taliban in February to close out the war in Afghanistan.
During a congressional hearing Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers accused the Trump administration of jeopardizing the rights of Afghan women in pursuit of the troop withdrawal from the country.
U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the deal with the Taliban, dismissed those concerns and assured lawmakers that human rights, especially women’s rights, were a top priority for Washington.
Khalilzad acknowledged, however, the country’s political future would be determined by the intra-Afghan talks underway in Doha, the Qatari capital.
“At this hearing, I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them,” the Afghan-born veteran diplomat said.