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‘There’s no humanity left’: A family buries a mother and her unborn child in Afghanistan

Relatives mourn the deaths of Hajar Sarwari and her baby a day after they were killed in an attack on a maternity ward in Kabul. (Kiana Hayeri for The Washington Post)

KABUL — Hajar Sarwari was in labor with her second child at a west Kabul maternity ward on Tuesday morning when gunmen shot her twice in the abdomen, killing her and her unborn child.

Sarwari’s family buried her atop a hill under overcast skies on the outskirts of the Afghan capital Wednesday morning, one day after three gunmen killed 24 people in a Doctors Without Borders maternity ward. The baby remained in her womb.

“There’s no humanity left in this country,” said Sarwari’s husband, Mohammad Hussain Yaqoobi, his speech slow and halting. He stood near his wife’s grave, marked by a simple black headstone and a small mound of upturned earth. “The attackers had no conscience. How can they justify shooting dead innocent newborns and their mothers?”

The burial was one of many across Kabul on Wednesday morning. Hospital officials said the mothers of 10 newborns were among Tuesday’s dead, alongside two infants, pregnant women, nurses and a security guard. Sixteen were wounded.

More funerals were held about 100 miles to the east, in Nangahar province. A suicide bombing there on Tuesday killed 32 and wounded 133. The attacker struck just hours after the hospital rampage began and targeted a funeral gathering for a prominent local security official. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The brutality of the attack on the maternity ward paired with the funeral bombing sent shock waves through Kabul and the country. The Taliban denied responsibility, but the militants have increased attacks on Afghan forces in other parts of the country for weeks, inflicting heavy casualties. Afghan security officials linked that uptick in attacks to the brutal attacks Tuesday on civilians.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani responded by directing his forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban. The move marks a major setback to peace efforts in Afghanistan. The Taliban called Ghani’s statement a “declaration of war.”

Maintaining a defensive footing was intended as a goodwill gesture as Afghan government officials and Taliban leaders wrestled over how to begin direct peace talks. But the talks, mandated by the U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February, were repeatedly delayed for months over a controversial prisoner exchange and rising violence.

The U.S. military command in Kabul said Wednesday there had been no change in the posture of American troops in Afghanistan since Ghani’s announcement.

“The established military-military communications channel [between the United States and the Taliban] continues to function as a conduit through which both sides can address concerns,” according to a spokesman for U.S. forces who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with departmental regulations.

In Kabul, families affected by the maternity ward attack tried to move forward on Wednesday. At a hospital in west Kabul, newborns who had been rescued from Tuesday’s shooting were reunited with relatives.

Outside one of the rooms, Khan Ali held his child, with his wife by his side. His wife had given birth minutes before the attack, and both she and the baby girl escaped unharmed.

“God has given a second life for my wife and daughter,” he said.

In a statement released Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders said it had “indications” that one of its employees was killed and that its health workers were following up with survivors.

“Every effort is being made by our medical team to follow up on the newborns in the maternity hospital to ensure the best possible care to our patients and to those injured, to provide psychological care to affected staff, and to provide every necessary support to those bereaved,” the statement read.

At Sarwari’s family home, relatives gathered to comfort the grieving and express their condolences.

“Have you ever heard that newborn babies were shot dead? This is the first I hear. It hasn’t happened in any country around the world,” said Mohammad Rahim Yousifi, a distant relative.

Sarwari’s mother wept uncontrollably, supported by a group of women in long black robes. “Stop. You’re already sick, don’t cry anymore,” one of the women begged.

Outside, Sarwari’s 6-year-old daughter Razia played and giggled in the front garden.

No one had told her what had happened to her mother.

Rahila Yaqoobi, her aunt, said the young girl had been eager to go to the hospital with her mother. “I told her, ‘Don’t go, wait here. Mommy will bring a baby for you,’ ” she recalled and then began to cry.

“I don’t know how to tell her that her mommy is dead,” she said.

George reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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