If the cost of freedom is counted in lost lives, Afghanistan has surely paid dearly. In 2016 alone, there have been dozens of attacks leaving hundreds dead or injured, the country under a renewed assault after a few short years of relative calm. This week that terror struck close to Stanford Law School when gunmen attacked the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul, killing 13 including AUAF Assistant Professor of Law Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak and one of his students. Naqib was teaching Islamic Law when terrorists detonated a bomb at the entrance to AUAF’s campus, the blast allowing gunmen to pass through the school’s security barriers. According to members of Stanford Law’s Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP) who were in close contact with Naqib at the time of the attack, he survived the bombing—but not the ten hour siege that followed. He was thirty-two years old.
“We are all just heartbroken,” said Erik G. Jensen, professor of the practice of law at Stanford Law School and director of its Rule of Law Program, which includes ALEP—a project that has worked closely with AUAF since 2007 to develop a legal program at the Kabul campus. “Naqib was such a talented teacher, with a strong belief in the future of Afghanistan. He was completely dedicated to educating the next generation of its leaders, its lawyers.”
Following a terrorist attack last August in Kabul, members of the ALEP team inquired about the safety of faculty, students, and staff at AUAF. Naqib replied: “We are all safe so far. Thanks for asking. The terrorists want to terrorize us, we refuse to give in. We were in a meeting today when the blast happened less than a kilometer away from where we were. Trust me, it did not stop us from our work not for one minute. This tells me the terrorists will not succeed. Everyday passing, people hate them more and keep on doing their work. I work 12 hours per day six days a week this summer. This is my response to them.”
A Fulbright Scholar with a Bachelor of Law & Political Science from Nangarhar University and an MA in Comparative Politics, and Security Studies from Old Dominion University-(GPIS), Naqib studied at Stanford Law School in 2013 as a visiting student research scholar for Stanford’s ALEP. He was then hired as a full-time law faculty member at AUAF, where he taught until last year when he took a position managing rule of law programs at the US Institute of Peace based in Kabul. Then Naqib, a teacher at heart committed to the next generation of Afghans, moved to adjunct status on the AUAF law faculty. He was a popular teacher and mentor—particularly to students who came from the Pakistan border province of Nangarhar, where Naqib was born and raised. He is survived by his parents and siblings who still reside there.
Founded in 2007, ALEP has worked in close partnership with AUAF to establish a legal curriculum at AUAF, first by writing and translating legal textbooks and then, with support from the US Department of State, developing and collaborating on the law program—establishing a Bachelor of Arts and Laws degree, the first such program in the country. Together, ALEP and AUAF established a Department of Law to administer the degree program and support the top-notch law faculty. There are currently more than 300 students enrolled in AUAF’s law classes with many classes oversubscribed, attesting to the great need and demand for quality legal education in Afghanistan. In May, ALEP and AUAF celebrated the second law class graduation—granting degrees to nine students, including its first woman law graduate.
“Legal education and the resultant application of the rule of law is critical to Afghanistan’s economic, political and social development,” said Debra L. Zumwalt, JD ’79, Vice President and General Counsel of Stanford University and an AUAF board member, who attended AUAF’s graduation in May. “I am particularly pleased with the number of women studying law at AUAF. It is empowering for women in the country to understand and be able to enforce their rights.”
“Naqib delivered the opening prayer at the AUAF graduation ceremony last May,” recalled Jensen. “He believed strongly in the power of education, and the need for legal education in Afghanistan. He was always emphatic that we — Afghans who care about the future of the country — cannot back down to insurgents and criminals who threaten a future of possibility.”
While AUAF has temporarily suspended operations in the wake of the despicable terrorist attack on the campus, and has already started the process to repair the damage caused by the attack so that the campus can reopen, a statement from AUAF Board confirmed that the resolve to continue the legal program is firm: “Rumors that the University will close are completely untrue. AUAF is dedicated to its educational mission in service to Afghanistan and has no intention of giving into terror… Our firm resolve is to move forward.”
But the personal loss felt by the many who were touched by Naqib is still strong. Stanford Law students and ALEP co-presidents, Matthew Gasperetti and Alice Hall-Partyka, both JD ’17, fondly recalled spending time with Naqib when he was on campus last year for a boot camp.
“We all greatly admired Naqib because of his unwavering commitment to building the rule of law in Afghanistan and training the next generation of Afghan legal scholars,” said Gasperetti. “Despite the inherent risks, he took a teaching job at AUAF to pursue these selfless goals. We had the pleasure of meeting Naqib at Stanford during an introductory seminar designed to prepare us to write textbook chapters for the students at AUAF. As part of this process, Naqib taught us about Afghan law and culture in lectures and informally over dinner. Naqib was a dynamic teacher and quickly became a dear friend to us all. His dedication and bravery has left an indelible impression on his students, his friends, and the country he loved. We are heartbroken by the news of his senseless murder.”
“Naqib was very respected and admired among us all. We are devastated about what happened,” said Hall-Partyka.
“His death is an enormous loss to AUAF and to Afghanistan. Our thoughts are with his family,” said Jensen.