To those who knew him, Abdul Qadim Patyal, the 32-year-old deputy governor of Kandahar province, was a rarity among Afghan officials: a politician with the soul of a poet.
Patyal, a well-known writer, was gunned down Sunday while sitting in a Kandahar University classroom, attending a night course on Pashto literature. He was in his final semester, months from earning an education degree.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the slaying, which has shaken the Afghan political establishment as well as Patyal’s admirers outside the government. He was widely seen as a model for a young generation of Afghans who seek a greater voice in a country that has been at war for nearly all of their lives.
“He was so important for this country and its future,” said Javid Faisal, a former Kandahar provincial spokesman who worked closely with Patyal for five years.
As deputy governor — and before that, as head of Kandahar’s information and culture department — Patyal sought to help youth from poor, insecure parts of the southern province gain access to education. Kandahar, long a center of the Taliban insurgency, has been one of the provinces hardest hit by the 13-year conflict that started with the U.S.-led military invasion in 2001.
FOR THE RECORD
10:12 a.m. PST: An earlier version of this post referred to the U.S. invasion of 2011. It was in 2001.
He was sometimes described as “the poet of Kandahar.” Imprisoned for his writings by the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan at the end of the 1990s, he became an influential champion of drama, painting and literature as one of the province’s youngest top officials.
“He made it to where he was himself,” said Haji Mohammad Qassam, a former member of the Kandahar provincial council. “He didn’t come from a big name or powerful family.”
The identity of the gunman who shot him remained unclear. Provincial officials have said the shooter entered the classroom Sunday night, fired at Patyal and fled. Patyal was laid to rest on Monday.
President Ashraf Ghani described Patyal’s slaying as a “terrorist attack” and has called for an investigation.
The Taliban has killed a string of government officials in recent years. In March, Kandahar governor Toryalai Wesa’s chief of staff was killed in a bombing claimed by the group.
In July, Hashmat Karzai, a cousin of former President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated in his Kandahar home, although the Taliban never claimed responsibility for that killing.
Patyal’s death has renewed the feeling that, even with most of the U.S.-led military coalition withdrawing at the end of December, Afghanistan, where more than 60% of people are younger than 25, will remain mired in conflict.
Many young Afghans criticized the recent, bitterly contested presidential election, which featured corruption-tainted officials, warlords and militia leaders from the 1990s civil war that devastated Kabul.
“It’s our country. We have to struggle for our rights, our country,” Patyal said in an August 2011 video by the U.S.-led coalition, shortly after he became head of the information and culture department.
Faisal said he owes much of his own success to his poet friend, who he hopes will continue to serve as a role model for young Afghans.
“What he taught me about politics, government, media and local cultural issues helped me become one of the best and youngest spokespersons to a provincial governor country-wide,” Faisal said.
Remembrances of Patyal flooded Afghan social media. Amina Zia Massoud, a niece of slain militia commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, tweeted: “It’s always those who loved this country and have struggled for this country that are killed. Rest in peace to another martyr.”
To mourners, Patyal’s final Facebook post, quoting a Pashto-language poem, seemed to embody his message: “Let’s completely drain the hatred from our blood. In one human-istan, celebrate love with love.”
Latifi is a special correspondent.