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Afghan doctor's death leaves a hole

Aqilah Hikmat, head of obstetrics and mother of four, was shot dead by a U.S. soldier on her way to Kabul. 'No one in our family can ever forget,' her husband says.

June 10, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — For much of her life, Aqilah Hikmat had beaten the odds. In a country where women struggle to get educations and find good jobs, she was an accomplished physician, the head of the obstetrics ward at a major provincial hospital, beloved by her patients.

And it was a source of enormous pride to the 49-year-old doctor that two of her four children, including a daughter, were medical students, poised to follow in her career footsteps.

The day she was shot to death by a U.S. soldier along the road to Kabul, she and her husband were on their way from their restive home province of Ghazni — a dangerous trip, but one they made weekly. They left later than usual that day because, as was so often the case, Hikmat was busy with patients.

"She was so sympathetic and generous," her widower, Sayed Mir Agha Hikmat, told The Times. "Many people are praying for her soul."

Colleagues, too, describe Aqilah Hikmat as a compassionate and dedicated doctor. Sometimes, desperate patients even came to her home, but she never turned them away.

"All of us are very angry about the circumstances under which she died," said fellow doctor Baz Mohammad Hemat, chief administrator at the Ghazni provincial hospital. "The patients are very sad. Everyone loved her."

The months since the July 2011 shooting have been difficult for the couple's surviving children: two sons, 19 and 20, and a 21-year-old daughter. Their youngest son, 18-year-old Nasrahtullah, died in the firefight that preceded their mother's death, as did a niece.

The family had become trapped in the gunfire in the wake of an attack on aU.S. militaryconvoy; Aqilah Hikmat had exited the car — trying, her family said, to halt the gunfire. That's when she was shot.

The continuing emotional distress of the couple's children, Sayed Hikmat believes, would have grieved his wife.

"She was always very attentive and loving to the children," he said. "No one in our family can ever forget."

Even with the passing of time, he said, he still cannot make sense of what happened.

"Why did this soldier open fire on innocent people, including a doctor who had served the people for 30 years? Why did this soldier open fire when he understood these were civilians, this was a woman, and shoot her when she had her arms raised and was not posing any threat to him? I can never understand this."

The shooting also destroyed the family's livelihood. Aqilah Hikmat was the main breadwinner, working in both the provincial hospital and a private clinic. Her husband, 53, had worked in the clinic along with his wife.

Now, he says, he can no longer bear to do so.

"Right now, we don't even have any source of income. I don't have a way to put food on the table for the remaining members of my family," he said. "It's really hard for me to talk about it."

laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.

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