A large group of Afghan journalists met on Sunday in Kabul. They were angry
about the death of New York Times
journalist Sultan Mohammed Munadi in the September 9 British-led rescue attempt
to free him and Times’ reporter
Stephen Farrell, who survived unharmed, from kidnappers. After the meeting, they
sent me a list of demands and a pdf of their signatures on a statement they
first wrote in Dari and then translated into English. The group also sent along a biography of Munadi.
Basically, the group calls for a full accounting of how and
why Munadi was killed. They’ve called on the Afghan government, NATO, the U.N.,
Security Assistance Force, the British government, and international
nongovernmental organizations to come up with the answers. They want the Afghan
government to press for those answers. And they want compensation paid to
There is a history to this situation, a very ugly one, and
an explanation about why Afghan journalists are angry enough to take such unified
action. In Helmand province in March 2007,
another Afghan-foreign team of reporters, La
Repubblica reporter Daniele
Mastrogiacomo, local journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi, and their driver, Sayed Agha,
were kidnapped. Agha was beheaded a few days after the abduction. The Italian
Mastrogiacomo was released March 19 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was criticized for having made the deal. He said
he did so because Italy has 1,800 troops in Afghanistan and because Italian Prime
Minister Romano Prodi had personally asked him to work for the release,
according to international media reports. Despite an apparent agreement to
release Naqshabandi as well, his captors eventually beheaded him too.
covered that situation extensively, but a documentary, The Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi, goes into great depth about the role of Afghan
journalists, really local journalists anywhere, who work with foreigners. Many
resent calling Naqshbandi a “fixer” when he was a journalist in his own right,
but the film gets many other things just about right.
link to Munadi is chilling: In his account of the kidnapping in The New
York Times, Farrell said they were given food, water, and
blankets and not harmed while they were = held. But, as their capture
continued, Munadi was increasingly taunted by their captors, reminding him of
the case of Ajmal Naqshbandi.
one inside Afghanistan
called Munadi a fixer when word of his abduction spread. He was a well known
and respected senior figure. (I have written a short remembrance
of him from an earlier trip to Kabul
On Sunday, the BBC
did an interview with Barry Salaam, a successful media business producer, maybe
most famous outside of Afghanistan
as for his “Good Morning Afghanistan” radio show. Salaam’s barely suppressed
tone of anger in the interview captures the thinking of many Afghan journalists
with whom I’ve been trading e-mail and phone calls.
positive aspect of the Sunday press conference was the fact that Afghan
journalists spoke with a unified voice. Despite several attempts, Afghanistan
still does not have a journalists’ organization that encompasses all media
across the country—in fact, it is quite diffuse, with several organizations
vying for recognition and funding. When I was in Afghanistan
in July, I encouraged Afghanis to consider organizing along the federalist
model of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. And when I spoke with union
leaders in Islamabad, they said they would be
glad to give advice to their colleagues in Afghanistan.
the remembrance of Munadi, who had a deep streak of sensibility, and the unified
actions taken in response to his death can provide the impetus to begin bringing
all of the country’s journalists together. It would be a fitting way to pay
tribute to a respected senior figure like him.