Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Jan ‘08

IWPR reporters investigate reports of atrocity by foreign troops in Helmand.

December and January should have been cheerful months for IWPR Afghanistan, as the Christmas holidays this year coincided with Eid al Adha, a period of feasting and celebration.

But the news was far from festive, and IWPR staff were involved in some very serious reporting.

In December, IWPR broke the story of an alleged massacre in southern Helmand (Foreign Troops Accused in Helmand Raid Massacre, ARR 277, December 11, 2007). It was an incident no one would touch. First of all, it happened in a remote town on the border with Pakistan, making independent assessment difficult. For another, it involved foreign troops accused of murder, which is not a topic many journalists will take on.

But Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal would not let the story die. Tipped off by the hospital in which one of the victims was recovering, Matiullah managed to get in to interview Abdul Manaan, an Afghan man who said that foreign soldiers had slashed his throat.

This led to other interviews corroborating the man’s statement. The Provisional Reconstrution Team, PRT, denied it, although the ISAF spokesman could confirm that a military operation had taken place in the town at the time specified.

The international community has not picked up the story, and once again it looks as if the incident could stay buried. But IWPR will pursue the topic until some resolution is achieved.

The other major story involved Musa Qala, a town in northern Helmand that was retaken from the Taleban in early December. IWPR reporters had earlier made several trips to Musa Qala, obtaining some of the most comprehensive information to come out of the Taleban stronghold.

When Musa Qala fell, IWPR journalists were on hand to record the reactions of the locals, which were a bit different than the resounding rhetoric being given out by the government and the foreign troops (“What Next for Musa Qala?”ARR 277, December 12, 2007).

Also in December, IWPR finalised the design template for a new weekly newspaper, Nawae Rasanai, that is being proposed by a group of journalists in Helmand. After an intensive workshop in Lashkar Gah in November, IWPR consultant Felix Kuehn helped the editorial team to create a model for the paper, which will be the only independent weekly in the province.

January was dominated first by the attack on the Serena Hotel on January 14 (“Taleban Attack Hotel to ‘Drive Foreigners Out’” ARR 279, January 15, 2008). The Serena was a major centre in the capital, the only five-star facility in Afghanistan, and a magnet for foreigners and money.

No sooner had we begun to rally from that than another shock wave hit the media community and IWPR in particular: Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a young journalism student and the brother of IWPR staffer Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, was condemned to death for blasphemy (“Afghan Reporter Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy” ARR 280, January 22, 2008).

International media organisations rallied round the embattled family, but as of this writing, there has been no movement in the case. There are at least two upper courts that will have to confirm the sentence in order for it to be carried out, but that is of small comfort to Parwez’s family. The journalists of Afghanistan are also more than slightly worried at this gross miscarriage of justice: Parwez was sentenced in a closed court session, with no right to defend himself.

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