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

Afghanistan: Nov-Dec '08

In-depth IWPR story probing acid attack on girls’ school picked up by six American newspapers.

Some stories capture the popular imagination, bringing an issue to the fore. The vicious November attack on schoolgirls in Kandahar, in which unknown men sprayed acid into the faces of female students leaving their classes, was one. Television stations around the world carried footage of weeping girls, some disfigured, others left nearly blind.

Most media rushed to the conclusion that the Taleban were responsible, despite strong denials from the Taleban spokesman, and severe reservations among locals.

The story disappeared quickly, swamped by the global economic crisis, the election of a new American president, and the holiday season.

But IWPR’s reporter, Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, refused to let the issue die. He traveled from his native Helmand to Kandahar, along one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country, to return to the school and see the situation for himself. His story revealed the aftermath of the tragedy: empty corridors, distraught teachers, angry parents and fearful students (See: Kandahar Schools Empty After Acid Attack on Girls).

The piece prompted veteran reporter Graeme Smith, of Canada’s Globe and Mail, to contact IWPR. “Fantastic story,” he wrote,” and a nice antidote to the pro-government spin produced by the wires in the days after the attack.”

The story was picked up by no fewer than six American newspapers, from New York to South Dakota.

While it is difficult to measure the exact impact of pieces like this, it is indicative of the type of reporting that IWPR-trained journalists are capable of producing. They can go behind the headlines to find the human element in an issue.

It is this type of journalism that can bring the true story of Afghanistan to a wider public.

As the new US administration grapples with its Afghanistan policy, real reporting from the country will be more important than ever. Stories such as the Kandahar attack can help bring Afghanistan into perspective, and provide a real basis for difficult decisions.