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

Taleban Voice New Demands for Driver's Body

The nightmare is not yet over for the families of the Afghan driver and translator who were kidnapped along with an Italian journalist in Helmand.
By IWPR trainees
The Taleban have demanded the release of another commander in exchange for the body of Sayed Agha, the driver who was killed when the Taleban took him hostage along with Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in Helmand.

After Mastrogiacomo was released earlier this week, the guest house in the provincial capital Lashgar Gah where he was housed before leaving for home was the scene of protests by Afghans complaining about their government’s seeming lack of concern for the local men who had also been kidnapped. (See IWPR’s earlier story on this - Afghan Victims Go Unnoticed in Kidnap Release, ARR No. 246, 20-Mar-07.)

When the Taleban made it known they had killed Sayed Agha, three family members went to retrieve his body from Garmseer, a town about two and a half hours’ drive south of Lashkar Gah. On their way back they were detained by Taleban, and only released through the mediation of a group of elders.

Family members told IWPR that Sayed Agha’s body was still being held in Garmseer.

Meanwhile, the fate of Ajmal Naqshbandi, the 23-year-old translator who accompanied Mastrogiacomo, is still unclear. His brother, Munir Naqshbandi, told IWPR that the family had no information other than Mastrogiacomo’s account of the release. The Italian journalist told them that Ajmal had been freed on March 18, at the same time as Mastrogiacomo himself, but that the two were sent off in separate cars.

Ajmal has not been seen or heard from since.

Mastrogiacomo, Ajmal and Sayed Agha were kidnapped on March 5 in Nadali, a district close to Lashkar Gah.

After almost two weeks, the journalist was freed in exchange for the release of several key Taleban figures, including the very vocal former spokesman, Latifullah Hakimi, who was arrested last year in Pakistan. The brother of prominent Taleban commander Mullah Dadullah was also released, along with Ustad Yasar. There have been unsubstantiated reports that two other Taleban leaders were also freed.

The Taleban were adamant that they would not give up Sayed Agha’s body for burial until another commander, Mullah Janaan, was also released.

According to Mastrogiacomo’s story, published in Italian newspapers, Sayed Agha was beheaded several days after the kidnapping. The Taleban have confirmed that they killed him, saying he was a “spy”.

The prisoner exchange has sparked controversy from many sides. Afghans are angry that a deal was made to save a foreign journalist while the driver’s murder went almost unnoticed. Foreign journalists are nervous that the prisoner exchange may make them more vulnerable to kidnapping, especially in the volatile south.

Helmand has become increasingly unstable over the past few months, with reports of armed Taleban patrols even in the capital. The Afghan government has launched a major poppy eradication effort in Helmand, the centre of opium production. As the harvest grows nearer, tensions are rising, and there is anecdotal evidence that the Taleban are profiting from farmers’ discontent, becoming more entrenched as the season progresses.

Mastrogiacomo, Ajmal, and Sayed Agha were kidnapped in Nadali, which was the scene of the first eradication efforts.

A Taleban spokesman could not be reached for comment on March 22, but a member of the movement told IWPR that the insurgents were engaged in a major battle in Gereshk, a district to the north of Lashkar Gah. NATO troops have recently unleashed a large operation to dislodge the Taleban from the south.

IWPR has recently begun a journalism training programme in Helmand. This story is compiled from trainees’ reports.

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