One July 9, 2010, Javaid Zeerak, brilliant Afghan aid worker, blogger, photographer and personal friend, went into the Panjshir River during an outing with some of his colleagues from the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program and didn’t come out. Very little is known about the accident and Javaid’s body has not been recovered. A year on, grief and questions linger over an event that seemed senseless even by the tragic standards of Afghan life.
Javaid’s blog has become a place of reflection on lives cut short in Afghanistan, and on the unending struggle to make sense of the losses. One of my favorite posts of Javaid’s was his reaction to the death of Sultan Munadi, a New York Times employee who was accidentally killed by British commandos during the raid that freed fellow NYT reporter Stephen Farrell from Taliban kidnappers in 2009.
Javaid wrote approvingly of how the NYT memorialized its much-loved journalist:
both accounts depict the portrait of a man whose loss is a blow to the future of this country by any account -but above all, the stories do justice to this particular person by depicting his humanity, a dimension of the afghan character mostly glazed over in western reporting that generally objectify and patronize and speak for their characters.
He also made a point that’s been stuck in my head for the past few days:
i feel deeply saddened and as if i have lost a next of kin, a brother in this common struggle to make this country a more humane place to live. munadi was part of this generation of us who have seen what was, and have high hopes of what should be. the generation that grew up in war and turmoil, that straddled the pre and post 9/11 periods of this country; in a way, the 9/11 generation of afghanistan. and within this generation, part of an even more committed group who have -perhaps too obstinately, too unreasonably- made a committment that they will stay, they will not leave this country, despite the opportunities. munadi represented the best and most hopeful of this group of ‘afghan strivers’ -and in this own craft ‘munadi’ embodied the meaning of his surname -a loudspeaker for the truth, the instrument without which many a western journalist’s account of this country would be incomplete.
As the roar of the war grows louder and the killings continue, it’s important to remember not only the outsize villains and gunmen and rogues whose checkered lives end violently –not only the Daud Dauds and Ahmed Wali Karzais and Jan Mohammad Khans– but also the good people –the Afghan strivers– who are being cut down in this war. It’s important to remember people like assassinated Kandahar mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi and Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, the BBC and Pajhwok journalist who was killed in the Tirin Kot attack two days ago.
In that spirit, take a few minutes to read two pieces that, I believe, meet Javaid’s standard of stories that do justice to individual Afghan lives. (The former succeeds at this to a greater degree than the latter, but they’re both worth reading.)
The BBC’s Kabul bureau chief remembering Khpulwak:
Sometimes he would call me if an insurgent commander had threatened him for not reporting an attack or their views.
On other occasions it was local officials who were complaining.
It was difficult for both of us. I remember when he told me once that he had had an argument on the telephone with a local militant commander.
I asked him what happened and he said: “I told the commander to go and do whatever you want. You are not God.”
Canada.com on Hamidi’s loss and legacy:
The mayor was well known for exposing corrupt officials and power brokers who had seized government land for their own financial benefit.
Eight months ago, he bulldozed a market with 100 shops owned by a powerful clan in Kandahar called the Mazalai. The land was located behind the governor’s palace and belonged to the city. The land had been slated for the construction of a school.
“My father had tried to persuade the Mazalai to return the land to the city, but they refused,” [his daughter] Rangina said. “They earned their living off rents from the shops and they had these markets all over the city. My father warned them and told (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai he would tear down the market if they didn’t move.”
Finally, Hameedi sent in the bulldozers and replaced the shops with a school for girls and another for boys.
More recently, he planned to take back government land that corrupt businessmen had seized to build housing so they could collect rents. Many had built walls around the parcels of land they seized but had not yet built houses.
Hameedi wanted to tear down the walls and divide the land into 2,000 small lots to be sold at low prices to low-income people, government workers and teachers.
“He wanted to legalize it all and anybody who had built a house on the land already would be allowed to stay but with a smaller lot,” Rangina said.