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57: Requiem for another fallen colleague

Farhad Peikar
Farhad Peikar offers a very personal response to the death of his friend and journalist Ahmad Sardar who was killed in the Taliban shootings at the Serena Hotel last week, when four gunmen entered and killed nine…
26.03.2014  |  New York

The five-year-old Nelofar had seen so many TV reports of Taliban attacks that one day last July she asked her father, the renowned Afghan journalist Ahmad Sardar, if the Taliban would also kill animals. No, he said. In the most earnest and desperate tone, the little girl murmured: “I wish we were animals.”

Sardar shared the conversation on his Facebook page. Eight months later, Sardar and Nelofar were gone. 

Nelofar, now six years old; her four-year-old brother, Omar; Sardar and his wife, Humaira, were shot dead on Thursday night as the family were celebrating the Afghan and Persian New Year’s Eve at a restaurant. Nelofar’s toddler brother, Abuzar, was also shot and is now recovering at a hospital in Kabul. The gunmen had executed the family at close range. Nelofar was preparing for her first day at school, due shortly after the  'Nowruz' New Year celebrations.

Thousands of Afghans have been killed in conflict in the 13 years since the beginning of the US-led war against the then-Taliban government. That Nelofar wished to be an animal is an example of the constant fear shared by millions of Afghan children who are growing up in a country wracked by insurgent attacks.

Thousands of Afghans have been killed in conflict in the 13 years since the beginning of the US-led war against the then-Taliban government. 

It should come as no surprise that UNICEF calls Afghanistan "the most dangerous place to be born." Insurgency also targets classrooms and children headed to school. More than 11 million are enrolled in school across the country.  Without a doubt, they share Nelofar's fears on a daily basis. 

One other Afghan and four foreigners were killed during Thursday's attack in the Serena Hotel, one of the most fortified five-star establishments in Kabul that is mainly patronized by foreign diplomats and dignitaries. The four attackers breached three security barriers and managed to smuggle their pistols inside the hotel. The police described the attackers as “teenagers.” The perpetrators were also killed in an exchange of fire with Afghan security forces.

In a country where attacks by the Taliban are a routine part of the day, journalists must cover them on a daily basis.  This time the attack killed a man who had been covering the war for the past decade. Sardar, whom I have known since 2001, was a man full of life and humour. He was hard-working and made his way up in the media industry from working as a part-time reporter and stringer to the position of senior correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Kabul. Within only a few years, he became one of the leading journalists. He worked fearlessly and provided balanced coverage of events in the country, building contacts among all strata of Afghan society. He founded Kabul Pressistan, the first media outlet that provided clients with breaking news through mobile phone text messages and offered technical support to foreign journalists visiting Afghanistan. 

In a country where attacks by the Taliban are a routine part of the day, journalists must cover them on a daily basis.  This time the attack killed a man who had been covering the war for the past decade.

Many international journalists are preparing to leave Afghanistan as the US and NATO military forces are ending their combat mission in the country. But Sardar always tried to keep the Afghan news relevant, both through his stories and his activism on social media. He spoke to all sides of any argument and wrote balanced stories. As an Afghan citizen he supported the country's journey towards democracy and peace.  

After 21 Afghan soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan in February, Sardar changed his Facebook profile picture to the photograph of an Afghan soldier and asked all his Afghan friends to follow suit as an act of solidarity.  This is “the least we could do from the comfort of our urban life for our men and women in uniform defending us along the borders and elsewhere under constant enemy fire,” he wrote on his page. 

Sardar was one of the most patriotic Afghans I have known. He recently told me that “things were going very well,” and he was hopeful for the future of his country and children. Many people with his contacts and talent would have resided in a different country, and would have led a peaceful life. He chose to stay. “I am one of the best, and this country needs us,” he recently told one of our common friends.

I know he was not naïve. I know he loved our country. As the international media focused on grimmer news about Afghanistan, Sardar started a one-man campaign to show the side of our land that had nothing to do with violence. He would post pictures of ordinary life in Afghanistan –boys selling balloons, the country’s magnificent sceneries, the first bowling alley in Kabul.

Sardar was not alone in his endeavors to continue the push for democracy and peace in Afghanistan. Although he is gone, his dream is still alive, and millions of Afghans share in this dream. With events in Ukraine, Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic stealing headlines in international media and with US and NATO forces already packing up after 13 years of war, Afghanistan is disappearing from the world's attention.  

If you do hear anything about Afghanistan from the Western media, it is most likely about corruption, narcotics, or the recent political wrangling between the U.S. and Afghan governments over the Bilateral Security Agreement.  While all of these problems do exist, focusing exclusively on them at the expense of other news does not serve the interests of the Afghan people or of international forces in the country, and it belies the achievements they have made through blood and treasure.

Afghans like Sardar sided with the international community in their common war against terrorism. Afghan people have born the brunt of the war. The Taliban are still a strong force to reckon with and its supporters are unwavering. Any massive reductions in military and civilian assistance to Afghanistan in its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaida affiliates would demonstrate disloyalty to the blood of Sardar and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, security forces, and members of US and NATO military personnel shed in the fight against the religious fanatics. 

Abandoning Afghanistan would push Afghans to the side, however reluctantly, with the terrorists for protection or the choice to migrate en masse, undoing all the progress the country made through US and Western tax payers' money in the last 13 years. It would also push more children like Nelofar to wish— heart-breakingly—that they were animals.