This story is all about fearless journalism because these men/women bring to you stories that so desperately want to be read!
‘The Taliban, or students in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries – mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia – which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.The promise made by the Taliban – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. But that changed and what they left behind was a blood written legacy. Back again they are doing the same’
-‘They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. (Malala Yousafzai)’
‘The brutal murder of Danish Siddiqui made headlines around the world. Rightly so. As gruesome details of him being tortured and his body riddled with bullets came out. It is time to honor the lives of all those who have been killed in the pursuit of the truth, carrying out their professional duties, but because attacks on journalists life or physical integrity have a detrimental impact on the public’s right to information, contribute to a decline in democratic control and have a chilling effect on everyone’s freedom. They are the unsung martyrs of the information world and work in the most dangerous of places in the world where humans kill each other and the reasons could be any. It’s not easy it is a blood cuddling affair where death stares at every twist and turn. Afghanistan is not an easy assignment for a journalist and this thought while Danish was leaving for the assignment must have crossed his mind. It could have gone through even in the most bravest of minds. The odious act reminds mankind that journalists are not safe anywhere whether in a country at war or in a serious internal conflict zone. We all know that’.
-‘I started thinking about that, and I used to think that Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ (To many it would be a child-like interpretation but mind you this child always thought big as this statement of hers in her book I’m Malala).’Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’
It has always seemed to me that what we write about is humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars. Danish Siddiqi was on one such mission where he ultimately gave up his life. In fact he was forced to do so by his captives’
Centuries back Religion became the most powerful entity on earth. I gave faith and reassurance and more importantly to put our lives on a pious drive. A strong identity in us and our faith. A phenomenon that conscripted millions to give or sacrifice their lives without so much as a minuscule query about their chosen beliefs or particular ideology. It was the concept that separated the human from the other living beings on the planet. But today thousands of years on despite the huge advent, discovery and the advance of science forensic or otherwise, millions are still prepared and equipped to fall or kill in the name of their God, their Holy Scriptures, their messengers, their prophets and their faith. Everyone of us would at once say that this assumption of living is bad yet there are those radicals who think that they were born to kill and murder humanity. The Taliban are nothing but this and still some world leaders as Pakistan Prime Minister the other day were saying and terming them as humans! Sheer nonsense indeed
The correct way of describing the Taliban fighters by the peace loving Afghans goes something like this, in our towns and cities they will continue to be born, in our communities they will go on to be nurtured and radicalized and from within our neighborhoods they will terrorize and murder our citizens including women and children in their attempt to destroy the very fabric and order of our civilized society. They are influenced by our ignorance, our lack of knowledge is their power, martyrdom in the name of their God and prophet is their aspiration and so it is critical that we waste no time and learn more about them and this ideology they follow before we can even begin to eradicate this chilling and growing endemic Islamic faith based terrorism. The same persists even now and that is the reason as to why once again they unleashed terror with rockets, bombs, bullets, macabre killings and grissly murders. Nothing has worked in Afghanistan, the Soviet Invasion, the American war on terrorism, the Indian peace efforts and now the Chinese interference if anything has then it has to be the high octane violence which still continues. A beautiful country destined not to be at peace with itself. It never was even in the past!
Gruesome stories written by men on assignments and covering the war have been brought for the eyes of the readers by journalists who defied death but lost their lives and some managed to make great escapes. Danish Siddiqui was not one of those lucky ones. Here are three stories of three individuals who were abducted, one managed to escape but the other two were killed in a horrific manner. One of the two was Danish Siddiqui. There have been so many of them who have left legacies and stories behind but I will relate the fate of three and the readers could well imagine as to what would have happened with the others.
‘Yet my father remained hopeful and believed there would be a day when there was an end to the destruction. What really depressed him was the looting of the destroyed schools – the furniture, the books, the computers, were all stolen by local people. He cried when he heard this.
Malala Yousafzai, I am Malala: The Story of the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban)’
I. Kidnapping of David Rohde:
David Stephenson Rohde, a journalist for The New York Times, and two associates were kidnapped by members of the Taliban in November 2008. Rohde was in Afghanistan doing research for a book. After being held captive for eight months, in June 2009, Rohde and one of his associates escaped and made their way to safety. During his captivity, Rohde’s colleagues at The New York Times appealed to other members of the news media not to publish any stories reporting on the abduction. Their intentions in doing so were to maximize Rohde’s chances for survival and/or release. On November 10, 2008, Rohde, his interpreter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah ‘Asad’ Mangal, were abducted outside Kabul while Rohde was researching a book about the history of United States’ involvement in the country. He had been invited to interview a Taliban commander in Logar Province near Kabul. The interview had been arranged by Ludin, but the two men never made it to their destination. The Taliban commander called The New York Times to report that they had not arrived. The kidnappers initially insisted on no publicity and issued a series of difficult and unclear demands, including the release of Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and the payment of ransoms of tens of millions of dollars. They later released at least two videos showing Rohde, which were sent to Western news outlets and the New York Times. The kidnappers also sent letters and audiotapes as well as making contact by telephone and via the Red Cross.
At some point after their abduction, the men were transferred across the border to a Taliban compound near Miranshah in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. After seven months in captivity, Rohde and Ludin managed to escape during the night on June 19, 2009, an effort which Rohde later called in a byline for The Week as ‘last ditch’ and ‘foolhardy’, despite its success. According to Ludin, they snuck past Taliban guards after tiring out the men with repeated games of checkers. When the guards had fallen asleep, according to Rohde, they left separately under the guise of using the bathroom. The men escaped by climbing over the ten-foot wall of the compound where they were being held. Using a length of old rope Rohde had acquired two weeks prior they lowered themselves out of a window. The rope was several feet short of the ground, forcing the men to drop the last stage; Ludin injured his foot in the fall, though Rohde was unhurt. Mangal did not escape with the other two men. Rohde said that he and Ludin chose not to let Mangal in on the escape plans on fears that Mangal would tell the guards. He and Ludin feared that Mangal was cooperating with the Taliban. As it turns out, Mangal was cooperating only to ensure his own safety. He escaped on July 27, 2009. It looks to be an escape thriller but it was not. They did escape but it was a scary experience!
II. Daniel Pearl:
Daniel Pearl was an American journalist who worked for The Wall Street Journal. He was kidnapped and later beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan. Pearl was working as the South Asia Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal, based in Mumbai, India. He was kidnapped when he went to Pakistan as part of an investigation into the alleged links between British citizen Richard Reid (known as the shoe bomber) and al-Qaeda. Pearl was killed by his captors. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British natiional of Pakistani origin, was sentenced to death by hanging for Pearl’s abduction and murder in 2002, but his conviction was overturned by a Pakistani court in the summer of 2020. In March 2007, at a closed military hearing in Guantánamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a member of al-Qaeda, claimed that he had personally beheaded Pearl.
On January 23, 2002, on his way to what he thought was an interview with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani at the Village Restaurant in downtown Karachi, Pearl was kidnapped near the Metropole Hotel at 7:00 p.m. by a militant group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. The group claimed Pearl was a spy and using a Hotmail e-mail address sent the United States a range of demands, including the freeing of all Pakistani terror detainees, and the release of a halted U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government.
The message read: We give you one more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan. Photos of Pearl handcuffed with a gun at his head and holding up a newspaper were attached. The group did not respond to public pleas for release of the journalist by his editor and his wife Mariane. United States intelligence forces tried to track down the kidnappers. Nine days later, the terrorists beheaded Pearl. On May 16, his severed head and decomposed body were found cut into ten pieces, and buried, along with an identifying jacket, in a shallow grave at Gadap, about 30 miles (48 km) north of Karachi. When the police found Pearl’s remains three months after his murder, Abdul Sattar Edhi, a Pakistani philanthropist, collected all of the body parts and took them to the morgue. He helped ensure that Pearl’s remains were returned to the United States, where he was later interred in the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
III. Danish Siddiqi:
On July 16, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, the chief photographer for Reuters in India, was killed in Afghanistan. He was embedded with a convoy of Afghan forces that was ambushed by Taliban militants near a key border post with Pakistan, He was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and the Taliban. He was killed in what was described as Taliban crossfire. This was just a bare-bones account. It was just the mere essentials or plain, unadorned framework of something which was bigger and was to be revealed later. And what came out later was yet another tale of horrors from the house of Taliban. It was revealed that he was brutally murdered in the typical style the school of Taliban teaches.
The circumstances of Siddiqui’s death are now clear. He was not simply killed in a crossfire, nor was he simply collateral damage; rather, he was brutally murdered by the Taliban. Local Afghan authorities say that Siddiqui traveled with an Afghan National Army team to the Spin Boldak region to cover fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban to control the lucrative border crossing with Pakistan. When they got to within one-third of a mile of the customs post, a Taliban attack split the team, with the commander and a few men separated from Siddiqui, who remained with three other Afghan troops. During this assault, shrapnel hit Siddiqui, and so he and his team went to a local mosque where he received first aid. As word spread, however, that a journalist was in the mosque, the Taliban attacked. The local investigation suggests the Taliban attacked the mosque only because of Siddiqui’s presence there. Siddiqui was alive when the Taliban captured him. The Taliban verified Siddiqui’s identity and then executed him, as well as those with him. The commander and the remainder of his team died as they tried to rescue him.
Siddiqui, of course, was doing his job: documenting newsworthy events. It was a risky job, but he took normal precautions that, across countries and battlefields, generally suffice to protect journalists. As for the Afghan National Army: It gave Siddiqui permission to cover the fighting near Spin Boldak because Afghan forces believed they would win. Documenting a victory could provide a much-needed morale boost. The Taliban’s decision to hunt down, execute Siddiqui, and then mutilate his corpse shows that they do not respect the rules of war or conventions that govern the behavior of the global community. There are many parallels between the Khmer Rouge (is the name that was popularly given to members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and by extension to the regime through which they ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. The name was coined in the 1960s by prime minister Norodom Sihanouk to describe his country’s heterogeneous, communist-led dissidents, with whom he allied after his 1970 overthrow.The rule was brutal) and the Taliban. Both infused radical ideology with racist animus. The Taliban are always brutal but likely took their cruelty to a new level because Siddiqui was Indian. They also want to signal that Western journalists are not welcome in any Afghanistan they control and that they expect Taliban propaganda to be accepted as truth. In effect, Siddiqui’s murder appears to show that the Taliban have concluded that their pre-9/11 mistake was not that they were cruel and autocratic but rather that they were not violent or totalitarian enough. The circumstances of Siddiqui’s death are now clear. He was not simply killed in a crossfire, nor was he simply collateral damage; rather, he was brutally murdered by the Taliban. Siddiqui won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018 as part of the Reuters team for their coverage of the Rohingya crisis. He had extensively covered the Afghanistan conflict, the Hong Kong protests and other major events in Asia, Middle East, and Europe. (These are excerpts of the report that appeared in the American weekly Washington Examiner and was authored by the former US Defense Secretary Michael Rubin)
‘We thought speaking in English meant you were more intelligent. We were wrong of course. It does not matter what language you choose, the important thing is the words you use to express yourself and one child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world’. (― Malala Yousafzai). These are the thoughts of a child (now grown up) from Afghanistan and all the way she spoke sense but will someday this emotional wail of the girl be heard in Afghanistan? I at least believe that one day it would be because after all once upon a time these grown up men with monstrous lead ejaculate guns were also children but not under the present environment when all the talking is being done by the barrels of the guns!’
From its inception Taliban has transformed from a movement of clerics from within the Jihad driven by their local agendas and supported by their peers to an organized political unit with countrywide objectives but a more fundamental question suggests itself, however. How did the most powerful military in history come to devote its elite forces and advanced technology to the hunt for a man like Qari Munib for example, a midlevel Taliban figure in a remote corner of the planet, half a world away from the White House and ground zero in Manhattan, more than eleven years after the September 11 attacks? They came and they left but everything remains the same though American forces did manage to finish off their target Bin Laden. They achieved the purpose and finally left, leaving the Taliban to carry on with pyrotechnics and bloodshed and in their killing spree are mowing down humanity. If the force had come storming then they should have finished it off but they did not and thus the story continues! That was exactly for which Danish went but never to come back alive!
From everything I’ve read, seeing these kids, including girls, playing, tells me we are doing right here. I have not seen a single sour face from any of the locals, and I don’t see fear in their eyes. I’m sure I will learn more over time. They are poor; y’all cannot believe what little they have,… but we have restored their dignity and their lives… the Taliban had taken that away. (Read Marri’s letter in the book Sewing Circles of Herat.). The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan is a book written by Christina Lamb.
The foundation of the Taliban’s rule for the first time was fear, but not fear of the Taliban themselves, at least not in the beginning. No; it was fear of the past. Fear that the past would return, that it would come back in all its disaggregated fury. That the past would become the future. The beards, the burqas, the whips, the stones; anything, anything you want. Anything but the past. That had evaporated but now they are back again with the circles and waves of horrors. It can already be seen as the stories pile on!
It’s an old fallacy, reporters go through four stages in a war zone. In the first stage, you’re Superman, invincible. Second, you’re aware that things are dangerous and you need to be careful. In the third, you conclude that math and probability are working against you. In the fourth, you know you’re going to die because you’ve played the game too long. In which stage you are? You very well know but want to carry on and on to write stories along with visuals. But trust me it’s a ballroom dance with death! You never know the consequences!