Fahim Dashty - pioneer of Afghan press freedom
11 September 2021
SAMFORD VALLEY – Not long ago in PNG Attitude, this photograph was published alongside my article, ‘Taliban had time & are not so benign’.
It shows the Kabul Weekly newspaper being compiled by hand.
The newspaper was established by an extraordinary journalist, Fahim Dashty. And this is his story.
In 2001, Fahim had been in the same room as the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud - the Lion of the Panjshir - leader of the Northern Alliance forces, who was assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Two Al-Qaeda operatives, disguised as journalists, visited Massoud at his headquarters in the Panjshir Valley about 150 km north of Kabul and, during a sham interview, detonated a bomb hidden in a television camera.
Massoud was killed instantly, while Fahim Dashty suffered severe burns and other injuries.
He was evacuated to France for treatment and I met him while he was recuperating.
At the time, I was director of UNESCO's Division of Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace based at its headquarters in Paris .
Fahim became a good friend and, when he returned to Afghanistan, as well as starting the Kabul Weekly, he took on a key role in promoting press freedom in Afghanistan and was a leader of the National Journalists Union.
He later took up a role with the Massoud Foundation and returned to the Panjshir Valley, about 150 km north of Kabul.
Just a few ago (on either 4 or 5 September) Fahim was killed in fighting between Northern Alliance forces and the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley.
The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear. According to sources, he was killed by a Pakistani drone strike during the fighting.
Vale my friend Fahim Dashty. He was a true pioneer of press freedom in Afghanistan.
Twenty years ago, when we met in Paris, Fahim expressed his desire to return to Kabul to establish a newspaper. And so the Kabul Weekly was born around late 2001-early 2002.
By this time, I was based in Kabul heading UNESCO operations there and was delighted to be able to provide the funds to help purchase newsprint and cover some printing costs.
You can see here what the main government printing press in Kabul looked like in late 2001. We assisted Fahim to find a more efficient press, which was located in the north of the country.
And this was the National Educational Radio and TV building when I arrived.
It had been a sniper’s nest during the Mujihadeen War, which explains the damage.
As you can see in the photo below, we fixed it. The donor support came from Italy!
I appreciate that most people will associate Afghanistan with war and violence, but a lot of good things were achieved there.
Sure, rocket attacks and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were common, although my major fear was abduction.
The other threat was landmines, which are scattered almost everywhere.
Walking off confirmed paths or places swept of mines was a huge danger in Afghanistan. It almost became a phobia.
When I returned to Australia I couldn't walk on grass for a long time, and avoided stepping off concrete or any designated pathway.
But, let me end where I started, with Fahim Dashty. I think Fahim would ask me to plead with the world not to forget Afghanistan.
Certainly Afghanistan is not an easy place to work or to even understand, given the labyrinthine nature of ethnicities, cultures and society.
Fahim would ask that we all seek to continue to promote a free press in the country and to ensure that education for all, especially women and girls, continues.
The International Federation of Journalists has reported that shortly before his death, Fahim stated, "If we die, history will write about us, as people who stood for their country till the end of the line."
I took this final photo in the Bamiyan area where we were helping women and children with literacy classes.
I think this is the best photo I took in Afghanistan.
These are the people who we must not forget.
These are the heroes....
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