Demands Unmet, the Taliban Take an Afghan Journalist’s Life

After a little more than a month in captivity, Ajmal Naqshbandi was killed Sunday.

“We asked for two Taliban commanders to be released in exchange for Ajmal Naqshbandi, but the government did not care for our demands,” said Shahabuddin Atal, a purported spokesman for regional Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, “and today, at 3:05 p.m., we beheaded Ajmal in Garmsir district of Helmand province.”

After a little more than a month in captivity, Naqshbandi was killed Sunday — the gut-wrenching end of a life so full of promise. About 25, Naqshbandi had run a couple guest houses, worked as a fixer and translator, and filed regular dispatches for a Japanese newspaper before he was kidnapped by the Taliban in early March while translating for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. While Mastrogiacomo’s driver, Sayed Agha, was quickly beheaded, and Mastrogiacomo was released March 19 in a much-criticized swap for five Taliban prisoners, the fate of Naqshbandi hung in the balance as the Taliban demanded the release of prisoners, Hamid Karzai’s government appeared to do little, and the U.N. in conjunction with press and human rights groups from around the world begged for the young Afghan journalist’s life to be spared — to no avail.

The U.N., the U.S. and the world has been quick with condemnation, as has Karzai, who said this in a presidential palace statement: “While efforts were going on from the government side for his release, this human killer group murdered him mercilessly.” According to Reuters, Karzai said Naqshbandi’s release was part of the Mastrogiacomo deal. But on Friday he said something perhaps more pertinent as he ruled out further hostage deals with the Taliban. “[Mastrogiacomo] was an extraordinary situation and won’t be repeated again,” the president said then. “No more deals with no one and with no other country.”

Reuters reported that one Afghan daily has urged its government to execute Taliban prisoners following Naqshbandi’s death, and in the blogosphere one enraged blogger endorsed that move. In the same unequivocal vein, Brian C. Ledbetter wrote, “I can only hope that the savages that did this will be on the receiving end of a bomb sooner than later.” Meantime, at Drudge Retort, Oohrah chose to be playfully ironic, remarking, “Heads will roll. Looks like our Taliban friends didn’t get the memo to play nice.”

But Naqshbandi deserves much better than that, and in that vein we turn to tewfic el-sawy — who commented on his blog the Travel Photographer that “The photojournalism world is outraged and in deep mourning following the murder of Ajmal Naqshbandi by the Taliban in Afghanistan” — and to the Web site of the photojournalism group Lightstalkers, where the anger and grief of Naqshbandi’s colleagues is on full display.

“Ajmal will be a significant life greatly missed not just to the Afghan people but to his friends from LS and from around the globe,” Gayle Hegland wrote, sending her condolences, while John Robert Fulton Jr. noted, “What happened to Ajmal is truly the horror and beyond comprehension. The pain is gone for our colleague, Ajmal, but it remains with all his family and friends with his untimely and unnecessary death.”

“I am at a loss for words at the news, despite the fact that I am not surprised that the situation unfolded like this,” added Paula Lerner. “May Ajmal’s soul rest in peace.”

In its latest count last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists confirmed that seven journalists had been killed for their work so far in 2007. Ajmal makes eight.

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Dan Goldberg is a CJR intern.