Zabihullah Tamanna died due to a Taliban attack on Sunday, June 5
Zabi used to work as a photojournalist for a Chinese News Agency, Xinhua
NPR Correspondent Tom Browman described Zabihullah as a brave and trustworthy man
Zabihullah Tamanna, an interpreter for the NPR, was killed along with NPR’s very own photojournalist David Kelly last Sunday. The two, who were on an assignment of high importance, were travelling in a highly armored Humvee, which was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade. The Taliban militants, who have wrecked terror in Afghanistan, are believed to be behind the attacks.
Zabihullah, who was known as Zabi, worked as a photojournalist for the Chinese news agency Xinhua. More recently, he wrote for Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency. Zabi, as he was popularly called, had also written the high ticket story of the afghan president’s swearing in.
Pentagon correspondent of NPR Tom Bowman and producer Monika Evstatieva were also working on the assignment. Travelling in a separate vehicle, however, they were not injured.
NPR’s Philip Reeves, who recruited Zabihullah Tamanna to NPR, said he had deep respect for the man. Phil wrote in a remembrance letter:
“He was a tall man with a warm smile, who somehow managed to couple a casual manner with a quiet sense of authority. It soon became clear that he had a great eye for a story, and that people from every level of society simply liked and trusted him, an essential quality in the journalism business.
“Zabi seemed at ease with everyone; he persuaded senior politicians, young male migrants heading to Europe, female victims of war, and many, many more to speak into NPR’s microphone — and, by doing so, to shine a light on their nation’s unending conflict.
“On one unforgettable occasion, he managed to persuade an Afghan people smuggler to sit down and tell us all about his illicit trade over a lunch of grilled chicken and green tea.”
Zabihullah’s loved ones are grief stricken. Even through all the pain, Zabi’s widow, Fawzia Tamanna told NPR, “Please tell the world he was the finest man.”
Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track, but official sources in Islamabad maintain the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides.
The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.
Prior to his departure Wednesday from Kabul, Khalilzad told reporters that talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon. That’s what we’re working toward.” He did not elaborate further.
Meanwhile, in a significant move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and discussed the efforts being made for bringing peace to Afghanistan.
Khan’s office said in a statement that Ghani expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s “sincere facilitation” for Afghan peace and reconciliation.
It said the prime minister “assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan through an inclusive peace process, as part of shared responsibility.”
Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” over the next two days but they would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they insisted.
Pakistani officials maintain in background interviews with VOA that the U.S.-Taliban talks are being facilitated in the hope that they would ultimately lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. All sides in the peace process will share “the credit and benefits of a success,” they insisted.
“Similarly, given sincere desire and efforts of everyone, no one should be exclusively blamed if the main interlocutors fail to agree due to own lack of flexibility that is very much required from both the U.S. and the Taliban at this stage,” a senior official privy to the Pakistani peace diplomacy told VOA.
Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan where he briefed Ghani and other top officials of Afghan government on the U.S.-led peace initiative.
The Taliban has held several meetings with Khalilzad’s team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the insurgents have persistently refused to engage directly with the sitting administration in Kabul. Their refusal is blamed for a lack of progress in negotiations that started last summer, after American diplomats gave in to a major Taliban demand and met them directly.
Khalilzad, however, made it clear on Wednesday the insurgent group would have to engage with the Afghan government for the process to move forward.
“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy told reporters in Kabul.
He went on to warn that if the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government.
The Taliban threatened earlier in the week to pull out of all negotiations if the United States backed away from discussing the key insurgent demand for a troop withdrawal plan and pressured the insurgents into speaking to the Afghan government.
Diplomats privy to the peace process support the U.S. effort for the Taliban to speak directly to the current administration in Kabul to resolve internal Afghan matters. They see the Ghani-led National Unity government as a “legitimate” entity possessing official representation at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic missions in world capitals.
The last substantial talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials took place in Abu Dhabi about a month ago and Pakistan took credit for arranging it and bringing an authoritative team of insurgent negotiators to the table.
Officials in Islamabad say that Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has “broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.”
Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly stated that finding a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is a top foreign policy priority for his government. While speaking to Khan on Thursday, Ghani invited him to visit Kabul at his earliest convenience and the Pakistani leader reciprocated by inviting the Afghan president to visit Islamabad.
Pakistan has long been accused of sheltering Taliban leaders and covertly helping them orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.
U.S. officials, however, acknowledge the “positive role” Pakistan has played in the current Afghan peace effort. The thaw in traditionally mistrusted bilateral ties was visible earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he intended to maintain a “great relationship” with Pakistan.
“So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said Trump.
Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington, though the Trump administration has so far given no such indication. (VOA)