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Afghan Journalist Zabihullah Tamanna Breathes His Last In Kabul

NPR's Philip Reeves, who recruited Zabihullah Tamanna to NPR, described him as "a wonderful, compassionate and courageous man."

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A 2011 picture of Zabihullah Tamanna. Image Courtesy: npr.org
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  • 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.

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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.

Taliban members. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Taliban members. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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.”

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attack “a grim reminder of the danger that continues to face the Afghan people.”

-written by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @saurabhbodas96

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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Such journalists should be appreciated for their courage and determination

  • devika todi

    the dangers that the Afghan people face are immense. sitting in the safety of our homes, we often forget that.

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Afghan Orchestra Flourishes Despite Social Issues

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border.

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Afghanistan
Negin Khpolwak, leader of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, practices on a piano at Afghanistan's National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

The consequences of Afghanistan’s increasingly deadly war are weighing heaviest on the nation’s civilians, with women bearing the brunt of the violence. The Taliban banned music and girls education, and restricted outdoor activities of women when the group was controlling most of Afghanistan.

But violence and social pressures have not deterred members of the country’s nascent orchestra of mostly young girls from using music to “heal wounds” and promote women’s rights in the strictly conservative Muslim society.

The ensemble, known as Zohra, was founded in 2014 as part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, where suicide bombings lately have become routine.

Hope and music

Students and trainers are not losing hope and regularly come to the city’s only institute to rehearse and learn new lessons, says Ahmed Naser Sarmast, the director of ANIM and the founder of the orchestra. Zohra is the name of a music goddess in Persian literature, he explained.

The musicologist spoke to VOA while visiting neighboring Pakistan earlier this month with the young ensemble to perform in Islamabad as part of celebrations marking the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Kabul’s embassy in Islamabad organized and arranged for the orchestra’s first visit to Pakistan.

Despite the many challenges in Afghanistan, Sarmast said, student enrollment has consistently grown and more parents are bringing their children to the institute to study music. Around 300 students are studying not only music at the institute but other subjects, including the Quran, he said.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, attend a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul. VOA

Advances for women

Negin Khpolwak, the orchestra’s first woman conductor, says Afghanistan has made significant advances in terms of promoting women’s rights in the past 17 years. She says there is a need to sustain the momentum irrespective of rising violence.

“We need to stand up to protect those gains and we need to open the doors for other Afghan girls,” Khpolwak said when asked whether deadly attacks around the country are reversing the gains women have made.

But violence alone is not the only challenge for women and girls, especially those who want to study music, she said.

“When you are going in the street with your instrument to the school and they are saying bad words to you and if you are giving a concert in public they are telling the bad words to you. But we are not caring about it,” Khpolwak said.

Afghanistan
Ahmad Naser Sarmast, head of Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, speaks to members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Ethnic groups help each other

Sarmast says that girls and boys in the orchestra come from different Afghan ethnic groups and they help each other when needed.

“It’s hope for the future,” he said.

Ethnic rivalries have been a hallmark of hostilities in Afghanistan and continue to pose a challenge to efforts promoting peace and stability.

“I strongly believe without arts and culture there cannot be security and we are using the soft power of music to make a small contribution to bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and at the same time using this beautiful, if I can call it a beautiful weapon, to transform our community,” the director said.

Some of the members of the Afghan orchestra were born and brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan, which still hosts around 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan families displaced by years of war, poverty, persecution and drought.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, bring instruments to a class before a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

“We are using the healing power of music to look after the wounds of the Afghan people as well as the Pakistani people. We are here with the message of peace, brotherhood and freedom,” Sarmast said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border. Bilateral relations are marred by mistrust and suspicion.

Also Read: OrchKids- Bringing Jot to Underprivileged Kids Through Music

The countries blame each other for supporting terrorist attacks. Afghans allege that sanctuaries in Pakistan have enabled Taliban insurgents to sustain and expand their violent acts inside Afghanistan. Pakistan rejects the charges.

The Islamist insurgency controls or is attempting to control nearly half of Afghanistan. (VOA)