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He saw his dad killed by Russian soldiers at age 7

Now Afghan journalist spreads the word of forgiveness, begs for peace in his homeland

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 16, 2019

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SEOUL, South Korea — At age seven, he saw his father shot dead by Russian soldiers who had invaded his village.

No, it's not a story about everyday life in one of Jamaica's inner-city communities. That incident happened on the outskirts of the Afghanistan capital city of Kabul, which has seen over 40 years of fierce fighting that has claimed the lives of thousands of its citizens.

Danish Karokhial, like most Afghan youth, yearned for a rich and fulfilling life. Remarkably, he survived testing times to become one of the leading journalists in Afghanistan, but he had to flee to Pakistan with the remaining members of his family and relaunch his platform for life in a country that seemingly embraces violence as a legitimate daily activity.

Like many realistic Afghans, life could end on any given day, what with skirmishes from all sides involved in the ongoing conflicts that have staggered the growth of the south central Asian country with a population of 35 million that is landlocked between six states – Pakistan, Iran, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, China, and Turkmenistan.

“The war started in our country in 1979 when I was three years old, when the Russians came into our country and the Afghan resistance started,” Karokhial told the Jamaica Observer during an interview in reference to the Russian invasion of his country.

He was speaking at the end of a global conference during which he presented a paper on how violence has affected media operations in his country, as part of Korea Foundation's 2019 Invitation Programme for Distinguished Guests in Media, on the pictureque Jeju Island, an hour's journey by aircraft from the Korean capital.

“As a child during the war I could not go to school, but would go to the mosque to study the alphabet. One day the Russian soldiers came in to the village, around 24 kilometres from Kabul city. They came in groups, launched a mass attack on our village, and in one day they killed six members of my family, including my father.

“Although I was a small child and didn't understand everything that was happening, the fact that my father was killed stuck with me, being the oldest of four children. It was not a good experience,” Karokhial said.

Six months later, with the population of the village dwindling following additional attacks that killed more people in bloody assaults, Karokhial and what was left of his family could take no more. So off to Peshawar in bordering Pakistan they went, walking for three days until they settled as refugees.

“We had to leave because the situation became worse. Every day there were explosions, every day there were attacks, then our whole village that comprised 100 families, or about 600 people decided to leave and lose everything … like the home, the goods, the animals … everything.”

In Pakistan, he revealed that it was difficult for his mother to look after the four children. She tried to arrange school for them but that was limited.

Despite the challenges, he was the first of the children to attend and complete high school. He entered in 1984 and graduated in 1993. A year later, he was back in Kabul … deciding to go back to the land of his birth and see if he could build on his dream of becoming a journalist.

“I shifted back to Kabul in 1994 because the communist government which was supported by Russia had collapsed. I was about 18 at the time, but there was not much in terms of higher school in Kabul and my family was still in Pakistan. Although there was no war, there was still fighting between 1992 and 1996.

“I tried to prepare for higher education studies. I entered Kabul University, studied two years, then in 1996 the Talibans took control of everything. They closed schools, they shut down all universities — they don't like universities — but after two years they decided they would put some Islamic books for some subjects,” he said of the Taliban Government which was eventually removed from power by a coalition of Afghan parties backed by the United States in 2001.

“So if I studied engineering they would put in Islamic books. We were allowed to study again. I graduated the beginning of 2002 from Kabul University, after I started in 1997 and I started to report for several media outlets from Kabul because there were few journalists and I had good contacts,” he went on.

When the new Afghan Government came in power with the support of the United States a lot of good opportunities in education became available, Karokhial said.

He then started working as a reporter, then became an editor, making steady progress with a London-based organisation, called Initiative for War in Peace Reporting.

“From 2002 to 2004 I was with that Initiative as a trainer to train journalists because of my practical background. In 2004, we had one very good project, to train journalists to a new standard of journalism, which was completed in six months, but the Government didn't want more training and shut the programme down. We spent over US$70,000 on training. But the management of information and culture in the country did not want to allow journalists to have a higher standard.”

Overseas agencies have since donated money to help with training of journalists, with one giving US$2.3 million.

Karokhial now runs a news agency — Pajhwok Afghan News — as its director and editor-in-chief, with working hours for him starting around 7:30 am on a normal day and ending up to 10.30 at night. The 100-staff agency makes its money by selling stories and photos, and has become profitable despite many of the challenges such as hundreds of threats, and the killing of three of its journalists in two years.

As for the stigma that stained his life as a child, what with the killing of his father by the Russians, Karokhial has forgiven those who carried out the horrendous act but wants Russia to pledge not to support rebels again and to allow his country to breathe freely.

“I forgive the Russian soldiers. I visited Russia twice on journalist trips and I met with Russian ministers there. There were 12 Afghan journalists meeting with Russian ministers on the second occasion and I turned to them and said, 'you killed my father when I was seven years old … we want to ignore that. I want to ignore that, but now, please think about the Afghan system, but don't support the Talibans again', because they stopped supporting the Talibans in 2015.

“Afghans want peace, but a peace that should be sustainable, one that gives people rights. People need to know what's going on in the country. People are really worried after the Talibans (rebel group) lost power.

“We have around two women ministers in the Cabinet. I'm not sure if the Taliban Government came back into power they will be allowed to work in the parliament. Our parliament, the Lower House, has 250 members. Around 68 of them are women, but if tomorrow the Talibans came into power they would not allow women to sit in Parliament,” Karokhial stated.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Government, a coalition of Afghan parties backed by the US Government, now has 11,000 US soldiers there, down from 150,000 in 2015. But while government forces are in control of urban centres, including Kabul, the Talibans are still in charge of several rural districts and remote areas.

Last year, 20 journalists were killed by the Talibans. This year, five have met their demise.

“Our hope is that after a 40-year war in our country, a solution would be found so that the Afghan people should not be in fear and live peaceful lives. That is our hope. I hope in my lifetime we will get it. Our children have a right to have a peaceful environment, because they are suffering.

“By the name of Islam, we don't have a way how to stop this 40-year war. Our children are not as educated, they don't have a life, we have a very beautiful country. We have very good mining resources (natural gas), worth over three trillion dollars. We are suffering because of the wars. Our politicians do not care about our people, otherwise much more would be done to protect our people.

“Every day, from the both sides, more than 100 of our young generation are killed. Our army and our police kill between 100 and 150 rebels every day. The Talibans may kill between 200 and 300 people, sometimes daily, which is not usually reported. If every day you lose 300 people, how long will the country last?”, Karokhial moaned about his country, which has a life expectancy of 47 for men and 46 for women.

“We are all Muslim, yet we kill each other. Our God tells us not to kill our brother but we still do. We should be friendly with each other, we should care for others, but we in our country are missing that part,” the senior media man said.

Karokhial's mother and siblings are still alive and commute between Pakistan and Afghanistan.


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