Cousin had to retrieve Afghan reporter's body after raid

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 10, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi intended to head back to Germany this fall to study public policy and push his career in a new direction. Instead, he was buried this week in an arid cemetery on the north side of Kabul.

Munadi, a 34-year-old Afghan employee of The New York Times, died Wednesday morning in a volley of bullets as British commandos sought to free him and his colleague, Stephen Farrell, from insurgent kidnappers in Kunduz Province.

Farrell survived the firefight, but a British commando died, as did Munadi, whose body was left behind, according to friends and family members.

Munadi's death was a source of anguish for the burgeoning Afghan press corps that's emerged in the eight years since Taliban rule ended. Dozens of them assembled Thursday around the grave, and praise Munadi as one of the most brave and talented of his generation of journalists.

The circumstances of his death were a source of anger, with journalists demanding an investigation into whether the Taliban or British commandos killed Munadi and why his body was left behind after the raid. They alleged a double standard, that valued Western lives above Afghan ones.

"There is no justification for the international forces to rescue their own national and retrieve the dead body of their own soldier killed in action, and leave behind the dead body of Sultan Munadi," said Farad Paikar, an Afghan journalist reading a statement prepared by the Media Club of Afghanistan.

Alam, a cousin of Munadi who goes by a single name, said he drove north to Kunduz province after the family received a call from the Taliban. Alam left early Wednesday morning, venturing close to the village where Munadi and Farrell had been held captive. Then, he said, village elders met him with Munadi's body. Muslim tradition calls for a swift burial, so he drove home in time for funeral services Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, several hundred Afghan journalists assembled in front of The New York Times bureau, then formed a caravan of cars to pay their respects to Munadi's family, and drove to the gravesite.

Under the Taliban, the Afghan government had stifled independent reporting as they sought to imposed their version of Islamic rule on this nation. After their ouster, newspapers, television and radio station were launched, and many Afghan journalists also found work with McClatchy and other international media organizations.

Munadi is the fifth Afghan journalist to lose his life while on assignment in recent years. The anger over his death prompted President Hamid Karzai to meet Wednesday with Afghan journalists. The next day, a presidential spokesman, Hamid Elmi, showed up at the memorial service, and said there'd be a government investigation into Munadi's death.

"As far as we know, the Afghan Ministry of Defense, somehow they were involved in this operation, but we are waiting for a full investigation," Elmi said.

"He was a journalist," said Faroud Samin, an Afghan friend and colleague. "People call us fixers or translators. But these are the ears, eyes and tongues of these foreign journalists who are coming. They are the ones passing the reality of Afghanistan to the world."

Munadi had returned in August from his studies in Germany to share Ramadan with his wife, two young children and other family members. As the presidential campaign and its aftermath drew heavy attention across the world, however, he decided while on this summer break to do a temporary stint with his old employer, The Times, friends said.

In fact, Munadi had already decided to change careers. In his blog for The New York Times, he wrote: "Being a journalist is not enough; it will not solve the problems of Afghanistan. I want to work for the education of the country, because the majority of people are illiterate.

(Bernton reports for the Seattle Times. Special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this article.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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