Jawad Sukhanyar, a University of Michigan Knight-Wallace journalism fellow, presented on his experiences as both a civilian and reporter in Afghanistan in “Warzone Reporting: Experiences of a Journalist in Afghanistan” at the International House Ann Arbor. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for South Asian Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.
Sukhanyar is an Afghan reporter for The New York Times based in his home country. Working for The New York Times since 2011, Sukhanyar is the longest-serving reporter in The Times’ Kabul Bureau, covering women’s issues and human rights in Afghanistan.
Knight-Wallace Fellow Stephen Ssenkaaba introduced Sukhanyar and explained the prestigious Knight-Wallace fellowship.
“The Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship recognizes accomplished journalists committed to the future of journalism,” Ssenkaaba said. “(The journalists) deepen knowledge, develop new ideas, learn new skills and address challenges facing journalism today.”
Sukhanyar began his presentation by explaining why he decided to pursue journalism. He reflected on the assassination of Afghan politician Ahmad Shah Massoud on Sept. 9, 2001, explaining he was terrified of the possibility of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. Sukhanyar described the climate of Afghanistan after the assassination as “the darkest days of Afghanistan.”
“When we heard about this we were shocked, we didn’t know what to do,” Sukhanyar said. “I asked my family, my brother, ‘What’s coming next for us? What are we going to do?’”
Currently, the majority of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Sukhanyar expressed concern for the continuation of the war in Afghanistan.
“It has been 18 years since the war began … there is no end to this war,” Sukhanyar said. “What is going on? You don’t see any sign of victory.”
Sukhanyar also addressed problems regarding security in Afghanistan. He said the lack of training in Afghan security forces causes the country to suffer from external danger.
“The security is not improving, it’s reversing,” Sukhanyar said. “You don’t see any improvement on the ground. Afghan security forces lack resources, they’re not as professional as international forces … that means life is harder, it’s more dangerous for us, for the civilians.”
While reporting for the The New York Times in Afghanistan, Sukhanyar interviewed a man later featured in The Times’ video “Injured and Abandoned in Afghanistan.” The video features a former Afghan police officer who lost his leg, and his struggle to survive on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Sukhanyar said he first got into contact with the man after he noticed him begging for money in the street while driving home. He said he approached the man for several consecutive days to ask about what he was doing before revealing he was a reporter and requesting an interview.
According to Sukhanyar, the man joined the police academy in which American troops were involved. While training in southeastern Afghanistan, a bomb detonated on the man, resulting in him and two of his colleagues suffering severe injuries. As result, the men were unable to continue to work as officers. After this happened, the man’s family, including his wife and two children, disowned him.
“This young Afghan was trained by the Americans, fought in this war, and finally this is what his life is,” Sukhanyar said. “He’s living on the streets of Kabul, and he’s (begging) during the evening when it’s dark because he doesn’t want to be seen by his friends and by people that knew him.”
Sukhanyar also highlighted another reporting experience where he interviewed a man whose young son was shot point-blank by the Taliban.
“When I was talking to this man, who himself was a warrior during the Soviet division of Afghanistan, he told me that it’s very painful to lose his son,” Sukhanyar said. “It’s very, very horrible to lose his son … it was very moving and emotional for me.”
While discussing the future of Afghanistan, Sukhanyar said he does not know what is coming. After he completes his Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University, Sukhanyar said he plans to move back to Afghanistan, despite the current corruption in the country.
“I was hoping to go back to my country, to live in my country, even though I know it’s not going to be as fun as I expect.,” Sunhanyar said. “… I know living here would be much, much better for me, for my kids, they would have a good future, but I don’t want to close the door for other Afghans who are working there. They might get an opportunity to come to programs like the one I came and get a job.”
Bruce Martin, executive director of International House Ann Arbor, commented on the importance of both telling and listening to stories. He said he thought it was important for Americans to hear stories such as Sukhanyar’s because what the United States does in other countries has a direct impact on their lives.
“I always like to say to people, we’re all about stories, and everybody has a story,” Martin said. “Everybody also has a right to tell those stories in their own voice and listen to others’ stories. What they do with that information is up to them, but stories can be powerful motivators, impact lives and shape responses.”