Obituary: Mirwais Jalil

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The Independent Online
Mirwais Jalil, journalist: born Kabul 1969; died Kabul 29 July 1994.

EACH night, as the blacked-out Afghan capital shook under heavy exchanges of fire, Mirwais Jalil would take out a tiny shortwave radio and clamp it to his ear. When I met him in March he had been a freelance reporter for the BBC's Pashto and Persian language services for less than two years, and still could not hide his delight at hearing his reports coming back over the ether.

Millions of Afghans would be listening at the same time. In a largely illiterate country, at war since the late 1970s, the BBC is almost the only authoritative source of news. No commander's claim of victory is taken seriously until it has been reported on the BBC; no press conference begins until the BBC correspondent arrives; no facility trip is organised unless the BBC has agreed to go on it.

For Mirwais, only 25, such prestige was a heady experience. The son of a medical practitioner, he went to high school in Kabul, then took an English language course in Pakistan, where his family has now moved to escape the fighting. After beginning work as a freelance journalist, his vigour and enthusiasm took him to the BBC. He was always happy to show visiting journalists around, though few were prepared to run as many risks as he did: returning from a perilous morning on Kabul's front line, Mirwais would propose going back in the afternoon.

His death, however, was not a random misfortune. He had escorted an Italian journalist to the headquarters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Afghanistan's renegade Prime Minister. As they were returning, their taxi was stopped on the outskirts of Kabul by four gunmen, their faces wrapped in scarves, who took him away in another car. His bullet-riddled body was found the next day.

The BBC's unique position in Afghanistan means that it receives complaints and threats almost every day, and each side has blamed the other for Mirwais Jalil's murder. Foreigners normally enjoy a remarkable degree of immunity in what is an extremely violent country, but some Afghans were not prepared to allow one of their own to remain outside the conflict.

(Photograph omitted)