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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Ajmal Naqshbandi was killed last weekend in Afghanistan. The Afghan interpreter was kidnapped on March 5th along with the Italian journalist he was working with and their driver. The driver was beheaded soon afterwards.

The Italian journalist was freed several weeks ago in exchange for the release of five Taliban fighters by the Afghan government. The kidnappers said they would release Mr. Naqshbandi if the Afghan government freed two more prisoners. And the government refused.

Christian Parenti is a correspondent for The Nation magazine. He worked with Ajmal Naqshbandi in Afghanistan. He joined us from our bureau in New York. Mr. Parenti, thanks for being with us.

Mr. CHRISTIAN PARENTI (Correspondent, The Nation): Thanks for taking an interest in Ajmal's case.

SIMON: Well, tell us about the man you knew.

Mr. PARENTI: Ajmal is 26 and he had been raised in Kabul. He lived there all through the jihad against the Soviets, and then under the Taliban. And Ajmal was, in some ways, a very typical Kabuli kid. He was arrested by the Taliban, at age 16, for having a haircut similar to Leonardo DiCaprio's. And they said you have Titanic hair.

But he was also very unusual, in that he was incredibly smart and he taught himself English, and very ambitious. And he was a very good journalist and interpreter and fixer. He was a journalist in his own right along with working with foreign reporters. And he had just gotten married, unfortunately.

SIMON: Can you give us some idea what he was like to work with?

Mr. PARENTI: He was very, very serious. You know, he's very aggressive about getting the story, and ultimately that's what led to his demise. But he had developed a specialty in brokering access to the Taliban and underworld characters like drug dealers.

And I always felt relatively safe with him. I felt that he was careful about taking risks. But I think that, to some extent, maybe he got too proficient at the task, and thus this horrible situation developed.

SIMON: What can you tell us about this situation? I know he'd facilitated an interview with you, with members of the Taliban.

Mr. PARENTI: Yeah. Almost a year before, he and I had interviewed Taliban fighters in Kabul. And at that time, we had worked with another journalist, who was a former Taliban ministry of information person, who had then become a TV journalist.

And I felt that kind of gave us some guarantee of safety because the Taliban were using that guy, and he was using the Taliban. But that guy, Mr. TV, as I called him on one of my articles, later sort of lost that access to the Taliban.

And my understanding is that Ajmal and Mastrogiacomo went down to Helmand on their own, and hooked up with a local driver. And I don't think Ajmal had operated in the south that way before. And it seems that it was a trap.

And one of the ironies of the whole thing is that he wanted to get out of the country, but he wanted one last big interview, which he was very cagy about. But he eventually told me what he really, what he wanted to do is interview Muhammad Dedobah(ph), who is the military head of the Taliban.

And it seems that that's who they were going to interview, and that when they arrived Muhammad Dedobah had decided it would be more beneficial to the Taliban's cause to take the three of them prisoner and they brokered this deal, from what I heard from well-placed sources that the deal was rather ad hoc. That it was the Italian government leaning on Karzai, and Karzai not necessarily consulting with other people in his government.

And they made this deal for five Taliban to free what we all thought would be Ajmal and Mastrogiacomo, but it just ends up being the Italian journalist.

SIMON: Are Afghans who worked with western news organizations vulnerable in a way that the foreigners sometimes aren't?

Mr. PARENTI: Certainly, Afghans are vulnerable and that they take the risk of angering both sides in the conflict. The Karzai government doesn't like the fact that journalist like Ajmal would facilitate interviews with the Taliban. And look how the Taliban treats those same people. When it suits them, they will kill them.

So they're very much caught in the middle in the way that those of us who have roundtrip tickets out of Afghanistan will never be.

SIMON: And they have family, too, that they have to worry about.

Mr. PARENTI: They do, very much so. And that was a big part of what made Ajmal such an aggressive journalist and take such risk. He had a young wife. She's only 19. His father is disabled from the jihad. He lost a leg. His mother isn't working. So he was the main breadwinner for his family.

And he was trying to save money to leave Afghanistan and bring his wife and other family members out. And you can't do that with no money. You have to have some savings to get established in another country.

SIMON: Christian Parenti, a correspondent with The Nation magazine speaking about his friend and interpreter, Ajmal Naqshbandi. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

Mr. PARENTI: Thank you.

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