On Afghan Journalist Zabihullah Tamanna: 'He Had A Great Eye For A Story' : Parallels NPR's Philip Reeves remembers Zabihullah Tamanna, a brave Afghan journalist who brought compassion to his work. Tamanna was killed along with NPR photojournalist David Gilkey in Afghanistan on Sunday.

'He Had A Great Eye For A Story'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today the president of Afghanistan called an attack which killed two journalists an act of, quote, "completely against all principles and values of Islam and humanity". Those journalists were NPR's David Gilkey and the network's Afghan interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna who went by Zabi. They were killed yesterday while traveling with an Afghan army unit. We'll be remembering our colleague David elsewhere in the program.

But right now we want to tell you more about Zabi. He was 38 years old. NPR's Philip Reeves worked with him closely.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: He was a lovely man, a very good journalist, a tall person with a warm smile and an engaging manner, rather understated but with an air of authority about him. He was very good at quietly pressing home his goals and getting what he needed to get our job done.

He was an absolute master of the incredibly difficult art of hacking a path through the forest of red tape that the Afghan government spins around foreign journalists. Zabi had the patience of a fisherman waiting to, you know, catch his prey.

He would sit there quietly. He would be insistent, and he always said that he did not want to end up what a lot of people do do, which is pay bribes. He had contempt for that. It was a matter of pride that he should do things the legal way.

CORNISH: Could you tell us a little bit about Zabi's background? He was a family man, right? And he was doing very dangerous work.

REEVES: Yes, Zabi had three young children - two sons and a daughter. You could see that he deeply loved his family. He initially studied medicine. He went on to study law and got a degree in law and politics and got involved in journalism.

He belongs to this kind of group of journalists in Kabul who, with incredible courage, carry on trying to report the conflict that is engulfing the country despite great personal risk, constant threats and so on.

CORNISH: And what does that mean for his role working with you? You were there in Afghanistan filing radio stories.

REEVES: Yeah, we have a very close partnership in the field with journalists such as Zabi who work with us. I mean, without them, people like me would simply be totally unable to do our jobs. And so he is a source of advice. He's a source of ideas. He taught me a huge amount about Afghanistan just in conversations. He was a very, very good photographer, so he often went out with NPR's camera and got wonderful images with that.

CORNISH: Is there a moment where you worked together, something you want to remember him by?

REEVES: Well, I remember him - he had this ability to get people to like him and to trust him. So he was able to open the door for interviews with generals, with top politicians. One I particularly remember was when he persuaded a people smuggler to sit down and talk to us.

CORNISH: And let's hear that smuggler followed by Zabi's voice interpreting what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) No passport, no visa - it's all by foot and by car. It's, like, smuggling ways, and you don't go there officially.

REEVES: It's illegal in Afghanistan to smuggle people out of the country to help them migrate to Europe, but Zabi had won this person's trust to such a degree that he sat down and had lunch with us. We had grilled chicken and green tea and talked for hours. And that was the kind of story that Zabi held the key to, and through his great skills and delightful personality, he gave us access to that.

CORNISH: NPR's Philip Reeves - Philip, thank you for speaking with us.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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