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In Memoriam: Haseeba Shaheed

Haseeba Shaheed (r) with her family at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters.
Haseeba Shaheed (r) with her family at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters.
RFE/RL mourns the passing of Radio Mashaal broadcaster and mother of two Haseeba Shaheed. A disciplined journalist and radiantly cheerful friend and colleague, Shaheed covered the news in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over a decade, often risking her life to report on critical issues affecting minorities and women.

A native of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province, Shaheed -- like millions of other Afghans whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by three decades of civil war -- fled the country with her family during high school to Peshawar, in neighboring Pakistan.

Her media career began at the age of 16, when she seized an opportunity to work as an actress and screenwriter for a BBC dramatic series, “New House and New Life,” in Peshawar. Following the overthrow of the Taliban, Shaheed returned home to join Radio Azadi’s Kabul bureau as a senior reporter and producer in 2003.

During her time in Kabul, Shaheed was recognized numerous times for her reporting excellence in exposing the neglected corners of Afghan life. A 2004 investigative report into the trafficking of Afghan women provoked the ire of a local warlord, who applied pressure on Kabul authorities to bring an investigation against Shaheed in order to silence her reporting. The matter was later resolved in Shaheed’s favor through the intervention of senior government officials.

“Kegday Kegday,” a 20-part series that followed the stories and daily challenges of nomadic Afghans, won Shaheed much acclaim. More recently, she wrote and produced a feature that explored the experiences of four mothers -- the mother of an Afghan National Army soldier; the mother of a Taliban fighter; the mother of a Pakistani Army soldier; and the mother of a US Marine -- who had lost their sons to war.

In 2010, Shaheed moved to Prague to join RFE/RL’s new Pashto-language service for northwest Pakistan, Radio Mashaal. Commenting on her professional acumen, Radio Mashaal director Amin Mudaqiq noted that Shaheed relished taking on the most challenging assignments. “Haseeba Shaheed’s forte was her courage,” he said.

Broadcast journalism wasn’t the only talent that came naturally to Shaheed, who hailed from a family of poets -- her father Dawood Shaheed and grandmother Mastoor Shaal were both prominent and respected poets in Nangarhar -- and composed her own beautiful Pashto poetry.

Known around RFE/RL for her energetic warmth and sharp sense of humor, Shaheed’s bright and optimistic spirit belied a lifetime of hardship. A 2006 Kabul car accident in which Shaheed sustained injuries killed her first husband, Shafeeq, and her sister, Shahnaz.

Her husband’s and sister’s untimely deaths, as well as broader themes of loss and exile, appeared frequently in her work. “Her poetry was full of tragedy,” Radio Free Afghanistan broadcaster and fellow poet Ajmal Aand says.

“Being hopeless is my experience, being without country is my philosophy. I have a Ph.D. in frustration,” Shaheed wrote in her poem, “Refugee Bird,” that reflected on her childhood. “I need a prophet to reconcile me with myself….to show how to love, how to smile.” Several weeks ago, she traveled to Munich to recite “Refugee Bird” at a Pashtun poetry festival, Da Naranj Gul.

Shaheed was gravely injured in a car accident on May 9 and succumbed to her injuries nine days later at Prague’s Military University Hospital. She is survived by her husband, Hadayatullah Sultani, and two young children, Samon and Shiba; an extended family in Afghanistan and abroad; and by countless friends at RFE/RL and around the world.

Haseeba was 29 years old. We will miss her.