Road To Kabul

He is the founding editor of Afghanistan’s first independent monthly news magazine Afghan Zariza.  Syed Zafar Mehdi, who has worked with international news organisations, tells Riyaz ul Khaliq that life in war torn Afghanistan is no different from Kashmir  

Syed Zafar Mehdi
Syed Zafar Mehdi

‘Journalism took me where I wished to go,’ this is how young, energetic and talented journalist from Kashmir describes his journey from Kashmir to Kabul.

Syed Zafar Mehdi, 26, studied his primary in Srinagar before moving to India’s premier learning hub Aligarh for higher secondary education.

Staying in a hostel gave him an edge to understand and experience that would help him later in his journalistic career.

After passing his 12th standard from a private boarding school in Aligarh, Zafar went to Bangalore where he pursued Bachelors in Mass Communication and Journalism. Next stop was Delhi from where he did his post graduation in print journalism from YMCA. Coming from a conflict ridden zone, Zafar interests in human rights and did his PG in human rights from Jamia Milia.

“Human Rights situation back in valley made me think to work in this field,” Zafar, in chat from Kabul with Kashmir Life, said.

By 2009, Zafar was ready to start his career in media. To give himself sometime to understand ‘tricks of trade’, he started as a rookie before joining Hindustan Times.

“After some exposure in the field, I joined Hindustan Times and worked there for two years,” he informed.

Zafar worked tirelessly and after his work gained momentum; he joined Plan Media as sub editor in 2012.

Meanwhile, Zafar started writing on different subjects from Indian to international. His works started appearing in Press TV, Friday Times, Outlook, Wisden magazine.

Based in Delhi, Zafar closely monitored situation back in valley and wrote about Kashmir. “My focus has been Kashmir conflict,” adding, “I breathe Kashmir and am a Kashmiri first.” Besides Kashmir, his writings include Indian Muslims, US imperialism, and Iran.

As he said, “Journalism took me where I wished to go,” Zafar said that Afghanistan always fascinated him and he always wanted to go there.

Then being an internationally recognised columnist, Zafar got many opportunities to work in international organisations.

Before he could have joined any, Zafar’s wish seemed being fulfilled. He got an offer to head Kabul based magazine, Afghan Zariza.

“When you want something, whole universe conspires to help you get that,” this is how Zafar explains his success. “I have always pushed myself to limits.”

In October 2013, he landed in Kabul. Zafar accepts that it is a challenging assignment to work in the war ridden Afghanistan but, he said, “conflict back home has helped me.”

Zafar feels that being a Kashmiri he can better relate with the sufferings of the Afghans. “I see lot of commonality between Kashmir and Afghanistan. The conflict, the occupation, the oppression, and the resilience of people.”

Zafar is the founding editor of Afghan Zariza and is the only foreigner working in the organization. “I have a team of young Afghans working with me,” adding, “this is for the first time that Afghans are telling their own stories.”

Afghan Zariza is first-of-its-kind monthly newsmagazine from Afghanistan – war-weary country – that seeks to provide cutting-edge reportage and analysis, Zafar claimed. It has redefined journalism in Afghanistan.

“We seek to give insider’s perspective on Afghan issues to both Afghan and international readers and tear apart the propaganda of Western funded media. And more importantly, we focus on the Afghanistan that world does not know!”

Zafar explained that when people think about Afghanistan,  bombs and bloodshed is what comes to their mind but it is much more than that. “This is a fascinating country, beautiful people and wonderful culture.”

But Zafar in the same breath accepts, “Well, at the end of day, it is a conflict zone.”

Zafar, giving an insight into the  war torn country, said, “Similarities I find between Afghans and Kashmiris is the intriguing culture, the etiquette of people, the beautiful landscape, and most importantly the infectious resilience of war-weary people.”

For Zafar both Kashmir and Afghanistan are brides who have been robbed of their virginity.

Syed Zafar Mehdi with his Afghan Colleague
Syed Zafar Mehdi with his Afghan Colleague

When asked whether he feels anything like stranger amongst the Afghans, Zafar said, “No, to be honest, I feel at home here. In Delhi, I used to feel like a stranger but not here,” adding, “even though people here speak different language.”

Zafar feels, “Kashmiri journalists have already proved their mettle around the world because of their situation back home. “I am still a rookie, learning from my own experiences.”


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