Recording a live terrorist attack in Afghan parliament

I sensed, just to my left, cameraman Nima Latifi trying to get my attention. At the time, we were deep into an interview with Masood Sanjar, the director of broadcast and acquisitions for Afghanistan’s MOBY Group, which owns Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s first commercial and most popular television channel. I turned towards Nima, who pointed, alarmed, at the bank of television screens mounted along one wall of Sanjar’s office. I looked. Sanjar followed my gaze and froze. Tolo TV cameras had been recording, live, a debate in the National Assembly (Afghan parliament) about the appointment of new defence minister Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai. An explosion had just occurred, and dust and debris rained across the screen. We were no longer watching a political debate but a terrorist attack. There was another boom, then a third. Sanjar stayed calm, almost chillingly so, and we kept the camera rolling while I continued asking questions: “Where are your parliamentary reporters? Are they in danger? Who would be behind such an attack?”

It turned out that a Taliban suicide bomber had detonated a car filled with explosives outside the gates of parliament, giving six gunmen access into the building. It was a bloodbath outside — two deaths and 40 injuries from the suicide blast in an area where we had been filming just the day before, on June 21, 2015. Armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, the gunmen were obviously intent on creating more carnage. But a national hero was born that day: Isa Khan Laghmani, a soldier with the Afghanistan National Army and parliamentary guard, who shot dead all six Taliban using just six bullets.

Security — or the lack of it — has been an increasing problem in the past several years in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of NATO soldiers and a majority of American troops. This has had a tremendous effect on Afghan journalists, who nonetheless still bravely endeavour to disseminate the news to citizens through print, radio and TV. My documentary, Mightier Than The Sword, explores this issue of security, in addition to the main theme of how media have provided a platform for women to find their voices and tell their stories, thus helping pave the way towards gender equality.

Sanjar is featured in Mightier Than The Sword, and his thoughtful comments — recorded before the explosion happened — provide insight into the role of the media in helping cultivate social equality in Afghanistan.

We’re still working on our Indiegogo campaign to cover post-production costs, and hope that you can either contribute or spread the word. We are deeply grateful to all those who have helped out to date and truly can’t thank you enough.

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