New Delhi: Reuters photojournalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Danish Siddiqui was killed in clashes in Spin Boldak district in Kandahar, the news agency said Friday.
According to Reuters, an Afghan commander said Siddiqui was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters near a border crossing with Pakistan.
The news was also reported by Afghanistan-based agency TOLOnews.
“[Siddiqui] had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel earlier on Friday while reporting on the clash. He was treated and had been recovering,” Reuters said, quoting the Afghan commander.
“Siddiqui had been talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again,” the commander told Reuters.
“We are urgently seeking more information, working with authorities in the region,” Reuters President Michael Friedenberg and Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement, according to the report.
“Danish was an outstanding journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague. Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time,” the statement added.
The office of Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani also posted a message, condoling the death of Siddiqui, on Facebook.
“I am deeply saddened with the shocking reports that Reuters Photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed while covering the Taliban atrocities in Kandahar. While I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mr. Sediqqui’s family and also to our media family, I reiterate my government’s unwavering commitment to freedom of speech and protection of free media and journalists (sic),” read the message.
Later in the day, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said the Ambassador to Kabul, Rudrendra Tandon, was in touch with Afghan authorities and was keeping Siddiqui’s family informed of the developments.
“Our Embassy in Kabul is in touch with Afghan authorities to bring back the mortal remains of Danish Siddiqui. We have been informed that the body has been handed over by the Taliban to the ICRC. We are actively facilitating the return of the body in coordination with Afghan authorities and the ICRC. We are in regular touch with family members of Danish Siddiqui,” official sources said.
Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay had tweeted the news, stating he was “deeply disturbed by the killing of a friend” and that they had last met just two weeks ago.
Deeply disturbed by the sad news of the killing of a friend, Danish Seddiqi in Kandahar last night. The Indian Journalist & winner of Pulitzer Prize was embedded with Afghan security forces. I met him 2 weeks ago before his departure to Kabul. Condolences to his family & Reuters. pic.twitter.com/sGlsKHHein
— Farid Mamundzay फरीद मामुन्दजई فرید ماموندزی (@FMamundzay) July 16, 2021
The Chaman-Spin Boldak frontier at the border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan was claimed to have been sealed by Pakistani authorities on Thursday after the Taliban claimed it had captured part of the territory. However, Afghan government forces said they had taken control of that area.
Siddiqui’s final dispatch from Kandahar
Danish Siddiqui had last tweeted on 13 July, sharing pictures of missions conducted by the Afghan special forces (ASF) that day. “I could feel the tension in the air as ASF were expecting an imminent attack from the Taliban. There was sporadic machine gun fire but all hell broke loose as the Humvees reached the extraction point,” he said.
Afghan Special Forces, the elite fighters are on various frontlines across the country. I tagged along with these young men for some missions. Here is what happened in Kandahar today while they were on a rescue mission after spending the whole night on a combat mission. pic.twitter.com/HMTbOOtDqN
— Danish Siddiqui (@dansiddiqui) July 13, 2021
Siddiqui’s full story on the special forces was published on Reuters later that night. “Tuesday’s mission underlined the relentless demands on Afghanistan’s military, as Taliban fighters seize more territory and as foreign troops complete their withdrawal after 20 years of inconclusive conflict,” the story reads.
Amid the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has been at war there since 2001, the Taliban has been gaining more ground in the region, raising concerns among the international community.
India has already evacuated 50 of its diplomatic staff from its Kandahar consulate, and is preparing a contingency plan to evacuate its remaining staff.
Kandahar became a bastion of the Taliban after it took control of the city in 1994, and has been a site of militant attacks and assassinations ever since.
A key leader for the Taliban and a hardline religious scholar, Hibatullah Akhunzada lives in Kandahar and continues to give directions to the fighters from here.
Siddiqui’s past work & Pulitzer prize
Danish Siddiqui was Reuters’ chief photographer in India and had won a Pulitzer in 2018 for his coverage of the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar. He had been working with the news agency since 2010.
Siddiqui regularly made international headlines for his photojournalism, and featured in Reuters’ Pictures of the Year 2020 for his coverage of the CAA-NRC protests, 2020 Delhi riots as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes,” Reuters said.
This report has been updated with statements from Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and India’s MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)