‘Everyone wants to live’: Zubair Rezwan reflects on journalism career in Afghanistan


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Pitt’s Political Science Student Association hosted a virtual event last Friday featuring Zubair Rezwan, a former translator for the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan.

By Abby Cardilli, Staff Writer

After resettling in the United States, Zubair Rezwan said living in this new country compared to Afghanistan was like time traveling.

“When you come here, there are lots of new things you face, and lots of new cultural things you may not be familiar with,” he said.

Pitt’s Political Science Student Association hosted a virtual lecture featuring Rezwan, an Afghan journalist and refugee, last Friday. As a former translator for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Rezwan opened up about his work in Afghanistan and his eventual resettlement to the United States.

As a young professional in Kabul, Rezwan said his career began at Mitramedia, where he worked as both a producer and presenter. Rezwan said the job was a defining moment in his life.

“I learned how to see the world from a different angle and a critical window,” Rezwan said. “I met lots of new friends, I saw different corners of the city and I found lots of weird, secret things going under the skin of the city.”

Rezwan said he encountered many Taliban attacks through his work, including an attack during a play that killed more than 20 people. His friend, a German citizen, died in the attack and several of his peers, who were there to cover the production of the play, were badly injured. 

“I lost my friend, and colleague, in a suicide bombing during a play in 2014,” Rezwan said. “There was going to be a scene about a suicide bombing, which kills innocents, and suddenly there was a real explosion, among the audience. Later international media outlets reported that the bomber was a young student trained by the Taliban to attack this show.”

Rezwan said when the Taliban began to occupy Kabul, they targeted journalists, women, students, activists and anyone “who could be counted as a spark of knowledge and wisdom.”

When Hannah Goldstein, a junior political science and urban studies major, asked Rezwan what drove him to continue journalism in the face of danger, he said his actions were no different than other Afghan citizens.

“What drives a woman to work? What drives a teacher to teach? What drives the police member to serve?” Rezwan said. “I think it’s all about life — everyone wants to live, and everyone wants to have freedom and choice.”

After his time with Metro Media, Rezwan continued his career as a journalist at other media outlets, where he gained experience in writing, producing and reporting. Then, in 2018, Rezwan said he began to work at the U.S. Embassy as a translator.

“This job was a risk itself,” Rezwan said. “The Taliban believed that the interpreters were the eyes, ears and tongues of the infidel foreigners, especially Americans.”

Despite this risk, Rezwan continued his work at the embassy, where he witnessed many of his colleagues face danger, particularly a father of two young children.

“He used to keep his fruits everyday in his pockets to bring to his children. I cannot forget those days, when we used to tease him about stealing office mangoes and apples, and he would laugh out loud,” Rezwan said. “He was shot by the Taliban, one or two days before his flight to the United States.”

Under Taliban threat, Rezwan said he began the process of applying for a U.S. visa, and he finally received an interview date for Aug. 23, after three and a half years of waiting. Rezwan said eight days before his appointment, the Taliban seized Kabul, and Afghanistan began to crumble from the inside.

Rezwan said there were thousands of people trying to seek refuge from the Taliban, leaving many people displaced.

“We saw the fear of people escaping from their killers. They got shot, they fell down from the wings of the U.S. forces’ planes, they lost their kids, but they did it to run from the Taliban,” Rezwan said.

The embassy eventually escorted Rezwan and his peers to the airport’s gates once the airport was secured. After many days, Rezwan and his wife were transported to Fort Pickett, a military base in Blackstone, Virginia, and they lived at a local refugee camp for about two months. 

Rezwan said he is now living in Alexandria, Virginia. Though he is now protected from future Taliban attacks, Rezwan said it is important to remember those living in Afghanistan and listen to the stories of people still in the country.

“Afghanistan is suffering the worst possible situation that a human society can even face,” Rezwan said. “There is no food, no banking, no jobs and no school, especially for women.”

A previous version of this story misspelled Mitramedia. The Pitt News regrets this error.