ExperimentalExperience

Blood Is Not Thicker Than Water: On The Death Of My Friend Raza Khan

In Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on May 13, 2009 at 12:47 pm
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A Raza Khan photograph - Peshawar 2008 while on assignment for Stern Magazine. As he dropped me off on this corner and drove off to run a quick errand, he shouted back 'Asim, now don't wander where I can't find you. ok? I will be back and then we can do other things!'. I did not wander.

Raza was my rock.  He was my eyes and ears on the dangerous Pakistani frontier with Afghanistan. He was the only person in Pakistan I trusted with my life and I repeatedly placed it in his hands. He never ever let me down.

He was officially a fixer, but Raza Khan was far, far more than that.

There isn’t a photograph I have made in the tribal regions of Pakistan that did not have the help and/or advice of Raza Khan.  From the streets of Peshawar, to the alleys of Jalozai,  the mountains of Mohmand, and into the dangerous center of Mingora, Swat, Raza Khan was always by my side, always watching, always, protecting, always alert to anything and anyone who may pose a threat to me. I never ventured to Pakistan without calling him first. Often he would drive all the way from Peshawar to meet at the Islamabad airport.

Raza Khan died last week in a car crash. He fell asleep at the wheel of the car he was driving. Perhaps he had just pushed him once too often trying to help a couple of foreign journalists get their jobs done.

In 2008 while shooting in the crowded bazaar’s of Peshawar, Raza Khan asked me to hand him my wallet for safe keeping.  ‘They will target you because you look like a foreigner’, he said. I handed it to him. 15 minutes later his pocket got picked! We laughed at the irony, at the sheer stupidity of the situation. I had no cash, no bank cards and at least 2 weeks of assignment work to complete.

A few hours later Raza Khan turned up at my hotel room with $1000 in cash – ‘You return it to me whenever you can. I made a mistake. Your work has to continue’.

In 2004 Raza Khan asked me to take a photograph of him and me together.  We were in the wilds of the Mohmand tribal agency. We asked a passing truck driver to stop and take a picture of the two of us together with the mountains as a backdrop. As we stood together he put his hands around my shoulders and said ‘Show this to your wife so she can believe that you have family in Mohmand.’

He had always wanted to take his daughter for a dinner at Peshawar’s PC Hotel and he told me the last time I saw him, which was in 2008, that he would bring her with him the next time I came back to Pakistan and that we could all eat together. The honor that he had bestowed upon me with that statement made me blush. A deeply conservative Pushtun, Raza Khan had actually suggested that I, a non-family friend, could meet his daughter who would otherwise never be allowed into the company of strangers. It was then and there that I realized that I had long passed from being merely a friend, that I was no longer just another photographer working with him, but that our relationship had evolved to something far more, and deeper.

It was then that I realized that I had become family.

I will ask permission from his sons to take his family, and in particular his daughter, to dinner to the PC Hotel in Peshawar the next time I am in Pakistan. It is a promise that I must keep.

Raza Khan was my eyes and ears on the dangerous Pakistani frontier with Afghanistan. He was the only person in Pakistan I trusted with my life and I repeatedly placed it in his hands. He never ever let me down.

I can’t remember the last time I wept at the loss of someone.

I can’t remember at all.

I have wept for Raza.

I don’t want these tears to dry because I don’t want to forget him

Note: Time Magazine’s former Pakistan bureau chief Tim McGirk was a close friend of Raza Khan and has written a short obituary remembering him and celebrating his spirit, courage and generosity.

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  1. [...] was officially a fixer, but Raza Khan was far, far more than that. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a [...]

  2. [...] recuperating after a car crash in Pakistan that also injured Teru Kuwayama and took the life of fixer Raza Khan. Our thoughts go out to Raza’s family, and we hope for a speedy recovery for Addario and [...]

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