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Afghan Activist Blames Taliban Sympathizers For The Attempt On His Life

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's report on another country producing refugees, Afghanistan. The United States would like it if Afghans felt their country was secure enough to stay in. Instead, it's a place where it's still very dangerous to say what you think. NPR's Philip Reeves met an Afghan whose belief in free speech nearly got him killed.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You may not have heard of Ahmad Saeedi. In Afghanistan, he's famous. Saeedi's a civil society activist, a teacher and a political analyst. He's often on TV. At least, he was. A few days back, someone tried to kill him.

This is where it happened. This is the heart of Kabul in one of its wealthiest and most fashionable areas. Saeedi says he stopped here on the way home from work to pick up his wife when a young man walked up to his car and shot him through the window using a pistol with a silencer.

The young man was wearing a fancy Western suit and a red tie, says Saeedi. He was clean-shaven but for a tiny goatee. Saeedi says the man had an accomplice. He remembers hearing the two talking about him while he was slumped in the car, bleeding.

AHMAD SAEEDI: (Through interpreter) As they were leaving, I heard one ask the other if I was actually dead. He replied, yes, he's dead.

REEVES: Saeedi's telling the story of his near-death from his hospital bed. He has a big bandage over one side of his head. That's where two bullets struck him. One's been removed. Shrapnel from the second is still there. Saeedi's now deaf in one ear and says his tongue doesn't work properly. He says that won't stop him talking about what's going wrong in his country.

SAEEDI: (Through interpreter) I love Afghanistan. I know the Afghan people have suffered a lot and want to build a future with the help of the United States and the international community. If we don't raise our voice, we'll go back to the Stone Age.

REEVES: Saeedi's been raising his voice a lot recently, calling for reform.

SAEEDI: (Through interpreter) I want freedom, justice and democracy in Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAEEDI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Saeedi reaches across his bed for his mobile phone and plays a clip from a recent news show on an Afghan TV channel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAEEDI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: That's him lambasting Afghanistan's government for being corrupt. The attempt to assassinate Saeedi has shaken Afghanistan's leaders at the highest level. That's clear from the politicians who visited him in hospital.

SAEEDI: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Still using his phone, Saeedi flips through photos of some of them at his bedside. There's Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani. There's the former president, Hamid Karzai and the speaker of Parliament's lower house and more. Afghanistan's security agencies are now under orders to find out who sent that young, would-be killer with the red tie and goatee. Saeedi doesn't believe it was the Taliban per se. He blames what he calls a fifth column of Taliban sympathizers who've infiltrated institutions of the state. He thinks these people are trying to destabilize Afghanistan's government by silencing the voice of civil society.

MOHAMMAD ISMAIL QASIMYAR: He's not the only person. So many of the analysts, political analysts and members of the Parliament, they talk about the existence of fifth column in the government.

REEVES: Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar belongs to Afghanistan's High Peace Council. That's a body set up to help solve the Afghan conflict. It includes several former ministers from the era of Taliban rule. Qasimyar, a former judge, says so far, Saeedi's fifth column accusations are...

QASIMYAR: Only allegations without proof.

REEVES: However, Qasimyar says, the Afghan authorities must take Saeedi's allegations seriously.

QASIMYAR: They have to be investigated. Truth should come out. So there must be something. So it requires investigation and clarity.

REEVES: Saeedi's now been moved to India for medical treatment. Before he left, while in that hospital bed, he was sure he'd return home to Afghanistan to continue his work.

SAEEDI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: "If a thousand countries offered me asylum, I wouldn't take it," says Saeedi. There were tears in his eyes. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.