Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi
Directed by Ian Olds
The Cinema Guild, 2009
In March 2007, Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo set out with his Afghan driver, Sayed Agha, and his ‘fixer,’ the 24 year old Ajmal Naqshbandi, to interview a “notorious one-legged Taliban commander.” Instead, the trio found themselves in a nightmare, where the rules of back-room diplomacy had been replaced by savagery and camcorders. The disturbing documentary, “Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi,” begins by defining a fixer as “a person hired by foreign journalists to facilitate the gathering of news stories. Especially in the context of war.” But as the viewer watches the cherub-esque and likeable Ajmal, widely known at the time as one of Afghanistan’s best fixers, at work with the American journalist Christian Parenti (also one of the film’s producers), it becomes obvious that the job of ‘facilitating’ is far more involved than the word would suggest. Ajmal must not only be acquainted with some extremely dangerous people, he must also translate the intricacies of local manners and customs for his employer in this dangerous context.
In one of the film’s lighter moments, Christian and Ajmal record a fake trial staged for them in an official court room as “proof a justice system exists in Afghanistan.” Yet this unabashed corruption fosters unbridled lawlessness. All the same, Ajmal does not hesitate to arrange visits with the Taliban for foreign journalists because he is certain that the Taliban have not yet acquired the “western habit” of claiming friendship when only enmity exists. Even when he is eventually kidnapped, his video message tries to reassure his parents by reminding them that the Taliban are Muslims and fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, Ajmal overestimated these bonds of kinship. While the Italian journalist is set free in exchange for five prisoners, like the driver, Ajmal faces a grizzly decapitation. Above all, “Fixer” memorializes Ajmal as more than a professional casualty, but it also poses a variety of ethical questions for journalists, and admirably does not flinch in its recording of the harshness of the political landscape: Karzai’s regime, Pakistani involvement, and the Taliban.