The senior reporter for Agence France-Presse in Kabul, Sardar Ahmad, was shot dead along with his wife Humaira and two of their three children in a Taliban attack on a hotel on Thursday. Here his bureau chief Ben Sheppard reflects on a much-loved colleague.
Sardar Ahmad poses for a photograph with his daughter Nilofar (L) and son Omar (R) at the AFP office in Kabul on February 16, 2012. (AFP Photo/Joris Fioriti)
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By Ben Sheppard
Three children's balloons rest, now half-deflated, on Sardar's desk. Just a day or two ago, he bought them from a street vendor who he had snapped on his camera-phone on his way to work.
It was typical Sardar, always arriving for the morning shift with a story about something that he had been up to on the streets of Kabul, always fun, always colourful, always thinking about his children.
Clever, informed, stylish and bubbling with boyish enthusiasm, Sardar was a five-star journalist, a friend to all at AFP -- and a man who impressed every single person he ever met.
Sardar is seen here reporting a piece about a lion in the Kabul zoo. It would be his final story. (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)
He loved the story in Afghanistan, had a deep knowledge of the news, and an effortless ability to explain the country to outsiders. He loved office banter, he loved the camaraderie at work, but he loved even more going home to his adored wife Humaira and family.
Three small photographs of his three small children are stuck on the right-hand edge of his computer screen -- always in his eyesight. He often said they were the whole focus of his life.
He recently bought a treadmill as part of a health-kick and described with delight how his children would run in front of him shouting at him to go faster.
On Fridays, the weekly day off, he would often stay at home and cook lunch, taking great pride in preparing a dish that his children liked.
He brought his beautiful young daughter Nilofar on a recent office outing to Kabul's only bowling alley, and one could see the huge joy both of them got from each other's company.
He made her laugh. And she made him laugh even more.
Sardar was at his best that evening -- hugely social, competitive, naturally talented and full of happiness at being out with friends, playing games, talking and eating and teasing and joking and winning. He was simply a success at life, picked out as a rare talent by AFP and soon rising to become the number-one reporter in his field.
Sardar bowls with colleagues and friends at a local bowling alley in Kabul on February 28, 2014. (AFP Photo)
And he was ambitious too. Keen to be his own man, he set up a side-business as a media guru, running the Kabul Pressistan company. Only Sardar could have done it in parallel with full-time duties at AFP.
It suited him so well. Every foreign journalist who rang him up immediately loved his relaxed professionalism, his casual knowledge given so generously and his straight-dealing honesty. He knew he was good -- the big car, the confidence, the beautiful leather shoes.
But he was also a charmer to everyone. The AFP kitchen staff loved him, even when he insisted on making strange "Thai" salads for lunch as part of his recent (notably successful) dieting efforts. AFP's Afghan journalists adored him as a natural leader of men, and Kabul's media corps loved to sit and laugh with him in the bureau garden as he smiled his big smile with a flash of a silver tooth.
Afghan politicians and officials, army generals, NATO spokesmen, US embassy staff, aid workers, balloon sellers -- no one was immune to the Sardar magic. And AFP's expatriate correspondents frankly adored him as he saved us again and again by getting a key police quote, setting up an important interview or calling in the middle of the night with a breaking story.
Intellectually curious, energetic and always on the lookout for an opportunity, he loved Twitter, Facebook and his new camera-phone, which was his latest obsession -- tweeting pictures of street scenes around Kabul with a sense of fun and wonder at the world around him.
Sardar (red sweater) poses with other members of the AFP bureau in the garden of the Kabul office on October 26, 2013. (AFP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
At the end of every work shift, he used to bemuse and amuse the all-male AFP newsroom by bidding us a cheerful "Khuda hafiz, sisters!" (Goodbye, sisters!) as he marched smartly out of the door. He had travelled in Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Sweden and India. And he felt happy and at home in any situation, in any company -- before coming back to Kabul loaded with presents for his kids.
When senior AFP executives visited recently, he naturally took the lead in the staff meeting. He said quite openly how much he loved AFP, and he advocated for an all-round pay rise with persuasive logic, elegance and charm.
The bosses thought he was just great. He was great.
Oh yes, and he was very handsome -- he would have wanted us to say that. It would have made him laugh.
This picture of Sardar was taken just hours before he was killed, March 20, 2014. (AFP Photo/Wakil Kohsar)