Kathy Gannon, Canadian shot in Afghanistan, is award-winning 'go-to' reporter
Timmins, Ont.-born journalist wounded in eastern Afghanistan is considered an expert on the region
If you have read a news story about Afghanistan, you have most likely read a story by Kathy Gannon.
The 60-year-old Canadian wounded in a shooting in Afghanistan on Friday is a veteran Associated Press reporter who has spent more than two decades covering the region. She was in stable condition and talking to medical personnel Friday at a medical centre at Bagram Airfield north of Kabul.
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Gannon is an award-winning and well-known journalist who has spent time with the armies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.She has spent years covering the war in Afghanistan, and was travelling with Anja Niedringhaus, the 48-year-old AP photographer who was killed when a police officer opened fire on the two journalists.
"Kathy has been working in this area for almost 25 years now. It's like she knows everybody in Afghanistan, and if you asked her, she could rattle off names from one end of the country to the other," Gannon’s husband, Naeem Pasha, told CBC News in an interview from his home in Islamabad on Friday morning.
Pasha and Gannon met in Pakistan.
Born in Timmins, Ont., Gannon is a former Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the author of the book I Is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan.
The Cambrian College graduate is known for her encyclopedic knowledge of the region and fearless pursuit of stories.
"Kathy Gannon's writing on Afghanistan helped shape my mental map of the country, and Anja Niedringhaus' pictures helped illustrate it," said Stephanie Levitz, a journalist with The Canadian Press who has reported from Afghanistan.
Her career progressed over the decades she reported on Pakistan and Afghanistan for AP. She started as a local hire for the news agency in 1988, later becoming a senior correspondent and then a bureau chief.
She is one of the few Western reporters permitted by the Taliban to work in Kabul when they ruled Afghanistan.
“The Afghans, particularly in this environment, have to respect you and you have to spend a lot of time earning their respect,” Gannon said in a previously published interview with Canada’s Centre for Intercultural Learning.
“I think that is what you have to do to gain their respect — convince them of your courage and make allies of them.”
Gannon was in Kabul when the Taliban regime took power in 1996 and was also there on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was there when the Mujahadeen was fighting the Soviets, I was there when the Taliban came, and then the Americans, and so on,” she once said.
Gannon has received the Canadian National Newspapers’ Governors Award for Lifetime Achievement, two AP managing editor’s awards for coverage of the underground nuclear explosion in Pakistan in 1998, and the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Kathy Gannon is a brave and passionate journalist whose expertise and deep knowledge and experience of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have made her an indispensable authority on the region.- John Daniszewski, Associated Press vice-president
CBC News correspondent Susan Ormiston has worked with Gannon, calling her the “go-to person” in covering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“She always got the interview with President Karzai,” Ormiston said. “She was somebody you could tap into to say, ‘Kathy, what is the ground truth?’ And a lot of us did that. She’s a very experienced journalist in these areas.”
Gannon received the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism award in 2002 and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize the same year.
She has received two honorary doctorates from Canada's Laurentian University and Nipissing University.
John Daniszewski, AP's vice-president and senior managing editor for international news, said Gannon and Niedringhaus often worked together as a team.
"Kathy Gannon is a brave and passionate journalist whose expertise and deep knowledge and experience of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have made her an indispensable authority on the region," Daniszewski said.
Murray Brewster, another Canadian Press reporter who has covered Afghanistan extensively, described her as "a colleague who was always so generous with her time and wisdom."
She was covering Afghanistan’s nationwide elections, which start Saturday, when the shooting happened. She and Niedringhaus were travelling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots from the centre of Khost to the outskirts, in Tani district. Gannon kept an updated Twitter feed of her reporting.
“People tell me that I'm so pessimistic when it comes to Afghanistan, and in fact that's not true," she has said. "I see the same mistakes being committed over and over again, and we have to take really tough decisions and do the hard work, and if we do, we can accomplish a lot. I have tremendous optimism and faith in Afghans and Pakistanis and Canadians."
Made allies of Afghans
A potential motive for Friday’s shooting was revenge for a U.S. airstrike that killed some of the gunman's family in a province north of Kabul, which is ironic given Gannon’s love for Afghanistan.
“First and foremost, you have to make allies of Afghans,” Gannon has said. “You really have to embrace the people and the culture of your host country. I spend very little time with the foreign community in Pakistan. People tend to stay with other foreigners and feed off each other and it's counter-productive. You may as well stay at home if that's all you want to do.”
Gannon has also covered Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and the 2006 war in south Lebanon between Israel and Hezbolllah,
Lynne Yelich, minister of state for foreign affairs, called the act "cowardly" and a "stark reminder of the often difficult environment faced by journalists in Afghanistan."
With files from The Associated Press