Over the course of the last eight years I have often smiled at noting two books side by side on the top shelf in my study.
On the left: Confessions of a Fake Sheik* by . Next to it: Good Morning Afghanistan** by Waseem Mahmood. In both, the authors are the central characters, but the stories they tell could not be more different.
Mazher’s is an exercise in braggadocio in which he affects to detail how he obtained his scoops while ignoring the consequences of his debased brand of investigative journalism.
Waseem’s is a self-deprecating account of how he helped to set up a radio station in Kabul in 2002 in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. It gave Afghanis a voice with its bold programming and .
Mazher and Waseem could hardly be more unalike, in looks, in personality and in their ethics. Yet they are brothers, the sons of a Pakistani journalist, who grew up together in Birmingham.
Now, Mazher is serving a 15-month jail sentence for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. And the end of his trial coincided with the publication of the second edition of Waseem’s book and the news that it is being filmed.
The brothers are anything but close. When he revealed why. At 21, he joined the BBC as a producer in the Asian programmes unit at Pebble Mill.
He had been working there happily for seven years when the carried a story, written by Mazher, about alleged moonlighting by Pebble Mill staff. The source was said to be “an unnamed BBC insider”.
Waseem explained: “Private family chatter around the kitchen table had been regurgitated into a sensational story. I protested that I knew nothing about it, but it was hopeless and I resigned.”
His career was over, as was his relationship with Mazher. It also engendered a family split.
Mazher later joined the News of the World while Waseem went on to help found an Asian TV satellite station that later became Zee TV before joining the Danish-based Baltic Media Centre.
The centre developed public service broadcasting, firstly in the post-communist Baltic states and in the Balkans. Then Waseem pioneered similar work in Arab states, beginning with Afghanistan.
His work was officially recognised in 2005, when he was given an OBE “for services to the development of media in post-war countries”.
Waseem said of Mazher: “We differ fundamentally in our interpretations of what the media is for. I see it as a positive force, a chance to give a voice to the voiceless”.
He expanded on that point in about the reissue of his book and the forthcoming film. He told of arriving in Kabul in 2001 and being aware that it was “a time of rebirth, a phoenix literally arising out of the ashes”.
He said: “I felt that I had to share this with the world”. In fact, the book - which often reads like a film script - was originally meant to be a movie.
Waseem and film producer Catherine Marcus realised that the story worked on different levels. He said: “It is a very funny story about the adventures of a group of bumbling westerners going into Afghanistan to set up a radio station without a clue of how to go about it.
“But it also gives first hand insights into Afghanistan and its people at a critical juncture in their history. It shows the resilience and sheer doggedness of a very noble people”.
Nothing came of the film at the time but Waseem and Marcus are now producing it together at last. Waseem said: “I feel it is important to celebrate the lives of our Afghan colleagues and getting the world to hear their stories”.
*(HarperCollins, 2008) **(, 2007 and 2016)