Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & Tribal Areas, Pakistan: Reporting from the Trenches03 May, 2015
Formerly the North West Frontier Province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is the third largest of Pakistan’s four provinces in terms of its population and economy and has its own provincial government and independent provincial assembly. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) comprise seven administrative agencies and six frontier regions and are directly governed by the Federal Government of Pakistan. Special laws such as the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) are operative in FATA.
Both KPK and FATA with a majority Pakhtun population were relatively peaceful – barring some administrative and political problems – since the birth of Pakistan in 1947. However, trouble in this rugged and beautiful borderland began in the late 1970s with the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, along with infighting among various Afghan groups which spilled over into the region. The security situation worsened after the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001.
KPK and FATA gradually transformed into a veritable war zone when the Pakistan Army initiated military operations against local and foreign militants including Al Qaeda in 2002. A couple of years on, local militants began an attempt to seize power in Pakistan. American drone attacks to flush out militants have resulted in severe collateral damage in the shape of civilian deaths and made living and working conditions in these areas that much more dangerous. Since 2003, more than 30,000 lives have been lost in KPK and FATA. Over the last 13 years, around ten major military operations were launched, the most recent being Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched in 2014.
No journalists were killed in KPK and the Tribal Areas in the year under review 2015, but the precarious security situation has also affected journalists who work under extremely stressful conditions, subjected to pressure from security agencies, armed militant groups, district administration and tribal leaders.
With the rapid launching of private TV channels, local and national newspapers, FM radios and periodicals, the number of journalists in KPK and the Tribal Areas, is on the rise with more young men and women joining the profession. Journalists here face multiple challenges including insecurity of life, economic constraints, job insecurity, non-payment of salaries, impunity and unfavourable working conditions.
Peshawar – the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa– boasts an active media scenario, publishing about 350 newspapers, magazines, weeklies and periodicals. There are as many as 500 working journalists in Peshawar including about 45 women journalists. There are about 100 journalists in Abbottabad in the Hazara region of KPK, and almost 260 working journalists in FATA.
Intimidation and abduction
Journalists – both men and women – from electronic and print media in different areas of the province were interviewed for this report in order to gauge the ground reality. Interviewees revealed that although the number of threats from the Taliban had declined due to the ongoing army operation, incidents of intimidation and threats from various quarters including security forces, armed militants and politicians continue to be of serious concern. The prevailing atmosphere of intimidation and threats from all sides made journalism a particularly risky profession, as many journalists testified. Fazil a correspondent with a news channel from Hangu, shared that he had to leave his home after he got threats from terrorists for reporting news which was against them. Ahmed, correspondent with a newspaper and TV channel from Abbottabad, said that the local police had cracked down on journalists for reporting on the increasing crime rate in the area. Khan, a correspondent from Bannu said that there area had once been a stronghold of militants but the law enforcing agencies were successful in restoring peace, but now, news related to the security situation was regularly scanned and controlled by security agencies.
Hussain, a correspondent from Khurram Agency said that he was himself kidnapped by armed militants and was detained four years ago when he reported a story against militants. He related that in similar style, in December 2009, Taliban militants in Miranshah detained a freelance journalist working for the Associated Press (AP) for shooting in the volatile tribal region in violation of a ban imposed by them. Taliban spokesman Ahmadullah Ahmadi said by phone from somewhere in North Waziristan that the reporter had been taken into ‘custody’ for violating the ban. He was later released. In a direct attempt to control the media, in April 2010, a journalist, Muhammad Imran Khan, and his sister were injured when unidentified militants made a failed attempt to abduct them from their home in Khar, Bajour Agency in FATA. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Azam Tariq told journalists in North Waziristan that the “pro-America” media was spreading wrong information about the TTP.
Wazir, a journalist from Waziristan said that journalists were not only threatened by militants but faced risks because of drone attacks. Khan, a correspondent from Mohmand Agency said that incidents of missing persons were common but reporting such incidents is tantamount to putting your own life at risk.
It is often difficult to uncover the perpetrators On July 2, 2014, the home of Jamshed Baghwan, the bureau chief of Express News in Peshawar was bombed. This was not the first time he had been subjected to an attack. In March 2013, a bomb was found in his house but defused before it was detonated. A few weeks later his home was damaged by a grenade.
In some cases security agencies or militant organisations pressurizing journalists to get ‘clearance’ from them before releasing their news reports.
Poor working conditions
There are around 350 newspapers, magazines and periodicals being published from Peshawar. Most reporters earn a pittance of approximately PKR 10,000 (USD 100) while camerapersons earn about PKR 5000 (USD 50). This meagre amount is a violation of the amount set by the KPK government, PKR 15000 (USD 150). They are also not following the Government of Pakistan Wage Board Award pay fixation, as the implementing authority, the Labour Department, is weak in enforcing implementation. Additionally, media owners openly defy the notification of the provincial government of KPK and exploit their employees despite the fact that the media industry receives USD 13,00,000 annually in government advertising revenue alone. This is quite apart from advertising budgets of private business.
However there are a few newspapers published from Peshawar where the minimum salary for reporters is PKR 15,000 (USD150), camerapersons PKR 10,000 (USD100) and the maximum salary is PKR 40,000 (USD 400). However the salary of media persons working for national dailies including English and Urdu are comparatively higher, with minimum salary packages being PKR 25,000 (USD 250) and the maximum going up to PKR 100,000 (USD 1000). The salary package in the electronic media is also unsatisfactory, with junior reporters and camerapersons drawing a salary of around PKR 15000 (USD 150) while senior reporters’ salaries could cross PKR 100,000 (USD 1000).
The low and irregular salaries as compared with bigger cities like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad despite tough working environments are a major area of concern. Even though some media houses do not pay monthly salaries, journalists are forced to continue or face losing huge outstanding salary arrears or losing their job altogether. There is also no compensation for the journalists who die while on duty; their families are left without any source of support.
Job insecurity, lack of insurance cover and proper safety training or provision of any protective equipment is common. Shahzad Alam, a correspondent from Swat, shared that he was working in a conflict zone without any safety equipment or proper training. Most of the fresh entrants into journalism lack professional training. They are hired as interns and are placed directly in the field without being equipped for such responsibilities in a hazardous environment. The journalists from FATA not only face life threats but now are also amongst the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) after the ongoing ‘war on terror’. Although journalists are more aware now due to training workshops held by IFJ and PFUJ, they still need more training and education regarding safety, especially while they are performing their duties in the conflict areas. The majority of journalists are either unaware or not following PFUJ Code of Conduct while covering events. According to Nisar Mohmood Khan, President of Khyber Union of Journalists, since 2003, about 27 journalists in KPK and adjacent tribal areas have lost their lives in the line of duty while some of them could have been saved if they had adequate training to work in conflict areas. Lack of unity in a politically polarised atmosphere is another area of concern.
Lack of security for working journalists has been a major challenge for men while the situation is more threatening for women journalists. Women journalists are somewhat coping in urban areas like Peshawar and Abbottabad but are unable to work in tribal or other remote areas due to conservative attitudes and unsafe working conditions. MS, a Peshawar based female journalist explained that she could not cover public as well as religious processions only because she was a female while exploitation from male colleagues was also a major concern.
Impunity is another area of concern. Since 2003, 26 media workers have been killed in KPK and FATA. But in many cases, despite demands from the unions, perpetrators have not even been identified, leave aside apprehended and punished. Some journalists have not only been verbally threatened but have also received bullets by post sent by unknown people. The perpetrators of such crimes are encouraged when they are not held accountability and brought before a court of law. The reports of threats from terrorists, local administration, state and non-state actors has been in great numbers while majority of the cases are not reported due to fear.
Pakistan remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists, and impunity for the attackers remains almost absolute. The only two journalists whose murderers have been charged are the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl and more recently GEO news reporter Wali Khan Babar.
According to senior journalist Shamim Shahid based in Peshawar, in KPK and FATA despite vociferous demands and protest of the union bodies (PFUJ, Khuj and TUJ) not a single investigation report from any authority has been shared in the public domain. The hidden hand behind journalists’ killings therefore remains hidden.
Strength in unity
It is extremely significant that journalists are attempting collective action in the face of severe repression and control. At present there are two local unions in KPK and FATA which are affiliated to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists: the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) based in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the other is the Hazara Union of Journalists (HUJ) based in Abbotabad.
Another 17 journalist unions are also operating in KPK including Nowshera Union of Journalists (23 members); Mardan Union of Journalists (28); Kohat Union of Journalists (40); Hangu Union of Journalists (35); Bannu Union of Journalists (27); Lakki Union of Journalists (15); Karak Union of Journalists (25); Khyber Union of Journalists (450); Swat Union of Journalists (62), Buner Union of Journalists (8); Dir Union of Journalists (40); Upper Dir Union of Journalists (30); Shangla Union of Journalists (23); Batkhela Union of Journalists (5); Malakand Union of Journalists (11); Hazara Union of Journalists (50) and the Haripur Union of Journalists (40).
There is one union of journalists for seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions with the name Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ). Beside this there are also local units of the TUJ. The total membership of the TUJ is 230 in general while local units have fewer members: South Waziristan Union of Journalists, Wana (40); North Waziristan Union of Journalists, Miran Shah (30); Kurram Agency Union of Journalists, Parachinar (25); Orakzai Agency Union of journalists, Hangu (7); Bajour Agency Union of Journalists, Khar (30); Mohmand Agency Union of Journalists, Ghalanai (30); Khyber Agency Union of Journalists, Bara (60).
In Pakistan, which was declared by the IFJ as most dangerous country for media persons, there is a grave need for journalists’ bodies to come together. Despite personality and leadership clashes, it is encouraging that all factions spill on to the streets in protest when issues of journalist safety and security are at stake. Unions have continued to put pressure on the government to bring perpetrators to justice.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Ziaul Haq based in Peshawar has been attached with electronic media since 2003 and has been regularly covering news about the Taliban and the military action against the Taliban. He has interviewed senior Taliban leaders like Baitullah Mehsud, Hakeemullah Mehsud and many others, triggering threats.
Though threats have become routine for journalists covering Tehrik-i-Taliban related news, after the attack on the Army Public School at Peshawar on December 16, 2014, in which 132 innocent children were killed, media coverage of Tehrik-i-Taliban was strictly banned in both the electronic and print media. As a result, on January 10, 2015, the Taliban spokesman including Ihsanullah Ihsan were frustrated and phoned Ziaul Haq threatening that if his news was not run on the ARYNEWS channel, the Taliban would take action against him and other media persons. Following this, another group named Jundullah also sent him a text message in Urdu on his cell phone. Ziaul Haq then posted the conversation with the Taliban on Facebook (Haq Zia) on the same day to show that the abrupt government ban on coverage of Taliban news could have dangerous consequences. The PFUJ and the IFJ issued solidarity statements condemning the intimidation of journalists.
“I appeal to the Pakistan media to not take sides, otherwise the organisation will be compelled to take action against the media. Enough is enough. We had also condemned the attack on the Army Public School but the media is defaming the Taliban. We are going to hold meetings on media affairs. Al Qaeda will participate in the meeting.”
Media Workers Killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Tribal Areas (2003-2014)
|Fazal Wahab||Freelance writer||Shot dead by unidentified militants in a roadside shop in Manglawar Bazaar, Mingora, Swat, KPK.|
|Amir Nowab||Freelance cameraman for Associated Press Television News and reporter for the Frontier Post newspaper||Killed by unidentified militants returning from Sararogha in Wana,
South Waziristan Agency, FATA, after covering the suspected surrender of TTP chief’ Baitullah Mehsud. A group called Sipah-e-Islam (Soldiers of Islam) claimed responsibility.
|Allah Noor||Peshawar-based Khyber TV||Killed by unidentified militants returning from Sararogha in Wana,
South Waziristan Agency, FATA, after covering the suspected surrender of TTP chief’ Baitullah Mehsud. A group called Sipah-e-Islam (Soldiers of Islam) claimed responsibility.
|Hayatullah Khan||Reporter for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf||Body found in Miranshah, North Waziristan
Agency, FATA, where he was kidnapped six months earlier on December 5, 2005. He had received numerous prior threats from Pakistani Security Forces, militants and local tribesmen because of his reporting.
|Anwar Saleh||Afghan journalist||Beheaded by unidentified assailants in Hangu, KPK.|
|Mehboob Khan||Freelance journalist||Killed in Charsadda, KPK in a suicide bomb attack aimed at Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao.|
|Noor Hakim Khan||Correspondent, Daily Pakistan and
vice president of the Tribal Union of Journalists
|One of five people
killed by a roadside bomb in Bajaur Agency, FATA.
|Siraj Uddin||Reporter, The Nation||Killed in a suicide bombing that took the lives of more than 40 people in
Mingora, Swat, KPK.
|Mohammed Ibrahim||Reporter for Express TV||Shot by unidentified militants in Khar, Bajaur Agency, FATA, returning from an interview with local TTP ‘spokesman’ Maulvi Omar.|
|Abdul Aziz Shaheen||Local Urdu-language daily Azadi||Killed in an airstrike that hit the lockup of TTP militants where Shaheen was being held captive. He had been earlier kidnapped from the Peuchar area of Swat.|
|Mohammad Imran||Trainee cameraman for Express TV||Killed by a suicide bomber in Dera Ismail Khan, KPK.|
|Tahir Awan||Freelance reporter for the local Eitedal and Apna Akhbar||Killed by a suicide bomber in Dera Ismail Khan, KPK.|
|Musa Khankhel||Journalist, Geo TV and The News||Killed in Swat, KPK, while covering a peace march led by Muslim cleric Sufi Muhammad, father-in-law of TNSM leader Maulana Fazlullah.|
|Janullah Hashimzada,||Afghanistan’s Shamshad TV||Shot by three unidentified militants while travelling on a public minibus in Jamrud, Khyber Agency, FATA.
|Azamat Ali Bangash||Cameraman and correspondent, Samaa TV||Killed in a suicide bombing while covering food distribution at the IDP camp in Kohat, KPK.|
|Misri Khan Orakzai||Reporter and head of the local journalists association||Shot dead as he entered the Press Club in Hangu, KPK. TTP claimed responsibility.|
|Pervez Khan Mohmand||Journalist with Waqt TV||Among 50 people killed in a double-suicide bomb attack on a jirga being held outside the office of the assistant political agent of Mohmand Agency at Ghalanai.|
|Nasrullah Khan Afridi||Journalist, Khyber News Agency||Killed when his car blew up in Peshawar. Police said Lashkar-I-Islam ‘chief’ Mangal Bagh, had threatened Afridi in Khyber. In May 2006, unidentified assailants had lobbed two hand grenades at Afridi’s house in Bara, the main town of Khyber Agency in FATA.|
|Asfandyar Khan||Reporter, Akhbar-e-Khyber||Died in a double bombing in Peshawar that took the lives of more than three dozen people.|
|Shafiullah Khan||Trainee reporter, The News||Died six days after suffering extensive burns in a June 11 double bombing in Peshawar.|
|Mukarram Khan Atif||Correspondent for Washington-based Pashto language Deewa Radio and a reporter for a private TV channel||Shot dead by two unidentified assailants in Shabqadar,
|22||September 22, 2012||Amir Zeb,||Driver of an ARY news van||Killed by gunfire, allegedly by the police, during protests in Peshawar.|
|Malik Mumtaz Khan||Freelancer||Shot dead in Miranshah town of North Waziristan Agency.|
|24||April 16, 2013||Tariq Aslam||Sub-editor, Urdu-language Daily Pakistan||Killed in a suicide blast at a rally of the Awami National Party in Peshawar. The banned TTP claimed responsibility for the blast in Peshawar.|
|Ayub Khan Khattak||Reporter, Karak Times||Shot by unidentified assailants in Warana village, KPK.|
|Bakht Taj Yousafzai||Mardan District Newspaper.||Killed by unidentified militants in Bakhshali Mardan, KPK.|
(This is a part of the capsule report from the conflict zones for the South Asia Press Freedom Report 2015 which is available to download in resource section.)