An update to my post about Wounds of Waziristan: there’s an excellent long-form interview with Madiha Tahir here (and a sawn-off version of the same discussion at Counterpunch). As you would expect, she is very good indeed about Pakistan’s politics, the complexity of the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Pakistani attitudes to US drone strikes, but she also has some sharp observations about how these are read in the United States:
Paul Gottinger: Can you talk about how the issue of drones is debated on the left in the U.S.?
Madiha Tahir: I was there when the Code Pink marched in Pakistan in October. Code Pink went with the Pakistani politician Imran Khan. We marched to South Waziristan, and we met some survivors and families of victims. Medea Benjamin, the founder of Code Pink, published an article in which she talks about her discomfort that Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed by drones in December 2009, seeks a desire for revenge. According to her article, several people in the delegation were uncomfortable with his desire for revenge. I find that very strange. It seems like the right wants the drone victims to be completely evil, and the left wants them to be pure. Both ways of seeing the victims is dehumanizing.
In the background of all this is the extraordinary difficulty and danger involved in reporting from FATA. There is a general survey of the ‘media landscape’ of FATA here and an excellent monthly review from Borderbuzz here, but I’ve found other, more personal sources to be more informative. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has addressed the issue directly and explained how its outstanding coverage of drone strikes in North and South Waziristan has been indebted to skilled local reporters like Mushtaq Yusufzai.
Some analysts claim that reporting from the tribal areas is often unreliable. Yusufzai is inclined to agree: ’There is some truth to it. Reporting can be very, very poor and if you rely on your local stringers and journalists they may never ever tell you the truth, because they’re rarely paid, they don’t want to risk upsetting people. The Taliban or security officials or local people might blame him for doing his job. So sometimes it’s easier for him to say nothing – or the wrong thing,’ he says.
Despite the risks, the militant groups can be an important source of information: ’There are a number of people who know, among the Taliban’s leadership, among the fighters, what’s actually happening. So I tell them that I want to write a story about these things if they can help. To some extent they will allow you, but if it’s related to their senior people, to the commanders, they may not allow you to do it and tell you instead to use their public statements.’
State sources such as the military and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, the ISI, can be less well-informed. ’Often they don’t themselves have access to those areas,’ says Yusufzai.
Journalists are at risk of interference from the army and ISI. Yusufzai assumes that his phone is often listened to, which he believes can put journalists in danger. ’Sometimes it becomes very dangerous, and the Taliban suspect it is possible you are working for spy agencies, for the government.’
In fact local journalists are afforded little protection by the state – and even local residents are denied access to information – as this short documentary Theater of Conflict – reporting from FATA makes clear:
Last year the Tribal Union of Journalists was awarded the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Human Rights Award; watch the video and you’ll see why.
I think it is alright to be uncomfortable with the idea of revenge, knowing that it is a natural human response to violence and not judging the victims of violence when they have thoughts of revenge. But if we in the US were more uncomfortable about vengeance there would have been no war in Afghanistan and no war in Iraq. We can avoid judging people who have suffered such horrible losses.