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The Rediff Special/ Hamid Mir in Mingora, Swat
'He saved me, but I could not save him'
February 20, 2009
Geo TV Executive Editor Hamid Mir, whose colleague Musa Khankhel was murdered in the Swat valley this week, asks why the media is being targeted in the area.
'The pen is mightier than the sword' was a phrase that we learnt at school. Unfortunately, the dangerous situation in Swat has changed this phrase. Now it should be like 'the gun is mightier than the pen.' The truth is bitter and difficult to digest.
The assassination of brave journalist Musa Khankhel in the valley of Swat has discouraged many who always believed in the might of the pen.
Dozens of journalists left Swat within hours after the burial of their colleague. Many television channels moved their staff with equipment to safe places like Peshawar. Now the world may not watch the live coverage of the peace march initiated by Maulana Sufi Muhammad or the janaza(burial ceremony) of any slain journalist from Swat.
A senior journalist of Swat introduced me to at least two of his local colleagues and claimed "these two soldiers of the pen will also be killed very soon because they are fearless like Musa, but maybe you will not be able to telecast live the janaza of these two."
At least three local journalists working with prominent television channels informed me that they received threats to their lives even after Musa's assassination. Some of them were told by the callers that the technical staff of their channels who came from Lahore [Images], Islamabad [Images] and Peshawar for the live coverage of the situation in Swat would not stay alive and to send them back immediately.
Two technicians of the Geo television channel with a van full of transmission equipment were rounded up by the Taliban [Images] in the Chaharbagh area of Swat the other day. The Taliban declared them spies, but released them later on a promise that they will not come back.
An emergency meeting was called at the Swat Press Club to discuss new threats faced by journalists. I tried my best to convince more than 150 journalists there that they should not leave Swat. Maybe I was not aware about the problems faced by local colleagues. They blasted me and said the government is not in a position to provide them security. On the other hand, their superiors push them to find some exclusive stories and visuals. This urge for exclusives is not in the interest of both the Taliban and the security forces. They face problems from both.
One journalist angrily said he can only continue his profession by keeping a heavy weapon with him. I discouraged him and said that journalists should not carry weapons and they can take some other security measures. Most of the colleagues present did not agree with me. A young journalist showed me a pistol hidden under his jacket and said he did not move without his gun.
One local journalist proposed at the meeting that "we request all our non-local colleagues to leave Swat immediately because there is no government here and we cannot provide them security. They should come back when the times get better." Within seconds a majority of the local and non-local journalists supported this proposal. Only one local journalist Shrinzada and a local newspaper editor Ghulam [Images] Farooq opposed this move and pleaded with tears in their eyes that they were ready to sacrifice their lives like Musa, but they would not stop speaking and writing the truth.
We had no other choice, but to respect the majority. I also accepted the majority decision and agreed to leave Swat. But I must explain why the presence of the independent media is not in the interests of both the Taliban and the security forces.
The Taliban of Swat generally considers the electronic media as its enemy. They think that all the private television networks are in the control of the government and that the electronic media only projects the destruction of schools by the Taliban. They accuse the electronic media of having no courage to show schools occupied by the army and used as bunkers. They allege that sometimes local journalists provide information about their presence to the security forces and as revenge they have banned all the television channels to be telecast in Swat.
On the other side, the security forces always accuse the media of projecting the Taliban as heroes. The government has also discouraged the coverage of 'terrorists' on the media, but the same government and security forces have no problem in negotiating and making deals with the terrorists.
Some top officials in the security establishment have always considered brave journalists like Musa as 'bad chaps.' The slain journalist always refused to accept dictation from security officials. Musa's temper was another problem. Once a security official abused him and Musa abused him back. It was the start of a big problem. Musa was kidnapped and beaten for two days. He was threatened not to make a fuss or his family would be killed.
Musa shared this incident with me and some other colleagues. I wrote about these threats in an article in The News on January 13.
I wrote in that article: 'I also know another journalist of Swat by the name of Musa Khankhel from many years. In the last few months alone, he has survived two assassination attempts. He told me that some elements within the security forces wanted to eliminate him physically due to his reporting.'
A few hours before his murder Musa sent me a message that I must be careful while moving in the Kabbal area of Swat. I asked him why he was worried even after the peace initiative by Maulana Sufi Muhammad and the ten-day ceasefire with the Taliban. Musa said, "You will watch the scenes of destruction in the civilian residential areas of Kabbal. You will show destroyed homes and mosques and people will compare your coverage with the bombing of Gaza by the Israelis. You will become a security risk and they will kill you in the name of national interest and the blame will be thrown on the shoulders of the Taliban."
He convinced me that my movement in the most dangerous area of Swat was not in the interest of those who always considered the free media their enemy.
I never underestimated his opinion and immediately left Kabbal. Two hours after this telephone conversation I received the shocking news about his killing. He was concerned about my safety, but not about his own. He saved me, but I could not save him. Peace in Swat was Musa's dream, but he is no longer alive to fight for it.
The situation in this valley of horror and terror is very complicated, but I am still hopeful despite the fact that there is lot of distrust between the Taliban and the security forces. The moving force behind this peace move are the common people of Swat.
The ruling Awami National Party is a secular and liberal party and took a risk by negotiating peace with the religious cleric Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who does not support democracy but supports peace in Swat. The ANP leadership is aware that if there is peace in Swat then the government will get a chance to establish its writ. A provincial minister, Bashir Balour, visited Swat on February 18 after a long time. Two more ANP ministers visited Swat the next day to condole Musa's death.
The visits by provincial ministers to the no-go area of Swat proves that the ANP will not be the only beneficiary of peace in Swat, but the whole State of Pakistan will be ultimately benefited because only peace can help the State establish its writ.
Maulana Sufi accepted the importance of the political forces by sitting with them to negotiate peace. This move is the victory of political forces because finally they will try to force the Taliban to surrender their arms.
If the Taliban agrees to surrender then the provincial government can announce an amnesty for them. More than 400 closed schools can be reopened and more than 200 destroyed schools can be rebuilt.
Thousands of girls can go back to their education only if Maulana Sufi's peace initiative is a success. He has promised he will make all efforts to reopen the girls's schools. He cannot back out.
The majority of people in Swat say, "Peace and stability of our area is more important than winning the so-called war against terror." They are angry with the reaction of the West and some liberal Pakistani analysts who think that peace will only benefit the Taliban. These analysts must risk a visit to Swat in the interest of the truth. They will realise that there are only two options for the State of Pakistan to bring stability in Swat. One is peace and the other is war.
The State cannot win this war because the use of guns and tanks will keep producing more Taliban. If there is no peace, there will be more anarchy. There will be no development. No schools, no newspapers, no television networks. More journalists will be killed. More journalists will leave Swat.
I am leaving Swat today. I am committed to return to Swat, but I cannot come back if there is no peace. I can only use my pen and camera to report the truth if there is peace. Otherwise, I will become another Musa Khankhel and my pen will be silenced. Musa was killed by those who do not want peace. ANP Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said Musa was killed by a 'third force.' He never identified the 'third force.' Maybe he will expose the 'third force' after bringing peace to Swat.
Musa once asked me that if the British government could talk to the Irish Republican Army and make peace with them, then why can't the Pakistani government negotiate peace with the Taliban? I know that Gordon Brown or Barack Obama [Images] would not like this question to be answered. Maybe they will say that Musa Khankhel was a Taliban sympathiser.
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