Good Reads: An Afghan periled, a Pakistani reporter killed, and journalism after 9/11
Among the legacies of 9/11 is a more dangerous world for journalists and civilians working in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here are a few stories that tell of the growing risks.
Foreign correspondents catch flak for quoting taxi drivers in their stories, but the truth of the matter is that we grow rather fond of the people we work with over time. Rushing to make appointments in downtown traffic, or driving directly into a conflict zone when hundreds of much smarter local people are driving away from that conflict, these experiences tend to bond us to the people who are making it possible for us to do our jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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In this week’s Foreign Policy magazine, Anna Badkhen writes a touching piece about just such a friendship with a driver in Kabul whom she refers to as B. Recently, B. called her to say, “Anna jan, I will be killed soon.”
Like many of the Afghans who take jobs with foreigners, B. has been targeted for attack by local Taliban sympathizers in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The reason is simply because B. helped local police to arrest a man that B. believed may have been behind the Taliban attack on a UN compound in Mazar that killed more than a dozen people.
As with so many attacks on “the West,” or “the invaders,” it is Afghan nationals who end up being the victims. Now, it appears it could be B.’s turn. He gets threatening phone calls. The other day, men on a motorcycle threw acid on him in the street.
As a frequent correspondent in Afghanistan, I found Ms. Badkhen’s details of how her life had become intertwined with that of B.’s family to be most touching.
"I know the details of his family's life intimately – the Friday visits to the mosque to maintain appearances, although most of the brothers are not particularly religious; the ceremonial holiday sacrifices of a goat, which then is divided between poorer neighbors; the marital arguments; the after-dinner dancing. At a certain point I stopped being a guest and became a member of the household, someone who is invited to help prepare savory bolani pancakes for the family of 30, who is allowed to do the dishes after dinner. B. and his brothers call me khuhar: sister. His mother calls me Anna diwana, dokhtar-e-man: crazy Anna, my daughter. When I last said good-bye to them, two weeks ago, they joked that they would leave the dishes in the sink until I return."
It’s staggering to think that America has been at war, continually, for a decade. It’s a given that there are risks involved in covering those wars, something that war correspondents like the Monitor's Scott Peterson know all too well. (See Scott's story yesterday on how divisions among Libyan rebels are growing.) But what is different about the past decade is the way in which governments have used the rhetoric of national security to clamp down on the press.
In Pakistan, Syed Saleem Shahzad was well known for his scoops, and his ability to make and keep contacts with Islamic insurgents and with Pakistani security officials alike. It was a murky world he lived in, one that took courage and one that required great risks. And then, on May 30, Mr. Shazad was found dead, his body submerged in a canal outside of Islamabad. Friends immediately blamed Pakistan’s shadowy military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).