Journey into Taliban territory

Reporters on the Job: This was my first trip into the Swat Valley (read the Monitor's report here), so I went with a colleague, another journalist. We took back roads into the largest city, Mingora, to avoid the Taliban checkpoints.

We didn’t want to attract any undue attention, so I wore the appropriate dress. I wondered if my car might attract attention but was told by a local journalist that unless it was a big, new one, I would be OK. Big cars mean influential people. They’re targets.

But at one point we did come upon a Taliban checkpoint. We decided to just keep going, to drive right through. You can never tell what might happen at a checkpoint. They might have been perfectly hospitable. But you can never tell how they will behave on a particular day – and that’s what some of the residents told us when we got to Mingora. Probably, nothing would have happened. We didn’t stop, and they didn’t shoot at us. They were busy with other cars.

When I spoke to the Taliban spokesman on the phone (in Urdu and English), my local contact got nervous at one point. He told me afterward that I’d made a mistake. “You should never tell him that you’re calling from Mingora. If they know where you are, they can come and pick you up,” he warned me. Lesson learned.

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