A journalist in Peshawar: My encounter with a militant

Published: December 10, 2011

They thought I was an American, so they surrounded my car and forced me to get out. PHOTO: REUTERS

Six armed men surrounded my vehicle and asked me to get out of my car. Two of them seemed like people from the locality. The rest were shorter, had sharper features and Mongolian faces and spoke a language I couldn’t decipher. One of them, who spoke Pashto in a coarse voice, roughly ordered me to get out of the car

Shaken, I replied:

Walay? Sa chal shaway de? Za sahafi yema.”

(Why? What happened? I am a journalist.)

He looked at me and asked:

“Aren’t you an American?”

I don’t know why he assumed so – I am as Pakistani as it gets. My guess is that he probably thought I was American because I was working for an English news channel.

When I replied, with a firm “no”, he insisted that I was fooling him:

“Even the Americans know how to speak Pashto now,” was his gruff response.

After he checked my ID card and asked me to recite the Kalimah, I convinced him that I could recite Arabic too. He pulled out his Mukhabira (a wireless set the Taliban use for communication) and said something I will never forget:

“There seems to be a problem; the big fish that we caught is an angraiz (American), but he knows how to speak Pashto and is a Muslim as well.”

This was back in April 2009, when the Taliban took over Buner District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I was set free to report after my colleagues found out what happened and intervened.

Perhaps, the experiences of every man are worthy enough to be compiled into a memoir, but those of journalists are suffused with fear and excitement – they have stories to tell that we all might know through heresy, but only a handful have experienced first-hand.

An incident is commonly reported, but what happens to the person who reports it is known to a select few. These are experiences far beyond the imagination of many.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA are considered to be some of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The above mentioned incident shows the confusion in the minds of the militants themselves. It’s difficult to talk to people who are confused, but it is near impossible to talk to confused people with guns. This is just a little too much to handle.

However, with the passage of time the threat has changed. One no longer sees militants patrolling the road sides, at least not in settled areas. Having said so, the situation somehow still seems grave.

Below is a conversation that might give you an idea of the life of a journalist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“There’s been a huge explosion outside my house,”a colleague’s perturbed voice tells me, barely making its way through the phone.

“Be quick! I’ll keep you posted.” he says

As I make my way to him, he calls again:

“It was a cylinder that exploded – a couple of people have been injured. I am close to the site right now,” he tells me in a frenzy. Just then, I hear another loud explosion through the phone and the line cuts off.

Have I lost my friend? Is he still alive? What happened? I am struck by panic, scrambling to dial him again. His phone isn’t connecting. Please God, let him be alive.

In a few hours, I find out that my colleague survived, but there were others that were not so lucky.

In the last couple of years, three journalists I knew lost their lives. One of them was a very dear friend and colleague, Abdul Wahab, who called persistently the day a twin suicide attack took place in Mohmand Agency, exactly one year ago.

No one answered. Such is the life of a journalist.

Buner Valley lies on the Peshawar valley border of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Iftkhar.firdous

Iftikhar Firdous

The writer is a correspondent for the Express Tribune. He belongs to Mohmand Agency and can be reached @iftikharfirdous on Twitter and iftikhar.firdous@gmail.com

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shahid

    Our establishment is in business of war – it keeps their wheel moving and money coming in – first they create enemies – both internal and external and then they fight them and demand bigger share of budget – all of us are ‘bonded-laborers”. Recommend

  • Nadir

    Its okay, we will negotiate with them. By the way, someone should check who issued visas to these Arab, Central Asian, Chechnyan fighters to enter Pakistan. Unfortunately, we are only obssesed with Americans. Recommend

  • romana

    @Nadir
    Bhai no one did their biggest passport is their faith with which they exploit the common people of these areas.Recommend

  • Chachi jaan

    Umm stupid bog entry. The whole of Pakistan is quite unsafe for journalists -.- Recommend

  • X PAFIAN

    Dont hide truth man he assumed you to e angraiz(american) because he might have intelligence of you to be half Pakistani and ………………………..! Dont u know how strong the Swat taliban inteligence was.Recommend

  • Mard-e-Haq

    How dumb!! Even non-Muslims know how to recite the Kalimah, especially if they were American agents. In fact, the more militant terrorists are the ones who are probably American agents.

    This central Asian and Chechen militants may be illiterate anyway, and they may have been tutored to parrot some Islamic verses by a “militant mullah” who may probably work for the Americans. Don’t think this is possible? Ten of thousands of Pakistanis have died from militant hands in the past few years.Recommend

  • Javed Afridi

    I remember this incident but you weren’t this shaken then :) Best of luck for the future.Recommend

  • Parvez

    According to information on the net in 1947 we had 189 madrassas. Today we have 40,000 +++, no one really knows. In the late 70′s and 80′s Zia’s lot plus the Americans used religion for political ends and once their objective was accomplished the Americans abandoned this destructive working structure and we allowed it to fall into the hands of opportunists with a completely different agenda. Today you and I are the victims of this colossal mismanagement of our affairs. Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    Sorry to hear about your brave friends and colleagues, Mr. Firdous, and empathize with the trauma suffered from your line of work.

    Indeed it’s a dangerous profession, considering what Pakistan’s become where we are targeted by even our own abusive institutions let alone paranoid militants, as Saleem Shahzad would unfortunately find out, where trying to know the truth or covering events requires a great deal of strength that only a few, such as those in your profession, have. Not all the strong ones are lucky to come out alive, sadly….Recommend

  • bangash

    Innocent victims of GHQ and Taliban.Recommend