Stories about Peshawar

Of tattoos and ‘foreign hands’

We frequently lend ears to a clichéd line by government representatives every few days – it starts with ‘we condemn the incident’ and ends with ‘a foreign hand’. In a recent incident that killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 46 in Peshawar, it seemed that the only object of interest was the ‘un-Islamic’ tattoo of the Uzbek suicide bomber. A tattoo that was alien to ‘Muslim’ identity. While every newspaper showed pictures of the attacker’s dead body bearing the Boris Vallejo sorcery character image, the government seemed strangely relieved. It was perhaps satisfied that for once it won’t ...

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Bilour’s assassination by ‘religious warriors’

Bashir Bilour Shaheed’s loss is no ordinary loss. His life was cherished by many. He was a source of hope for scores of party workers. He was called lala, or big brother, by thousands of people whose lives he touched. Bilour made a mark as a person who would not bow down. He, his brothers, and his party, were made to suffer by dictators and supposed democratic leaders alike, all because they were steadfast in their simple, yet impossible vision – which was to achieve a democratic, secular state. However, Bashir Lala was not a typical liberal. He was not the ...

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What’s in a tattoo?

I hate to burst people’s bubbles but all this tattoos-are-“un-Islamic”-and-would-never-be-worn-by-an-Islamist-radical nonsense is a major distraction. Plenty of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have been found with tattoos. In fact a several years ago so many dead Taliban fighters were found with maple leaf tattoos that senior American counter-terrorism adviser David Kilcullen actually led an investigation into what they represented (short answer: Quality Toyota Hiluxes originally imported from Canada). It’s also common to find Taliban fighters with tattooed inscriptions and text. Here is a photo of a captured Taliban fighter with a tattoo saying ‘I bear witness’. Foreign Jihadi fighters who have travelled from other parts ...

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Why didn’t Peshawar celebrate Eid?

Fringed by continued military operations, residents on one side of the Khyber Agency question their fate of being tribals, separated by a wall called Shah Kas, which was constructed by a martyred police official, Malik Saad, to halt heavy drug trafficking. I was in Phase 5 of Hayatabad, Peshawar, which borders the Khyber Agency, during my Eidul Azha holidays, when I heard the sound of artillery, automatic machine guns and rocket launchers. It was at that moment that I imagined the level of anxiety children in the conflict zone must be facing. Hearing the sounds of mortars all through the ...

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Malala Yousufzai: My ‘small video star’ fights for her life

I had the privilege of following Malala Yousafzai, on and off, for six months in 2009, documenting some of the most critical days of her life for a two-part documentary. We filmed her final school day before the Taliban closed down her school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley; the summer when war displaced and separated her family; the day she pleaded with President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, to intervene; and the uncertain afternoon she returned to discover the fate of her home, school and her two pet chickens. A year after my two-part documentary on her family ...

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The day I met a mother of thalassemia inflicted children

It was a usual summer day in Peshawar, back in 2004, when I left my hostel to attend a lecture which was scheduled for the afternoon. The university was at walking distance, so keeping my notebook above my head to protect myself from the sun, I made my way there. I was about to enter the university, when I noticed a woman trying desperately to convince the security guard to allow her onto the university premises, whilst repeatedly wiping sweat off her brow with the corner of her clean, stark white chaadar. She seemed like she belonged to a decent family, wrapped ...

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Peshawar’s transport blues

The city of Peshawar lacks an organised system on all major fronts. Each successive government gives hope by promising relief. However, the promises go completely silent thereafter. There is no respite for a commoner. In the backdrop of the recent reduction in oil prices, the fact that people undergo hardships while travelling through public transport is rather abysmal and thus, increases the public’s misery manifold. According to public statements made by the authorities concerned, fare for transport is calculated in relation to petrol prices. Why then, is there a hike in fares when gas stations remain closed due to violence, ...

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Chronicles from FATA: Your story or your life?

Two powerful stakeholders of Fata, the armed forces and the militants, are not happy with the work of tribal journalists. They are constantly warring with each other and each wants the media on its side. In the end, a journalist can report either a factual account and get killed, or craft a vague story and save his skin.   In situations like these, tribal journalists undergo immense pressure. They fear the potential wrath of one party but win support from the other. Usually, their writings miss the main ‘who’ and ‘why’ without which a story cannot be complete, accurate or fair. It is ...

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A journalist in Peshawar: My encounter with a militant

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 ...

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Waiting for the moon to shine

Last year, sometime after Ramazan, I was at the Jinnah International Airport, on my way to Lahore. In the boarding lounge, I saw a bearded gentleman with a soft stance, waiting to board his flight too. He looked familiar and he also looked apologetic. I suddenly realized that this was the most popular face of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon sighting) Committee. People sitting and standing around me also recognized this religio-celeb, and nudged each other, commenting on him. “Yahee to hai jis kee wajha se Eid ka chaand raat ke gyara bej nazar aate ha.” (He is the one because of whom ...

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