Reporter’s Diary-By Kadwall: Life is not different than circus. Animals act like humans, and vice versa. One can say that animals are wiser than humans. When beasts are loved, they return the favor. But the social animal seldom answers respect with respect. Morality has become a faction. I fear that the faction would soon become a myth and then a legend.
When I joined journalism as a profession, I saw words rather than actions as subject of news stories. With passage of time I realized how naïve I was because I never studied humans and their actions. Every individual is a book to read. Some people have proven themselves tougher than life. Defying odds to see another dawn is a herculean job for many. There is also no lack of those who trick innocent people. I learnt that people should observe the surrounding first. As I was encircled by journalists most of the time, I studied the life of my colleagues. Journalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are counted in toughest folks; though, not all. They stand alone in the fight for truth. They do not plant stories. Reporting miseries of common people and protecting their skins from the state as well as non-state actors is a tightrope walk.
To chain the true stories of journalists in words, I began with Salman Shahzad, a crime reporter from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He was an interesting person. His story filled almost half of my book-size diary. Yet, the story is incomplete. The story will continue until the subject makes a happy ending or the author breathes his last. The latter is certain. The former is a hope. Hope can be illusion. So I am waiting for the certain. My book will never complete. I am sure of it. Therefore, I feel it necessary to share the story of Salman Shahzad with humanists. It shall be taken as example that how difficult our lives are. We have become tired in dodging it. I am going to summarize his story for the readers. Full details can be found in my book, if published. I have studied his life so deeply that I could define him in one sentence—a crying heart and troubled mind behind smiling face. He is the only journalist among hundreds—whom I know—who stood the ground against Pakistani intelligence agencies and militants despite several attempts on his life. At some points he tried to take freedom from the troubled life but was stopped by something. Perhaps, the guilt that his siblings and parents would never forgive him has kept him away for embracing death. Or maybe it was hope that kept him alive. Or maybe the death does not wanted to get him free from his troubles. Sometimes death smiles when we need it. It does not come so easily to people like us. However, for some it just a bolt from the blue. Now, this piece of writing will appear as shocking news for his caring parents, dear wife, loving brothers and sisters. However, this is reality.
On January 15, 2015, we were sitting on the Kabul riverbank in Nowshera, he told me how exhausted he was. His intentions were unknown until he said, “It is better to end life than putting lives of my family members in danger. Fanatics are everywhere. My writings failed to make an impact on the society. Pashtuns are blinded by radical ideologies, fake patriotism, and catchy slogans.” The only thing I can do was to console him and encourage him. I cannot sleep at that night because my mind was full with thoughts. A best friend can at least weep and pray. I did both but my heart was not content because I knew how fearless and merciless the enemies were. I have seen the enemies.
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s book “My Life and Struggle” had played key role in changing Salman. Till now he sees Ghaffar Khan—also known as Bacha Khan and the Frontier’s Gandhi, as his spiritual leader. I also have great respect for Bacha Khan, and love him so deeply that I could not express in words. But, I am a critic of his political philosophy. Alas! He suffered a lot because he could not differentiate between foes and friends. He trusted everyone, but no one helped him the way friendship requires. He was betrayed by his close allies because he was too simple. His actions left long-lasting impact on his nation, Pashtuns. Wish he has struggled for an independent state for Pashtuns in 1949 and not boycotted the referendum. Despite that my love for Bacha Khan is unquestionable. He will always live in my heart and mind.
Journalists kicked by life and harassed by state have troubled mind. They jump from one topic to another. I did the same. Let’s get back to Salman’s story. He is not just a journalist but a nationalist who turns his day into night with this hope that one day he will see Pashtuns well-educated and standing up for their rights, and against those who pushed them several decades behind.
However, I am interested in his life more than the ideology he is following. Several attempts were made on his life but he escaped. He remained unhurt in suicide blasts in Peshawar Press Club and Khyber Super Market in Peshawar Cantonment, highly-secured area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Armed gunmen attacked him in June 2012. Perhaps, his friendship with some senior journalists, who reported on militancy and Pakistan’s policies extensively, was seen as a serious threat by policymakers in Islamabad.
After hearing the sad news of his friend killed by militants and state agencies on one or the other pretext, Salman decided to go on a peace journey. The objective of this journey was to deliver messages to the intelligence agencies that he and his likeminded journalists are not afraid of them; and to the human rights organizations that they had been abandoned despite numerous reports on violence against journalists. However, he cannot go until another of his best friend, Nasrullah Afridi, was killed. Nasrullah Afridi, a journalist who wrote extensively on militants in Khyber Agency was killed in a bomb blast. A magnet bomb was attached to his vehicle, parked near Salman’s office.
In a meeting on May 20, 2011, Salman told me that he would go on the peace journey with the slogan “Save the journalists”. I will not go into the details which are already available on websites of international and Pakistani media organizations. The details of his journey also appeared in the Express Tribune on May 28, Dewa Radio, and The Statesman on May 24, 2011.
He was best friend of Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist killed by secret services agents in May 2011. He was killed for breaking the news that some officers in Pakistan Navy, sympathetic to al-Qaeda, helped the global terror organization to attack the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi.
On May 30, he was in Karachi, final destination, when heard about death of Saleem Shahzad. Saleem was kidnapped a couple of days ago before his killing. He was killed by Pakistan’s premier spy agency as Saleem feared in his emails.
However, I will like to mention that how he was threatened by the state agencies. After completing the peace journey, I was eager to meet him. On June 1, 2011, Salman told me that he received a call from unknown number warning him that riding a motorcycle could be dangerous. “The person who called me said that I should be careful because in these days drivers are careless and love to take lives of motorcyclists. He said that I shall watch my back and be careful. When I asked him about his name and profession, he told me that he is the one who keeps eye on everything,” Salman recalled.
Salman tried to keep low profile after the journey. Despite that he was attacked by unknown gunmen in Peshawar. This year, his house was stormed by unidentified armed men. As we both were writing together on topics that are labeled as “of sensitive nature and against the national security” by Pakistani establishment, we knew the risks involved.
He published a news story in a Peshawar-based newspaper on February 24, 2016 with the headline “Taliban deny suicide bombers are sexually abused”. The news story was full of credible and interesting information. It tells about a 13-year old boy who was raped by militants. The boy was supposed to carry a suicide blast when arrested by police. The report created severe and several challenges for him. The number of his enemies increased. The next day (on February 25) some people entered into his house. Luckily, Salman was not there. They wanted to kill Salman. His wife was scared to death.
On February 26, I advised him to leave the country because his fate will not be different than Saleem Shahzad, Nasrullah Afridi and many other journalists. I was already in another country. Thus, I felt a bit secure; though not completely. After arguments, finally he agreed to leave his family and prepare for the unseen but imagined risks. He left the country in the pitch dark on February 27. He is in Germany now. Before reaching there, the first thing he did was burning his national identity card. It was natural because he was so mentally tortured by Pakistani intelligence agencies and the “good militants” that is beyond imagination.
Wish he was not a journalist but only a friend selling popcorns or something else. I will not have been so much worried. Although, Salman is now in a country where he is no more worried about his life, but he will never be happy because he spent several years to tell the world about what is going behind the scene in Pakistan in the war against terrorism. His writings changed nothing. His pen proved weaker than sword, as mine. Moreover, the memories will haunt him for the rest of his life. He cannot forget the faces of those children, women, men, and friends who were killed in bomb blasts by those who wanted to convince the United States and its NATO allies that their strategic assets are no more under control.
Gladly, we both know that these assets are still under Pakistan’s control. They cannot go outside of their homes if they turned against Pakistan. They are enjoying state-level protocol. Notorious militants are travelling in vehicles with black film on window panes. Most of these vehicles are without number plates.
How unfortunate it is that people who are posing threat to the region and killing innocent people are roaming the streets freely while those who show the right way are harassed, tortured, imprisoned, banished, and killed.
Sometimes, I wonder that how can one show respect to a country which is separating brothers from brothers, children from parents and all-weather friends from each other? How can a person love a country that is imposing war on innocent people and involved in genocide of its own citizens—Pashtuns and Balochs—just for power and as a strategy?
Only those who have lost siblings, parents or good friends can answer these questions. Ask a Baloch or a Pashtun suffered at the hands of Pakistani security agencies and they will tell you what pain is. People believe in what they see and experience. This is a dilemma. It is worst to live a life of a second-grade citizen with no rights and on the hit-list of the state-supported groups. It is also painful to see that human rights organizations and the United Nations are doing nothing in this regard. There is no one to turn to and seek help.
I hope that the next generation would change things by studying their real history and ancestors’ life.
The author is using a pen-name due to security reasons.