Understanding our neighbor!

Islamabad/Kabul: Why do we feel the need to understand our neighbor? We can’t choose our neighbors, can we? No, I don’t think so. What we can do is, to have good relationship with our next-door neighbors and live happily ever after. *Fairytale style

Can you tell, who is a Pakistani and who is an Afghan? Ayesha and Farkhonda.

Who wants to live in a place where one is always suspicious about the role of his/her neighbor. Oh, my neighbor blocks my water pipe. My neighbor is planning to bomb my house. My neighbor is stinky. Who wants to live a life like that? Stop ranting about your neighbor Pakistan and Afghanistan! Stop it! Life is not a Hollywood film and we are not James Bond. You can’t air lift your country and take it somewhere else and choose your neighbors.

Let’s have the courage and give voice to your complaints and tell your neighbors, how you feel about them. You don’t have to hide it from them that you don’t like them. You never know, how pissed they are at you. It is possible that you are annoying them more than they annoy you. Come to think of it, everything is possible.

Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist said that to understand ‘others’ we have to understand them with ‘others’ point of view not our own point of view. We have to leave our pre-conceived notions, myth, stereotypes and biases and understand others with an open heart and mind, without judging them for what they are and most importantly, what they are not.

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We are very happy that we achieved this goal. The 22 journalists from both side of the Durand Line are the living example of what we achieved in two-phase project, FES-Af-Pak Journalists Exchange Program: Understanding the Neighbor.  They will make the world understand the Af-Pak relation with their new understanding. They are ready to challenge the decades old established narratives about their neighbors- the narratives that are missing in the public sphere. I am very happy while writing this that these journos are no more neighbors, they happily call each other friends now. Mission accomplished!

Kabul Rocks! We will come again:)

Author: Annie Zaman

Palatial mansion: Pakistan’s biggest and busiest diplomatic mission

By Robin Fernandez

KABUL: Situated in the Karte Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul is Pakistan’s diplomatic mission. Steeped in history, the embassy building and the adjoining ambassador’s residence together form the country’s single biggest mission in the world – a frontispiece to our public diplomacy abroad.

Inaugurated in July 2012, the sprawling grounds of the Quaid-e-Azam Complex cover more than 26 acres of land that once belonged to the British Legation in Kabul. Today it may well be Pakistan’s busiest diplomatic mission.

On any week day (from Sunday to Thursday) one is likely to find thousands of Afghans queuing up outside the Pakistan Embassy for a visa. “Up to 12,000 multiple [entry] visas are issued every day. Not a single application has been rejected so far,” says Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq. This figure may seem high, according to officials, but it pales in comparison to the sheer number of people who make border crossings every day between the two countries. Currently, Pakistani officials say, 56,000 people travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan through both designated and undesignated crossing points daily — mainly for trade and business purposes.

The main embassy buildings are now housed in what used to be the dispensary of the British Legation buildings in the Afghan capital. In one corner of the premises, English-language and computer classes are held for Afghan students, especially those in the neighborhood. “The classes are free and are part of the embassy’s effort to encourage education,” says an official.

The next door residential complex of the ambassador is much grander, still reflecting the colonial glory that Lord George Curzon, the then foreign secretary, had wanted Britain’s top envoy in Kabul to have. Curzon, also a former viceroy general of India, did not live to see the majestic Legation structure, dying two years before its completion. The Legation buildings in Kabul sprang up some eight years after Britain signed the 1919 Treaty of Rawalpindi which officially recognised the independence of Afghanistan.

Though Pakistan’s right to the Legation buildings’ ownership was recognised by the early 1960s, Islamabad had to wait three more decades for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to finally accede to its possession. But the property did not pass into Pakistan’s hands until another decade and a half. By that time it had already been ransacked by a violent mob and suffered a vicious arson attack. Several buildings, including a church and smaller residences, were razed to the ground. Perhaps the only building that escaped harm was the clock tower that stands near one of the boundary walls.

When Ambassador Sadiq moved into the gleaming white palatial building this year following a massive renovation of the premises, President Hamid Karzai took a gentle swipe at the envoy. “I see you have moved into your vice-regal seat,” Karzai was quoted as telling Sadiq.

The entire building was reconstructed in a record time. “Despite the huge challenge, it took us about six months to restore the complex,” a Pakistan Embassy official said. Another official said the funds saved through the [earlier used] Wazir Akbar Khan mission were spent on the restoration work. “We used that money for restoration and saved thousands of dollars in the bargain,” the official explained.

From the vantage point of the ambassador’s residence, one can see a freshly-manicured cricket ground and an equally impressive soccer pitch. And in the distance one can see the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains. The sight would have certainly pleased Curzon no end.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd,  2012.

Pakistani media’s fight against corruption: A Case Study for Afghan Media by Mokhtar Wafayi / Haris Bin Aziz

ISLAMABAD: Since 2002, the Pakistani media has become powerful and independent and the number of private television channels has grown to 89, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Since the introduction of these vibrant TV channels, many major scams have been unveiled by journalists. Notable among them are the Pakistan Steel Mill’s Rs22 billion scam, NICL case, corruption in Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Railways, Hajj corruption case, NATO containers’ case, rental power projects and the ephedrine quota case.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share not only a border but history, culture, religion and societal structure too. Both countries are severely hit by corruption and their media has gained much independence and credibility during the past 10 years. In this scenario, it is widely believed that Afghan journalists can follow footsteps of their fellows in Pakistan where most important among recently unveiled corruption cases is considered Malik Riaz’s media gate in which the son of Chief Justice of Pakistan is said to have taken money from Malik Riaz to give favourable decisions from the Supreme Court.

It is widely believed Afghan journalists can follow footsteps of those in Pakistan by unveiling corruption cases.

“Malik Riaz case proved that the media can hold the judiciary and even itself accountable,” says Javed Chaudhry, columnist and anchorperson working with Express media group. “This case, along with missing persons’ case has established impartiality and credibility of the media in its fight against corruption.”

Chaudhry feels, like many others in country, that the media in Pakistan has become free and fair during the last decade. “The Pakistani media has covered the journey of 100 years in just 10, but their curiosity and thrust for revelation does not end and that is what drives the media.”

Pakistani media flourished during the last 10 years and the same was the case with Afghanistan. But the question remains whether Pakistani newsmen can become role models for their Afghan counterparts in fighting corruption or not.

Chaudhry is optimistic in this regard too. “Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common culture, history and social fabric hence the media can play the same role in Afghan society that it played in Pakistan.”

Ground conditions in Pakistan and Afghanistan are different. Weak political structure, a vulnerable security situation, foreign occupation and economic instability have their impact on every walk of life in our neighbourhood. For the media too, there is no exception to the rule and Afghan media’s economic reliance on foreign aid is regarded as the biggest hidden threat.

Muhammad Malick, resident editor of The News in Islamabad, says that the pouring in of foreign aid in Afghanistan changes the scenario. “Economic independence is the biggest factor in the growth of the media in Pakistan. The private sector here has become strong enough during these years to invest in the media and to get it out of state control,” he said. Decreasing the media’s reliance on advertisement from the state has given it a chance to become strong and independent. “A decade ago, the media was getting 70-75% of its advertisement from the government and only 25-30% from the private sector, but now the equation has reserved,” Malick explains.

“The Afghan media is very young and immature. It is not in their capacity to reveal scandals like the media in Pakistan does,” said Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada.

“A lot of scandals, like the Kabul Bank one, came from the foreign media after which the Afghan media picked it up. The reason is that sources in Afghanistan are not helpful. They prefer to talk to foreign journalists.” Najafizada claims that the media in Afghanistan has more potential than the foreign media, provided if it is given time to saturate. “We know the culture, the language and can easily become friends with the sources,” he added.

Lacunas exist on Pakistani media’s part too. Most notable is its inability to hold itself accountable and to resist pressure coming from owners of media groups. Mostly journalists succumb to the threats coming from political factions or sometimes they willingly tilt towards yellow journalism and file tabled stories or host planted shows on TV.

Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist, tried to highlight the irregularities and corruption within the media but he was stopped due to immense pressure by the owners of media houses and even some journalists associations. “Pakistani media is unable to hold itself accountable,” he said, adding that the media crosses its limits while giving stories to the judiciary to take notice of.

“The media and judiciary are interdependent, both went overboard while using each other to increase their strength,” Jan said. “But even then the Pakistani media can become a model for Afghanistan to eradicate corruption – provided it focuses more on journalistic investigation and produces evidence over mere allegations.”

This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Af-Pak Fellowship 2012 and published by The Express Tribune online on July 23, 2012.

The future of Pak-Afghan media cooperation by Ayesha Hasan & Farkhonda Rajabe

ISLAMABAD:Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain recently met the management of Shamshad TV, one of the largest Afghan TV channels, and assured it that he would contact the the federal government as well as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to allow for landing rights to the channel in Pakistan.

However, launching foreign channels in Pakistan has always been a difficult call. Former Pemra director general Rana Altaf Majeed claims that it was during his tenure that Tolo TV, an Afghan TV channel, was refused landing rights in Pakistan.

Deeming the broadcast to be “Against the national interests of Pakistan”, Majeed revealed that he still opposes the broadcasting of Afghan TV channels. “We cannot take this risk. The negative images of Pakistan shown by Afghan or Indian media are detrimental to Pakistan,” he said, adding that “we cannot bring foreign media to Pakistan without clearance from security and intelligence agencies.”

Journalists working in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been facing problems in accessing information from across the border. Therefore, they are dependent on foreign media and second-hand information.

Government verses journalists

Despite a law which allows free access to information for all citizens, journalists in Afghanistan have been facing difficulties in doing so.

Harun Najafizada, an Afghan correspondent for Persian TV with the British Broadcasting Corporation, said that journalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan were dependent on foreign agencies, since it was increasingly difficult to elicit information from local government ministries. Interestingly, Najafizada agreed that the Afghan embassy was generous in giving information to journalists.

Zardasht Shams, Press Attache at the Afghanistan embassy in Islamabad, confirmed this, saying that they cooperated with journalists from both sides of the Pak-Afghan border in order to avoid the consequences of misrepresentation.

Sanjar Sohail, the chief editor of Hasht-i-Subh, one of the biggest Afghan newspapers, says his correspondents had never had access to raw information. This, he says, leads to availing second-hand sources. Furthermore, Sohail said Pakistan has a ‘bad reputation’ in Afghanistan, which consequently prevents reporters from going there.

However, Information Ministry’s External Publicity Wing Director General Samina Parvez denies the problems and challenges faced by foreign journalists in Pakistan. “Currently, more than 200 foreign correspondents are working in Pakistan. They normally do not face any problems in accessing information or ID cards if they follow the procedure,” she said. Parvez also claims that Pakistani media is the “freest media in the world” with quite lenient media laws.

Journalists on both sides of Durand Line are facing difficulties owing to the dearth of direct information sources. ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID

However, she added it was mandatory to be a Pakistani national to get landing rights for a TV channel.

Learning from American journalists

Talking about the journalists’ dependency on agency reports, South Asian Media School Director Khaled Ahmed said that Pakistani media lacked correspondents in Afghanistan and vice versa. There are some information sources in the conflict zones, but these fall under the threat of the terrorists, according to him.

“Information conveyed under threat is unreliable,” said Ahmed. He added that American sources are reliable because American journalists are paid enough to visit conflict-hit areas and write knowledgably about Afghanistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on websites owned by American universities. While journalists like Farhat Taj escape to foreign universities, those like Saleem Shehzad and Januallah Hashimzada have been killed (or allegedly killed) by “agencies interested in masking reality”.

Journalists continue to face challenges in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only way out is if the governments of either country allow exchange of information and broadcast of its respective TV channels across the borders.

This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Af-Pak Fellowship 2012 in collaboration with The Express Tribune

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.

We have no one to blame by Malik Faisal Moonzajer

“Either Talibans are President Karzai’s allies or enjoy Pakistan’s support.” These words often echo when people in Afghanistan express themselves about the war.

What most of them forget is that Afghanistan and Pakistan have the same fate and predestination. They are both victims of terrorism, internal crises and foreign interference. But at the same time, they are both trying to scare each other. The only way to bring this to end is to offer peace and again peace.

Afghanistan with a population of less than 30 million is trying to set ultimatums for Pakistan whose population is more than 180 million.

What we are missing

Afghans have never identified what Pakistan really wants or vice versa and without knowing that we cannot make pretexts to blame each other. Regrettably, the two blind governments are always looking for reasons to blame each other.

When we, a group of more than 10 journalists travelled to Pakistan this June, we sought to talk about cross border attacks. We travelled with a lot of questions in our minds including those about Pakistani Taliban cross border attacks on Afghan soil. We blamed Pakistan for supporting and providing for the attacks and bloodshed of innocent Afghans. But the story on the other side turned out to the same when I researched some Pakistani newspapers. When in Pakistan, I realized that by cross border attacks, the local newspapers there meant Afghan Taliban attacks on Pakistan soil.

Some other headlines that caught my attention were:

  • Afghan Taliban attack Upper Dir Villages – Daily Times (07-07-2011)
  • Militants from Afghanistan launch another attack -The News (07-07-2011)
  • Hundreds of Afghans militant storm Dir village – Nation (07-07-2011)
  • Afghanistan warns Pakistan over fresh border shelling … In several newspapers

Everyday is a new propaganda, and the main role is played by the media that is misleading the governments and the nation. Ironically, most of the ‘trouble making’ headlines in the Pakistani and Afghan media come from agendas set by the western news agencies.

Take this example:

  • “Move or leave army” -Afghan soldiers with families in Pakistan get ultimatum – The Washington Post (18-02-2012)
  • Pakistan can influence outcome in Afghanistan: US senator – Washington post (also taken by DAWN newspaper of Pakistan on 18-02-2012)

There are hundreds of such headlines in western newspapers that seek to create enmity and increase dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only way we can promote peace and stabilise situations by omit enmity is offering peace and goodwill for each other and considering the balance, the truth and honesty in the news and do not propagate against each other.

While in Islamabad, Malik Faisal studied Afghanistan’s image portrayed by Pakistani newspapers. Here, he is sitting at the archive section of Pakistan’s largest English daily newspaper- Dawn.

Strings attached

We are like children of two such families whose fathers have had interpersonal disputes that are consequently affecting the children.

I stopped blaming Pakistan after I found out that an Afghan from Khost had carried a suicide attack in Jawzjan province some time back. All I can blame is my own traitor: The Afghan!

I neither blame Pakistan when Afghans complain for not being treated well there. After all they are there for work and not as guests. But I will always voice out when an illiterate Afghan policeman slaps a university teacher in the face in front of people and insult him.

A documentary by the Pakistani government shows some Pakistani soldiers singing their national anthem. After listening to it carefully, I noticed it’s in Persian, something I never new before, despite being a neighbour. I was more than shocked.

In Afghanistan, the story is quite different. I remember in 2007 one of the journalists in Afghanistan National Radio channel was forced to resign for using a Persian word for ‘university’ when he was expected to say it in Pashto (Danishgah instead of Pohanton). The Afghanistan Information and Culture minister had become furious for using the ‘infidel’s words’.

I have realized that Pakistan is not the problem. The main problem is that we always blame Pakistan for our internal crises – the ethnic matters. When I was a child, I was told that Shiite (Ahle Tashee) are the ‘dirtiest’ and was forbidden from going to their homes or accepting water or anything to eat from the let alone making friends with them.

Later, during my university years, I met a number of people from the Shiite community and realized how wrong they all were. Now most of my friends are Shiite.

In Pakistan, I never came across any such feelings for the Afghans. I was rather greeted the Pakistani way by people on the streets, in the restaurants and markets.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Af-Pak Journalist Exchange Programme 2012

Between 15 and 23rd June, a total of 22 journalists from all over Afghanistan and Pakistan got together to ‘understand the neighbour’ in Bara Gali, KPK and Islamabad. The journalists worked on joint reporting projects of mutual concern to both countries.

The programme was organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung offices in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in partnership with The Express Tribune, University of Peshawar and Mediothek.

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Stay tuned to this blog from more stories from both sides of the border!

Hi

Greetings!

We are 22 young  journalists from Afghanistan and Pakistan. We got an opportunity to meet each other in Bara Gali (KPK) and Islamabad from 19-24th June, 2012. We worked together and produced 10 journalistic pieces. We will post our joint efforts on these pages soon.

This blog is a collective effort of  all of us to stay connected and to understand our neighbour better.

Together we will bridge all the gaps and mend all the fences that keeps us away from each other.

Power to Pen!

Peace