FES Af-Pak Fellow Receives Human Rights Award in Berlin

Congratulations to FES Af-Pak Journalism Fellow Safdar Dawar for receiving the Human Rights Award of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin on 31st October 2012. He received the award on behalf of the Tribal Union of Journalists. This is the first time a Pakistani organization has received the award.

Detailed press release below:

German foundation gives its highest award to Pakistani Tribal Union of Journalists

Press Release

Berlin: The German Foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftungor FES gives its highest human rights award to the tribal union of journalist or TUJ, FATA. This award is recognition of the work done by the journalists in FATA. TUJ has worked for 20 years to consolidate media freedom and freedom of expression in the region. It represents around 250 journalists in the FATA, working for local, national and international print and electronic media. It was founded in 1987 by a group of local journalists.

The award ceremony started with the public panel discussion on the topic of “reporters within borders: Pakistani journalists for truth in conflict”. The speakers were renowned Pakistani journalist RahimullahYousafzai, andthe investigative journalists Ulrich Tilgner. Ulrich covered the Gulf war 1 and Gulf war 2. These journalists talked about the difficulties faced by the local reporters on the ground. Ulrich said, ‘German TV channels are not interested in sending its reporters to Afghanistan or Pakistan to do reports. What they do is, work with the local journalists. ”Yousafzaisaid, the work done by the local reporters is neither recognized not well paid. ‘The local reporters on the ground in FATA risk their lives and get the report for the foreign journalists’ working from their comfortable offices in London, New York or Paris. ‘ He further said the journalists sitting abroad have very pointed questions that at times risks the lives of the local reporters.

After the podium discussion, a short documentary ‘Theater of conflict: reporting from FATA was shown. The documentary highlighted the problems faced by the families of the journalists who were killed in the line of duty. There were interviews of the killed journalists families and colleagues.  The documentary also highlighted and explained the FCR or Frontier Crimes Regulations to the German audience.

The laudatory speech was given by Johannes Pflug, member of the German parliament, deputy chair of the task force Afghanistan-Pakistan of the SPD parliamentary group. He applauded the efforts of TUJ, ‘I appreciate the efforts of the tribal journalists who live in constant fear and many of them had to leave their homes in FATA due to threats but they are brave and still continue to work about FATA.’ He congratulated SafdarDawar for receiving the award.  Johannes Pflug said, ‘Safdar and his colleagues face many problems due to the FCR that restricts the rights to freedom of expressions and abuse human rights in FATA. It makes FATA the black box of information in the world. There is not a single local newspapers or TV channel in FATA because the FCR restrict the locals to have it. ‘

The President of the FES, Peter Struck, presented the award to the President of TUJ SafdarDawar. SafdarDawar received the award and remembered the 12 journalists colleagues they have lost their lives the line of duty. He pointed out that no political reforms are possible without the media reforms in FATA.  “The lack of a strong Press in FATA leads to the lack of communication, misunderstanding and the wild spread of rumors. For the reconstruction of the social fabric of the otherwise egalitarian society in the tribal areas, the development of media is very important.” He thanked the organization like internews, intermedia, FES, Mediothek, RFL who gives the tribal journalists regular trainings.

TUJ has lost 12 journalists until today. The last tribal journalist assassinated was Mukharram Khan Atif. He was killed in a mosque in January this year. The journalists killed so far don’t get any compensation from the organisations they work for.

The Human Rights Award, presented for the first time in 1994, dates back to the legacy of Karl and Ida Feist from Hamburg. The couple stipulated in their will that their fortune be administered by the fund, which is to present a Human Rights Award once a year. Karl and Ida Feist actively supported the labour movement for many years. Their own bitter experiences with war and destruction led them to advocate peace and non-violence.According to the donators, the Human Rights Award should be awarded to individuals or organisations that rendered outstanding services for human rights in the different parts of the world.




For more info: www.tuj.com.pk






After ban, no Pakistani papers getting through border: Envoy

by Ayesha Hasan and Taha Siddiqui
Originally published in The Express Tribune on 8th October 2012
KABUL: There is confusion on a reported ban on Pakistani newspapers’ entry into Afghanistan. Embassies in Kabul have not been getting newspapers since September 20, which is a cause for concern, said Pakistan Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq while talking to a delegation of Pakistani journalists on a 10-day visit to Afghanistan on Sunday.

But the Afghan authorities insist the ban is just on 15 Urdu dailies and not English papers.

The ambassador said he was not informed why the mainstream English media from Pakistan, including The Express Tribune, were being stopped by the border post.

“[The mainstream] English newspapers have no hate literature. This is a bit too much and really sad,” said Sadiq.

“We raised our concerns with the ministry of information and the foreign ministry in Afghanistan, but they said they were not aware of the ban on mainstream Pakistani English newspapers.”

He said some foreign magazines were also banned. The ban, he said, was not affecting the common reader. However, the foreign embassies in Afghanistan were not receiving any Pakistani newspapers, he added.

Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry spokesperson Sediq Sediqi has denied any ban on the mainstream Pakistani newspapers. “Only 15 Urdu newspapers that have low circulation in Pakistan have been banned for spreading hatred for the Afghan government and supporting the Taliban stance,” he said.

Adding on the issue, a senior official at the embassy said that the Afghan government often acted impulsively because it is a young democracy, and decisions such as the recent ban on the Pakistani newspapers reflected that.

Earlier, the ambassador also discussed bilateral trade relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The ambassador said that the Pakistan-funded development projects in the country have helped create a better image of the country in Afghanistan. He said that Pakistan’s annual trade with Afghanistan is around five billion dollars.

“There are more than 140 trade routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said. However, he added that the illegal cross-border movements, which he said, are detrimental to the trade and law  and order in both countries.

“Most Afghans move in and out without visa and it’s a failure of border control on both sides. It needs to be controlled,” he said.

Elaborating on the future of Afghanistan, the ambassador criticised Pakistan’s past policies of interfering in Afghan internal matters. “We do not really know what will happen after the pull out of International Security Assistance Force, but we are talking with all the stakeholders, especially people from the northern region who were ignored previously,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2012.

A Day in Kabul by Raza Rumi

Originally published in The Friday Times

As we landed in Kabul, the place was familiar, unfamiliar. The city reminded me of Quetta for its locale and topography and cultural diversity. But then for many Pakistanis, Afghanistan is a remote figment of imagination. A place which has sent many refugees and where Pakistan directly and indirectly has been part of violent conflict and political upheavals for the last thirty years.

We were part of a delegation, which accompanied the beleaguered Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on his first foreign trip. That this trip was made to Afghanistan is a significant reminder of the importance that Pakistan attaches to the country both for the conventional strategic reasons and perhaps for the existential dilemma that the country faces now with multiple brands of extremists on both sides of the Durand line.

Kabul, once a happening place in the 1970s, is now a sorry reminder of its past. Whereas the recent years’ development efforts are visible through a housing boom and new apartment blocks, one cannot miss out on the mud houses and infrastructure deficits that are a direct result of what the world has done to this country. The world has treated it as an arena of war, conflict and pandering to ‘national’ jingoistic egos.

Be it the Soviet Union, the United States, or the self-appointed guardians of Islamic faith i.e. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, each country has contributed to where the Afghans are today. Little wonder that the younger Afghans have grown up resenting Pakistan – its immediate neighbour that has not once but twice been a party to US’ imperial games in the region. Who said that the Great Game was over? In fact its newest manifestation is the age that we live in and where terms such as ‘energy corridor’, ‘stability’ and ‘regional players’ denote the simple fact that no one is willing to leave the country alone and there might be yet another scramble for influence, leverage and gains. All I hope is that the Afghan youth, its vibrant civil society and skilled diaspora will negotiate with the world not to repeat what has been happening in the past.

The high powered Pakistani contingent was in Kabul to achieve several things: some symbolic, some substantive. The day began with the inauguration of the reconstructed Pakistan embassy in an area that is dominated by non-Pashtuns. The earlier building was destroyed during the time when when Pakistan backed Taliban were at loggerheads over the capture of central power. It is some measure of Pakistan’s diplomatic success – especially the untiring efforts of our Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq – that we are engaging with the leaders of erstwhile Northern Alliance, which has now permutated into several political coalitions. The leader of Afghanistan National Front, Ahmad Zia Massoud, who is also the brother of the slain Ahmad Shah Massoud, was present. Others in attendance at the embassy function included Ustad Mohaqiq, leader of the Hazara community, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and even the deputy of General Dostum. All of these leaders vilified by Pakistan’s Urdu press and their puppet masters indicated that for a change we were doing the right thing: By not reducing Afghanistan to the land of Pashtuns or ‘anti-Pakistan’ or ‘pro-India’ Northern Alliance. Ahmad Wali Massoud, Ahmad Zia Massoud is a soft-spoken man and is charismatic like his brother.

While talking to us he emphasized how Pakistan, not unlike Afghanistan, was a victim of extremism and how the two ought to be working together to counter these worrying trends. In fact most of the people present aired similar views in their informal chit chat. This reminded me of the recent declaration that the anti-Taliban forces had signed and released earlier this year: “…any negotiation with the Taliban can only be acceptable, and therefore effective, if all parties to the conflict are involved in the process. The present form of discussions with the Taliban is flawed, as it excludes anti-Taliban Afghans…The present negotiations with the Taliban fail to take into account the risks, sacrifices and legitimate interests of the Afghans who ended the brutal oppression of all Afghans.”

Symbolism always says a lot. Former Prime Minister Gilani had started the work on the reconstruction of the embassy as a small plaque reminded us while the completion and reopening of the building was being undertaken by his successor, another PPP Prime Minister. Ironic that we are always keen to play down the efforts of the civilians including the Foreign Office in the policy process but at the end of the day even Pakistan’s security establishment needs them. The inauguration ceremony took place in the presence of the all-powerful ISI chief Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam.

As we departed from the high security zone and passed through the empty roads of Kabul (apparently the traffic was closed to ensure that there was a secure passage of the delegation) one could see how Kabul represents a series of protected zones given the onslaught of Taliban who remain powerful in the South and East of the country.

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In a few minutes we were entering Karzai’s palace, another fortress where layers of security kept the President of the country safe. This is not all too different from Pakistan where the President’s movements are limited and he operates in a highly protected zone. But the palace with its pine, chinar and other old, rare trees is immensely beautiful. Parts of several buildings have been reconstructed given the recent history but one can see the old and new forms of architecture layered on each other.

We waited as the PM, Foreign Minister, Interior Adviser Rahman Malik and DG ISI met President Karzai, visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron and presented themselves before world cameras. Perhaps all sides want to show that there were engaged and this is what diplomacy is all about. Getting conflicting views laid out on a table and finding a common ground and not letting conflict become a means of ironing out such differences.

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Karzai and Raja held detailed parleys while we waited in the annex of the Presidential Palace. I spotted a lovely painting which depicted Afghan musicians at work. The image made me both hopeful and sad. That Afghan were celebrating their culture, the threat of a medieval ideology had to be addressed. Reintegration of Taliban warriors is once again a common challenge for both the countries.

The regal press conference was held under the shade of huge chinar trees and a lovely breeze kept on ruffling the arrangements. Both the leaders were poised and gave a friendly feel to their public appearance. There were tough questions raised from both the sides especially by the AlJazeera correspondent based in Kabul. The latter asked our PM if the civilian government actually controlled the military and ISI. To his credit PM Raja handled this question rather well and displayed his well honed political skills by citing the Pakistani constitution and how it distributed powers. Of course we are miles away from such ideal constitutional governance but to hear this being said in a foreign land made me a little proud. Unlike the Zia and Musharraf eras, which constitute my lived memory, there was a beginning howsoever tenuous the civilian rule might be. Small mercies in a martial state, I told myself.

As we drove back to the airport the posters and iconography around the ‘national’ martyr Ahmad Shah Massoud could not escape my attention. His presence is ubiquitous. How will a 1990s repeat take place under such circumstances? This is what Pakistan needs to reflect and also the Pakistanis who dream of crushing India on Afghan soil to ensure that there is a ‘friendly’ government next door.

It is time that we engage with Afghans as our neighbours, respect their autonomy and also not shy away from talking to our feared adversary India. We cannot stop India from investing in Afghanistan if that is what Afghans want. But we can trade with India and also agree on a common ground. Most importantly, after the repeated tragedies in our Afghan expeditions we should have learned a lesson or two. For instance we may have to focus on the Taliban off-shoots that endanger our way of life at home. Perhaps that should be our top priority.

Raza Rumi is Director Policy & Programs at Jinnah Institute in Islamabad. The views expressed are his own. He is also a consulting editor at TFT. His writings are archived at www.razarumi.com

The Week of Breaking Stereotypes by Ayesha Hasan

The funniest person I’ve met in my life is not a Pakistani, neither an Indian nor an American. He is (surprisingly for me) an Afghan. The most poignant person I’ve met in my life is not a Pakistani, neither a British, nor a Bengali. He is (surprisingly for me again) an Afghan.
I spent the third week of June with 11 Afghan and 10 Pakistani journalists. Though we had gathered to understand our Western neighbor, I also saw a different side of my Pakistani fellows as never seen before.
Hailing from all four corners of the two countries, we, journalists, returned home with positive images, changed perceptions, unforgettable memories and most important of all: new friends.
Everyone had a unique story to tell, an idiosyncratic account of their lives and pied explanations and expectations, but some left an impression on my mind.

The funny side

I am grateful to Atif Fakirzada of Mediothek for letting us return home in “one piece”.
The frequency of his jokes, comical allegory and the his unique way of connecting the dots that raised a wave of laughter across the boardroom were exceptional. While some would laugh to tears, other would hold tight to their ribs.
He killed the preconceived notion, which at least I had about Afghans, that they are rigid and serious and rarely laugh, on the very first day he had arrived. Stereotype number one, gone there and then.

The emotional side

When Bismillah Jan, a Pashtun Afghan, said in his self-introduction speech on the first day that he cried if he hurt someone or vice-versa, most of us speculated he was making up. But then, I came to know that he actually cried after finding out about the recent death of one of the participant’s father. When he laughed, he would lay down on the floor, simultaneously avoiding Cem, one of the moderators, who would try to capture the moment in his camera.
Once Bismillah Jan went missing. We looked for him everywhere and later found him praying at the back of one of the notice boards.
The way he hugged my husband, when I introduced him to the group on the last day, and called him “Afghanistan’s son-in-law”, was one of the most respectful ways we both had been treated.
Contrary to the perception the world has about Pashtuns, and specifically Afghan Pashtuns, as being “harsh” and “uncompassionate”, Bismillah Jan showed us their new side. Stereotype two, removed there and then.

The assiduous side

When Malik Faisal Moonzajer from Sare Pol in Afghanistan told us that he was accepted at one of the best private universities in Islamabad, it was not less than a surprise for us. When he said it was a scholarship, we were flabbergasted.
He seeks education and refers it to his peers as well. He speaks fluent English and German and understands a little bit of Urdu, too. He belongs to a generation that grew up in war, was deprived of education, health facilities and freedom and held back from interacting with the world.
It was amazing and relieving, simultaneously, to see that he and his fellow colleagues, mostly in their 20s, have not grown into rebels after all. Stereotype three, broken there and then.

The writer is a Sub-editor at The Express Tribune and mostly writes about gender issues and human rights. She is also the 2011 Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Fellow at DW, Bonn.



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!