Mukarram Khan, Saleem Shahzad...who's next?
In 2001, just after the US invasion in Afghanistan, a tribal journalist from Mohmand Agency was captured near Kandahar along with another Pakistani and a French journalist. All three were taken into captivity by the Afghan Taliban on suspicion of being American spies. As their case went before the Taliban court, the tribal journalist found himself with an unexpected advantage; he was the only one who could understand both English, Urdu and Pushto.
Thus, he entered into the unlikeliest contract of all; working as a paid translator for the Taliban while in captivity. At the end of the three months which marked the end of his ordeal, the tribal journalists had earned around Rs 30,000 from the Taliban.
That is how I knew Mukarram Khan - the only journalist to have actually made money while under Taliban captivity.
Sadly, the same man who outsmarted and survived the Afghan Taliban for three long months could not save himself from our home grown monsters. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan assassinated Mukarram Khan yesterday for not giving them enough coverage.
Last year, Khan had to leave his hometown in Mohmand due to constant threats to himself and his family, but rather than moving further away, he chose to remain in Fata and continued to dispense of his duties as a journalist from Shabqadar, Charsadda. He worked as a correspondent for multiple national and international news outlets. I knew him only for a short week; but he changed my own stereotypical perspective of what tribesmen are usually like.
His experiences in the conflict zone showed me how little we really get to know of the brutalities that Fata residents face. His passion and dedication to the profession was unmatched. But the most amazing thing about Khan was his spirit; with experiences harsh enough to turn anyone into a jaded, bitter, brooding robot, Khan not only managed to come across as a positive, soft spoken person quoting Faiz and Ghalib, but was also progressive in ways we normally do not associate with the men of the tribal belt.
Having known him personally, it pains me to put Khan in the context of gory statistics; but here is the heart breaking fact – he is the first one to have perished in the line of duty this year, but in all, he has simply joined the long list of Pakistani journalists who have been killed after the start of this so-called war against terror.
Like all those who went before him, Khan’s untimely death has brought along messages of condemnation and sympathies from the rulers and journalist unions. However, as always, there isn’t any effort being made to find the assassins and bring them to justice.
Impunity, as always, prevails.
In the beginning of December 2011, I heard the Federal Secretary Information speak at an International Conference regarding safety of journalists. He not only refrained from giving any concrete answers to the question of impunity, but also claimed to have no knowledge of the fact that around 20 journalists have been killed in Balochistan.
At the same conference Interior Minister Rehman Malik proudly talked of the government’s efforts to end impunity by mentioning the commission formed to probe the murder of Saleem Shahzad - the same commission whose findings can be summed in three words:
“He was murdered.”
DG ISPR, Major General Athar Abbas who also made an appearance gracefully placed the burden of killings on the victims themselves, accusing them of “not informing the security forces” when going into danger zones. I’d like to ask him, exactly who should have been informed when Mukarram Khan went to a mosque to pray. I’d like to ask Mr. Rehman Malik, whether we need another commission simply to determine the fact that, yes, Mukarram Sahib was murdered. As for the information secretary, I’ll wait till he happens to visit another event where he can be informed of Khan’s tragic passing.
But the anger directed at the government authorities cannot match my disappointment with the media outlets, associations and unions.
Like the murders before him, Mukkaram Khan’s demise is also being treated simply as a sensational story; a story whose airing might help generate support for his grieved family, but a story that is missing context and accountability nonetheless.
There has been a mention of previous murders, but hasn’t been any pressure to actually end impunity. Every single day, we see Kamran Khan and the likes busting their nerves screaming about the ongoing political crisis; but when it comes to issues that really need their relentless, passionate attention, we see them falling quiet or mentioning them simply as an afterthought.
Saleem Shahzad’s murder was touted as a turning point in this culture as we saw the media fraternity sitting together to demand an investigation. But the utterly useless result of the investigation has failed to rile the media.
If things remain same, Mukarram Khan’s murder will only mark the beginning of yet another bloody year for journalists in Pakistan.