Safdar Dawar | Voices

Feb 2013

Audio (اردو) | English

We have tried to keep loyal to Safdar Dawar’s words in this transcript. However, interested readers, should listen to the audio for the full flavor of the interview.

Safdar Dawar: My name is Safdar Dawar, and I come from North Waziristan Agency, Miramshah Tehsil. I am also the President of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)–a position I have held for two years now. We work to address the issues facing tribal journalists. [TUJ recently elected a new president; Dawar remains involved with TUJ.]

Tanqeed: Can you tell us about the history and challenges facing journalists from the tribal areas?

SD: In 1901 the British implemented the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulation). Under these laws, there is no chance for us to enjoy press freedom, or for us to raise our voices for the people or for ourselves. The union was created in 1987, though there was no real journalism to speak of in the tribal areas at this point. Before 1987, our leader, Silaab Mehsud, was arrested by the political administration about seven times because he was working as a journalist. He was told that he should stop doing journalism.

That is why he felt the need to create a union for journalists throughout the tribal areas. So, he brought together 4-5 people across the tribal areas and created this organization, or this union, in 1987. We call it the Tribal Union of Journalists FATA.

They did not have a sense of the issues that would come to face these (tribal) areas. They merely wanted to address the injustices meted out to them by the political administration–a political administration that tried to strangle journalism (in the tribal areas). They started this union to stop these sort of practices.

After 9/11, this region’s face changed, and became the face of war.

We once again needed to face more challenges. In 2005, some of our journalists from Wana were covering a jirga (a decision-making assembly). On their way back, their entire car was fired at. They were our first set of journalists who were martyred: Allah Noor Wazir and Mir Nawab. Some were injured.

That same year, our other journalist, Ayatullah Khan was kidnapped from North Waziristan. Six months later they found his dead body.

In Ijam Adamkhel, Naseer Azam, Naseer Afridi, was killed. Then, in Bajaur, two of our journalists were martyred. This last december, it was our mukaramkhaana, and 12 other journalists were martyred. Our mukaramkhaana came from Mohmand Agency.

Then there are those who… Where Allah saved their lives, but they are injured. There are also many journalists who… Our current strength is 290 journalists working in the tribal areas–they work with international and national organization in print and electronic media. 40% of them have left their own areas and moved to settled areas like Peshawar, DI Khan (Dera Ismail Khan), Islamabad. It has become very difficult for them to continue to live and work in journalism in their own areas.

We keep on saying that we bring stories to the world from the crocodile’s mouth. Those are the stories that you see on TV, or hear on the radio, or read in the paper. A lot of news comes out from the tribal areas. Despite all the difficulties, we try to bring news or information from the tribal areas to people. Organizations work to help get this information out.

This is our union’s main office. This is where the President of all of FATA sits–along with his cabinet. Then there are union’s on our local levels. For example, TUJ North Waziristan, TUJ South Waziristan… There are TUJ’s on every agency level.

There are also 13 press clubs in our tribal areas. They exist in different areas, and our journalists work there. We have our own constitution, we have our practices and our own principles. For example, we continue to struggle and fight with established powers–whether they are from the Taliban or from the army or from a political administration or smugglers or some other group. We have to face a lot of challenges on a cultural level, because we cannot touch (or bring) female voices. We cannot write their names. We cannot touch (or bring stories from) any areas where women live. Of the almost 300 journalists that are our members, none of them are female in all of FATA. So there are a lot of problems, but I still think that what we are doing, and the sacrifices that our journalists are making, (are large).

The other major (or important) aspect is that we have no affiliation with the PFUJ (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists) or SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association) or the IFJ (International Federation of Journalists)–or any international or local level federations or unions.

The FCR has cut us off from (these associations). It has created a distance between us and these organizations. That is why we cannot be a part of these unions. Our union should be a part of the PFUJ.

That is why these organizations cannot touch (or involve themselves with) FATA. That is why we are far away.

So we are running this system completely independently–from Bajaur to Waziristan. We have a relationship with each other. Otherwise, if you look on a map, these are very large distances. From Bajaur to South Waziristan it is I don’t know how far away. There are also differences in language. Journalists from different areas speak different languages. Also, there are different tribes in different agencies. Our attempt is to keep everyone as one, and so far we have been successful in doing so. It has now been 25 years since we created the Tribal Union of Journalists. That is why we have received an international award.

If you look at major organizations in America or Europe, then you will find pictures of our martyred journalists from the tribal areas.

It is lamentable that our own government has neglected our journalists. They do not want journalism from our areas, or that any voices are raised from these areas. So because of the government, there is no media colony (areas where journalists are allotted plots for housing). There is no compensation for the children (or families) of martyred journalists. We demand that they are given free education. We are not even given a registration card, which is usually issued by the provincial government, or the Governor’s House. Our main office, on just a few marlas–is run and paid for us by ourselves. We have a lot of problems, but the government should implement reforms, and remove the limitations that we live under because of the FCR. The media should be unified (or have the same rules)–whether we’re talking about a journalist in Islamabad (or one in the tribal areas–we should be treated the same). Now you’ve come, you’re non-local. Now look at both of you, you’re not journalists from FATA. You have to get permission to enter FATA–and you probably won’t get it, it’ll be very difficult. Take Bara, it is only 30 kilometers away. If you go anywhere else you will be stopped. So this is a problem, this is one of our demands, and that is why we have a union. We train our journalists to teach them how to live in a conflict area. How will you be able to save yourself, and stay alive, in the crocodile’s mouth. How will you keep people happy, and deal with powerful stakeholders–how will you navigate within them, and continue to do your journalism and bring out your story. And in the middle of all of this, you have to stay alive. That is why the union is giving tribal journalists a lot of training. In the last few years we have given them a lot of training.

That is why we received almost 300 applicants when we opened up for new members, from journalists who wanted to be members of our union. Then, according to our constitution and our principals, we held a meeting and gave membership to 50 people. So, they should stay in a union, and we believe this is the first platform that organizes journalists on a political platform. There is no other system there. Only our Tribal Union of Journalists brings people together on a democratic level. Otherwise, there is no talk of any sort of democracy anywhere else. This is the first platform that can get people from Wana, Bajaur, Kurram Agency to show up in one day, and leave the next day. They come for meetings, for protests from Wana, Waziristan, Deegar. They come from all agencies right away.

TQ: Is TUJ registered anywhere?

SD: Yes, we are registered. No NGOs or other organizations are registered in the tribal areas because of the FCR. That is why we register our organizations in settled areas. So we have registered our organization in D. I. Khan (Dera Ismail Khan). We have registered it as a trust, a union, and an organization. This is possible, with the social ministry.

TQ: And your funding?

SD: Funding comes from installations that the federal ministers or the governors hand out. We say they should give expenditures covered, just like the press clubs do. Otherwise, other organization fund us and ask us to carry out a certain system (project) for a year or two. Also, other organizations that want to strengthen our institution give us money. Also, our 13 press clubs in FATA come under us–under the TUJ.

TQ: Is there a consensus on how you should run the TUJ.

SD: Yes. We have our own constitution. Our local press club chairman, of the agency, he is our local president in Khyber Agency as well. Our local level presidents are members of our executive council. We have 15 executive council members, including the ones from the center. 7 are from the agencies, and 8 are from here. WE do a monthly meeting, we hold general meetings, of the general body. And we have an annual election.

TQ: You earlier said that your journalists find it difficult to bring out stories. Both in international and national organizations. Do you experience any limits from any of these news outlets? You see violence, in the tribal areas from drones, from the army and the Taliban. What limits do you experience from national and international news outlets?

SD: I always say that we bring out stories from the crocodile’s den. We are sandwiched(–pressured from all sides). I always say there are three Ms, media, military and militancy. There is no other power there. Sometimes we face problems from the military and the militants on the same day. Take Wana, explosions were placed in the press club in 2007. Similarly, in Bajaur, the press club was being used by the military for many years. They launched operations from Bajaur for several years. So these are both examples (of the pressures we face). On the one hand the militants bomb our press clubs. On the other hand, the military have occupied our press clubs. Our press club in Bara has been under curfew since 2008. So all these stakeholders… It is not just that they are afraid of our journalism, or that they are afraid that we are telling the truth. Before they used to place pressure on us when we tried to tell the truth. Now, they want to use the media as a weapon. The stakeholders that is. One of them says, “Report this!” The other one says, “You reported their news, now you need to report my news!”

The main problem, however, is that we do not have our own media (outlets). Lahore Press Club, or Peshawar Press Club… Their media outlets aren’t ours. That means our problems are not front and center of their concerns. So the issues in tribal areas are not given coverage. Social issues are not given space in the media. If there is a drone attack, or a bombing, then the news outlets will run the news for one minute, or just run a ticker (at the bottom of the screen).

But when this one person, Shahzeb (in Karachi), is killed, the entire media is obsessed with that news. Look at the incident in Bara–no TV channel reported on it, because we were talking about tribal areas. Instead, the media’s entire attention remained on Tahir ul Qadri. Otherwise, in terms of human rights, this is a far bigger problem, never seen before in history. In Pashtun culture, we bring back our bodies from far away–from Dubai and Abu Dhabi (to bury in our tribal areas). We never leave our bodies in any other place. But this was such a huge incident(–18 people were killed in Bara, a sub-division of Khyber Agency). So the media did not report things properly.

Pressure then builds against us. We’re told that we report to these places (and people demand to know why the news of the Bara atrocities fail to reach international media outlets).

TQ: What about international media outlets?

SD: The international media get the news that interests them. Take drone attacks–or news that has blood, the color of blood, they are seen as news. But they give no space to, and have no interest in, our social issues. This is a huge problem.

TQ: You have also spoken of the PFUJ. When have you approached the PFUJ on behalf of the TUJ in the last 25 years? Are you officially a member? And do you not feel that it is important to work in solidarity with them?

SD: I do not know about anything else, but in 2010 I became GS (General Secretary). Before that I was the president of North Waziristan (Press Club). I’ve been president for two years–it’s now been a full two years. I was re-elected twice. I have tried, several times, to create links with PFUJ. To ensure that the TUJ can become a union under them, that we can be a part of their union system. The wage board award doesn’t extend to FATA. They do not give us any money, 100%. They do not pay tribal journalists. This is despite the fact that our lives are exposed–we put our lives on the line to report. But they pay us nothing. The camera is secure, but there is no insurance for journalists. We have also seen that there are many of our journalists that are killed, and we hope that they will give us some compensation, or that they will announce some compensation for, for example, education for their children. But they say, “That’s too bad. Could you please return our camera or our laptop?” So we have no chances for appeal. We cannot go to the high court. We have no options for appeal. So the PFUJ’s wage board award is not applied to us.

The PFUJ has given the GS and president observer status, but that is nothing special. What will we do with an observer (status). They have given us a link so they can draw benefit. Since we are observers, they can use our name. They show up in solidarity with us when we protest here in Peshawar–the members of the Khyber Union of Journalists, which is a part of the PFUJ. But it is not the same. Because if this is a union for all of Pakistan, then FATA is also a part of Pakistan. It’s journalists are also a part of Pakistan. We should include them with us. You can go online to see how many times we’ve demanded (that we are included on an equal footing).

TQ: Has the PFUJ every seriously discussed the possibility of giving the TUJ full status within their organization?

SD: Definitely. I have appealed at the wage board in Karachi. There was a lot of discussion about it. Then they said that according to the PFUJ constitution, it is only union members from those cities that publish at least three newspapers, who are given affiliation (to the PFUJ). The problem is that we are not allowed to publish newspapers. According to the FCR, it is illegal. So we do not have our own newspapers. We’ve been told that since our laws are different from the rest of Pakistan, they can only keep us on an observer status.

Whenever they talk of Pakistan, they say that Pakistan is a dangerous place (for journalists). Our tribal journalists are treated like this or that. So they keep on talking about us. But then I say, well if you’re not allowing us to have an affiliation with the PFUJ, then don’t include us in your statements. Because then you’re using us to gain sympathies for yourself. So we keep on saying this. There has been a lot of fighting around this.

Then I say, well, what sort of constitution are we talking about? A constitution that can’t create even a small space for journalists who work and live in danger in the tribal areas everyday? This is no big deal. But they refuse to compromise.

TQ: When you spoke to them about amendments in their constitution, what did they say?

SD: Lets talk about it in the next meeting, next meeting. But there’s been no talk of it yet. We’ve also thought about leaving it. Fine, it’s fine. Especially since the international community has accepted the TUJ in terms of FATA. Now we also give workshops ourselves, we deal with things ourselves. Whether there is talk of donors, government. Now TUJ is strong as well. Now we don’t need (the PFUJ) as much we did before. We don’t take the PFUJ issue as seriously as we did before.

One problem remains. We ask them to stop using our name. It should not be used. Now the international community and donors are told by the PFUJ that they give training to tribal journalists. They have this problem or that problem. Just like other organizations have supported us a lot–RSA and InterNews, InterMedia, and so forth. They have given us a lot of training. Now we are telling the world, that the TUJ is a registered organization. Not just in terms of journalism, but also in terms of awareness in the rest of the tribal areas. Whatever work you would like to do, that we need to do, in terms of giving awareness to tribal journalists in the tribal areas, whatever it is. This (we) are the only bridge between FATA and the world, in terms of human rights. Not just in terms of journalism. Our journalists are now known in their areas. We have 13 press clubs, which means we have offices throughout the tribal areas. We keep on telling the international community that we should take out the middleman, and work with them directly. Because now that funds come of for example 100,000 dollars, then the middle person will take 80,000 dollars, on offices and cars and drivers and hundreds and thousands in salaries. And when it comes to training and equipment there is only talk of 10,000 dollars. So this is our main issue, that people are cashing in on the problems of our tribal journalists. We are facing all the issues, we are making the sacrifices, we are paying with out blood. And in those systems, these interested parties receive their commissions. (Our tribal journalists do not receive benefits).

TQ: Some people say that taking donor money can affect the independence of journalism. Also, are you not more exposed when you take money from foreign governments?

SD: First, there is the issue of money. That is not alright, and no journalist should do that. Then there is the question of our system. We want to support journalism. We don’t want to take money so journalists do this or that. Our needs, our basic needs… Well our issue is that on the one hand we report from a war zone. On the other hand we have no media colony. Our main issue is a 3-4 marlas. The trainings we give them (are important). So then I ask, what is the TUJ doing? It is a registered union, there is no one as strong as us, no one knows journalism in the tribal areas as much as we do.

The middle person skims money from donors. Not even 5% of those get to us. In terms of trimmings or other things. I object to that. The 5% that does not arrive does not arrive with us. That money. Fine, these people also need to maintain their organizations. But that needs to run through another system. Why not give money to TUJ directly, whether there is talk of trainings or seminars or dialogues. Or whatever it is. The middle man hurts our rights. That is what I mean by funds.

TQ: Some say that donor money hurts solidarity and unity between political forces–so journalists across Pakistan. Do you agree?

SD: Unity is a good thing, with the PFUJ. But not in this system. So we deliberately do not (maintain unity). When they use our name (but do not give us rights) then it’s better that we remain separate. On the one hand they don’t give us affiliation, but they use our name. They sell the sacrifices of our martyrs. I am against all the seminars that are held in PC and Serena (on our name). No, I think that it is important that journalists are trained in the tribal areas–that makes more sense. As for the sacrifices that they have given, there needs to be taken some action on this. The big journalists have this, but there is no support or equipment in the press clubs (for our local journalists). When there is a bomb blast just 10 steps away, they need a camera, they need IT labs. The press club staff needs to be supported. The local level seminars need some space. We need to spread awareness in the media and in these areas, through the TUJ. That is our main mission.

TQ: Thank you.

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