January 19, 2018
Myra Imran & Imran Naeem Ahmad
This story is one of 10 case studies highlighting the economic condition of slain journalists’ families and the displaced reporters. Journalist Myra Imran traveled to remote and high-risk districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA to interview family members, their relatives, displaced journalists, and office-bearers of press clubs and journalist unions. The stories are part of a field study report Surviving the Story, launched on January 8, 2018, a collaborative initiative of JournalismPakistan.com and Communications Research Strategies (CRS).
Threatened, kidnapped twice and shot in the chest, South Waziristan journalist Anwar Shakir is lucky to be alive.
He used to report out of this militant-infested region and was targeted because of his work. The 45-year-old now lives in a dingy neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad with his family. He left his native village in 2009 and lived in Peshawar for three years before moving to the capital when his job with Bloomberg ended in 2012.
“I was shot in the chest with an AK-47 rifle and had to undergo surgery in 2005,” he says. “The assailants fired 80 rounds from close range. It is a miracle that I am still alive.
“His story is one of horror and pain. He got kidnapped twice in 2009. During one of these abductions, he was tortured so much the wound for which he underwent surgery earlier, split open. Shakir believes the political administration had a hand in his kidnapping. “I used to write against them because there was corruption going on. I got warned two or three times, was offered a bribe to stop writing but when I did not, the kidnapped me.”
He says being a reporter in Waziristan is a “mental torture” as one has to be careful not to offend any of the several stakeholders. “You have to ensure the tribal elders/jirgas do not get annoyed by your reporting. Then there are the militant groups and the political administration. They can do anything, anytime.”
In such a situation, keeping everyone happy and coming up with a balanced story requires proper training which the tribal journalists do not have, Shakir comments.
For Shakir, the displacement was even more tormenting than being shot. “I flew out of Waziristan in an army plane. I knew if I went by road, I would be at risk. I looked at my village below and my heart ached. It was worse than getting shot.”
He bid goodbye to his ancestral region as he did not want his family getting into trouble or kidnapped because of him. “I moved out to protect them and protect myself.”
The displacement brought a multitude of issues, financial and health. He earned a meager Rs1500 a month from Online news agency, and this for the past five years. His monthly expense on medicines is Rs9700 with as much going in rent. “The kids have to be fed too. It is very tough to make ends meet.”
In a desperate attempt to get back on his feet, he sold vegetables at the Sabzi Mandi with money a journalist friend gave him. But about two weeks later he fell sick and was hospitalized. In recent months, Shakir remained bed-ridden after spraining his ankle and sustaining injuries.
Now he plans to set up a shop in another attempt to turn things around. He is disillusioned by the indifference of the press club, the journalist unions, and media organizations to his suffering. “All claims made by our unions are lies. Nobody helped him find a job or place to stay.”
Shakir shared that he is kept waiting for hours whenever he goes to see the office-bearers of National Press Club, Islamabad. “These are the people who claim they work for the good of journalists.” The club, however, gives him a kitchen package.
He isn’t optimistic about the legislation the government plans to bring for journalists’ welfare and safety. “What good can you expect from the government? What hopes can you pin on them?”
Eight years since leaving his South Waziristan home, Shakir’s life continues to be tough.
His little daughters ask: “Who shot you and what did they want? What did they get by doing so? Would there be poverty in Heaven when we die and get there?”
These are questions Shakir finds hard to answer. His story is summed up by his psychiatrist friend: “As far as psychiatry goes you are a dead man.”
The Patriot, January 18, 2018