Naureen Aqueel

Posts Tagged ‘terrorism

Published in The Express Tribune – blog, May 20, 2011.

I remember the general reaction in the newsroom the day the news of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden broke. There was relief, felicitations of ‘Mubarak ho!’ and the excitement of covering what was perhaps one of the biggest stories of the year.

Throughout the day, and the days following the incident, I noted people’s reactions. While some openly celebrated the news, others quietly welcomed the news with relief, adding however that it was against their principles to celebrate death.

Sure, there was shock and anger against the political and military leadership and condemnation about the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, but I did not come across a single person who hailed Bin Laden as a ‘hero.’

Sure, there were some who questioned the media’s account and said that if the media’s portrayal and reporting about this terrorist figure were true, then it was indeed good news, but no one I met or spoke to supported the al Qaeda kingpin’s ideology or praised his actions which led to the killing of thousands of innocent people.

Sure, there were conspiracy theories questioning whether Bin Laden was really dead, but there was no one who vowed to become another Bin Laden and avenge his death.

Interestingly however, when the international media tried to find out how Pakistanis were reacting to the news, the world saw an entirely different picture from what was just related above.

There were reports of “scores of people” taking to the streets to pay homage to the al Qaeda chief and calling for war against America.

There were pictures of enraged people shouting anti-American slogans and burning down US flags.

There were quotations from children calling Osama their hero and wishing to grow up to be like him.

Many of us were baffled by the coverage of reactions to the killing – they were completely misrepresenting the general viewpoint of Pakistanis. Pakistani newspapers welcomed the death in Op-eds and editorials, but news reports showed that the general population was idolising Bin Laden and were angered by his death. The same reports barely mentioned the other side of the story. There were no quotes from people who had welcomed the news or more so, were indifferent to it. The media seemed to be giving the impression as if all of Pakistan was supporting Bin Laden barring a few “intellectual elite” who were celebrating his death.

The incident taught us something about balanced reporting and media agenda setting that often tends to ignore this. Most media organisations (and wires services specifically) often have conventional patterns of reporting that they operate under, consciously or subconsciously. The dominant narrative and the underlying motive to have a “juicy” story that “sells” lead them to focus on a small pocket of people who support that narrative.

Why did no reporter speak to people who cared less whether Bin Laden was dead or alive because it made no difference to their daily lives?

Why did no reporter speak to the victims of terrorism whose lives have been ruined by terrorists supporting al Qaeda’s ideology?

Why did no reporter speak to investors and businessmen whose interests are hurt every time there is a terrorist attack in the country?

One wonders if there really is any such thing as objective journalism.

Published in The Outlook (class newsletter), April-May, 2008.

While the media portray a very frightening picture of foreigners living and working in Pakistan, with innumerable reports of killings, bomb blasts and kidnappings linked to nearly every report of foreigners in Pakistan, some individual accounts of foreign social workers here present a different picture. Pakistan, according to them is a viable land for welfare work and is not seen as a ‘terrorist nation’.

Foreign workers at NGOs, who were part of our survey, have not faced any security problems in their work here despite having travelled to rural areas in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir, as well as areas like Waziristan, Tibet and Mangophir.

“I usually do not take security with me when travelling” says Wilson Lee, Program Officer for South and Southeast Asia National Endowment of Democracy based in Washington, USA. “But, if I am going to areas which have high security risk I do take security along.”

Speaking about his foreign colleagues, Media and PR Officer, Islamic Relief, Muhammad Niyaz says, “The work environment in Pakistan is comparatively better than some of the other countries in this region. Most of the foreigners that I know are enjoying working and living here, some of them to the extent that they don’t want to leave the country even after they complete their tenure.” He says there are only a few places here where there is a security concern and that there has not been a single incident of discrimination or security threat to his foreign colleagues so far.

Most foreigners find the people of Pakistan to be friendly and hospitable. It is easier to mobilize communities for development projects here as compared to Afghanistan.  However, some do admit that sometimes residents are suspicious of them suspecting them of wishing to impose foreign culture and religion on them.

Resistance or problems faced by foreigners working here are usually not by the people but by intelligence agencies, reveals Wilson Lee who has been bothered by intelligence agencies asking too many questions about his work which is centered around promoting democracy in Pakistan.

The role of foreign staff at various NGOs is commendable. Many occupy crucial positions in their respective organisations. Working away from home and in a different environment, these foreigners help improve Pakistan in their own different ways.

When contacted, the NGO Resource Centre said no overall figures existed on the number of foreign-based NGOs working in Pakistan, but stressed that a number of them do carry out important activities here. And it is not only foreign-based NGOs where foreigners lend their services, they also do so in local-based NGOs. Many NGOs reported that some foreigners often come temporarily for research or other specific projects and leave thereafter.

Foreigners working in Unicef, Green Star Social Marketing, Aga Khan Educational Service and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan could not be contacted after repeated calls due to their busy schedules. Information provided by some these NGOs about their work however shows that they carry out commendable activities here and there haven’t been any cases of security threat to their foreign workers here.

Other NGOs contacted either did not respond or did not have foreign workers.

With additional reporting by Asra Mustafa, Farwa Jafari, Fatima bint-e-Razi and Saman Nabiya.

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