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Journalists In Tribal Areas Demand Protection

Pakistani journalists protest outside the parliament.
Pakistani journalists protest outside the parliament.
Reporters and human rights campaigners in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas have called for security as the region’s protracted conflict takes a heavy toll on their professional and personal lives.

Thirteen journalists have reportedly been killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan since 2005.

In addition, many journalists have fled the regions after they were threatened by government officials and militant commanders who disapproved of their reporting.

The subject was recently discussed in a recent edition of Radio Mashaal's call-in show, "Along the Borderland."

Safdar Dawar, a former president of the Tribal Union of Journalists, said that journalism has become an extremely dangerous profession in the tribal areas.
"Officials and militant commanders warn us of serious consequences if we don't report according to their wishes," he said.

He urged Islamabad to investigate the killing of journalists and bring the perpetrators to justice, pointing out that, "Even the bereaved families of the journalists killed have not received any support."

He demanded security for those journalists who are working inside FATA and those who have been forced to leave, saying, "We are really struggling for our survival."

Dawar called for better wages and job security for the journalists. He called on the government and the militants to treat them as impartial observes.

He said that the situation has deprived an estimated seven million FATA residents from receiving even the most basic information.

"Recently [hundreds] of families were displaced from Mir Ali [a town in North Waziristan tribal district targeted by airstrikes]. They had no idea about where to seek shelter, food and basic healthcare," he said. "People don’t know about the issues shaping their lives."

Dawar said that FATA remains one of the most underdeveloped corners of Pakistan. "There is no electricity, telephones and internet in most of the tribal areas, and people in the region are literally disconnected from the rest of the world."

The attacks on journalists have deepened what is already an information void. Under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, a set of century-old colonial laws that remain active in FATA, residents are not allowed to publish magazines and newspapers, and private radio and television stations are also illegal.

Sher Muhammad Khan, a senior representative of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, said the outdated laws deprived FATA residents of their fundamental rights, and that "It is high time to bring this region into the mainstream."

"Along the Borderland" is a weekly, hour-long Radio Mashaal call-in show known for interactive debates on social and political issues. Every Tuesday millions of listeners in the Pakistani borderlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces tune in to the show.