On March 6th, the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, hosted Daud Khattak, a veteran Pakistani reporter and analyst, as well as a senior editor for RFE/RL’s Pakistan service (Radio Mashaal). The session was moderated by Peter Bergen, director of the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program.
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Khattak drew on over twelve years of experience reporting on events along the Afghan-Pakistan border, addressing important regional issues including militarism, media and life in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
An important focus of his remarks was the role of the government and international community in limiting extremism in the tribal regions. Khattak said that Pakistan’s government has pursued a counterproductive approach on its border with Afghanistan by using frontier tribes as scapegoats, and he called on authorities to respect and address the demands of tribal people.
“The options for the government and international community are very clear,” Khattak said. “Tribal people want to be part of the mainstream. They want positive change in their life, they want education, health facilities, roads, dams, jobs. Unfortunately, nothing of that sort is visible on the ground and the social status of the tribal people is rapidly going down, mainly because of the ongoing militancy operations and the displacement from their areas.”
Khattak acknowledged that the way ahead for social advancement in Pakistan’s tribal areas -- including civil society development, poverty alleviation, and expansion of access to education -- is a tough one. But he praised the recent proliferation of media outlets in Pakistan’s Pashto-speaking border region, especially non-government outlets expressing a range of ideas and opinions. The expansion of coverage, Khattak believes, has led to a growing social awareness among the people of the tribal regions.
“Despite all the negative [material] in the Pakistani media, it has created awareness,” Khattak said. “Although sometimes it is misguided, taking the people here and there, awareness is coming to Pakistani society about the government, about their problems, their rights, women’s rights.”
He also addressed the most controversial feature of Pakistani-US relations: American drone strikes against suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Though Khattak emphasizes that the strikes offer a pretext for Pakistani politicians to capitalize on widespread anti-American sentiment, he feels that increasing the transparency of the drone strike program would ease civilian anxieties and improve local support for the policy.
“If the Pakistani government and the US government share the correct information from the ground, releasing the exact info to the people, I think it will snatch the opportunity from Islamists or certain political parties to say that only civilians are being killed.”
Towards the end of his talk, Khattak discussed the Radio Mashaal’s growing role in assisting Pakistan’s Pashtun population. With a focus on promoting interaction between the station and the community, Khattak noted that Radio Mashaal has become an outlet for individuals to present important local issues that otherwise go unheard.
“The people are voiceless, they have no representation,” Khattak said. “So we are including them, we are making our programs interactive to include them and they are sharing their voices with us. They are calling us; they are joining our live debates; they are joining our feature programs. And then our reporters are reporting on their problems.”
-- Aemilia Madden