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As Pakistani forces step up anti-Taliban operations, journalists flee Swat Valley

As Pakistani forces step up anti-Taliban operations, journalists flee Swat Valley
Pakistani army troops patrol near a makeshift camp for internally displaced civilians fleeing from military operations against Taliban militants in troubled Swat valley and Buner in Mardan, North-West Frontier Province. Pakistani jets and helicopters bombarded militant targets in Swat, where troops entered strategic towns in a pincer thrust towards the Taliban-held capital of the valley. Photo: Agence France-Presse (AFP) / Aamir Qureshi

The situation in the Swat Valley has turned alarming with the Pakistani armed forces stepping up their operations against the Taliban there. Newspapers had already stopped publishing after the military imposed a curfew. Now journalists are fleeing to safer areas. The Khyber Union of Journalists has now urged the government to allow the media access to Mingora, the largest city in the valley.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Khyber Union of Journalists president Mohammad Riaz said, “There is a complete blackout of news from Swat, Buner and Dir. There is no source of dissemination of news. No one is aware about the actual situation.” Swat press club president Salahuddin Khan told Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) on Monday that all the journalists had left the valley and that it was “now without any news media.”

Veteran journalists such as Ghulam Farooq, the editor of Shamal, and Fayyaz Zafar, the editor of the online newspaper Zama Swat, left Swat on May 7 and moved to cities such as Peshawar. “I have just left with my family and I am staying with a friend a long way from Mingora as journalism is no longer an easy trade to practice,” Farooq told RSF by phone.

“It is now impossible to get independently-sourced information about what is happening in the Swat Valley,” RSF said. “Journalists are fleeing en masse. None of them wants to stay there anymore. We urge the authorities to issue journalists with permits that allow them to circulate during curfew hours. We also call for immediate measures to guarantee the security of journalists, so that they can return to the valley and resume working there.”

RSF added, “The Swat Valley has become a lawless area without news media and without journalists. This situation is unacceptable and must be remedied by the government at once.”

A few journalists such as TV reporter Shireenzada had been holding on despite the danger. He told RSF a few days ago, “Let’s hope nothing serious happens.” He said he had stockpiled fuel and food for the difficult days to come. He was the last reporter to try to provide information about what was happening in the combat zone.

Shireenzada finally pulled out for safety reasons on Monday. “I have also left Swat with my family because it is extremely hard to be a journalist in the current situation,” he said. “Swat is now without any journalists.”

Shireenzada said there were still several thousand inhabitants trapped in Mingora waiting for the end of the curfew in order to leave for safer areas. He added that they would soon run out of water and food because of the lack of electricity and the curfew.

Date posted: May 17, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 300