April 16, 2010

Bajaur aftermath - The Independent

Patrick Cockburn has great report from Bajaur in today's Independent. The access comes about as a result of a PR trip organised by the Pakistani military but Cockburn takes that into account in his analysis.

"It is hazardous to draw too many conclusions from an official tour such as the one I was on in Bajaur. There is so much one does not see. But it is impossible for foreign journalists to visit the area without official permission and protection."

The fighting in FATA needs good independent reporting. Events such as those described by Cockburn are in dire need of independent scrutiny:

"Many people have died and are still dying in this vicious and little-reported war where it is difficult to get details even when there are many dead. For instance last Saturday some 75 villagers were killed in an air strike by Pakistani jets in the Khyber district of FATA. The army at first said they were Islamic militants, but later admitted that there had been a blunder and victims were being compensated."

I have heard a good few Pakistani military people and politicians express the fear that a successful military operation now could be a source of a bigger problem in five to 10 years. Without on-the-ground independent reporting there is no voice agitating for things to be done any differently than they are now.

However, I think Cockburn nails the situation in his last paragraph:

"Peace has not returned to FATA. Local papers carry stories down-column of suspected Islamic militants' houses being burned, refugees in flight or returning, a girls' school destroyed by insurgents and many killed by American drone attacks. The army is in control, but it is not clear what would happen if it left. It may find it more difficult to get out of FATA than it was to get in."