A Death in Swat
Video and Synopsis


Pakistani Army Claims Taliban's Elimination in Swat valley Imminent
As the U.N. appeals for $543 million in aid to help the estimated 2 million people fleeing Swat Valley since intense fighting began there, the Pakistan Army claims that it has a number of Taliban strongholds surrounded. The Guardian story also reports that the Army still has to convince many Swat residents that it is serious about routing the Taliban after two previous attempts failed. 

Pakistan to Wipe Out Militants, U.S. Senators Assured
A delegation of U.S. Senators met with Pakistan's president and prime minister May 25th to discuss Pakistan's crisis. Reported in the newspaper Dawn, Senators Patrick Leahy, Mark Warner, and Sheldon Whitehouse met with Pakistan's leaders who tried to reassure the U.S. that Pakistan was fully commitment to fighting extremism. President Zardari told the U.S. senators that his country was not only fighting for its own survival but for the peace of the whole word. Prime Minister Gilani asked for more support from the West in relief and reconstruction aid. For their part, the senators said the U.S. must step up its role in resolving the Kashmir conflict; they also agreed to fast-track partial relief funds this week to Pakistan.

Fazlullah Asks His Men to Stop Fighting
Also from the Pakistan newspaper Dawn, Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told the AFP news service that Maulana Fazlullah has called off his fighters in the region of Mingora to spare civilian casualties. In a statement by phone, Khan accused the Army of killing civilians and urged Swat residents to return and resume their lives, saying that the Taliban would not fire a shot or stand in their way. An Army spokesman dismissed the statement as a ploy by a Taliban in retreat. Major General Athar Abbas said, “They are now remembering the civilians whom they used to behead and decapitate.”

Pakistan: A Death in Swat
When David Montero last reported from Pakistan's Swat Valley, the Taliban had just begun their rise to power.

It all began with a bloody campaign of violence that hit this once-peaceful valley hard.

To pursue the story of the militants’ insurgency in Swat, Montero needed local help. That's when he met Musa Khan Khel.

“I never forget the first time I met him,” Montero recalls. “He had a huge black beard, and he even made a joke. He pointed to his beard and said: ‘Don't I look like the Taliban? But don't worry.’"

Musa was a well-known journalist in Pakistan. He was reporting on the hottest and most violent story in the country. He had a national audience of millions on Pakistan’s most prominent news channel. For Montero, Musa became the face of the war and how it had gone wrong.

He realized that Musa had developed good relations with the Taliban. “He had incredible access,” Montero says.  Over TV footage of Musa reporting on the Taliban as they raid a government security base and seize weapons, Montero follows the scene: “That's Musa right there with them.”

In other video, Musa is seen walking with the Taliban. Montero explains: “They [the Taliban] want to show him what happened after the government sent these very poorly paid troops to fight them. You see Musa and his brother filming dead bodies of these security people who the Taliban had killed,” Montero adds, beginning to fill in the pieces of Musa’s reporting on Swat.

In another video, the Pakistani journalist is standing in the middle of a Swat Valley field, microphone in hand. Montero explains what Musa was trying to convey. He was “telling Pakistan and in a sense the world that, Look, the military operation is not working. The Taliban are still here. They're still killing people.”

Musa's access to the young Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah drew suspicion from the Pakistan government, and the reporter's relationship to the militants came into question. Montero makes the point that getting the story, particularly on an assignment as tough as Swat, is based on relationships and access.
In that respect, he says, Musa was shrewd in his ability to get close to Fazlullah and his men. Though he adds, “I don't know that I could say he was sympathetic to the Taliban, but that was a view that a lot of people had.”

After Montero left Swat, the Taliban took control of the Valley.

When a peace deal between the government and the Taliban was signed in February, the whole of Swat came out to celebrate. But, for Musa, the celebration would be short lived.

He spent his last hours in the thick of the action, covering the story that had consumed him for almost two years. Musa wasn't sure the Taliban leaders would really put down their arms.  So after the rally, he set off on one more reporting trip to the local Taliban stronghold.  

Musa's younger brother, Issa, stayed behind and waited for word from his brother. 

In mid-afternoon, he received at text message saying that Musa was with Taliban leaders but then communication went dead.
“I was in the office in the evening,” Issa recalls, “when I got a call that a man had been shot and killed by unidentified men.” For 30 minutes, he didn’t know whether his brother was dead or alive.
Then locals told him that the Taliban had brought his brother in a car, pushed him out and shot him.

“I phoned my uncle and told him what had happened. I said that he should tell the family that it was an accident.”

It seemed like an open and shut case against the Taliban.

But people in Swat were just as likely to blame the Pakistani security services. It turned out that the government had been threatening Musa in the months before he died.

In one newspaper account, Musa claimed that he was beaten by men in uniform. They told him the government wasn't happy with his tough reporting on the military. From that day, Musa told colleagues that he feared for his life.

Musa's death immediately touched off protest in Swat, especially among journalists.

His funeral generated an outpouring of anguish and grief. “Musa, we’re ashamed your murderers are still alive,” a mourner cried.

Everyone in Swat knew the murder would never be fully investigated, no matter who was responsible. It's one reason why Swat has been called one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Not long after Musa was buried, the peace deal would fall apart, the Army would move back into the Valley, and hundreds of thousands of people would flee.

When Montero contacted Issa again recently, he was surprised to find him still there.

He'd taken over his brother's old job in journalism. He was now the Swat correspondent, pursuing the story his brother died trying to report.

“I won't leave,” he says, while visiting his brother’s grave. “If things get bad again, I will move my family to a safe place. But I will not leave. I will be the last journalist in Swat.”



share your reactions

Fremont, CA
The Taliban understand the uncertainties of youth in a changing world and masterfully manipulate children starved of purpose. Forces of tolerance and understanding must be equally aware of youth needs and vigorously fill the emptiness in young hearts before it is exploited by the Taliban. We must discuss practical solutions to stimulate this transformation of spirit. It must be done delicately, with respect for cultural norms (provided the norms do not grossly violate human rights).

Kevin Stiner
Rochester, New York

The problem is an intriguing situation, in that I found contradicting beliefs within myself as an American. I believe the thought of respecting the sanctity of culture was taught to me from the very beginning. I was also taught about the sanctity of liberty, but was never told which one is superior.

This is what this case of the Taliban and Pakistan stems down to. The Taliban is fighting for the sanctity of their dying culture. It is sad to say that America is in some cases showcasing qualities of Imperialism but I wish there were a way to create both worlds possible. Unfortunately, that will never occur. So unless America has countless lives invested in this so -called "liberation" they should turn their efforts towards a better-suited attack of knowledge.

Liberating these individuals' minds and freeing them from the belief that martyrdom provides a form of enlightenment. They must be taught that death is the easy way out, a more righteous man will prove his worth through a natural lifetime.

Continually throwing money and violence at the problem will not fix it but only fuel it. There must be some way to reason with these terrorists. If anything, this show displayed that they are indeed people as well and that they have feelings and are joining the Taliban out of revenge. It is a picture-perfect clash of cultures, and creation of a civil war. If people were only at liberty to choose their own fate and beliefs then there would be no problem. Liberty trumps imposed culture, but not a culture of free minds.

Oklahoma city, OK
It is very disturbing that people were risking their life to make this program, but the editor and engineering crew could not even put subtitles correctly. Most of the subtitles were under the screen unreadable, and we have no idea what all those Pakistani were talking about.

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