in search of al qaeda
homethe journeyinside the tribal areasground zero: pakistandiscussion
producers' dispatches from the front

D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Prisoners' Dilemma"


from Marcela Gaviria

click here for a larger map I did not set the alarm clock, thinking that the call to prayer would wake me up. For some odd reason, it never happened. I make my way to the bathroom and sleepily brush my teeth, to discover that the water tastes like sewage. I can handle the taste, it's the fear of contracting hepatitis that suddenly petrifies me.

I wander over to the terrace edge and look down as this little mountain town wakes up. There are no women to be seen. It is not uncommon. In the last few days, I have seen perhaps a handful, and even though they are covered in blue burkas, they turn their backs on cars passing by.

It doesn't take long before I realize that I have been spotted on the deck without my shapata, or head scarf. This act is akin to wearing a bikini on the streets of Manhattan.

I feel very conscious about wrapping my shapata in a way that covers most of my face. I haven't figured out how to do this without feeling suffocated. Even as I lumber beneath this scarf, there is no hiding under this get up. Everyone knows that I am a Western woman.

Hotel in Dir.
It is strange for me here. I get stares that last for minutes: deep ones that unsettle me. For instance, there is our local contact, Latif Khan, a dwarf. He has not stopped staring at me since he's seen me. He jokes that he has two wives and could use a third. I tell him I'll consider the proposal if he gets us an interview with bin Laden.

It is surreal to be here. The shapata. The dwarf. The anxious vibe. The fields of marijuana that carpet the landscape. And the stench of sewage. It seems to worsen as the day heats.

We are not allowed to leave the hotel. We feel like prisoners in this town. And so on our little veranda we are visited by mullahs and doctors and shop keepers. We interview the local mayor Sahibzada Tariq Ulla, who tells us that he has not heard of any reports of Al Qaeda in the region and that it is not his concern. We interview the local mullah, Mullanha Qair Amin Ulla, who insists that all this talk of Al Qaeda near Dir is just lies. We talk to another local who told our driver that Americans had it coming, but on camera denied having anti-American sentiments, and of course denied knowing Al Qaeda.

Fair enough. Perhaps all these news reports are incorrect. Perhaps Afghan intelligence is making up conspiracy theories. Perhaps Al Qaeda is further buried in the deep gorges between Dir and Chitral, and beyond.

Martin Smith interviews a local man from Dir on his hotel room balcony.
What makes no sense is the growing tension between our crew and our fixers. We have arguments. "You don't trust me. You don't listen to me. You cannot walk on the streets. It is too dangerous," says Shameem. "I understand," says Martin. "But everybody tells us there is no Al Qaeda. That it is safe. That there are no negative feelings. So I must go out on the streets and find people who will tell me what you are telling me."

Shameem reminds Martin that a few weeks back a group of Western tourists were attacked by a grenade while on these very streets. It is a tale that we think of often, as we try to film the streets of Dir.

It is frustrating. If Al Qaeda exists in this region, they have found a perfect alibi in these people.


< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

London
(Aug. 13-14)

Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

Pakistan
(Aug. 22-29)

Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

+ Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

Pakistan
(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

Frustrations
9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

Indomitable
23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

Yemen
(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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