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Life in restive Peshawar


Latest update : 2008-01-04

France 24's Franck Berruyer and Laure de Matos travelled for ten days between Peshwar and Islamabad covering the restive North West Frontier Province.



'Reporters' is the weekly venue for in-depth reporting from FRANCE 24's video journalists and senior correspondents in the field, around the world. The show airs Fridays at 10:15 am and 6:15 pm GMT+1, and Saturdays at 7.40 am GMT+1.

Reporters' Notebook

Saturday, Sept. 15 - Franck

We met a few journalists this evening in Peshawar to discuss the current situation. While we were there, we heard that a senior religious leader had been assassinated. He was shot dead outside his mosque on the second day of Ramadan. The students at his madrassa are in shock. There is a big protest is planned for tomorrow.

Sunday, Sept. 16 - Laure

I had never heard of Maulana Hassan Jan. On reaching Peshawar’s Qayyum stadium I realized he was a very important religious personality. He was a senior member (number 2) of Pakistan’s Commission of Koranic schools. Jan was a religious radical but he strongly condemned suicide attacks saying they were against the principles of Islam.

This morning most of the shop-owners in Sadder Bazaar lowered the metal entrance shutters. Thousand of men with long beards have taken to the streets to pay a last tribute to the fallen religious leader. The men are traditionally dressed in white salwar kameez.

There was no place for me in this pious procession. I was dressed and veiled like any other Pakistani but I was a woman, a foreigner.

Our fixer asked me to stay in the car….far away from this crowd, remain out of sight. I was frustrated but accepted to follow his orders because I know in Pakistan it is best to stay out of certain situations.

I worked in Pakistan for six months in 2006. I’ve often been asked if it is difficult “for a woman in these countries….” For me, the answer is no, there are times when a woman journalist can do much more than her male counterpart. She has access to the public (a quasi-male dominated society in Pakistan). But she also has access to the sphere of women, where no man will ever be admitted, not even a foreign journalist.

This Sunday, Pakistani women who admired the fallen Maulana were not allowed to pay homage at the Qayyum stadium. When I see the images filmed by Franck, I realize my presence could have further enraged this crowd of angry men.
Women in Pakistan lead parallel lives. They are merely shadows. Sometimes one questions whether women really exist in this country. In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) one sees more and more women dressed in burquas – blue, black and brown. Women in this region prefer to remain discreet – so this morning I tried to do the same, I stayed away.


Monday, Sept. 17 - Franck

Back on the adventure trail, we hit north. It was a pity to see the plight of the silk route. Impoverished workers are rebuilding roads manually on this busy highway. Battered trucks speed by ruining the recently repaired road.

The route led to Chitral. According to the local rumor, Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin-Laden was last seen in this district. We headed in the direction of Swat. A few months ago this valley was a tourist attraction for the Pakistani elite. The huge villas hidden behind high walls are a clear sign.

For me the region is like Switzerland - a picturesque green valley with a long river, ice-cold water flowing down from the glacier, apple and olive trees. But the situation here has degraded in the past few months. We were dressed like Pakistanis but were advised to remain discreet.

Shops selling CD’s and DVDs have been attacked at the city centre. Hairdressers have stopped cutting beards after being threatened. Schools for girls have been closed down. Other schools are under military protection. The threat is on the other side of the river- we are told.

Armed militants reign the region and enforce the law imposed by the region’s cleric. Our fixer insisted we remain discreet and not expose ourselves too. We were the only clients in a deserted hotel. A police chief in one of the villages was shot down. Each day there is a new incident. But the population we meet does not want to give in.


Saturday, Sept.22

The Akkoura Khattak madrassa is one of the most famous Qu’ranic schools of Pakistan. This is where most of the Taliban chiefs including Mullah Omar were trained and educated.

The madrassa is closed during the period of Ramadan.

But further down, dozens of young students sitting in a corridor were reciting verses from the Qur’an as they hand-picked raisins. This was the chore of the day.

Many avoid the camera, covered their faces. We met. During the visit to the school, Laure had to once again stay back in the car. But we met the Maulana at his residence Our host offered us tea and delicacies. Sitting behind a curtain, women engaged in conversation with Laure, in broken English.


Monday, Sept. 24 - Laure

Another day in Islamabad, before returning to NWFP. Political turmoil has been mounting in Pakistan. The opposition and lawyers are waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will block l Musharraf ‘s nomination for Presidential vote.
We went to the Supreme Court.

This morning TV news networks were reporting that an area had been sealed-off. But we passed without any problems. Policemen were seen standing in the shade of the trees. A few protestors were arrested this morning but everything seemed calm.

Many journalists were waiting for development…but nothing happened. The only event of the day – Black paint was thrown on Mushrraf’s lawyer. Around 1 pm, journalists kick started their scooters and headed back. They’ll be back tomorrow.


Date created : 2007-10-06