Naheed Mustafa is a Canadian freelance broadcast and print journalist. She’s currently on a reporting trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan and will be posting dispatches from her trip.
ISLAMABAD – In 2008, just before my first trip to Afghanistan, I spoke to a fixer who came highly recommended. He promised me all kinds of adventures: “Madame, I will take you on the Kabul-Kandahar highway and you can wear a burqa. Journalists love that!” I thanked him and said I’d grown up around those blue shuttlecock burqas – they weren’t terribly interesting — and what would I learn from driving on the highway? “But, Madame, everyone thinks it’s exciting!”
I came to hate that word – exciting.
I had spent the previous three months pitching stories to editors – radio shows, magazines, and newspapers – about Afghanistan and Pakistan. They all wanted something exciting. After all, it’s Taliban country and there are soldiers and guns and awesome technology and things that blow up! But there are people there, I’d say, who are living their lives and trying to get on with things and the conflict doesn’t sum up the whole region.
Ah, but that’s not exciting.
News coverage of the poorly named AfPak still focuses primarily on insurgency, troop movements, and the minutiae of official briefings. The average person is present only to the degree they can comment on these things.
Of course, Pakistan is full of people who write poetry and work for human rights and try to build civil and social institutions. It’s obvious that people here fall in love, that they have hope. Pakistanis are no less interested in seeing their nation prosper than Americans or Canadians or British are in seeing their own countries progress.
The Afghanistan that I’ve come to love is, for me, as much about sharing dinners in friends’ homes, teasing their children, and trying to share some of the frustrations they feel with all that is left unresolved in their country, as it is about the incrementalism of war.
But the stories that illuminate the human face, the big picture, are hard to sell. They’re not exciting. It’s not interesting to read about how Afghans see corruption in their daily lives or how Pakistanis try to run businesses in the face of an ever-worsening energy crisis. It’s not a thrill to see unintended consequences spill over into the lives of regular folks.
I pitched an editor a piece about what women stood to lose in the face of Taliban reconciliation and the backing off of internationals. He asked me to “explain why anyone should care.” Apparently human decency isn’t enough reason.
And so I find myself back in this region, AfPak, a lousy name slapped on to a lousy situation. There are a million stories here that would captivate, that could show the people in this region are more than just victims deserving of pity. I’ll be working on some cultural stories, something for a travel magazine, an oral history of some of the Pashtun tribes, a radio documentary about demographic shift in Pakistan. I’ve found a home for most of these stories but I’m hoping to make Registan the home for my random samplings of daily life (or maybe just my rants).
When Joshua Foust first offered me a spot on the blog, my first reaction was to say thank you, but no. The blog seems to be home to people with an academic understanding of the region and my journalistic observations would surely cause a stampede of comments. But then I thought, why not. I’ve never blogged and it could be interesting. At the very least, it’ll be exciting.