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LAHORE: The chaos in Afghanistan as a result of the competing strategic interests of neighbouring states is not a recent phenomenon.

Speaking at a talk, titled ‘Journalism in Conflict Zones’, organised by the Centre for Governance and Policy at the Information Technology University (ITU) on Wednesday, Kathy Gannon, a senior correspondent and bureau chief for the Associated Press, encouraged upcoming journalists to report in conflict regions in order to understand the key issues affecting these places.

The veteran journalist spoke about her experiences while covering news in war-torn Afghanistan and uncovering the reasons behind the chaos in the region.

“I got injured while doing coverage from my own car with a freelancer, and my photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed. I suffered two gunshots on my arm, but I continued my work,” she said.

She discussed the various militant groups operating in Afghanistan and said: “Afghanistan is now a mass of Taliban with different sects.”

She briefly discussed the presence of the militant Islamic State group, Islamic Uzbekistan Movement, Afghan Taliban, Jamaatul Ahrar, the Haqqani Network and others. “What they want is power… that’s what it is all about.”

Gannon explained that the religious element of the discourse of militant groups was aimed at garnering support for their actions even though most of them were not even aware of the basics of religion themselves.

She also discussed the underlying reasons of the mistrust of foreigners in Afghanistan, in particular foreign journalists and even locals working for foreign companies. “The government is extremely corrupt… you need to pay a bribe even to pay your utility bills. The locals see foreigners or those working for foreigners in cahoots with a state that is corrupt to the core and hence the widespread anger against them.”

Responding to a question, she explained that the mistrust directed against Pakistan had much to do with the issue of competing strategic interests being played out on Afghan soil. Pakistan is known to have allegedly provided weapons to the Taliban; key militant leaders were found to be living in Pakistan – even in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The Durand Line remains a bone of contention.

“Afghanistan says that they haven’t recognised the Durand Line, why do you recognise it,” she asked.

Missing from the logic of governance, the so-called war on terrorism, and even half-hearted attempts to rebuild Afghanistan were the people of the country, she stated. Every country that had interfered here was looking out for its own interests, the competing militant groups looked to seize power and the government to maintain its hegemony even as the region had descended into chaos.

It was in this environment that journalists must work hard to report the truth and uncover stories about the people who featured in this game of competing interests, the veteran journalist said.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2017