When people hear the name Waziristan, their minds immediately turn to militants, terrorism, armed clashes, weapons and other stereotypes and misperceptions. After all, this was the area of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) that saw the Zarb-i-Azb army operation against various militant groups between June 2014 and February 2017. It is unfortunate that most people have not seen the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region’s scenic beauty, its thick alpine forests, its lush green meadows, or experienced its rich culture and hospitality.
Jamshed Burki is now trying to change all this, using only his camera. A graduate of Comsats in Abbottabad, Burki is a passionate photographer and Vlogger from Kaniguram of tehsil Ladha in South Waziristan. His aim is to show the world that the two districts — North and South — that comprise the Waziristan region are peaceful and have as much potential for tourism as any other part of Pakistan.
“I remained a position holder from Matric to FSc,” he says. “On my first day at university in 2017, when I introduced myself as belonging to Waziristan, the other students’ reaction was quite curious — everyone started asking me about terrorism, about terrorists and ‘How do you live in that unsafe place?’ etc.”
He says he knew then he had to challenge these misperceptions by promoting a different picture of the tribal region as well as of Pakhtuns to the wider world. But he didn’t know then that his keen interest in photography would lead him to creating videos about Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which would help people see another side to the region.
A Vlogger from Waziristan is creating videos in a bid to change his area’s image from a hub of militancy to one with an immense potential for tourism
In 2018, he and his friends went on holiday to Naran. Inspired by other videos he’d seen, he played around with his mobile phone to document that journey; he uploaded his work on YouTube and immediately received some positive feedback.
He then worked on his video skills and bought himself an Iphone 6, as well as a drone, which improved the qualities of the videos he was uploading on to YouTube. He began building a following on social media platforms with his videos on different cultural aspects of Waziristan and other tribal areas such as Orakzai.
In his travel videos, whether done solo on his motorbike or with friends, Burki serves as a guide and recommends itineraries too. The more popularity he gained, the more his equipment grew. In 2022, he was gifted a camera by Sony, which asked him to also train other people on that camera for their Vlogs.
It was his video on Peerghar (or Prighaal locally), about the highest mountain in South Waziristan, which garnered the most attention. That video went viral because it was a combination of reporting on different cultural activities, scenes of climbing and trekking, and multiple shots of the picturesque valleys. The video was widely viewed by audiences across the country, as well as abroad, because it helped people see Waziristan as a tourist destination.
The Waziristani Vlogger has gained a greater following since uploading his videos across diverse social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok — he has more than 127,000 followers on TikTok alone. Burki’s short form videos showcase scenic imagery across KP – for example, from Shangla, of the Saidga Lake in Upper Dir and the Taghan waterfall in Buner. He also shares videos about his camera equipment — the more his social following grew, the more Burki was able to afford better equipment.
“I have explored almost every part of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” he boasts. “Besides the tribal districts, I have also documented places such as Swat, Shangla, Battagram and Kohistan, which fall in the Malakand and Hazara divisions of KP. I’ve got marvellous love and feedback from audiences.”
Burki says his family always supported him in his field, which is why he is moving in the right direction according to his vision, to show the world a positive image of Pakhtuns and the regions that have often been stereotyped.
“I want KP to become a tourist hub for national and international tourists, so the many Pakhtuns who have moved abroad to earn can return to their homeland and start their own businesses and earn for their families at their doorstep,” he says.
Burki believes the province’s northern regions of Malakand and Hazara have great potential for tourism. “You feel peace of mind and genuine happiness in the breathtaking places of KP,” he says.
What has been his favourite place so far, I ask him.
“I will divide this into two sections: former Fata and the rest of KP,” he says. “In former Fata, Waziristan is my favourite area, because of its different landscapes and natural beauty and, after that, it is Swat, which is a mini-Switzerland.”
Making the videos is not child’s play. Trekking in the mountains is not easy, especially when you are climbing for hours, even days, with a backpack, without cellular networks, disconnected from the world.
Recalling his experience of the mountains in Dir, Burki recalls that they once lost their group members and did not eat anything for 18 hours. Eventually, they were able to find a little bit of water to quench their thirst, and were only later reunited with companions.
Burki says there is another misperception about people in the area being dangerous because they carry weapons, but that is just a part of their culture. “It doesn’t mean people constantly kill each other or their guests,” he laughs. The actual characteristic of Pakhtuns is their immense hospitality, says Burki, and he believes he has presented this successfully to the world.
The female biker Alia Tahir, who visited most parts of Waziristan recently on a motorbike, concurs. She says public stereotypes about Waziristan and tribal people were proved wrong and she witnessed the hospitality firsthand. She says families can visit Waziristan and walk in the streets and in the mountains without any fear, and the locals are welcoming and respectful towards tourists.
Burki remembers that when he was filming Eid-ul-Azha in Waziristan in 2018, he saw perhaps two vehicles heading towards the area. But this year, he saw thousands of vehicles headed that way for a picnic. He thinks this is his achievement, and says he believes this because of the encouraging comments he receives on his socials, where his followers tag him when they visit Waziristan.
Burki now works in the corporate sector, making content and videos for organisations. He uses his savings for his trips but he says he often gets invited by locals to various areas and they never let him spend his money, saying he is their guest. The Vlogger wants tourism to become a main source of revenue for the locals, which will also contribute to the country’s economy, he says.
He suggests tourists visiting Waziristan should hire local guides to help them with their itineraries and to keep them safe from landmines left behind after the security operations. He also asks them to be mindful of cultural values, so “everyone in all the tribal districts and the rest of KP would welcome you from the core of their heart s.”
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent
in Shangla. X: @umar_shangla
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 24th, 2023