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Over the drone of drones

Published Jun 18, 2012 03:31pm


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As this week is refugee week, I thought it relevant to explore an area of Pakistan that is home to the majority of its refugees.

According to the UNHCR Pakistan gives shelter to 1.7 million refugees, the majority of them Afghan. In addition there are nearly half a million people currently displaced due to conflict in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Although I have never visited, I have spent the past month or so talking to people from this area as part of a research piece. I have to say, before I did so, my mental picture of the place was built from almost caricatured images gleaned from news stories: Turbaned terrorists living in badlands under the shadow of the drone; mysterious tribes with women under lock and key; and the tough-skinned, hard-staring, throat-slitting mountain men that feature in The Pakistani Bride. I gently chide myself for allowing my impressions to be formed this way when a) I spend my life urging people to not generalise based on media-built perceptions and b) the mainstream media has little genuine access to the region anyway.

One person I spoke to on the telephone laughed at the notion of accurate media coverage of events in Fata: “It never represents anything close to the truth of what is happening on the ground here – either in the Pakistani or International media”.

My Skype calls have been interesting. Speaking with smart, moustachioed gents in shirts and ties (no turbans), sitting in offices (not caves), their gentility has impressed me. I listened to articulate and rational people who are working towards an improved quality of life for the people there. I saw doctors, who - whilst frustrated by the failures – are a testament to the region in that they themselves are committed to change. There are plenty of examples of people locked in a never-ending quest for betterment – another being the Peshawar based DOST charity, already written about in my blog about street children, which does great work reaching out to marginalised people in the region, many of them refugees.

Drones have been mentioned in my exchanges, but there are many other concerns – such as finding work, or ensuring children getting a good education. The US has finally articulated that it is at war in Fata, and as Reuters journalist Myra MacDonald wrote – “it might even lift us out of what until now has been a polemical debate between supporters and opponents of drone strikes, with little attention paid to the voices of people who actually live there”, who, she goes on to say, are so often ignored.

This article is not here to present pithy conflict analysis, nor gloss over the struggles of people living in the area. Instead, it suggests, that during refugee week, we look a little differently at Fata and KP – and if possible, we hear the voices of people living there over the drone of the drones. And as the US announce “war,” we announce compassion and pledge not to get caught up in the media stereotyping of an area that has already begun.

I asked a few friends living in the area what was the nicest thing that happened yesterday. One finished all their work on time, another finalised a research paper. One felt appreciated by their father and another met up with an old friend. These are all feelings and events that could happen to any of us. Nobody wrote “I escaped a drone”. When I asked people who they most admired they answered with mothers, fathers, friends – one even said their boss! Nobody wrote “the Taliban”. The reasons given for the admiration were hard work, compassion, selflessness, fairness, co-operation and “doing a great job for Fata”.  Let us remember that these qualities exist in this place.

The visiting Reuters journalist was struck by how different Fata looked from her own mental image. I am hoping that my research piece leads to an opportunity to see and experience the area for myself – for to count on each finger the number of invitations I have had to visit I would need two hands.

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found here and on facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (9) Closed

Kanwal Jun 18, 2012 01:27pm
Dear Jaine, Thats a very British way of saying things between the lines: Subtle. And it does nt work too much for the level of crimes you are talking about. So pls be a bit open next time. The discussion is great though.
abdullah Jun 19, 2012 02:55pm
i dont know why people want to know about us in this detail from that far, why are we the only region in major discussion , whats the reality behind every thing ? who are taliban ? who are discussing them? who are killed in the drones? do you tell me about any body who escaped a drone ? do you talked to any body who's dear ones are gone in this criminal act of superiority? no one has the access to your dear skype to be assesed through, whats do you mean by a gentleman and a a thorough gentleman?who gave you the definitions? so please stop all this shamfull research, we are not animals we are humans with our own tradition and way of life.
Ahmed Jun 18, 2012 10:59am
Only if the media was fair - but this is not gonna happen in this world I guess !!!
Nice Jun 19, 2012 11:30am
nice article..... it is important to see that tv does not show all sides of an issue
BRR Jun 18, 2012 02:40pm
The writer employs a classic tool to setup a story - a thesis based on stereotypes she wants to decry, an anti-thesis comprising her "goody", everybody is just like me, "people are all the same sentiments", followed by a synthesis of sorts contrived to show her "better nature", as she is able to see beyond the stereotype. This is called self-congratulatory writing, IMHO, and tells more about her personality than the subject matter. In short, it is all about herself, under the guise of "explaining FATA". The exercise is juvenile.
manish Jun 18, 2012 02:13pm
well, the media or for that matter people outside are never worried about gentlemans who go about doing there work.. people are wary of the fanatics and extremists, so the media people show them what they want to see....
A Friend Jun 19, 2012 05:15am
Dear Caroline Jaine , For something to be called a research there has to be a method and regiour in it , First principle is that you are survying a small sample so the sample drawn has to be truly random to represent the group under the study so statistical theory can apply . Once you are doing this study among internet users actually it is a just skimmed cream of society and not true representation. So this is just re-enforcement of your opinion and not research as you say. I am sure this comment will be censored but writing it anyway :-) Regards
Uzma Jun 19, 2012 11:23pm
Caroline, can you point out a single news article in American / British / International media which mentions that 40,000 Pakistanis have died, a further half-million displaced in this "War of Terror"? No one mentions this because these are inconvenient facts. Mr. Obama is happy to classify all deaths of "military-aged" males as "enemy combatants". He even argues that the death toll from drone strikes in the past decade is in "single digit". These half-million displaced people have lost their way of life and the children have lost their chance of a normal upbringing. No schooling for them. Who is looking out for their future? Not our government and the international media is certainly part of it. Truth is investigative journalism is dead.
Nut Case Jun 20, 2012 07:49am
Arm chair research done from thousands of KM away with safety of internet has it's own limitations. I am sure people who voted the other comment down even understand what is statistical theory and random sample drawn and why it is so central to any kind of research involving large sets.