Salman Yousafzai talks to Sara Loane about reporting from Peshawar in Pakistan, a city that feels as if it's under siege. Everyone here, he says, has been affected by terrorism.
I was born and brought up in an enlightened Pashtoon family in northwestern Pakistan at a time when the clouds of war hovered over the South Asian region.
I used to hear hair-raising tales of Pakistan-India wars, Mujahideen resistance against the Russian army in Afghanistan, efforts for peacemaking, the many pitfalls involved in the process.
Hearing these stories had a massive impact on me. All of these terrifying tales imbued in me a sharp sense of the happenings in Pakistan and its neighbouring countries.
I was keen to communicate these stories — about conflict and people’s astonishing ability to persevere in the face of unimaginable horrors. That’s when I decided to become a journalist.
I graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and landed a great job with Intermedia, a non-governmental organisation, which operated a radio network, as a reporter-cum-editor. Here I produced feature reports on the violence-wrecked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, which bordered conflict-hit Afghanistan.
It was also here that I produced reports on the haplessness of those who were displaced from their homes in FATA due to militancy, and their impoverished lives in the camps set up for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Reporting these stories was completely incomparable to living them. I hoped that I was informing both the policymakers and the public.
I was keen to communicate about people’s astonishing ability to persevere in the face of unimaginable horrors.
Later, I joined the daily newspaper, The Frontier Post, Peshawar, where I have been covering conflict and crime for the last six years. I’ve also been contributing investigative reports to DAWN.COM, a news website operated by Pakistan’s Dawn group of newspapers, and the New Lens Pakistan.
My home city of Peshawar has regularly been rocked by suicide bomb attacks which have become routine in the wake of Pakistan's long fight against Taliban militancy. It’s a precarious and hostile atmosphere. Everyone here has been affected by terrorism.
In FATA, a pro-government militia of local tribesmen with a world view not much different from the Taliban, runs a parallel state. Laws imposed by them are followed by everyone in the area or else “exemplary punishment” is meted out. It’s one of the stories I entered for the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. My other entries have been about a thriving meth addiction in Peshawar, FATA and other districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Peshawar contraband smugglers that are financing terrorism in Pakistan.
While terrorism casts a dark shadow here, I remain hopeful that reporting on the issues and starting a dialogue can, over time, change entrenched attitudes. I’ve already been awarded for my work by the International Centre for Journalists. I’m hoping I can bring another award back to my beloved but troubled Peshawar next month.
Salman is joined by two other finalists, Sudanese reporter Yousra Elbagir, who writes for the Guardian and CNN.com and Ancillar Mangena, a Zimbabwean journalist working for Forbes Africamagazine in South Africa.
The trio will be flown to London in November, spend two nights in the city and attend the gala award night at the Sheraton Park Hotel – along with a host of other potential award winners and leading figures from the world of journalism – where one of them will be announced winner of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award 2016.
The award, now in its fourth year, is one of the highlights of the UK's Foreign Press Association Awards and this year attracted more than 100 entries from 42 countries.
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