“Shahab, are you out of your mind? The military spokesperson just said on national television that no one should interview Manzoor Pashteen”.
“It’s just the start of your career, don’t take such risks”.
These were all the terrible ‘ifs’, ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ that I got blitz and strafed with by a plethora of senior journalists when I acquired for a suggestion on what to ask from the PTM leader, Manzoor Pashteen in an interview.
I was completely against what Manzoor stood for and represented – a rather odd looking wild goose chase that Manzoor was never going to win – but I was also swayed by the notion of freedom of speech. Why was it that Manzoor could not be questioned and interviewed? Why was it that no one was ready to hear out what Manzoor had to say? These were the questions that would often inundate my mind with sheer curiosity and it would often drive me to an edge to conclude that this was utterly unfair. I always believed in Voltaire’s beliefs of freedom of speech. In ‘ The friends of Voltaire ‘, a book by Evelyn Beatrice, it is stated that, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say It” and I have always stood by this quote.
Despite being bombarded by the threats hurled at me like daggers, I still approached Manzoor Pashteen – a controversial leader – often termed as a separatist, living in the tribal area of Pakistan adjoining Afghanistan. I ventured into little-known waters despite knowing about the precariousness of the situation looming over me like a guillotine, just for the sake of journalism. I was ready to wager my career on the line for journalism. Some might view it as irony but me interviewing Manzoor Pashteen on the World Press Freedom Day (3rd May, 2019), cemented my contribution to the world of journalism. It wasn’t just irony, it was rather symbolism – the symbol for the perpetual success for the perdurable world of ‘liberated journalism’. “No one should be left out, no one should be unheard “ , were the voices that always echoed in my mind. As an advocate of freedom of speech, I wanted to hear about Manzoor’s ideals uttered from his own mouth.
I therefore plodded into uncharted territory and finally dared to interview Manzoor Pashteen. It was then when my channel administration, sent a warning that I should not carry out this step and tried to deter me from not interviewing the pro separatist leader. They also questioned why I had met him even though BBC and Voice of America had recently interviewed him in detail and bringing his manifesto to light in front of the masses. My interview wasn’t aired and I had to upload it across my social media platforms. My interview of Manzoor Pashteen was his first ever profile interview in the history of Pakistan, bringing the ideals and believes of Manzoor to the local populace and thus highlighting Manzoor’s perspective in front of Pakistan and clarified his stance. This was the sole reason why this interview became the most viewed interview in the history of Pakistani digital media. This speaks volumes about the sensitivity of the topic and how it had become my prime objective to bring it up in front of the nation. Manzoor said media gives coverage to everyone, including Pakistan Army and TTP, but it refuses to give coverage to the PTM, which talks about non-violence and accountability and I therefore tried to prove him wrong by interviewing him. Me bringing up his stance in front of the millions of Pakistanis was just a way to make people realize what real journalism was.
To my surprise, I didn’t receive threats by the “state agencies” as anticipated by many, and apparently they were OK with the interview. I received life threats on social media and through calls by people from Manzoor’s party, Pashtoon Tahaffuz Movement for not “interviewing him properly”. They even mentioned my address and my daily routine in their threats. Ironically, I was afraid to step out of my house on the World Press Freedom Day 2018.
But journalism has never been a piece of cake in Pakistan and when I decided to step into this career, I was very well aware of this fact. I knew what I was signing up for and I have always been ready to face consequences for my journalism, which has become a crime nowadays.