Mansehra remains in the news
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The American media refuse to let the Mansehra training camp story die, though it has been printed and reprinted several times in recent months.
Four reporters assigned by the New York Times, two in Pakistan and two in Afghanistan, have painted a rather disturbing picture of fighters being trained in a remote corner of the Mansehra district for deployment against Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities appear only too willing to permit access to their detainees who accuse Pakistan of keeping the pot boiling in Afghanistan with trained infiltrators.
One of the “sources” interviewed in Pakistan is a cleric named Mujahid Mohiyuddin who told the newspaper that “he and his district are innocent” though he had received “military training in 1996 from Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen.” He assured his interviewer that “the government has imposed restrictions on the holy war. There are not any training camps in the country, especially Mansehra.”
Since such expressions of innocence are not acceptable under the rules of “investigative journalism,” the report goes on the point out that “during the past year, Taliban prisoners captured in Afghanistan, opposition politicians in Pakistan and Afghan and Indian government officials have said repeatedly that training camps are active in the Mansehra district and other parts of Pakistan, while Pakistani officials vehemently deny they exist.”
An “armed Pakistani” captured in Afghanistan is next quoted as having told a private Afghan television channel in June that he had been trained in Mansehra. A Pakistani journalist working on contract for the New York Times is quoted as saying that he met the London 7/7 bomber, Shehzad Tanweer, on a trip to a militant training camp in the Mansehra district last winter. Three Pakistanis recently sentenced to prison terms in Afghanistan for trying to assassinate the American ambassador said they had been trained in the district, an Afghan intelligence official told the newspaper.
The NYT report quotes Sher Ali, a 28-year-old night watchman from NWFP, who was allegedly caught in July on his way to join the mujahedeen. Now lodged in a Kabul jail, he is constantly being made available to the foreign press by the Afghan authorities to blame Pakistan for what many see as the Karzai government’s own inability to manage things. The Sher Ali story has been told once before and duly printed in this country. It is told once again in this report, regardless of the universal journalistic practice of treating information once printed as unusable.
The NYT report notes that while American officials have credited Pakistan with aggressively cracking down on foreign militants, particularly Al Qaeda, at the same time some Afghan and American officials say Pakistan is making little effort to fight the Taliban. Those officials say Pakistan is effectively holding that group in reserve, intending to use it to dominate Afghanistan once the United States withdraws its troops. “Independent and reliable confirmation of any claims about the camps is difficult, if not impossible, to verify,” the report adds.
Foreign journalists, the report notes, are not allowed to go to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and Azad Kashmir, “two areas where many of the camps are reported to be operating.” Pakistani officials are also said to have begun issuing restricted visas that bar foreign journalists from travelling to Quetta and Peshawar, “another place where there are said to be training camps.” Pakistani officials are quoted as saying that the restrictions are for the journalists’ safety. However, foreign journalists, adds the report, are allowed to travel to the Mansehra district.
A one-day visit in early August by a New York Times reporter is said to have produced ample evidence that militant training camps had operated in the area for years, but no proof that they are still active today. “Local politicians proudly declared that the area supported several training camps in the past 15 years, but those trained only young men fighting Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The government closed the camps, they said, when the India-Pakistan peace talks resumed in early 2004,” the newspaper adds.
The story refers to a report in the Pakistani magazine Herald which claimed that one of its reporters had recently visited a reopened training camp in the Mansehra district. The same article also said that 13 camps had reopened in the Mansehra area in May, including one near the home village of Mohiyuddin, the cleric who said the camps had closed.