“We left our native village in Mohmand tribal region and shifted to Shabqadar area of Charsadda district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, believing that we will be safe here. But the militants chased us even in this comparatively safer place and shot dead my younger brother,” Haji Yaqoob Khan, elder brother of slain tribal journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif, tells The News on Sunday.
Mukarram Khan Aatif, 47, was associated with Voice of America’s Pashto language Deewa Radio and a local television channel, Dunya News. He was offering Maghrib prayers in the village mosque when two men armed with AK-47 assault rifles entered and sprayed bullets at the journalist. Mukarram Khan was shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar where he succumbed to injuries on Jan 17.
He is the 38th Pakistani journalist and 24th tribal reporter killed since 2002, and the first to be killed in 2012.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), headed by Hakimullah Mahsud, claimed responsibility for the killing. “We killed the journalist because VOA’s Deewa Radio had refused to give us coverage and used bad words for Taliban militants. He was on our hit list,” the TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan tells TNS on telephone from an undisclosed location. The militant spokesman even named some journalists who are on their hit list. “The journalists have become a party against us, therefore we have decided to kill them one by one.”
Brother of the slain journalist and his colleagues, however, say that Mukarram was an independent and impartial journalist and had done nothing for which he could be killed. “Though he was a journalist, well-known to everybody and a very sensible person, to me he was still a child, a younger brother. I was always worried about his security but could not save his life,” Mukarram’s brother Yaqub laments. Mukarram Khan had no children.
“He was honest and hospitable. I remember how he would buy chocolates from the village shop and distribute among the village children,” his brother recalls. Hameedullah Khan, a journalist and colleague of Mukarram Khan Aatif, says he was a thorough professional and was never short of story ideas. “Mukarram always used to file unique stories. He used to find a news report in everything,” Hameedullah says, adding Mukarram was intimate with friends, always stealing social gatherings, with his witty remarks and jokes.
“His friends will always miss him.” His colleagues in Deewa Radio says that Mukarram Khan always tried to file balanced reports not only on militancy, terrorist attacks, military operations, but on civic issues such as education and health. “He was a regular contributor on the problems of displaced people from various regions and especially from different areas of Mohmand agency,” says Hameedullah.
Mukarram had narrowly escaped the twin suicide blasts in Ghallanai area of the Taliban-controlled Mohmand tribal region two years ago, where two other journalists had lost their lives. “Mukarram used to recall the horror of the day when he watched the blast from a hundred yards distance, that killed so many people around him,” Hameedullah says.
Safdar Hayat Dawar, president of Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), recalls the slain journalist as “hard-working and thoroughly professional”, saying the tribal journalists have been continuously facing life threats. “How can these journalists work in the tribal areas where they are suspected as spies working for the US and Pakistan armed forces.
Twelve journalists have been gunned down in the tribal areas since 2005 and we do not know what will happen next.” He says he had personally approached Mukarram Khan when the Pakistani Taliban objected to his work and gave him life threats, and advised him to be careful while dealing with issues related to the militants.