Thursday, April 08, 2010

Fears grow for British film-maker missing in Pakistan's tribal area

A British documentary film-maker has gone missing after setting out to interview Taliban leaders in Pakistan's lawless tribal area.

Two former senior members of Pakistan's intelligence agency, who were acting as guides, are believed to have been abducted at the same time.

Asad Qureshi was making a film in North Waziristan, the most dangerous tract of the tribal belt that borders Afghanistan. There were unconfirmed reports that a second Briton was working in the team.

One of the missing former officials from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is Colonel Imam, the officer credited with creating the Taliban in the 1990s.

Pakistani military offensives have cleared most of the tribal zone of Islamist militants but North Waziristan remains a stronghold for the Taliban and al-Qaida and a continuing source of anxiety for western governments.

Qureshi is a British national of Pakistani descent and an experienced film-maker. He has been working as a freelancer since moving to Pakistan five years ago. He has made previous trips into extremist-held areas in Waziristan.

According to a former member of the Pakistani parliament, with whom the team stayed en route at the edge of the tribal area, there were two British nationals working on the film.

"Both had British passports," Javed Ibrahim Paracha said. The team stayed in his house in the town of Kohat on the night of 25 March. "They could have been picked up by American agencies or the Taliban." Paracha said they planned to visit the main town of Miram Shah the next day, but it is not known how far they travelled. The Foreign Office said it was not aware of the presence of a second Briton.

Travelling with Qureshi were two well-known former Pakistani intelligence agents, who have long-established links with militants. Retired ISI brigadier Colonel Imam, whose real name is Sultan Amir Tarar, and former ISI official Khalid Khawaja both worked with the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in the 1980s.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "Officials at the British High Commission in Islamabad are urgently investigating reports that a British national is missing."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Reporter probably held by army after being kidnapped by Taliban

Reporters Without Borders urges the Pakistani authorities to explain what has happened to Mohammad Rasheed, a freelance reporter who is probably being held by the army. It is believed he was arrested after being held for several days by a Taliban group in North Waziristan. “I don’t know where he is; his entire family is very worried,” his wife told Reporters Without Borders.

“The authorities must quickly say what they know about the possible detention of this journalist, whose only apparent ’crime’ is to have been kidnapped by the Taliban,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By detaining him in this manner, the army is exposing him to new dangers as he could be accused of being an informant. This is not the first time the army and intelligence services have acted in this way, and it is unacceptable.”

Rasheed, who is from Rawalpindi, was apparently arrested by Pakistani soldiers after being released by Taliban at the army checkpoint in Mirzael, in the Bannu region, on 4 January. Military personnel told his wife he would “soon be at home again.”

When Reporters Without Borders contacted Pakistani army spokesman Athar Abbas on 5 and 7 January, he said he "heard" about the Rasheed case.

His wife has appealed to the journalistic community to support her efforts to get him freed. The last phone call she received from him was on 28 December, when he was still being held by the Taliban.

The Taliban announced they were holding Rasheed on 29 December, two days after he was seized by gunmen while filming in the market in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, which is part of the Tribal Areas. Journalists based in the Tribal Areas negotiated his release with the Taliban group led by Hafi Gul Bahadar.

The Taliban in North Waziristan have banned all journalists who are not from the area. Journalists are suspected of being spies and face possible execution. The army, for its part, is also obstructing the work of foreign and Pakistani journalists in the Tribal Areas, especially South Waziristan.

Another journalist Rehmatullah Shaheen of the Baloch Daily Tawar newspaper was held incommunicado by the police from 8 to 15 December in the southwestern province of Balochistan. He is still detained. At least two other journalists are currently detained in Pakistan.