Hey everyone.

Asad Hashim will be here soon to start answering questions.

Asad is a journalist who works for the Al Jazeera English website and was recently deployed to Swat Valley in Pakistan - specifically, Malala Yousafzai's hometown - to report on the developments there. Malala, who has been campaigning for education for girls, was attacked on October 9 as she was returning home from school in Mingora. She and two other schoolgirls were injured in the attack. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have since claimed responsibility for the shooting.

You can see his latest reports here.

Asad was recently pulled back from Swat and is now in Islamabad due to safety concerns, as the Taliban have now issued warnings against all journalists reporting on Malala Yousafzai.

Start asking the questions, and he'll be on in about 20 minutes (2pm EDT) to start answering them!

EDIT 1: Hey guys. Have just logged on - shall begin answering your questions shortly.

EDIT 2: Hey all - this has been great. Thanks for all the questions - I hope I was able to at least semi-adequately answer some of them. It's 12.30am here in Pakistan, so I think I'm going to call it a night. I'll check back in tomorrow morning, though, and continue answering any questions I've left out. Thanks again!

EDIT 3: Logged in for a bit to answer some more questions this [Friday] morning. Have to run to a meeting, but will check back here a little later.

EDIT 4: Have just had one final stab at answering questions, and am now about to close proceedings on this AMA. Many thanks again to all of you for your questions! I really enjoyed doing this, and hope to be back again soon! Cheers.

Comments: 262 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

MerlinChap52 karma

In the frankest terms, what is the current situation like in the Swat? How entrenched are the Taliban, and what are the sentiments of the local populations?

AsadHashimAJE75 karma

The situation is, frankly, complex. The valley is more peaceful than it has been in several years, but it is a tenuous calm. The army remains heavily deployed to maintain order, and all (including local government officials) agree that the police is not yet in a state to take over security responsibilities. As for the Taliban, they have very little operational presence in the valley. Residents and local security officials told AJE that most of the Taliban had fled to adjoining Dir district, and some were operating from over the Afghan border in Kunar province. The Taliban do maintain the ability to launch targeted attacks against their opponents, however - as evidenced by not just the attack on Malala Yousafzai, but on several others in recent months and years. More on this here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/10/20121017154411586582.html

MerlinChap19 karma

Would you say the attack on Malala Yousafzai, more or less, has spelled a metaphorical end to Taliban influence or power in the region? What is the situation in the Dir district?

AsadHashimAJE53 karma

I wouldn't say so. Even in the Swat Valley, there remain pocket of tacit support for the Taliban's mission to change the system of governance. They are definitely not the majority, but they do exist. Also, the Taliban's influence is not necessarily dependent entirely on support - as long as they're able to scare their opponents into silence, that works just as well as actually winning people over with their rhetoric.

As for Dir: I wasn't able to visit there during this reporting trip, so can't say from first-hand knowledge, but I've been told there are some serious security challenges, and that the local chapter of the Taliban have been able to find sanctuary in the countryside there.

gigiali41 karma

As a journalist, how do you balance your reporting w/ considering the safety of those you may interview? I imagine a lot of activists may want to get their story out there while at the same time protecting their own security.

AsadHashimAJE63 karma

The safety of interviewees is absolutely a concern that every journalist has when reporting in a zone where those kinds of risks exist. Ultimately, you have to take it on a case-by-case basis, based on the context of the story you're reporting and your assessment of the risks, and also on interviewees' assessment of that risk. In a place like Swat, for example, where the risk of targeted attacks against those who speak against the local Taliban is very real, it's a conversation you have with each person you speak to and intend on quoting. And, often, as a reporter, you may choose to obscure the identity of an interviewee even if they're happy to have their name out there.

Popcom38 karma

Do the general population share the Taliban view of the U.S, or the west in general?

AsadHashimAJE87 karma

There is significant general anti-US sentiment in Pakistan, based on that country's policies (and perceived policies) in the region. That similarity between people's view of the US and the Taliban's, however, should not be taken to mean that most Pakistanis are on board with the rest of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's agenda.

The whole question of public support for militancy is a complex one: what it boils down to, data shows, is usually the stated political aims of the groups in question, and not necessarily their ideological aims. People can be very selective in their support for militancy, based on the targets of the militant groups in question. So, for example, if a person feels that the US is fighting an unjust war of occupation in Afghanistan, they may well support the Afghan Taliban in principle as "resistance fighters", and also have anti-US views, but they may not support the Pakistani Taliban's battle against the Pakistani state - even though that's an anti-US group, too.

Rhar12 karma

So, then, do the people who view the Taliban as resistance fighters against the US support their attacks on the Pakistani state? Do people see the Pakistani state as a US ally, as representative of the people, or somewhere in between?

I'm curious as to what the sentiment is towards the Pakistani government. The government fights insurgent groups when they threaten its rule but capitulates to them if they're just using Pakistan as a base to strike into Afghanistan. Is the Pakistani government seen as an enemy or an ally of the people of the Swat valley?

AsadHashimAJE6 karma

There's a great deal of ambivalence when it comes to public support for groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, because while they are avowedly anti-US, they do not for the most part carry out strikes against the US in Afghanistan. The TTP's main target remains the Pakistani state - primarily security agencies but also members of the government (both politicians and bureaucracy).

As I said, there is differentiation between Taliban groups based on their targets - so while a person may support the Afghan Taliban as "resistance fighters", they may not support the TTP.

As for the government's "capitulating" to groups that are launching strikes against targets in Afghanistan, that is a combination of wilfully allowing groups that do not target Pakistan to go about their business, and an admission that the Pakistani army is not in a position to take on all militant groups operating in the country simultaneously. There is also a level of strategic calculus regarding the possible usefulness of such groups to the state.

AsadHashimAJE22 karma

Hahaha...Much appreciated!

clover9930 karma

What does this mean for the future of the promotion of equal opportunity in terms of education in Taliban controlled areas? Will this event deter future female education activists in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

AsadHashimAJE50 karma

Many people I spoke to in Swat said that far from changing people's mindset regarding "western" education in general and the education of girls specifically, the fact that the Taliban chose to make education a battleground issue actually made people in Swat more keen to send their children to school.

As one school administrator put it: "I think the craze for girls education has only increased since the Taliban campaign started in Swat."

More on this here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/10/2012101516347715708.html

clichedgeek8 karma

Do you think that the attempt on Ms Malala will have a negative effect on this "craze"?

Speaking of Malala, do you think that she will be safe in the future, or will there be more attempts on her life?

AsadHashimAJE21 karma

I don't think so. While there was a drop in school attendance in Mingora in the days following the attack on Malala Yousafzai, most people I spoke to said that they would not let the attack deter them from sending their children, and particularly their daughters, to school.

On Yousafzai's safety: her entire immediate family has left the valley for the moment, and it's uncertain when and if they will return. I'm afraid she will face an incredibly elevated threat if she does return.

Jegs23 karma

What has been the reaction of the community in Swat to the shooting?

And, how long have you been a correspondent with Al Jazeera? Where else have you reported?

Thanks! Huge fan of Al Jazeera. Thanks for stopping by for an AMA.

AsadHashimAJE35 karma

The initial reaction was one of shock, for a couple of reasons. First, while the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Swat has a well established reputation of brutally attacking its opponents (they would often dismember the dead bodies of those who stood against them and string them up in prominent public locations during the years they controlled Swat), the fact that they went after a young girl really struck hard at the community.

The other concern that was raised was that the attack on Malala occurred in a fairly well-secured area of Mingora, the main town of the valley. It happened, essentially, in between three security forces checkpoints and not more than a kilometre away from well-secured local government buildings. That's really made people rethink their assessment of just how effective the security forces really are.

Jegs17 karma

Have all journalists headed the warnings of the Taliban? Or do some still remain in Swat? Was there ever a point when you feared for your life, while reporting there?

AsadHashimAJE33 karma

Most journalists who were not from the area have pulled back. Local journalists, at least three of whom have been specifically threatened by the Taliban, remain in the valley, as far as I know.

At no point did I fear for my life while reporting this story from Mingora. That's mostly because I was well embedded with people from the area, and kept as low a profile as possible while there.

Excelsior_i22 karma

Whats the general situation in Malala's school? Are the students frightened? There must be some genuine concerns among the parents regarding their safety?

AsadHashimAJE49 karma

Administrators at the Khushal School are trying to keep the media as far away as possible from the students, because they want things to go back to "normal" as quickly as possible. There are, of course, genuine concerns regarding the safety of students amongst parents, but those I spoke to said that they realised that Malala was an exceptional case: someone who was very prominent.

I asked the father of Kainat Riaz, who was also injured in the attack, if he would send her back to school when she recovered. He said that his daughter had "no enmities with anyone", and he would definitely be sending her back as soon as she was able.

alisha_ali18 karma

Why does the Taliban want the media to back off, don't they want to show off their conservative regime by the extensive media coverage? Wasn't the attack on Ms Malala their way of setting an example about their harmful way of life for society?

AsadHashimAJE58 karma

Good question. Media coverage is a double-edged sword for the Taliban - they want their attacks to get adequate media attention, in order to increase their profile and for people to be more aware of the threat they pose. That, in turns, helps them establish the fear that serves as the basis for the space in which they operate.

Having said that, in this case they clearly did not realise quite how much outrage the shooting of a 14-year-old female education activist would raise - and that has quite the opposite effect from that which was intended. Now, instead of fearing them, people are collectively taking a stand against them - fearlessly.

does_not_play_nice6 karma

How can the US encourage this?

What can we do or not do to help turn the tide of dislike in our favor?

AsadHashimAJE10 karma

I think a possibly more pertinent question is: should the US be doing anything to encourage or discourage this at all? Surely the question of public support for militancy in Pakistan is one for Pakistanis to answer themselves.

Nadamir17 karma

I know that most of the photos we've been seeing have been of protests in support of Malala, but have there been any counter-protests? And do you feel that more people would be protesting in support, but they are afraid? My last question is do you think this will become, as some Western news media has been saying, Pakistan's "Rosa Parks moment" or "the tipping point" or the "watershed moment" in the fight against extremism in the country or in the fight for education for all children?

AsadHashimAJE39 karma

There have been no significant counter protests, though some (citizens and political leaders ) have argued that those who are marching in support of Malala are hypocritical for not carrying out similar protests against the victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas.

ehenning153713 karma

Are those comments meant to score domestic political points or are they really indicative of anti-US sentiment?

AsadHashimAJE26 karma

A bit of both, really.

silencer4714 karma

Im currious, what is the local populations opinion off the taliban and the goverment troops they fight.

AsadHashimAJE27 karma

I asked a lot of residents in Swat this question, and while some would go as far as saying that having the army around was as bad as having the Taliban in control, the vast majority agreed that while they weren't terribly excited at having the army essentially occupying the area, they were thankful that peace had, at least, been established.

The people in Swat see the local chapter of the Taliban as something of an aberration - while the it is a conservative area, there has never been a history of the kind of levels of intolerance for other faiths/ways of life that the TTP-Swat had.

ehenning153712 karma

Are the Pakistani soldiers (or their opponents) ever seen as outsiders? A lot of those areas are very insular and I imagine coming from a different part of Pakistan could be used rhetorically by both sides. We saw it in Libya and now in Syria

AsadHashimAJE28 karma

The question of outsiders and insiders is a good one. Many in Swat were unhappy in the initial days following the operation against the Taliban because many of the soldiers posted to the valley were non-Pashtun. They saw the "outsiders", as you put it, as more of an external occupying force. More recently, I was told by residents, people have been seeing many more Pashtun soldiers being posted to the area, and that helps establish a level of trust and co-operation. The Taliban, meanwhile, were always ethnic insiders, but were also seen as being much more extreme/conservative than Swati's generally have been. There were also major questions being asked of where they were receiving their material and financial support from, suggesting external influence.

ThatGuyFromFark12 karma

What is your opinion of the U.S. media outlets, and the "average American perception" of Al-Jazeera?

Also just wanted to thank you for contributing to quality reporting. As an American, I get my news from BBC and your outlet, which I find much more reliable and far less biased than any major US media outlet.

AsadHashimAJE20 karma

I think news media worldwide, and in the US in particular, has gone through a process of treating their viewers with a degree of disrespect: delivering news in the form of entertainment, thinking that their audience doesn't "want" hard facts and "boring" figures. In that sense, the news industry has heavily become about opinion, rather than actual reporting. (There's a debate to be had about the impossibility of objectivity, of course, but this isn't the place for it, perhaps.)

We at Al Jazeera are amongst many others around the world who try not to do that, and I hope that anyone who watches our programming and reads our web content gets that.

labodega12 karma

What is the current state of response from the Pakistani people? How do you feel this event has shifted the public's sentiment regarding the Taliban?

AsadHashimAJE26 karma

There's been a huge mobilisation of public opinion against the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan after the attack on Malala - and you've seen that happen across the country. It's an interesting case, because its one where the issue has become very black-and-white. Even for those (citizens and political leaders alike) who argue that the Pakistani Taliban are a product of the Pakistani alliance with the United States, and that they are not an existential threat to Pakistan on their own, it's somewhat difficult to not condemn an attack against a 14-year-old education activist.

alisha_ali10 karma

Do you think Malala's case can cause an uprising in Pakistan just like Tahrir square? Or is it that all the people only want is for things to get back to normal ?

AsadHashimAJE22 karma

I don't think that kind of uprising is likely - the situations are very, very different. And yes, people do want things to get back to normal, but at the same time they want to feel as if something is actively being done to ensure that attacks such as the one against Malala do not happen again. Whether that means a targeted military operation against the local Swat chapter of the TTP, or an operation elsewhere, or even some other sort of action, is what remains to be seen.

[deleted]10 karma


AsadHashimAJE20 karma

I think that's an incredibly complicated question, and one which I'm afraid I just can't do justice to here. What I will say is that the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Swat, as is the case with the Taliban in most areas, was born under very particular circumstances. In order to really understand these conflicts, you need to break down where each local branch of the Taliban came from. In Swat, for example, the TTP-S, led by Maulana Fazlullah, was born from the struggle for the establishment of Sharia law in the valley by Sufi Muhammad's Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), and was able to thrive because of a number of factors, including a general level of religious conservatism in the district, a history with semi-theocratic legal systems and a general dissatisfaction with the level of government service delivery.

alisha_ali9 karma

What are the people's attitudes in the city now? Are they afraid that the Taliban can do more harm or are they prepared to support and stand by Ms. Malala?

AsadHashimAJE26 karma

The people of Swat have had an incredibly difficult few years. Since 2007, when the TTP-Swat first began exerting a real influence, they've been caught first in the middle of the establishment of a intolerant, pseudo-theocratic local government, and then in what essentially amounted to a war that lasted two years (2008-2010) between the military and the Taliban. Most fled, and spent at least a year as internally displaced people in the lower districts while the Taliban and military fought it out in their streets, homes and farmlands.

What I'm trying to say is what many in Swat said to me: people may sometimes be afraid of speaking out against the Taliban, because the state cannot always guarantee their safety, but do not take that for actual support for that group.

imroz8 karma

Hello, I want to know what is provoking the Talibans to do such acts of cruelty, I mean what they really want? Does it comes from their conventional belief? Do you find any signs that they will become civilized one day?

AsadHashimAJE54 karma

"Civilised" is a complicated word to use in this debate, so I'm going to steer clear of it, but as for what's provoking the Taliban: it's a case of establishing fear amongst the populace. It is the fear of retributive action that gives non-state actors such as the local Taliban the space to operate - and that's true whether you're talking about Pakistan or any other ideologically driven militia elsewhere.

batooray4 karma

Imroz, im a pakistani, i live in this society. I think our slow judicial is responsible for all these matters. Once Taliban established a fastest judicial system in Afghanistan when they were ruling Afghanistan. They gave decesions of the disputes among common public within a week. I think people miss Taliban's that strategy. For example if someone occupies my property in Pakistan, it will take 10 to 27 years to get justice from the present courts in Pakistan. So all the world will have to help Pakistan to establish a Fast Judiciary.

AsadHashimAJE3 karma

There's an element of truth to this. There's a reason the campaign for the restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan after he was unconstitutionally removed in 2007 gathered so much public support: because the Chief Justice was seen as a man who was attempting to deliver justice to people, even if it meant taking on the army or other powerful institutions of Pakistani society and the state.

People I spoke to in Swat, both political leaders and regular folk, also made mention of how the Taliban's swift implementation of justice was something which helped them win favour amongst people - even if the kind of justice they were serving wasn't necessarily a correct version of Islamic law.

alisha_ali8 karma

Malala's case has just touched the iceberg of what Taliban has been doing from the times of Meena's RAWA. Mr. Hashim, do you think the the remarkable media coverage despite the constant threats from Taliban will make the situation worse for not only Malala's peers but also the rest of the city in general?

AsadHashimAJE12 karma

No, I don't think it will make things worse for either Malala's peers or citizens of the valley in general. The object of attacks such as the one on Malala is to instill fear in those who would publicly take a stand against the local Taliban. In giving this story the coverage it deserves - and locating that coverage within the broader context of the continuing, sustained threat the Taliban pose to their opponents in Swat (despite no longer controlling the valley) - one is able to make criticism of such attacks more acceptable, by making it a part of public discourse.

As I said earlier, a large part of the Taliban's influence has always been about fear - and you can help rid people of that fear if you are able to make it clear that the vast majority collectively stands against these kinds of acts.

MeVersusShark8 karma

Do you think the shooting of Malala Yousufzai and the subsequent backlash against the Taliban will be a transformative moment for Taliban/Public relations? That is, could this be a catalyst for a national rejection of Taliban rule?

AsadHashimAJE12 karma

It's hard to say. Pakistan has had a number of such tragic moments in its recent history (e.g. the assassinations of Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti over their opposition to the blasphemy law in 2011), where it seemed like issues had been painted in quite clear black-and-white terms. No real nationwide consensus has emerged from them, however. (I do admit, though, that the case of the blasphemy law and the shooting of a 14-year-old for fighting for education rights are quite different, in terms of Pakistanis' attitude towards them.)

somewhereouthere8 karma

I read that there was alot of comment that was anti-Malala and the western press made no big deal about daily drone strikes? How strong is that sentiment there?

AsadHashimAJE9 karma

Do you think that drone strikes are related to the attack on Malala? How so?

Drudeboy6 karma

Thank you so much for doing this AMA. I really appreciate AJE's South/Central Asia coverage.

In your opinion, what roles do Pakistan's main political parties play in the current situation? I've always gotten an impression of hopeless corruption and endless patronage networks stemming from the main parties (Althought I'm not familiar with them specifically). Can you explain any specific differences? (I understand if you can't answer this).

Most importantly, what steps do you think Pakistan could take to improve its political situation?


AsadHashimAJE6 karma

"Hopeless corruption and endless patronage networks" is a good way to sum it up, I suppose, but democracy in Pakistan isn't a write-off. The politics of Pakistan, as in any other country, are a reflection of the country's political and social history. As such, political parties in this country are heavily influenced by the kind of patronage and kinship networks that have always channeled power. There are many exceptions to this rule, when it comes to local legislators or council-people, but by and large the rule holds. As with many countries, the post-colonial democratic experiment is a superstructure upon the base of well-established power relations.

89bottles5 karma

Is it safe or possible to visit the Swat valley as a tourist? How would the people react to westerners visiting out of curiosity for local culture and environment? I hear it is a very beautiful place.

AsadHashimAJE7 karma

At the moment, I'm afraid the valley is still off-limits to foreigners who are not being accompanied by the military/security on a sanctioned trip (usually having to do with the many foreign-funded development projects underway there).

It is stunningly beautiful, yes, and hopefully will be safe enough for all visitors to return to one day soon. Swat's economy is heavily dependent on tourism (there are about 1,000 hotels of various sizes in the valley), and the people involved in that industry have borne a heavy toll ever since unrest began.

aclocke5 karma

How widespread do you think conspiracy theories about CIA & the West's involvement are regarding Malala's shooting? (Pictures spreading around social media of her with Holbrooke, etc) Is that something that's primarily on the internet or has it also found traction on the ground? Or is it being rejected because people know her & her family personally?

AsadHashimAJE17 karma

There are quite a few conspiracy theories flying around on the ground, too, but no-one I met in Swat was under the impression that she was associated with the US government in any way or that the attack on her was staged (as I've seen conspiracy theorists on the internet suggest, ludicrously).

alisha_ali3 karma

Can you frankly tell us what the Taliban is threatening to do to journalists? What are these "threats?"

AsadHashimAJE9 karma

This blog post by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) does a pretty good job of summing up the threats: http://cpj.org/blog/2012/10/after-malala-shooting-taliban-goes-after-media-cri.php

[deleted]2 karma


AsadHashimAJE16 karma

Well, Pakistan's in South Asia, not the Middle East, so there's that! And I'm not a foreign correspondent in Pakistan (I was born, raised and have spent most of life living here), so that helps in terms of having a better understanding of the contexts around stories and the reality of the risks that you run. I have reported from other countries (including ones where there has been ongoing unrest), and I think the key is to really just keep your eyes and ears open, understand the story you're reporting and use your common sense.