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Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement

I’ve been going back and forth to Pakistan a lot this year as I research for my forthcoming book, Karachi Vice, and work on other projects, including my first documentary film (details to come!). It has been a tumultuous period in Pakistani politics, with July’s election putting Imran Khan in power, amid a widespread crackdown on free expression. I’ve written various articles on these subjects over the course of the year, ranging from opinion pieces to more in-depth reported stories. Here are some links:

Under the watchful eye of the army (Index on Censorship)

This reported piece for Index on Censorship’s July 2018 issue (behind a paywall) looks at the drastic ramping up of restrictions on free speech in Pakistan.

Imran Khan has won over Pakistan, but the real power still lies with the army (Guardian)

This comment piece, written the day after July’s election, looks ahead to Imran Khan’s premiership and notes the role of the military in the election.

Imran Khan’s treatment of Asia Bibi is a dangerous betrayal (Guardian)

This comment piece looks at the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, and the political response to a court verdict freeing Asia Bibi, a Christian woman serving time for blasphemy.

A spark in Pakistan (Prospect)

This long-form reported piece appeared in Prospect’s November 2018 issue. It looks at the emergence of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a peaceful civil rights movement drawing attention to military and human rights abuses. The movement has been subject to a harsh crackdown. I interviewed the group’s young leader, Manzoor Pashteen, as well as others involved in the movement. (Clipping to come).

 

 

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adieI’m a huge radio nerd and Kate Adie fan, so was really delighted to have a couple of pieces on the BBC’s flagship show From Our Own Correspondent this year. The programme airs on Radio 4 and the World Service.

The first piece, which aired in October, tells the story of Ali (not his real name), a survivor of what has been dubbed Pakistan’s biggest sexual abuse scandal. He was one of hundreds of victims of a child abuse ring in the city of Kasur, in Punjab. But despite widespread media coverage of their case, justice has been elusive, and Ali and other survivors are facing social exclusion.

The second story, which also aired first in October, looks at the many internally displaced people in Iraq who are living in half-built construction sites in Erbil. Many of these buildings were abandoned by property developers when the conflict with ISIS began, and they have been repurposed as homes for the million people who lost their homes.

225_ViolentCrime_epidemic_NL1In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the “public health approach” to tackling violence, with suggestions that such a model could be introduced in London to counter rising knife crime. But what does a public health approach to violence actually mean in practice? In this piece for Mosaic, I spent time in Glasgow – where a public health model has been highly effective – and in Chicago, where this approach was first developed.

Humans engage in a wide array of risky behaviours that can lead to serious health problems: smoking, overeating, sex without protection. It has long been the accepted wisdom that doctors should encourage patients to change their behaviour – give up smoking, go on a diet, use a condom – rather than wait to treat the emphysema, obesity-related heart attacks, or HIV that could be the result. Yet when it comes to violence, the discussion is often underpinned by an assumption that this is an innate and immutable behaviour and that people engaging in it are beyond redemption. More often than not, solutions have been sought in the criminal justice system – through tougher sentencing, or increasing stop-and-search (despite substantial evidence that it is ineffective in reducing crime). Is enforcement the wrong tactic altogether?

Mosaic publishes everything under a Creative Commons licence, meaning their pieces are free to republish elsewhere. A version of this article ran simultaneously in the Guardian’s Long Read section (it was also featured on the front page of the newspaper that day), and was later picked up by CNN, the BBC, and the Independent, among others.

3977I am so delighted to announce that I’ve won the inaugural Portobello Prize for narrative non-fiction, which was set up to “showcase the most exciting new voices in narrative non-fiction, offering debut writers an opportunity to seek out and publish an untold story that reflects our times.” I entered with a proposal for a book about Karachi, building on some long-form pieces I’ve already written. (This piece on an ambulance driver, and this piece on a crime reporter, among others). It will follow ordinary lives through a chaotic period in the city’s recent history.

The inaugural Portobello Prize has been awarded to “electrifying new voice” Samira Shackle for Karachi Vice, a “fresh and thrilling” non-fiction exploration of Pakistan’s largest city.

According to the judges, this “glimpse of a city largely misrepresented and misunderstood is told with a clear sense of urgency and with a personal connection. It will place human drama at the fore as it follows the lives of several citizens of Karachi”.

Read more over at the Bookseller’s website. I now have to actually write the book, which will probably be out at some point in 2020.

4161In the years after Britain withdrew from Iraq, allegations of misconduct by British troops were coming thick and fast. In 2010, the government established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat). This was an investigative body that was supposed to bring together all the allegations and deal with them quickly. Perhaps predictably, that was not what happened. The investigation spiralled out of control and closed in disgrace in 2017. In the process, the entire field of human rights law had been called into disrepute, while stories abounded of soldiers whose lives had been put on hold during protracted investigations.

For my latest report for the Guardian’s Long Read section, I spent months interviewing people involved at all stages of the process to piece together how it went so wrong. As Britain faces the possibility of investigation by the International Criminal Court, this could have far-reaching consequences.

The collapse of Ihat seems likely to mark the end of serious attempts to investigate alleged crimes by British soldiers in Iraq, leaving questions about the scale of abuses and accountability unanswered. After such a public failure, what politician would want to reopen the issue? Yet, behind the headlines of corrupt lawyers and incompetent investigators, the true story of Ihat is more complicated. Both military advocates and human rights defenders agree that the scandal around Ihat was at the very least, politically convenient for the Ministry of Defence. With human rights lawyers cast as the villains, the MoD could avoid uncomfortable questions about its own role in training soldiers in procedures that breached the Geneva conventions. “At times, the MoD has been tempted to throw the uniform under the bus,” says Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP who was instrumental in Ihat’s closure.

You can read the full article over at the Guardian’s website and the clipping is below.

580432c5406beI’ve written a few pieces about Pakistan in recent months.

Rising from the ashes: a new era in Pakistani cinema (emerge85)

I wrote this piece about Pakistani cinema’s “new wave” back in January. After a long lull – wracked by underfunding and a severe limitation of physical cinemas – Pakistani directors and writers are producing exciting and distinctive new movies. I also discussed the story on emerge85’s podcast.

Don’t be fooled by elections—the military is still in charge in Pakistan (Prospect)

On a less cheerful note, my column in the June issue of Prospect looks at the increasing limits on Pakistan’s democracy as the July election approaches and censorship of media outlets ramping up.

Under the watchful eye of the army (Index on Censorship)

For this report on the ongoing clampdown on free expression in Pakistan, I spoke with journalists who have been targeted by the establishment after criticising the military. The piece – in the Summer 2018 issue – is currently behind a paywall.

 

yazidiThe last few pieces drawn from the reporting I did  in the Middle East late last year are now out.

For the Spring issue of the World Policy Journal, I wrote about how Syrian women in Jordan are adjusting to life without men.

Studies show that at least a third of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are headed by women – meaning that, as in Sara’s case, there is no male provider. This is not unusual in war-time, given that men tend to enlist or be drafted. The number of female-headed households was thought to be even higher among displaced Iraqis during the first Gulf War . . .

Many of these women, hailing from traditional societies where men are the primary household earners, must work for the first time, even as they care for their children. As they deal with tough economic realities, many are also navigating bereavement, trauma, and loss.

The piece is no longer available for free online, but can be accessed here, and the first few pages of the clipping are below.

In the Spring issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a piece about the persecution of minorities in Iraq, and how their cause is being taken up by the far right in the west.

Dalu’s anger stems, in part, from a feeling that people overseas are not paying attention to the suffering of his community. But the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq has been exploited by international actors for many years, in ways that often exacerbate the problem. This raises serious ethical questions not just about assisting marginalised groups, but about the way these issues are discussed. In an era of increasing divisions and a worldwide narrative of a “clash of civilisations”, the situation of minorities in Iraq has been used to feed a dangerous discourse that does no favours to people like Dalu. How can outsiders support these groups without worsening the situation?

You can read the rest over at the New Humanist website.

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