Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


A Bone to Pick with the Times – On Chitral.

16 Jun 2010

You might have noticed that the New York Times At War Blog is no longer in my blogroll. I think any journalism student would know the New York Times as a standard that many look up to, and while their blogs are more free form than regular stories, one expects them to be well informed and perhaps somewhat neutral.

This recent blog post about the Osama bin Laden ‘bounty hunter’ bugs me. I quote some parts below.

Before you chuckle, let me just say: Whatever else we might conclude about Gary Faulkner, our arrested American bounty hunter, we should give him this: He was looking in the right place.

Or at least the place where many intelligence analysts think he is: the mountainous high-altitude district of Chitral. For me, the mere mention of the place evokes the image of the Saudi terrorist.

I hope the mention of Chitral does not yield the same reaction from other Americans, even non Americans. I’m not sure what to say other than that. The author mentions his story of how he heard of Chitral being Laden’s hiding place but the view still irks me a bit.

Until Mr. bin Laden was thought to be hiding there, Chitral was famous for only one thing: Every July, tourists from all over gather in a town called Shandur to watch a polo match between the Chitralis and a team from nearby Gilgit. They called it “the world’s highest polo match.” At 12,000 feet, it probably is.

Not many tourists go to Shandur or the rest of Chitral anymore, on account of the spread of Islamic militancy.

There’s no bias here but I just think the post is again woefully misinformed. Like other recent articles by the Times on Pakistan, mostly those written by non Pakistani writers, I feel this too is following a trend of not looking at the entire picture.

While the polo match is definitely a highlight, Chitral has been a tourist spot for a long time for not just that. Its famous for its scenic beauty, its remote location (which the article identifies), as well as the unique Kailash culture of the inhabitants of the area. The Kailash culture is a long celebrated culture of heterogeneous Pakistan. While tourists still go to Chitral, the numbers have dwindled a bit, but not because people are afraid they’ll run into Osama. The view that this is his hiding place is not rampant in Pakistan, and what has perhaps put people off in recent times has been some apprehension of the remains of the Nizam-e-Adl regulations put on the area some time ago. Also in the mix is the fact that Balakot, a bustling town used as rest stop on the long drive to Chitral, was completely brought to the ground by the earthquake of October 8, 2005.