Features | Security | South Asia

Terrorists for Sale

Foreign journalists are under mounting pressure from their editors to secure interviews with central figures in Al Qaeda…

By Mustafa Qadri for

Foreign journalists are under mounting pressure from their editors to secure interviews with central figures in Al Qaeda, the Taliban or any of the several regional jihadi militias based in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The presence of cashed-up foreign journalists eager for interviews has given the militants an opportunity to raise their global profile and generate some much needed cash, an opportunity they have grasped with surprising entrepreneurial skill.

Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand and the other strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda are rugged, lawless and difficult to access. They are home to numerous tribes that are fiercely independent, suspicious of outsiders and often hostile to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This makes reporting the conflict here impossible without assistance from local fixers versed in local tribal politics.

A typical fixer lives in one of the tribal areas, and has relatives or village neighbours involved in the militancy. For a fee, they can facilitate access to the most volatile tribal area or senior militant leader.

None of the fixers interviewed by The Diplomat were willing to divulge precise sums. But according to journalists working in the region, merely getting into one of the hot spots costs at least 50,000 Rupees ($A806) per person, per day, depending on the size of the crew and the volatility of the region. A foreign journalist trying to gain access to North Waziristan, the most dangerous area, can expect a daily tab starting at 100,000 Rupees ($A1612).
Money alone, however, cannot guarantee safe access to either conflict-ridden tribal areas or high-profile militant leaders. As recently as last year many foreign journalists would pay a fixer to take them on a day trip to one of the conflict zones. This is now impossible because of the increased intensity of the conflict. Access now requires slow, lengthy negotiations with militants or regional tribal chiefs, again facilitated through fixers. Even if access is granted, interviews with militant leaders can cost as much or more again. Understandably Beitullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban movement in Pakistan, is in greatest demand. Perhaps it is fitting that, in the 21st century, the most prominent insurgency in the world has a keen sense of market value.