On Wednesday, media outlets reported that a reporter for GEO News, Mosa Khankhel, was killed in Matta Town in Swat Valley. According to GEO’s breaking news report, Khankel was shot dead by unidentified gunmen while he was on duty. However, later news reports cited GEO News journalist Hamid Mir, who said, “Mosa was not only shot but also decapitated. He was continuously facing problems while reporting in Swat. The mood of celebration has been converted into mourning.” Similar details were televised on CNN International, which reported that Khankel disappeared for an hour before his team found his body with gunshot wounds and a partially severed head.
[Image from the AFP]
Ironically, Khankel was reportedly killed after covering a peace march led by Sufi Mohammad, leader of the Sharia movement and founder of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-Mohammadi [TNSM]. The aging militant leader [who was jailed in Pakistan for six years in 2002 after leading his supporters to fight against U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan] told the crowd in Mingora, “I have come here to establish peace and I will not leave until this mission is achieved.” According to Dawn News, “Police and witnesses estimated that 15,000 people marched in the crowd, waving black and white flags as they paraded through town with the cleric, who advised them to recite only verses from the Holy Quran.” Reuters quoted Mohammed telling his supporters, “I ask you to remain peaceful. We have reached an agreement with the provincial government and Nizam-e-Adl (Islamic system of justice) will soon be enforced here.”
According to CNN correspondent Stan Grant, however, what may threaten a lasting peace deal are forces within Mohammad’s own family. In a segment entitled, “Taliban Family Ties,” Grant reported that although the Pakistani government considers Sufi Mohammad a more “moderate” influence in the region, he may have problems convincing his son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah, the firebrand cleric in Swat known as the “Radio Mullah,” [see CHUP’s related backgrounder, as well as Grand Truck Road’s great piece on the myths of radio jamming] to lay down his weapons permanently. Zahid Hussain, a journalist and author of Frontline Pakistan, noted that Mohammad needs to use his strong support base in Swat to convince Fazlullah and his supports to halt the violence, but “that is not going to happen.” According to CNN, “The Pakistani government may think they can divide them [Mohammad and Fazlullah] but the fear is that they will answer with one voice.”
The horrific murder of GEO’s Mosa Khankel today is an ominous indication that this peace deal will not spell an end to the violence in Swat. Azhar Abbas, GEO TV’s managing director asserted that Mosa was “the first martyr of this peace deal.” Pakistan’s Information Minister Sherry Rehman called the act, “an attack on journalism,” and the government has promised an investigation into the matter. According to the Associated Press, “Reporters have often been killed or kidnapped in northwest Pakistan in circumstances that are rarely investigated. Journalists there say they face threats from both militants and members of the security forces and have to be very careful on what and how they report.” Our thoughts and prayers go out to Khankel’s family.