My recent tour of Kathmandu, Nepal, revolved around Pamir Times. I had submitted a paper titled “Pamir Times: Blogging and Social Change in the Hunza valley” and, luckily, Panos South Asia, organziers of the conference, liked it. They invited me to present my paper at the conference to which i readily obliged. All costs incurred during the trip were reimbursed by Panos South Asia but I am really thankful to Mr Amin Baig and AKRSP for their help and support.
I was pleasently surprised to meet senior Pakistani journalists like Ghazi Salahuddin, GEO, Waqar Mustafa, SAFMA and Sheheryar Suhail Waraich, GEO, during the conference. Mr Ghazi had been invited by UNESCO while Waqar, Sheheryar and I were the guests of Panos. Talking to Mr Salahuddin about Pamir Times was an honor, for a guy of my stature. He was highly appreciative of the use of modern media technology for information dessimination in the region. I soon developed good relations with Waqar and Sheheryar, who are very accomodating and highly selfless.
The conference began on 3rd May and participants from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bhuttan, Malaysia, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan presented their papers about the broader conference theme, “Freedom of expression in South Asia: New media and old challenges”. All the papers were insightful and offered unique perspectives on how the modern media technologies were transforming flow of information throughout South Asia and the far East. It was really disheartening to see that the Sri Lankan press is still under chains. The jouranlists told horrifying tales of how the press was being persecuted by government in Sri Lanka. Dilrukhshi, a senior journalist, couldn’t bring her laptop and USB to the conference because the airport authorities confiscate such ‘lethal’ objects from the journalists. The conference was being webcast live through a dedicated website.
I presented my paper during the first session, on 4th May. My presentation, which slightly went over the allocated twenty minutes, attempted to inform the audience about the geographic, poitical, cultural and economic realities of Gilgit – Baltistan broadly and Hunza valley, in particular. I dared to say that Pamir Times was the first organized indigenous media initiative of the Hunza valley. I agree that some people tried to introduce monthly magazines from time to time but sustainability issues didn’t make those magazines popular or even long lasting. Pamir Times, on the contrary, has been actively engaged in disseminating informaiton daily for the past twenty months, on continued basis. I also told the audience about the political status of our region, in the broader national context. Waqar and Sheheryar completely agreed with my observations about the inability of successive governments to provide basic citizenship rights to to the two million people of Gilgit – Baltistan. I further discussed the role that our citizen reporters and contributors were playing in making Pamir Times a successful model of community news. I told the audience that Pamir Times wasn’t an ordinary news source, it is virtual social space where ideas and emotions are exchanged by ordinary people of the region, living in all parts of the world.
The presentation was followed by questions and answers session in which pertinent questions about the dynamics of PT were asked by some of the participants. I also recieved some very useful suggestions on how to make PT an even more effective alternative media tool for the entire region. Some NGO representatives, present at the conference, pledged their support and assistance for the cause of Pamir Times. Mr Kishor Pradhan of Panos South Asia, at the end of the conference specifically mentioned Pamir Times as a unique model, working at the grass roots level. He pledged to work with us for removing some of the hurdles PT was facing, like professional training for the citizen reporters, ensuring that ethics of journalism are followed while reporting news, and conversion of PT into a complete, registered, website.
I regret to say that for the time being i wouldn’t be able to share with you the paper and the presentation because Panos is in the process of publishing the papers in a booklet.
The conference finished in the afternoon of May 4 and I was free to roam around Kathmandu.
On May 5, I roamed around the valley, going to temples, bazars, the gate of King’s palace (which has now been converted into a museum, and remains closed on Mangalwar and Budhwar, as the guard told me) and many more places. I found Kathmandu a developing city, similar in many ways to Abbotabad. On the streets of Kathmandu you can see the internal struggle the Nepali society is going through. There is poverty, despair and chaos in many places but you can also not ignore the subtle breezes of change, exhibited everywhere.
The prime minister of Nepal, Prachanda (meaning the “higher source of light and heat”, in the local language), resigned while I was in Kathmandu but trust me, I had nothing to do with his removal. Interestingly, when Prachanda resigned, it rained for two days in Kathmandu. Owner of the “MoMo restaurant”, who cooks wonderful Chicken Curry, told me that while Prachanda was on the seat, there was no rainfall in Kathmandu. Probably exit of the “higher source of light and heat” allowed the rain to return.