What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Feb. 14 2010 — 7:47 am | 373 views | 2 recommendations | 8 comments

Farewell, True/Slant…

A new signboard is displayed at the Thomson Re...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Dear all— It is with mixed emotions that I write this post announcing I’m leaving the True/Slant fold. I’m sad to be leaving a great platform, but I’ll be taking a new job as Pakistan Bureau Chief for Thomson Reuters, so I’m pretty stoked about that.

Coates & Co. have been great to write for and this is a great forum. I hope it succeeds beyond reason because I want to see communities such as True/Slant for talented writers like Stephan Faris and Mark Dery. And the fact that they’re getting paid is bonus! There is today such a race to the bottom in rates paid to writers and shooters, so it’s great to see a site doing its best to avoid that. No one’s getting rich here, and as Dr. Ben Johnson once probably said, “Only a fool writes for free.” There are no fools on True/Slant.

Maybe I’ll be able to continue contributing somewhere down the road but for now, I want to concentrate on the position here in Islamabad and all the challenges that come from being the new guy.

Jan. 23 2010 — 12:50 am | 42 views | 2 recommendations | 1 comment

Paragliding Terrorists?

What the hell?

Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba has acquired more than 50 para-gliding equipment from Europe, setting off alarm bells in the government that these could be used to carry out air-borne suicide attacks in the country.

India on high alert as LeT buys para-gliding equipment.

Is the war on terror now involving COBRA? Should we be worried about SPECTRE?

Jan. 16 2010 — 5:18 pm | 277 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Hakimullah’s Alive! Again…

hakimullah-mehsud_232561sThere’s an old saw about journalism by G.K. Chesterton: “Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones Dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”

Well, guess what? Hakimullah Mehsud is apparently alive! And I’ll bet you didn’t even know he might have been dead.

The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released two audiotapes this weekend, each purportedly by Hakimullah, the leader of that not-so-merry band of outlaws. A series of drone attacks targeted him after his group claimed credit for the attack on the CIA base in Khost in Afghanist, which killed seven agency employees. Hakimullah even had the stones to sit in a martyrdom video the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, made.

Well, you can imagine this upset the CIA a bit. So they dropped some Hellfire missiles on him. Or where they thought he was, anyway. The first strike on Thursday killed about 12 militants, according to various intelligence and military sources, and there was a lot of speculation that Hakimullah was enjoying himself some virgins in paradise. Indeed, among the press corps here in Islamabad, the overwhelming opinion was that the successor to Baitullah Mehsud — killed in a drone strike in August last year — had been smoked. I was a lonely voice saying I had a hunch he was alive, but there was no way to confirm without observing him. In short, he became sort of a Schrödinger’s Terrorist, neither alive nor dead, but existing in both states simultaneously. Or something like that.

Anyway, the TTP countered with all the sophistication of a three-year-old, taunting the world with essentially a “Missed me!” claim. Hakimullah had exited the madrassa  a few minutes before the attack, TTP spokesman Azam Tariq said. But he allowed that perhaps he had been injured. Adding to the confusion, the group released a tape on Friday containing what other reporters identified as Hakimullah’s voice, but it made no mention of a date. A second tape, released today, does mention a date.

“Let me say this briefly, that I, Hakimullah Mehsud, today, on the 16th of January, with central spokesman Azam Tariq and Umar Khittab, want to give this message to all mujahedeen: that by the grace of Allah, I, Hakimullah Mehsud, am alive and in good health. Neither have I been martyred in a drone attack nor injured,” the voice says on Saturday’s tape.

Well, rats.

All joking aside, it seems pretty clear he had a close call, which will probably drive him further underground. At least that might make it a little more difficult for the group to plan more spectacular attacks for a while, after they realize how close the CIA got. One can only hope.

Jan. 16 2010 — 9:19 am | 39 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Cultural Supremacism? Not at all

So I’ve been called out for my article on Pakistan’s threatened archaeological treasures by a blog called Cinema Rasik. In their post, they say I engage in deliberate “cultural supremacism” because I gave short shrift to the history of Gandhar.

The author complains:

But what did we find as we read the Allbritton article? The 3rd paragraph begins with the sentence:

“The Gandhara kingdom and its art are important because it shows the impact of Hellenistic influence brought by Alexander the Great and his Macedonians (emphasis ours).”

Here it is in plain English. The importance of Gandhar derives from and only from the influence of Alexander and the Greek influence he brought with him. This is the definition of cultural supremacism, in our opinion. The deep roots of Gandhar in Indian history and its rich contribution to culture and education in pre-Alexander period seem to be completely irrelevant to Mr. Allbritton.

Now, I will take the hit that perhaps I did put too much emphasis on the Hellenistic influence as a way of illustrating the civilization’s importance. But the authors of the blog — who seem to be writing from an Indian perspective — should realize that my primary audience is a Western one, and the parts of Gandhar’s history that would most interest them or they might be most familiar with would likely include Alexander the Great. No disrespect was intended; I was just trying to root the story in a context Time’s audience might relate to more.

The author then proceeds to give a long and detailed (but interesting) history of Gandhar and its impact on the sub-continent. Fair enough. They have the room to do that, and I did not. As the author points out, “But Mr. Allbritton’s article is about Archaeological Treasures and not about history.” Well, it was specifically about the current threat to archaeological treasures, but no matter. However, the author of the post goes on to accuse me of deliberately ignoring the history of Taxila. That was not the case at all. I was fully aware of its importance, both to the Middle East and to the immediate region, but again, journalism is not history. It’s about cramming as much information into a limited word count. Some things inevitably get left out.

I guess what irks me the most is the idea that I exhibited “a deep-seated cultural supremacism” and engaged in “a deliberate attempt to rewrite history according to his own biases. Based on our analysis above, we also opine that his ignorance of the Gandhar history is not accidental but deliberate. It reminds us of the perversion of Indian history practiced by many British Historians of the 19th & 20th century.” Quite the contrary, and email from archaeologists who specialize in the Gandhar excavations wrote me to praise the article. I don’t think they saw a “deliberate attempt to rewrite history.”

Finally, the author says he reached out to Time Magazine for a response, and was rebuffed. That’s unfortunate, and I regret that. However, I have no control over that as I’m a freelancer. But I will say I never received an email from anyone on this subject. A simple Google search would have turned up many ways to contact me, if they really wished to discuss this. I would have welcomed that feedback.

So let this blog post be an opportunity for them to respond and engage. And anyone else who thinks I deliberately neglected India.

Dec. 29 2009 — 9:34 am | 12 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Rio Pakistan Redux?

That headline only makes sense to the jazz heads among us. Or people who watch this video.

But no matter! Time for a bit of self-promotion: Sonic Diplomacy: American Jazz in Pakistan – Video – TIME.com. It’s my latest and last for the year for TIME Magazine but, interestingly, it was the first story I did in Pakistan. I started it way back in July and shipped the tapes to New York for editing. Due to a hard drive catastrophe, TIME.com took some time getting it up, but better late than never I usually say.

What’s interesting to me is that everyone involved knows the limitations of such cultural diplomacy programs. This isn’t the 1950s when Dizzy Gillespie went around Pakistan blown’ his horn for the locals. Today, these programs are much more proscribed and discrete. They make folks feel pretty good, but in a security environment as precarious as Pakistan’s, I’m not sure how much good they actually do. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video.

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    I’m a freelance journalist with experience in the Middle East, Africa and now south Asia. I’ve written for TIME, Boston Globe, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and many others. I also founded the two influential blogs, Back-to-Iraq.com and InsurgencyWatch.com.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 15
    Contributor Since: May 2009
    Location:Islamabad, Pakistan

    What I'm Up To


    I’m currently bouncing around Pakistan chasing the various ups and downs of the Islamic insurgency here.