The police came for me on a cold, rainy Tuesday night last month. They stood in front of my home in Islamabad, four men with hoods pulled over their heads in the driving rain. The senior officer, a tall, clean-shaven man, and I recognized one another from recent protests and demonstrations. Awkwardly, almost apologetically, he handed me a notice ordering my immediate expulsion from Pakistan. Rain spilled off a nearby awning and fell loudly into puddles.
I asked, somewhat obtusely, what this meant. “I am here to take you to the airport,” the officer shrugged. “Tonight.”
The document he’d given me provided no explanation for my expulsion, but I immediately felt that there was some connection to the travels and reporting I had done for a story published two days earlier in the New York Times Magazine, about a dangerous new generation of Taliban in Pakistan. I had spent several months traveling throughout the troubled areas along the border with Afghanistan, including Quetta (in Baluchistan province) and Dera Ismail Khan, Peshawar and Swat (all in the North-West Frontier Province). My visa listed no travel restrictions, and less than a week earlier, President Pervez Musharraf had sat before a roomful of foreign journalists in Islamabad and told them that they could go anywhere they wanted in Pakistan.
The truth, however, is that foreign journalists are barred from almost half the country; in most cases, their visas are restricted to three cities — Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. In Baluchistan province, which covers 44 percent of Pakistan and where ethnic nationalists are fighting a low-level insurgency, the government requires prior notification and approval if you want to travel anywhere outside the capital of Quetta. Such permission is rarely given. And the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the pro-Taliban militants are strong, are completely off-limits. Musharraf’s government says that journalists are kept out for their own security. But meanwhile, two conflicts go unreported in one of the world’s most vital — and misunderstood — countries. [complete article]