AURORA TO PAKISTAN: Life in a country where fortresses, risk, newspapers and beauty abound

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Aurora Sentinel reporter Quincy Snowdon is traveling with a U. S. State Department group of journalists to Pakistan for two weeks, as part of an international exchange meant to create better understanding between the two countries. He’ll be reporting regularly during his adventure.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN | Fall feels different this year.

While my Twitter feed is a flurry of pumpkin-spiced frivolity, my reality feels a bit more like Boca Raton in July. 

It’s currently about 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Islamabad, according to my highly accurate Snapchat filter, and what feels like 110 percent humidity. The air is thick, hazy and the ghost of what I think might be the Margalla Hills loom behind our hotel/palace/fortress, The Serena. 

Our drive from Benazir Bhutto International Airport late last night was speckled with police check points, though they didn’t seem very active as our driver zipped in and out of their concrete barricades without actually stopping. Upon arriving at the hotel, our bags were scanned a couple more times and we were waved through a series of gates by gaggles of various security folks — some of them toting not-so-benign-looking Ak-47s.

This is not the Westin at DIA.

From here, it’s a bit of a waiting game. Our group of eight starts a crammed schedule of meetings and tours tomorrow morning. Today, it’s merely adjusting to the 11-hour time change and absorbing  — both calories at the nearby buffet and information from, well, everywhere.

A principle player in this acclimation period has been — wait for it — newspapers.

I’ve been thumbing through the various dailies this morning (or is it afternoon? What day is it in Denver?) that line stands throughout the hotel. Some of today’s above-the-fold headlines from Dawn read, “Imran backs defiant police officer in Izhar controversy,” and “War of Words between PML-N, PTI heats up.”

Here’s another from The Express Tribune, a national affiliate of The International New York Times: “Row with (U.S.) State Dept derailed USAID mission.”

News on Friday’s suicide bombing on a mosque in the remote Mohmand Agency on the mountainous Afghan border get side rails with updated death tolls.

Much of our Washington D.C. briefings covered the state of Pakistan’s ever-morphing media industry. With some 90 TV news channels and 60 newspapers, media — on television, radio and in print — seem to still be a formidable force in Pakistan. Particularly in print, it’s a far cry from the wobbly landscape and shrinking newsrooms of the U.S. 

Most people at breakfast, of all ages, had a newspaper at their table. And most of them were written in English — one of Pakistan’s two official languages. (The other is Urdu.)

And these aren’t skimpy, wire-filled rags. These are wide, beautiful editions filled with old-school, j-school-professor-esque copy. They’re gorgeous. The lead of the Dawn story on Imran Khan uses the word “recalcitrant.” I love it. 

Still, the world is a dangerous place for journalists in Pakistan. Strike that — a deadly place. 

Elisa Tinsley, deputy vice president of programs for the International Center of Journalists, forwarded our group several gripping stories on the complexities of Pakistan, particularly related to journalists, by venerable war reporter Dexter Filkins. One of Filkins’ accounts, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2011, recounts the death of famed Pakstani journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was allegedly killed for his reporting on some of the seedier dealings of the Pakistani military. 

Filkins’ story ends with comments from a former Pakistani reporter, Zafar Sheikh. Sheikh stepped away from investigative journalism, but not in the way many “reformed” American journalists joke about being “cured” of the industry. It’s not that he can’t find work or is fed up with tight budgets — he wants to live. 

“I don’t want to get killed like Saleem,” Sheikh told Filkins. “I don’t want to suffer like Saleem did. So I’m not part of the war anymore. I am just writing stereotypical bullshit stories—and no one is angry.”

At least 60 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992 because of stories they’ve investigated, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit.

Later this week, I’ll hopefully meet up with two Pakistani reporters I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting before, Azam Khan and Salman Yousafzai. The duo spent several days in our Aurora Sentinel newsroom almost exactly two years ago, and they both put any and all of my journalistic chops to shame. When I told Azam I’d be in Pakistan in the coming weeks, he responded by saying he would “make (his) way to Islamabad” from Istanbul. The guy is like a 21st century Ernest Hemingway. 

Both Azam and Salman have covered more stories and put themselves in more danger than I can wrap my balding skull around. Sometimes Senate candidates get snappy or a negative theater review gets some tempers cooking, but those paltry examples can’t even be mentioned in the same breath with the work these guys do.

So, yeah. Fall feels different this year.

— QS

RECENT AP PHOTOS FROM PAKISTAN

 PREVIOUS PAKISTAN BLOG ENTRIES BY SNOWDON

• 9/15/16: AURORA TO PAKISTAN: A reporter’s close look at a complex nation

 • 9/16/16: AURORA TO PAKISTAN: Saturday — Who pays for reporters from Aurora and Pakistan to trade places

RECENT HEADLINES ABOUT PAKISTAN

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Aurora Sentinel reporter Quincy SnowdonOriginally from Connecticut, Quincy Snowdon ditched the East Coast about six years ago for Colorado’s thinner air and higher mountains. He’s worked at the Aurora Sentinel in Aurora for two years and something like 68 days (but who’s counting?). He spends most of his days writing about spats on the local board of education and the city’s art scene. But he’s also been known to write about crime, food and the occasional business opening. His likes include climbing up Front Range rock piles, Barilla pasta and getting lost in YouTube worm holes — usually pertaining to bloopers from seasons 3-5 of the American sitcom The Office. His dislikes include deadlines, people who refuse to provide their last names and spotty WiFi connections.