How and why would you interview a key leader of one of Afghanistan’s most feared anti-Western militant groups?

The Haqqani network has been blamed for a series of recent deadly attacks in its home country.

So its leaders’ thoughts and motivations, however distasteful, are clearly of importance.

But the people at the head of such networks do not tend readily to put themselves forward for questioning by established media organisations.

The BBC had been pursuing an interview with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network for some months.

Then, last Sunday, a BBC Pashto reporter in the Khost province of Afghanistan, was approached by an envoy of Siraj Haqqani – the son of Jalaluddin, the group’s founder, who has a key role in the network’s operations.

There followed a series of phone calls between Emal Pasarly, of the BBC Afghan service, and senior BBC editors. Here Emal describes what happened next:

Some of the decisions were simple enough – clearly the BBC couldn’t really allow one of its reporters to travel to an undisclosed location, probably somewhere in North Waziristan.

On safety grounds alone it wasn’t on.

Siraj Haqqani, a rising star in the second generation of Taliban leaders, is one of the most wanted persons in that part of the world.

One of his brothers was said to have been killed in a US drone attack, and pressure on the Haqqani network had been mounting, particularly after the attack on the US embassy in Kabul and the killing of the peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.

In both, the Haqqani network was mentioned as the most probable perpetrators.

Siraj Haqqani tends to avoid media spotlight. He has granted very few interviews, and photographic images of him are rare. He avoids communication via telephone and instead addresses his supporters through audio recordings. The latter later proved to be a great help to us.

One option discussed for the interview was sending questions through intermediaries in the hope of getting the answers. In principle, it could work, but there was one problem – verification.

We knew technology would be of help. A list of questions was passed to the Haqqani representatives and a request to record the answers on video.

After five days a memory stick arrived – delivered through a network of various people to BBC colleagues in the Khost province. But when it was plugged into a computer there was no video. Instead, there was a voice – in a broadcast-quality audio recording.

The voice answered the BBC’s questions, although the responses appeared to be scripted – at least that’s how it sounded.

Was it really Siraj Haqqani?

We set about trying to verify the recording, asking residents of Khost, who had in the past heard Siraj Haqqani, to listen to it. It took three days of painstaking work. Eventually we got the confirmation that the audio recordings were him. We then compared the voice to that on audio tapes we had of him. We were convinced it was a match. We were ready to roll.

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Liliane Landor is languages controller of BBC Global News.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2011/10/talking_to_haqqani_how_it_was.html

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