Lack Of Internet Services In South Waziristan Stifling Journalistic Efforts, Region’s Development
South Waziristan: A region that for long has battled against terrorism and security issues is now facing a new set of obstacles in its path to progress.
The absence of the Internet and mobile phone services has not only impeded developments in the region but also hindered the work of journalists.
In a united front, journalists and citizens of South Waziristan have taken to the streets, demanding the immediate provision of internet and mobile services to overcome the communication gap that has plagued the region for far too long.
For years, journalists in South Waziristan have grappled with limited connectivity, making their already challenging task even more arduous. The lack of reliable communication infrastructure, including 2G, 3G, and 4G internet services, has prevented them from effectively reporting on crucial events and addressing the concerns of the local population.Students, professionals, and the general public are also adversely affected by the absence of mobile services, creating numerous hurdles in their daily lives.
According to Tawal Pvt Ltd Executive Officer (Operation and Mentaince) Fida Ullah, 17 mobile phone towers have been installed across South Waziristan.
However, Adnan Bhittani, a reporter at VOA Deewa Radio, claims that despite installing 17 mobile phone towers across the region, connectivity remains a distant dream for most of South Waziristan’s over 7 million strong population.
The situation took a turn for the worse when internet services, which were partially restored following former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit in February 2021, were discontinued in densely populated areas such as Wanna, Spin, Tanai Ladha, Makeen, and Kani Goram, Bhittani added
The repercussions of this communication gap extend beyond just the field of journalism. Ishtiaq Mahsud, President of the Mahsud Press Club, emphasized that the absence of internet services rendered the recently constructed press club building practically useless. Ishtiaq Mashud explained that while the physical infrastructure was in place, without internet connectivity, journalists were unable to fulfill their professional responsibilities effectively. This lack of access not only undermines the trust of the local population but also hinders journalists from verifying news which often leads to the unintentional dissemination of misinformation/disinformation.Female journalists face additional challenges due to the conservative social norms prevalent in the region.
Seema Wazir, a journalist from Kari Kot in South Waziristan, highlighted the gender disparity in access to information. While men can readily access the internet and share news from government offices, women are often denied entry, stifling their voices in the local media. Providing 3G and 4G facilities would not only enable female journalists to address women’s issues more effectively but also promote inclusivity and gender equality in reporting, Seema added.
Razia Mahsud, another female journalist in South Waziristan, shed light on journalists’ financial and logistical struggles in their pursuit of news. With limited connectivity, verifying news requires hours of travel through the mountainous terrain of South Waziristan. This not only consumes valuable time but also incurs substantial financial expenses.Consequently, journalists sometimes rely heavily on their sources, inadvertently leading to the propagation of misinformation instead of accurate reporting, Razia added.
The absence of Internet and mobile services has also impacted the region’s development and progress. Journalist Noor Ali from the Pakistani Pashto News Channel in Wana lamented that the lack of timely news transmission has forced many journalists to abandon organizations that require video or photo content.
The resultant pressure on journalists to secretly access internet services outside government offices further compromises the quality of their work, often leading to poor video and photo content, Noor Ali lamented.
Recognizing the significance of the internet in the modern era, Fatima Kundi, a Mass Communication lecturer at Gomal University in Dera Ismail Khan, emphasized the need for timely measures and tools to ensure responsible usage.
While acknowledging the prevalence of fake news and misinformation, Kundi stressed that the absence of internet and mobile services in South Waziristan inhibits journalists’ ability to gather fast and accurate news based on research, thus compromising their professional responsibilities. The demand for internet and mobile services in South Waziristan is not new.
Head of Freedom Network, a non-governmental organization working for the safety and protection of journalists Iqbal Khattak has consistently highlighted the dire need for communication infrastructure in tribal areas like South Waziristan.
Khattak underscored the importance of access to information as a basic right for both journalists and the public, emphasizing that the government has a fundamental responsibility to ensure ease of access for journalists to carry out their work without hindrance.In response to the mounting pressure, Deputy Commissioner of South Waziristan Ashfaq Ahmed acknowledged the challenges faced by the region but assured the public that efforts were underway to resolve the issue.
While security concerns were cited as a hindrance, Ahmed vowed that the government was committed to providing internet and mobile services to South Waziristan, thereby facilitating communication, reporting, and development.
As the people of South Waziristan continue their fight for connectivity, the lack of internet and mobile services remains a significant obstacle to progress in the region. Without the necessary communication infrastructure, journalists will struggle to fulfill their professional responsibilities, and the voices of the local population will continue to be silenced. It is incumbent upon the government to swiftly address these concerns and bridge the communication gap to foster growth, development and informed journalism in South Waziristan.