Risky Business: A Reporter in the Eye of the Storm


Scott Horton has some good and true things to say about my former Moscow Times colleague, Carlotta Gall, who is now a New York Times correspondent, covering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Says Horton:

I first met Gall more than ten years ago when she was working for the BBC covering Central Asia. Even then she was a very rare figure, a Westerner who tenaciously dug in to learn what was going on. Gall never thought the answers were to be found in the lobbies of the Sheratons and Intercontinentals, which is where the bulk of the press corps seem to hang out to pick up their scoops. She went to the villages and small towns to form a solid picture of the situation and she probed insistently into the shadowy world of the Pakistani intelligence service and its various cat’s paws.

The latter is a perfect description of Gall at work when I knew her in Moscow. That was how she covered the first Chechen war, a brutal affair on every side, and one swathed with many layers of lies. She went to Chechnya, to the front lines and "to the villages and small towns to form a solid picture of the situation." She would call in her stories on a satellite phone, dictating them to someone at the desk -- often me -- racing to meet the midnight deadline, sometimes with shellfire sounding in the background.

The New York Times has made many egregious hires (Judith Miller, that little Kristol guy, etc.) and many foolish, even sinister moves over the years. But in hiring Gall, who has been covering Afghanistan from the beginning of the American invasion there, they have provided us with at least one figure of great journalistic integrity, tenacity and courage among the upper echelons of the corporate media.

(I should add here that I had no real personal friendship with Gall in Moscow; I knew her only as a professional colleague, and my praise of her work and her integrity stems only from that. I'm not pumping up some close pal of mine from the old days in Moscow.)

Horton links to Gall's latest story, written with David Rohde, exploring the shadowlands nexus between Pakistan's security forces (army and intelligence), and the terrorist factions they created, nurtured, armed, trained and now, occasionally, fight against. The story even manages to make an early mention of the American role in using Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, to arm, fund and train a global jihad network -- the one-time "freedom fighters" now reviled by their own creators as "Islamofascists." It also notes that it was this American intervention -- begun under the saintly Jimmy Carter (even before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan) and greatly expanded under the Reagan-Bush regime -- that "vastly increased" the size of the ISI and extended its dark influence throughout Pakistani society.

This angle is not the thrust of the piece, but it is extremely rare to see even this much context in a story about the troubles in Central Asia, where ham-handed, dim-witted interventions by the bipartisan loot-and-power crowd in Washington have for decades been fomenting vast storms of blowback, which we will be dealing with for many decades hence -- with the worst storms yet to come.

UPDATE: Winter Patriot has more on some of the risks facing reporters in the region, specifically from the government of Bush's coddled and well-remunerated dictator, Musharraf.