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By: Rageh Omaar/ Farah DurraniAcross the Border is the extraordinary account of Rageh Omaar’s recent journey to Peshawar in northern Pakistan. There he meets John Butt, a journalist who runs a local radio service with a difference - it broadcasts to the tribal areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border where people have suffered through years of bloodshed and successive occupations, and where thousands have been displaced as refugees.
Rageh Omaar with John Butt (left)
John Butt is a Muslim convert of British origin who has lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past 30 years. He trains and manages a team of local reporters and, following a weekly Friday meeting, sends them out on their assignments.But this is no ordinary training and journalism project. The stories are selected to give a voice to the grass roots and are aimed at helping conflict resolution.Rageh follows a reporter on the road, and then travels with John to see the tiny Radio Khyber at work trying to persuade two rival Sunni factions, traditional and reformist, to sit together for a broadcast discussion. As if the region's stories are not difficult enough, there are other problems to confront. A lack of funding threatens the radio project. After two years developing the audience and the skills of the reporters, the American financial aid has suddenly dried up.
John deploys his understanding of local society to seek funding by more traditional methods in this wild tribal border territory - by making contacts with men of influence in the hujera where men gather to talk and discuss. While John attends to his fund-raising campaign, Rageh is taken by reporter Farishta Shikhany to witness the Afghan community. Farishta is an Afghan refugee herself, and her perspective on the refugee schools and camps they visit reveals the staggering sense of loss - and courage - hundreds of thousands of refugees face on a daily basis.A compelling and emotive report on a region and people whose lives are determined and destined by war lords, tribal chiefs, and competing foreigners.