- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

The "fixer" gets a byline
Monday's front page featured a Washington Times byline that had not been seen before by our readers Muzamal Suherwaday.
Even more intriguing, the story was datelined Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, a market town on the road from Pakistan to Kandahar, which at the time was still in the hands of many increasingly desperate Taliban troops.
As the story explained, its military commander was Mullah Abdul Razak, the notorious Taliban interior minister who oversaw the massacre of some 20,000 civilians in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997. More recently, he became known as the fundamentalist militia's chief torturer. This clearly was not a good place for a reporter from a Washington newspaper to be wandering around looking for quotes.
That's why we turned to Mr. Suherwaday, a veteran reporter for the Urdu-language newspaper, Nawa-i-Waqt, the No. 2 circulation daily in Pakistan. Mr. Suherwaday has been a good friend to The Washington Times ever since he came to the aid of our reporter Ben Barber during a previous trip to Pakistan.
Mr. Suherwaday helped smooth out a misunderstanding more than a year ago when a senior Pakistani official publicly accused Mr. Barber of being an agent of the Indian lobby in Washington. He later helped our reporter get into one of the hard-line religious schools, or "madrassas," to write about the phenomenon long before the events of September 11 focused U.S. attention on their activities.
Acting on Mr. Barber's advice, Willis Witter, our reporter covering the war in Afghanistan, got together with Mr. Suherwaday when he first arrived in Pakistan and engaged him as a "fixer."
As time and the demands of his own job permit, Mr. Suherwaday has been escorting Mr. Witter to some of the more inaccessible and dangerous border areas of Pakistan sometimes in his own car and has helped him through the maze of visa requirements and official travel permits. The two hooked up most recently in Quetta, Pakistan, where Mr. Witter settled in more than a week ago to follow the battle for the Taliban's final stronghold, Kandahar.
The following note, which arrived with the e-mail with the article from Spin Boldak attached to it, is Mr. Witter's account of how the story was acquired.

A day in Spin Boldak
"Here's a story from my fixer Muzamal. He disguised himself as a Pashtun trader, crossed the border on Friday, and spent three hours in the Afghan border city of Spin Boldak. He paid about $40 (depending on semantics, it was either a fee or a bribe) to cross the border without any passport. He walked for about 20 minutes and then hired a truck, which took him and his local Pakistani guide on a 20-minute drive to Spin Boldak.
"Once there, he began interviewing people, officials from the Taliban and the opposition as well as ordinary people. In interviewing, Muzamal identified himself as a reporter [for] Nawa-i-Waqt, which is the Pakistani newspaper most supportive of the Taliban.
"In fact, a Taliban fighter stopped him when he entered Spin Boldak. Muzamal took out his press card for Nawa-i-Waqt, explained what he wanted, and the Taliban guard took him to the spokesman for the Taliban leader.
"Later, Muzamal found, with the help of his Pakistani guide, a spokesman for the exiled king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. Both the Taliban and the king's representative gave details of ongoing negotiations between the Taliban in Kandahar and local tribal leaders. (This was also in Saturday's story, in which Muzamal was identified as 'a local reporter working for The Washington Times.')
"Muzamal has been covering the Pakistani fundamentalists for Nawa-i-Waqt, for years, so he knows his way around. I'm hoping that in the future, he can file to us from time to time."
The story that appeared in our paper was written almost entirely by Mr. Witter from the notes that Mr. Suherwaday made in Spin Boldak and from his personal account. Mr. Witter could, arguably, have written the story under his own byline with a Quetta, Pakistan dateline, but preferred to use the Spin Boldak dateline, which meant giving the byline to the reporter who had been there.
The decision, which we endorsed, was much appreciated by Mr. Suherwaday. Mr. Witter told us later his escort was thrilled the next day when he went to our Web site and found his byline on a front-page story in a Washington newspaper.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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