Documentary finalist highlights resilience of Pakistanis in face of terrorism

By Adeel Saeed


Peshawar-based journalist Asif Shehzad, right, interviews an elderly man in April. The man lost his legs in a targeted bombing at a music market in Peshawar in 2011. [Courtesy of Asif Shehzad]

PESHAWAR -- The resilience of Pakistanis amid the destruction and atrocities committed by terrorists in the past decade has come into focus through a documentary that is garnering international recognition.

The 32-minute film, titled "Face of Terror", was a finalist for July's Monthly Award of the Stockholm International Film Festival in Sweden, Peshawar journalist Asif Shehzad, the director of the film, said on July 28.

The festival chose the documentary from entries by journalists and short-film makers worldwide, Asif said, adding that his is the only film selected from Pakistan.

The monthly competitions' winners will receive honours at an online event in November, when the festival takes place, he said.


A screenshot of the documentary title. The film has been nominated for an award by the Stockholm Film Festival. [Courtesy of Asif Shehzad]

Asif's film looks without flinching at the impact of militancy in Pakistan.

While military operations have mostly quelled a decade-long wave of terrorism in Pakistan, the country and its citizens have paid a heavy price.

Between 2006-2018, more than 60,000 civilians and 5,000 military personnel were killed by militant activity nationwide, while thousands of others were injured and displaced.

The country has suffered more than $120 billion (Rs. 20 trillion) in economic losses due to terrorism, the government estimates.

Surmounting horrors of terrorism

In his film, Asif said he focused on the hardships that Pakistanis experienced in the wake of bombings and suicide attacks, as well as their resilience.

"Apart from highlighting the destruction of terrorism, I tried to convey to the world the inner strength of my countrymen in facing such a difficult time," he said.

"I interviewed a security guard of a compact-disc music market in Peshawar that was targeted by terrorists who planted an IED [improvised explosive device] in September 2011," he said.

In the explosion, the guard, Bashir Ahmad, lost both of his legs.

The film shows the resilience and tenacity of the survivor in making the best of his situation. Ahmad carries luggage or purchases for passersby on his wheelchair, helping him eke out a living for his family.

The director also spotlights a family who lost eight members in the devastating suicide bombing of a church in Peshawar.

An elderly man and his grandson who survived the blast are both fighting to surmount the bitterness brought to their lives by terrorism and religious extremism, he remarked.

Similarly, the sentiments of a father who lost his son in the 2014 massacre of more than 140 children and teachers at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar are included in the documentary.

'Convey a message to the world'

The documentary will remind the world of the terrorist brutality faced by Pakistanis, Asif said.

The Stockholm International Film Festival started in 1990 and is one of the largest cultural events in the Nordic region, according to its website.

In November, the festival will present 150 film premieres from more than 60 countries.

"It is a matter of pride for the journalist community in Peshawar that a documentary film by one of its members has been selected for international competition," said Syed Bukhar Shah, president of the Peshawar Press Club.

"The selection will not only infuse a new spirit of encouragement and hard work among the working journalists of the region. It also highlights the difficulties and hardships faced by the people of Pakistan," Shah added.

The documentary will inform the world community that Pakistanis are still reeling from the impact of terrorism and face daily struggles to heal from the devastation caused by extremists, he said.

"It's heartening that the festival selected a documentary highlighting the plight of the Pakistani nation still suffering from the damage of terrorism," said Mossarat Qadeem of Peshawar, a peace activist and executive director of the PAIMAN Trust, a non-governmental organisation engaged in countering violent extremism and encouraging peace-building endeavours in Pakistan. "If screened, it will convey a message to the world."

A worldwide platform is important in demonstrating terrorism's destructive impact on society, agreed Muhammad Asif of Peshawar, chairman of the Youth Anti-Terrorism Organisation, an organisation working to fight extremism.

"Destruction caused by terrorism should be shown to the world so that people can understand its consequences, and to protect youth from slipping into the hands of extremist elements," he said.

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