Photos By Massimo Berruti © Massimo Berruti, VU’ Agency for the Carmignac Gestion Foundation
“More than anything else, I wanted to see somewhere other than Italy. It was the elections in February 2008 that first convinced me to go and work in Pakistan. I thought I would leave immediately after, but then I stayed as the country fascinated me.
Pakistan is a country undergoing immense change, with all the difficulties this implies. Plus I was free to go just about anywhere, unlike in other countries of the region, especially Afghanistan.
I wanted to use my images, however tragic they may sometimes be, to reveal how these people suffer in their daily lives from the terrorism perpetrated by the Taliban, but in particular I wanted to show how they resist with their minimal resources and continue to live despite everything. I am not sure that I have completely achieved this aim with my photos, as terrorism is a complicated, often impalpable, affair that involves wide-ran- ging interests, sometimes from outside the country where it occurs.
It was hard for me to show the feeling of degradation that I witnessed during my trip. Things seem to be deteriorating but the authorities think only of using armed force to curb the Taliban threat, which in my opinion is counterproductive.
Strangely enough, I encountered very few problems working as a photographer in Pakistan. In fact, it turned out to be easier for me to work in Pakistan than in Italy. The people are not violent; Pakistan in general is not a violent country. Of course, the situa- tion for locals is very hard; they may curse those who do them so much harm, question their reasons.
Sometimes the Taliban beat women in public even though this goes completely against Pashtun culture. Yet there is no anger against the US army or even the Taliban terrorists. Rather, people are waiting for eve- rything to blow over, for things to improve. Paradoxically, the only time I really felt threatened was not because of the Taliban but the Pakistani army. In the Swat Valley, a young solider grabbed my camera for no reason and pointed his gun at me. I was pretty scared that day.
My images of Pakistan are in black and white as I almost immediately found colour disturbing, as though it was distracting me from my primary goal. I reverted to black and white to be closer to my subjects. I do work with colour in Italy but it is something I find hard to master; you need a perfect blend of tones. Here, for example, there are lots of blues and purples, which did not always look very good in my first photos. When my technique has matured I will look into it more seriously, but not just yet.”
Massimo Berruti, September 2009.
Pakistan, Swat Valley, Mahnbanr (Tehsil Qilagai) near Dir Border, March 2011: The armed members of Lashker are performing “Pehra”, the patrolling, on a snow-covered road which leads to the populated area of Mahnbanr in Qilagai Teshil. Communication gaps due to the bad condition of the road isolate the Lashkers during the winter, making their task of defending the area harder.
Pakistan, Barabandai, Swat Valley 2010: Lashker members, under the leadership of Adrees Lala, are performing Pehra on the streets of the village. A young member is patrolling with the adults.
Pakistan, Swat Valley, Totani Bandai, Jan 2011: Lashkar elders sitting with a Saiflillah Khan bodyguard under the sun to keep them warm from the chilly weather at the Hujra of Lashker Head Nazim Saifullah Khan Lala. They are waiting to meet Saifullah, one of the most important Lashkers personalities thanks to his close relations with the Army.
Pakistan, Mahnbanr (Tehsil Qilagai), Swat Valley near Dir Border, March 2011: Members of Lashker performing “Pehra”, night patrolling, on the rooftop of a house, located at the entrance of Mahnbanr.
Pakistan, Swat Valley, Mahnbanr (Qilagai) near Dir Border, March 2011: Lashkar Elder Mahnbanr SaidBachà is heading home with his armed Lashker members after attending a Grand Jirga at Tehsil Kabal. Leaders like Saidbacha have always been threatened by the Taliban for playing a pivotal role in kicking them out of Swat Valley.
Pakistan, Swat, Barabandai, Nov: 2010: Members of Lashker making preparations for performing “Pehra” (night patrolling) at the Hujra of a tribal elder Ahmed Khan, whose portrait is on the wall. In the small one he is standing along with his two sons who are residing in UK. Three of his bodyguards and one of his nephews were shot in 2008 by the militants, due to his resistance to their rules during the Taliban regime that has taken place in the the Swat valley before the successful military operation in May 2009. A Hujrà in the Pashtun culture is a place where tribal elders assemble to discuss different issues besides being in touch with each other. Sometimes in these places elders hold meetings also called Jirga, to settle any sort of dispute or evolve future strategies.