By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
August 4, 2014
Pakistan exists under a rule of terror imposed by a military-mullah combine, and it is, consequently, not surprising that the medium which attempts to unravel this truth and to criticize the prevailing order, has been under constant attack.
Indeed, workers and offices of Express News, one of the major media groups in Pakistan, have been relentlessly targeted. On January 17, 2014, unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants shot dead three Express News workers, after ambushing a Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) vehicle in the North Nazimabad area of Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. Ehsanullah Ehsan, former 'spokesman' of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and, by way of 'explanation', argued, "I would like to present some of its reasons: At present, Pakistani media is playing the role of (enemies and spread) venomous propaganda against Tehreek-e-Taliban. They have assumed the (role of) opposition. We had intimated the media earlier and warn it once again that (they must) side with us in this venomous propaganda."
On March 28, 2014, the analyst and Express News show Khabar Se Agay (Beyond News) anchor Raza Rumi survived a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) assassination attempt in Lahore, in which his driver, Mustafa, was killed, and his guard was injured. Rumi has persistently and sharply criticized extremist groups on his programme.
Again, on April 6, 2014, a hand grenade was lobbed on the house of Express News Peshawar Bureau Chief, Jamshed Baghwan, damaging the main gate and a portion of the house, located in the Murshidabad area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Another explosion on July 2, 2014, damaged Baghwan's house and car. Earlier, on March 16, 2014, Security Force (SF) personnel had recovered and later defused a bomb planted at the house.
The Express News had been under attack in 2013 as well. Four unidentified assailants opened indiscriminate fire outside the entrance of the Express News office in Karachi on August 16, 2013, injuring two members of the staff. Again, on December 2, 2013, three persons were injured when unidentified assailants hurled two hand grenades and opened indiscriminate fire at the same location in Karachi.
These attacks are not aberrations. Top Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir (47) was seriously wounded in a targeted shooting in Karachi on April 19, 2014. Mir's car was ambushed as soon as it left Karachi's Jinnah International Airport and was on the way to his Jang group-owned Geo TV's office. Mir had earlier told his family, friends, colleagues, Army and Government officials in writing that he would hold Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam responsible if he was attacked. Hamid Mir had been relentlessly highlighting the issue of missing persons in Balochistan. The incident also demonstrated the ruthless attempts by the military establishment to silence an increasingly critical media, with the civilian Government expectedly toeing the Army's line.
In 2011, the ISI has been accused of abducting, torturing and killing Saleem Shahzad, a journalist working as the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online (Hong Kong) and Italian news agency Adnkronos (AKI). Shahzad disappeared in the evening of May 29, 2011, from Islamabad and his dead body was later discovered on May 31 from a canal in Mandi Bahauddin District of Punjab. His body bore marks of severe torture. Human Rights Watch researcher, Ali Dayan Hasan, claimed he had "credible information" that Shahzad was in the custody of ISI. Indeed, Shahzad's friends and colleagues revealed that the ISI had warned Shahzad at least three times prior to his death. In October 2010, Shahzad was summoned to ISI headquarters the day after publishing a sensitive article on Afghan Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar's capture.
The crisis is particularly acute in Balochistan, where state agencies, the ISI and their non-state proxies have executed the abduction and killing of a number of Baloch journalists who have sought to highlight the issue of forced disappearances of Baloch people. On August 21, 2013, for instance, the body of Haji Abdul Razzaq Baloch (42), a sub-editor at the Daily Tawar (Voice), a leading anti-military Baloch newspaper published in Urdu, was recovered from the Surjani Town area of Karachi. His face was mutilated, and his body showed signs of torture and strangulation. He was 'disappeared' from the Lyari area on March 24, 2013. Razzaq was also a supporter of the Baloch National Movement, a nationalist political organization.
Similarly, the mutilated body of Javid Naseer Rind, the former Deputy Editor of Daily Tawar, had been recovered from the Khuzdar area of Balochistan on November 6, 2011. He had been abducted by unidentified persons on September 10, 2011, from the Hub Chowki area of Lasbela town. His relatives blame ISI for his abduction and killing.
Attack on Media: 2000-2014
Banned/ Barred / Censored
Damage to Property
Source: 2000-2009: Intermedia; 2010-2014: South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP)*Data till August 3, 2014
At least 91 media personnel have been killed in Pakistan since 2000. Another 504 have either faced assault or have been injured in attacks. At least 440 media persons have been abducted/ arrested, while another 347 have been intimidated. According to the partial data compiled by the SATP, 2014 has already witnessed the killing of three media persons in the January 17 incident targeting Express News.
Emboldened by the implicit support of a military and political establishment that refuses to relinquish terrorism as an instrument of state policy, terrorists continue to spread fear. Significantly, on January 23, 2014, TTP issued a fatwa (edict), titled "Right and Wrong: Historic Decree of the Shura of Mujahideen Ulema about Dajjali (deceitful or false) Media". In the fatwa, the TTP blamed the media for acting against Islam and Muslims and promoting ideological anarchy by propagating ideas and deeds that go against Shariah. Signed by TTP 'Central Deputy Chief' Shaikh Khalid Haqqani, the fatwa singles out the reporters of five TV channels - Aaj, ARY, Express News, Geo TV and Samaa - who would be dealt with in accordance with TTP's "jihad policy". The cover page of the fatwa booklet displays a sword falling on the logos of large national and international media groups, including the Voice of America, Fox News, Associated Press, Pakistan Television, Geo, ARY, News 1, Samaa and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The fatwa also justified the killing of journalists affiliated with BBC, Deewa Radio, Mashaal Radio, Azadi Radio and Radio Apki Dunya.
Referring to the trend among Islamist terrorist formations that declare anyone who challenges the extremist ideology, or who dares to talk about a secular Pakistan, a traitor and to attack such persons, Raza Rumi warned of the "systematic purge" of intellectuals, writers and journalists: "Debating religion and its misinterpretation by some religious elements is frowned upon... Now dozens of militant groups are ready to 'fix' an errant writer or a speaker."
David Griffiths, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, notes,
Pakistan's media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting.
Under the circumstances, many media groups those working and individual journalists have begun to eulogize extremism. Khan Zaman Kakar, an Islamabad-based scholar, thus observed, "A section of Pakistani media glorifies Taliban militants and their brand of Islam," adding that extremist elements were keenly aware of growing public and media criticism.
Despite mounting pressures, Pakistani media professionals have vowed to maintain a free Press. Peshawar-based senior journalist and Khyber Union of Journalists President Nisar Mehmood told Central Asia Online on January 16, 2014:
The media have to convey a true picture to the masses. No doubt journalists, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA], are facing death threats, but still we have to depict a true picture of society and convey the truth.
Unfortunately, this is an increasingly unequal battle, as the extremist bullet and bomb put an end to every argument. Worse, where the Government was expected to act decisively and to protect media freedom, it has remained a silent spectator, or has engaged in meaningless public symbolism. Thus, the Chief Minister (CM) of Balochistan, Malik Baloch, on March 20, 2014, announced the formation of a Special Task Force to arrest culprits involved in the murder of around 30 journalists in the Province over the preceding seven years. "I order the formation of a task force to bring the killers of journalists to the book," the CM declared before journalists protesting outside the Provincial Assembly. The President of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), Irfan Saeed, however, pointed out on the same day, "Despite repeated assurances, the killers of journalists are still at large".
Significantly, on February 7, 2014, a BUJ delegation headed by its President Irfan Saeed, met with Balochistan's Inspector General (IG) Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera to ask for immediate Government action to arrest those responsible for the killing of Mohammad Afzal Khawaja, a reporter for Daily Balochistan Times, on February 2. The IG had then promised that the Police department would take all measures to ensure the speedy arrest and trial of the reporter's murderers. However, no arrest has yet been made in this case. Way back on May 17, 2006, then Balochistan Home Secretary Humayun Khan, talking to a delegation of journalists, had stated that the Government was taking 'concrete measures' to improve the law and order situation in the Province and had assured them of providing complete security to journalists. Eight years later, the media is more vulnerable than it was before.
Similarly, Karachi Police spokesman Atiq Sheikh asserted, on July 18, 2014, that law enforcement agencies were guarding writers and publishers who had received threats from the terrorist groups. Given the past record, however, such statements will have no bearing on the actual security of journalists in an environment of enveloping insecurity, where both state and non-state actors have joined hands to target the media.
Indeed, in a report titled, "A bullet has been chosen for you: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan", published on April 30, 2014, Amnesty International notes:
Pakistani journalists live under the constant threat of killings, harassment and other forms of violence from both the state and non-state actors, political parties and armed groups like the TTP and their ideological affiliates.
Numerous journalists interviewed by Amnesty International during the compilation of the report complained of harassment or attacks by individuals they claimed were connected to the establishment.
The Pakistani media has remained surprisingly vocal and substantially committed to the values of freedom, democracy, and even secularism. In a state where the principal tools of political management have relied on the use of extreme force and the ideological manipulation of extremist Islam, these are dangerous positions. The assault on the media by both the state and Islamist extremist formations supported by and opposed to the state, constitutes an existential challenge to Pakistan in its present - albeit ambivalent - form. The fragile support structures of freedom in Pakistan are now under terminal risk.
Tushar Ranjan Mohantyis a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
Source: South Asia Intelligence Review