Safety of scribes in Pakistan

Journalists in Pakistan have been systematically targeted by the military, especially the ISI. Many have vanished without a trace. Most have been systematically brutalized after arrest. There was an attempt at kidnapping on the Pakistan Bureau Chief of an Indian TV channel, Taha Siddiqui, on Wednesday by unidentified people.  Fortunately, the scribe could jump out of the speeding car and escape through the flow of traffic. His kidnappers, numbering ten to twelve, all armed men, beat him up in the running car. What would have befallen him were he to be taken to where the kidnappers were heading can only be imagined. What is significant is that the journalist was being constantly threatened by the country’s Federal Investigative Agency’s counter-terror group for writing against the military.
Last year there was a huge ruckus when a Dawn reporter made a scoop that exposed a conflict between the civil authorities and the military. The report was routinely denied but that it was based on facts became clear when a Foreign Ministry official and a senior Information Ministry official were sacked as per the recommendations of a Special Committee that was set up to inquire into the leak.  Real power lies with the Deep State operating in Pakistan, rather than the elected civil government. Only a couple of months ago, the Law Minister of Pakistan had to resign in face of protests by a little known political party which had the backing of the military. The ‘protesters’ brought life to a standstill in several cities. The army refused to disperse them. Instead, it brokered a peace between the protesters and the Government.
Reporting in Pakistan carries the constant risk of being shot or kidnapped or being ‘dispirited’. A journalist will either have to toe the official line blindly without a question or expose himself to the possibility of the worst happening to him. Under the conditions prevailing in Pakistan, all journalists are under constant surveillance and one representing an Indian newspaper or news channel comes in for special treatment. In comparison, Pakistani journalists in India can move freely and report freely without fear or threat to personal safety. This is the difference between a democracy and rule by the army behind a civilian façade. What the fraternity of Indian journalists can do is to bring these incidents to the world body of journalists so that the problem is brought to world attention and pressure brought on those who are responsible for curbing the freedom of journalists.

Tuesday, 16 January, 2018