July   
2010

Vol. 10 - No. 1


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SOUTH ASIA: PAKISTAN                                                                                                                       News Briefs


 

The 'Sacred Duty' of Sectarian Slaughter

 



(Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
         map are not members of SAARC)

Reports from the Dark

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Reporting out of the murk of conflict has always been fraught with danger, but the controversy surrounding Hamid Mir, Executive Editor of GEO News, exposes a dimension of risk that is rarely seen out in the open – that of collusion between the media and extremists to engineer specific acts of terrorism.

The audio-taped conversation between Hamid Mir and a man purportedly linked to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), indicates that information Mir passed on to the TTP, and direct exhortations by Mir, could have led to the execution of Khalid Khawaja, a former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officer, allegedly killed by a group calling themselves the Asian Tigers, a little known TTP-linked outfit. The tape, which has Mir divulging ‘dirt’ on Khawaja, ostensibly to TTP militant Usman, who was to ‘cross examine’ Khawaja, was first posted by the ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ blog, and subsequently picked up by other online publications. It is still unclear who made the tape, with online speculation suggesting that it could be the militants themselves, or intelligence agencies who released the recording. 

While Mir claims the tape is a fabrication, several sources, including the ISI and Khawaja’s son, Osama Khalid, have confirmed that the voices on the tape belong to Mir and to Usman. Usman had spoken to the Khawaja family during negotiations for his release.

The content of the conversation suggests that this call was made before Khawaja’s execution on April 30. Mir gives details of Khawaja’s purported background, linking him to the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and to the Lal Masjid operation [July 3-11, 2007]. Mir claims that Khawaja and his wife were responsible for the death of Ghazi Rasheed [on July 10, 2007] and the humiliating capture of Maulana Abdul Aziz and his family [on July 4, 2007] at Lal Masjid. Mir then urges the man to cross-examine Khawaja about his relationship with the Qadiani sect, which he describes as "Worse than kafirs (unbelievers)", as well as with two ‘CIA agents’, William Casey and Mansur Ejaz.

 

Khawaja’s son Osama insists that Mir had hatched a conspiracy to murder his father: "This audiotape is enough proof to show Hamid Mir’s role in the murder."

 

Intelligence agencies, including the ISI, presented an investigation report to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani regarding the Mir-Usman audiotape on May 19, confirming that the tape was authentic.

 

While Mir will certainly bring disgrace upon himself and raise wider questions about the complicity of sections of the Pakistan media with terrorists, most journalists in the country are confronted with a distinctly unenviable task, at once threatened by extremists and by an arbitrary and despotic State – dominated by an overbearing Army. Significantly, following a suicide attack on the Peshawar Press Club on December 22, 2009, Adnan Rehmat, Executive Director of Intermedia, disclosed: "At least 45 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the last five years, several by suspected militants, but this is the first time that suicide squads of terrorists have targeted media persons as a specific, overt target, indicating a dramatic increase in the level of threats facing the media in the country." According to the Paris-based Reporters without Borders, suicide bombings have made Pakistan one of the "world’s most dangerous countries for the Press".

 

In 2009 alone, there were 163 cases of direct attacks on the media in Pakistan, and 10 journalists paid the ultimate price for practicing a difficult trade against a backdrop of rising terrorism in the country. Of these, four were killed in Punjab, three in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP, formerly the North West Frontier Province) and one each in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Balochistan and capital Islamabad, according to Intermedia’s annual research on the state of the media in Pakistan.

 

The total of 163 cases included murders, assaults, abductions, explicit threats and attacks on media properties and establishments. Punjab bore the brunt of these attacks with 54 cases and KP a close second, with 52. Islamabad accounted for 28 cases; Sindh, 12; six each in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and FATA; and three in Balochistan.

 

10 journalists were abducted through 2009 — four in KP, two in Islamabad and one each in Balochistan, FATA, Punjab and Sindh. At least 24 cases of assault on working journalists were also recorded in 2009. A total of 70 journalists were injured in these assaults — 36 in Punjab, 12 in Islamabad, 10 in the NWFP, seven in Sindh and five in AJK.

 

10 cases of physical and armed attacks were reported on media property and establishments, peaking in the suicide attack on the Peshawar Press Club on December 22. Three people, including a woman, were killed and another 24 persons injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main gate of the Peshawar Press Club. Subsequently, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned that it was a sign of a new "war on media" by political extremists. IFJ General Secretary Aidan White observed, "This targeted attack, far from the frontline of conflict, illustrates that the war on media by extremists is being taken into the heart of the cities."

 

Attack on Media: 2000-2010

 

Year

Killed

Assault/ Injured

Arrested/ abducted

Intimidated

Banned/Barred
/Censored

Damage to Property

2000

5

14

10

24

6

6

2001

2

2

5

3

4

2

2002

1

37

10

13

8

2

2003

2

7

4

17

2

1

2004

2

2

8

17

3

2

2005

3

7

13

18

28

3

2006

5

31

12

22

15

9

2007

11

215

325

79

43

16

2008

13

74

40

118

20

4

2009

10

70

10

28

35

10

2010*

2

5

1

1

0

2

Total

56

464

438

340

164

57

Source: 2000-2009: Intermedia
*Data till June 6, 2010: South Asia Terrorism Portal

 

Assaults against Press freedom in 2009 were, however, far from new, and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) had, earlier, described 2008 as a "dangerous year," for journalists in Pakistan, with Swat [KP] and Bajaur [FATA] identified as the most dangerous areas for reporting. The PFUJ blamed both Government agencies and "non-state actors," for the rise in violence, noting that no prosecution, or for that matter even arrest, took place in any of the cases relating to the killing of journalists in 2008. The Government also failed to take action against those personnel of intelligence agencies, who were responsible for illegal detention of journalists (there were 40 cases of arrest and abduction of journalists in 2008) in different parts of the country, including capital Islamabad. Noting the rising danger for journalists, PFUJ had warned, "The situation may worsen in the coming months" – fears that were substantially realized in 2009.

 

Khalid Khishgi, former Secretary General of the Khyber Union of Journalists and a senior journalist working for The News in Peshawar, noted on January 26, 2010,

 

Both the military and the militants are monitoring each and every report from the conflict zones. I cannot predict which sentence or word in my report goes against the "strategic interests" of the powerful groups. In Peshawar, so many organisations received threatening letters from a certain militant group for not giving "enough space" to their side of the story. Words like Press freedom become meaningless in such horrible situations.

Journalists are routinely abducted either by militant groups or arrested by the security and intelligence agencies for not observing the "code of conduct" enforced by the one or the other. Under such pressure, there have been several cases where family members have compelled journalists to quit their jobs or migrate to other countries. Rahman Buneri, who fled the country and took asylum in the United States when a group of militants bombed his house on July 9, 2009, in the Buner valley of KP, notes, "When your home and your family members are not safe, you cannot do justice to your profession." Dr. Khalid Mufti, a Peshawar-based psychiatrist, observes that these tensions have resulted in a marked increase in mental health problems among journalists and their families.

 

There is little subtlety in these campaigns of intimidation and terror. On April 14, 2010, for instance, TTP spokesman Azam Tariq told journalists in the North Waziristan Agency that the "pro-America" media was spreading false propaganda about the ‘Taliban’, and would be punished. Similarly, on April 23, 2010, a TTP spokesman, Muhammad Umar, warned the media for "the last time" against "ignoring" his group’s viewpoint, and claimed newspapers and TV channels were "hiding the truth". This warning by the "spokesman for the Taliban Media Centre" in North Waziristan – was emailed to the media hours after a deadly attack targeted an army convoy in North Waziristan, and declared:

 

Why is the media only conveying the army’s point of view? Is this proof that the media is also working as an ally for the government and the army? Or they are being forced to hide the truth? ...This email should be considered a last warning for the media of Pakistan. If the media doesn’t stop working as an ally of the Government and the Army, the Taliban would have to treat the media as they want to be treated."

Muhammad Umar added, further, that the media could either be with "the terrorists (state agencies) or the truth".

 

There was more troubling news for the media. On January 10, 2010, the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) of the Interior Ministry warned that TTP had decided to attack newspaper offices and renowned journalists across the country. According to Intelligence reports, the TTP was "not happy" with Pakistan’s media policy and want to teach the media a lesson. The NCMC sent circulars to the Provincial Governments, Police and other law-enforcement agencies to put security on high alert in order to protect newspaper offices and journalists. The report noted that the attack on the Peshawar Press Club on December 22, 2009, was to be seen in this context.

 

Apart from the direct targeting of the media, escalating risks of collateral fatalities among journalists have also been noted. On May 10, 2010, 26 journalist organisations from around the world called on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other jihadi organisations in Pakistan to stop targeting civilians with their attacks, observing that journalists also lost their lives in such incidents. The appeal from the organisations, which included PFUJ and Reporters Without Borders declared,

 

We appeal with the utmost urgency to the leaders of the Taliban, jihadi movements and al Qaeda in Pakistan to put a stop to all further suicide bombings on public gatherings… As journalists, we have to cover official events first-hand but that does not mean that we support this or that politician or public figure. By targeting large gatherings, the organisations are endangering the lives of innocent civilians and reporters. This is not acceptable. We can no longer accept the loss of lives of our fellow journalists… We, the undersigned journalists of Pakistan and defenders of press freedom around the world, condemn with the utmost firmness all recourse to suicide bombings in the middle of crowds of civilians that result in the deaths of innocent people, including media workers.

The appeal came more than a week after two TV journalists were killed in two days in suicide bombings in Balochistan and KP. Malik Arif, a Quetta-based TV cameraman and Azamat Ali Bangash, a Kohat-based reporter for the same network, were both covering stories at the time of the bombings.

 

Meanwhile, Zulfiqar Ali, a Dawn columnist, on September 6, 2009, had detailed a multiplicity of ills that had come to afflict the media in Pakistan, blaming "monetary benefits and sensationalism", as well as reliance on unnamed "intelligence sources" for much of the decline in the quality and accuracy of reportage. Crucially, well before the Hamid Mir scandal, he had pointed to a "deepening nexus between militants and journalists".

 

The media is under unprecedented, multiple and escalating pressures in Pakistan, even as both state repression and terrorism rise. As conditions in the country worsen, however, the media’s role will become even more crucial. Sections of the Pakistani media have displayed extraordinary determination under relentless pressure through decades of relentless crisis, establishing standards of reportage and commentary that are sometimes astonishing. It is not clear, however, how long this fortitude can survive the sheer brutality of the focused attacks against individual journalists and media institutions that appear now to have been initiated; or the increasing proclivity of a new breed of journalists who are eagerly ‘embedded’ with the state’s agencies, or with the terrorists.

 

[South Asia Intelligent Review]

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