Pak crackdown on media a sure sign
The heavy-handed approach that Islamabad is adopting towards mediapersons, both of domestic and foreign origins, is a tell-tale sign of times to come. After the brutal attacks on two of Pakistan’s foremost and intrepid scribes, Hamid Mir of Geo TV and Raza Rumi, columnist with The Friday Times and Express Tribune as well as noted author of two books, in April this year, the latest offensive has been the refusal to extend visas of the two Indian journalists stationed in Islamabad. Snehesh Alex Philip, correspondent with the Press Trust of India, and Meena Menon, senior correspondent with The Hindu, have been asked to leave the country by 20 May, and no official reason has been furnished to support the sudden decree. Given the recent aggression that journalists in Pakistan have had to confront, with critics of the establishment’s cosy relationship with its rogue military-industrial complex in the Inter Services Agency being ritually threatened, beaten up and even murdered, the expulsion order for the Indian scribes might appear to be a mild manifestation of the growing malcontent within the country. In fact, just before the general elections in Pakistan in May last year, the New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh was summarily asked to leave, an ominous precursor of more brutal badgering of mediapersons in the aftermath of the polls that picked Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League in the first democratic and peaceful transition of civilian regimes.
The shadow of doom on Pakistan’s fourth estate is a testimony that increasingly media representatives are getting caught in the crosshairs of the faceoff between extremists and a supine government that is unable to curtail internal and external militancy. While the Indian journalists have reported for less than a year on Pakistan’s political crests and troughs and Sharif’s insipid battle against the nexus of terrorists like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ISI, the Pakistani scribes have been outspoken opponents of the corroding of human and civil rights in the country as well as the Islamic fundamentalist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Moreover, Rumi and Mir have been active in forging and supporting Indo-Pak peace initiatives, with the former even writing a book his travels and travails in Delhi, thereby earning the establishment’s ire. Both staunch secularists, the Pakistani journalists represent the crème de la crème of Islamabad’s erudite and pacifist population, who likewise have support in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and other cities, which are a far cry from the terror-infested bastions of North West Frontier Province. It is unfortunate therefore to witness a simultaneous decimation of not just the independence of the fourth estate in both India and Pakistan, but also a growing threat to life and bearings of fearless critics of extremism, whether engineered by the respective states or increasingly self-mainstreaming fanatic organisations.