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Media in the Cross Hairs: Militants continue to Target Journalists in Pakistan


Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage.


Sabeen Mahmud, Martyr for Free Speech

My op-ed for The New York Times
The appalling murder in Karachi last week of Sabeen Mahmud is a stark reminder of challenges that human rights defenders face in Pakistan. Ms. Mahmud, 39, had devoted her life to creating an alternative to the religious nationalism promoted by the Pakistani state over recent decades, which has led to a proliferation of violent jihadist organizations. She was gunned down on Friday night as she left the arts center she had founded.

In the country’s largest city, troubled by violence and crumbling institutions, Ms. Mahmud created a hub to promote the arts, harness creative talent and foster democratic dialogue. Since 2007, The Second Floor, commonly known as T2F, had evolved as a small but significant arena for pluralist and secular movements in the Islamic Republic. In Pakistan’s deeply conservative, repressive society, this was a kind of liberation theology.

Hours before she was shot, Ms. Mahmud, a tech entrepreneur as well as a social activist, hosted human rights advocates who were campaigning against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in insurgency-hit Balochistan Province. After the government ordered the cancellation of the event, which was called “Unsilencing Balochistan” and was to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Ms. Mahmud offered T2F as a venue.

The government is deeply worried about the insurgency in Balochistan. The commonly held — and vigorously promoted — view is that Pakistan’s great rival, India, is supporting the insurgency. Thus advocating for the rights of the Baloch people is regarded as treasonous.


Toxic narratives

Raza Rumi

Al Qaeda’s plan for the region will succeed if Islamabad does not take stock of the deep penetration of its ideology into the folds of Pakistani society 

Clerics representing the Taliban listen to a reporter Clerics representing the Taliban listen to a reporter

The charade of talks being played by Pakistan’s major political parties, media and perhaps sections of the permanent establishment stands exposed. The prime minister, after giving a hard hitting speech in the Parliament, adopted the path of appeasement and appointed a committee to negotiate. The Pakistani faction of the Taliban movement – Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – appointed a few sympathizers as its nominees. The charismatic star Imran Khan was one of them, but he refused to negotiate on behalf of TTP despite advancing their case for the last few years. With no time frame and unclear terms of reference the so-called talks have foundered on the rocks of grim reality: the Pakistani state continues to give space to violent operations of TTP.

In the past two weeks, there have been more than 17 attacks of various kinds sometimes accepted by the TTP and at other times disowned. But groups that have owned the attacks are part of the network or affiliates of the loose network comprising TTP. There are at least three dozen small and big groups that are linked to the TTP. Many are off-shoots of state sponsored jihad outfits but have turned rogue or gained some measure of autonomy. This is why the key question that has dogged the talks is if any agreement between TTP appointed negotiators and the government would be accepted by all and sundry. The emerging consensus in the country is that it would not hold and violence would continue.

A chilling example of this syndrome was the admission of Mohmand Agency Taliban that last week they had killed 23 Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers who were kidnapped from Shongari checkpost in the tribal region in 2010.  A day later, a valiant Major of Pakistan Army was also killed. The brazen attacks on the law enforcement agencies have continued despite the much celebrated intent of the TTP to talk. The strategy of talking to ‘our own people’ as popularized by Imran Khan and other right wing parties therefore is backfiring. The Sharif government vacillating between the noises of tough action and appeasement scared of backlash in the Punjab as well as losing the right wing vote bank does not help matters either. Sharif’s dilemma is related to his popular base in the Punjab which his party does not want to lose at any cost. But there is more method to this madness. […]

February 25th, 2014|Published in The Friday Times|0 Comments