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No strangers to danger

A special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) highlights the dangers faced by journalists working in my country, Pakistan. According to the report, "Pakistan remained the deadliest country for the press for a second year ... with the seven deaths in Pakistan marking the heaviest losses in a single nation." 

Wali Khan Babar, a young and energetic reporter of Geo TV, was killed in January this year. It is alleged that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was responsible for his murder. Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, former home minister of Sindh, was probably the first person to openly allege this in public. Javed Naseer Rind, a journalist from Balochistan who worked for Daily Tawar, was killed last month -- almost two months after he was abducted by unknown men. Pakistan's military has been following a 'kill and dump' policy in the province of Balochistan and  Mr Rind was another victim of that brutal policy. 


Fearless: Even though a few journalists were killed in Pakistan, it is 
encouraging that young journalists are courageous enough to face the 
wrath of all quarters and yet continue to do their work without fear

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, went missing on May 29, 2011 from Islamabad, and two days later, his body was found from Mandi Bahauddin, a town near the capital. It is widely believed that the ISI is responsible for Mr Shahzad's death as his last story for Asia Times Online revealed how al-Qaeda had penetrated the Pakistan Navy.

Journalists in Pakistan have a tough job, especially those who continue reporting/writing/analysing boldly, despite the dangers they face. My country is beset with terrorism, religious extremism, militancy; it is also a place where the army can get away with anything and everything.

In Balochistan, the Baloch journalists face threats from the military and its proxies. In urban Sindh, some political parties have their own thugs who will silence any voice against the parties. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), threats emanate not just from the Taliban and their affiliates but from the military and its intelligence agencies as well. 

Then there are the extremist outfits that will not tolerate criticism or any opposition to their views. Journalists have also lost their lives or been injured while covering terrorist attacks -- Shafiullah Khan, a young tribal journalist working for an English daily died after incurring serious burn injuries in the twin blasts at Khyber Super Market, Peshawar, a few months ago.

Media bodies and human rights organisations have long been asking the authorities to ensure their protection. Just this year, Amnesty International demanded that the "authorities in Pakistan must ensure journalists and media workers are given adequate protection to carry out their jobs without fearing for their lives".

There are sacred cows in Pakistan, especially the military and its premier spy agency, the ISI. The jihadi organisations, most of them with the covert or overt support of the military establishment, are equally menacing. What should a journalist do under these circumstances? One cannot blame someone if they decide to either leave the country or tone down their reporting. Most journalists in Pakistan have no privacy; their phone calls, e-mails, interactions and movements are all monitored. The risk is not just to the journalists' own lives but also the lives of their loved ones.

While the Pakistani media is dominated by right wing reactionaries who balk at the idea of criticising the army, jihadi organisations, religious fanatics, etc, there are many brave journalists who have valiantly raised their voices against all this and more. They are no strangers to danger.

What I find encouraging is that a lot of young journalists are now following in the footsteps of their seniors who were courageous enough to face the wrath of all quarters and yet continue(d) to do their work without fear. Sometimes I feel that the reason we survive as a nation, despite all the challenges and conflict we deal with, is because of the inspiration that some of our seniors -- both alive and those who are no longer with us -- give us.
Journalism in Pakistan can be a thankless profession; with the exception of a few, it does not pay well. 

It is the thrill of our profession and a sense that somehow we are serving our country that makes us tick. Despite everything, Pakistani journalists must not give up taking bold stances. The future of our country depends on their work.

The writer is Op-Ed editor, Daily Times, Pakistan. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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