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Taliban's War On Journalists In Pakistan

Journalists protest attack on Express TV in Pakistan.
Journalists protest attack on Express TV in Pakistan.
The Taliban's war on journalists in Pakistan has prompted protests and raised concerns over the security of media workers in a country already seen as one of the deadliest for the press.

Journalists across Pakistan held demonstrations to demand protection from the government after the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing a technician, a guard and a driver working for an independent television station on January 18.

Sharifuddin, a TV reporter in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, says that journalists in the country have been in the crosshairs for years. "On the one hand journalists are being killed and tortured by security agencies," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal."One the other, the terrorists too target them."

In October, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the country's largest insurgent faction reissued a fatwa, or religious edict, against journalists. The fatwa named three international media organizations and two Pakistani journalists and accused the media of backing the infidels in the "war on Islam". It said that journalists "may then be pardoned if they end their hostility to Islam and their anti-Muslim propaganda."

It warned of dire consequences in case of non-compliance. "Actions in accordance with mujahideen policy must be adopted with those who persist in their work."

The killing of three Express TV workers by the Taliban in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi on January 18 is widely viewed as a fulfillment of the fatwa.

Hours after the attack, a purported former Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan called Express TV to accept responsibility. "At present, Pakistani media is playing the role of [enemies and spreading] venomous propaganda against Tehrik-e Taliban," he said. "They have assumed the (role of) opposition. We had intimated the media earlier and warn it once again that [they must] side with us."

The attacks and threats appear to have pushed some Pakistani journalists to investigate their source. Writing in Pakistan’s premier English-language daily, "Dawn," Cyril Almeida quoted an unnamed TV news executive as concluding that Pakistan's powerful military-controlled intelligence services might be behind the threats.

"Who does it suit, intimidating the media to give the Taliban narrative more airtime?" a TV news director asked, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It’s obvious: the establishment."
The director claimed that a by-product of the media’s growing criticism of the Taliban in Pakistan is that it has affected how the Afghan Taliban are perceived.
"You hear the [television] anchors saying it more and more, ‘Enough of this good Taliban, bad Taliban nonsense,'" he said.
"But it’s 2014 and all eyes will be on Afghanistan, so they [the security establishment] need to keep the Taliban narrative alive, to keep it legitimate.They are stakeholders, remember?”

Hamid Mir, a famous television host, says that during the past year the media has emerged as the most vocal opponent of the Taliban. "Only the media tells [the Taliban] that you are not a good Muslim and a good Pakistani because you kill innocent people," he said. "Most major governing and opposition parties had backed holding a dialogue [for peace] with the Taliban last September."

He says that the Pakistani media is now on the frontline of the struggle against the Taliban. "The media is at the forefront of exposing the reality behind their push for implementing Islam."

The Taliban threats, however, have strengthened the resolve of some journalists to continue reporting the truth and to ensure an accurate narrative about Taliban atrocities.

Speaking on a popular night-time talk show, journalist Absar Alam said that Pakistani media will not surrender to Taliban threats. "Even if we have to sacrifice our lives for this homeland and the truth, we should stand firm," he said. "We should show these people [the Taliban] that we are not afraid of them and we are not cowards."

Abubakar Siddique