The BBC journalist, a bruised and shaken Dilawar Khan Wazir, was released last evening by his abductors. During his captivity he was kept blindfolded, beaten regularly and ‘repeatedly questioned about his work in the tribal areas and his sources of information’.
Without seeming to sound heartless, I do consider Dilawar Khan Wazir to be an extremely fortunate man. To my mind if his kidnapping had not resulted in the public uproar, created by concerned members of his journalist community, he would have still be in the brutal hands of his captors.
Here are some of things that took place within hours of his abduction:
- Local journalists announced a complete boycott of parliamentary proceedings and threatened public protest.
- International media organizations – such as CPJ and RWF – began badgering the harrassed Islamabad government.
- BBC Urdu Service insisted on carrying the story of their missing colleague as the lead story for two days (until his release).
- BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman publicly called on the Pakistani government to ascertain Dilawar Khan’s whereabouts.
All the tongue tied Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, could do was announce:
In the end, pressurized by journalists the minister reportedly resorted to angrily banging down the phone on them.
Undeniably it was the blaze of local and international publicity (but hardly a word, by the way, in all the heavily controlled TV News channels) that forced Dilawar Khan Wazir’s abductors to release him.The last comment on the release ought to belong to Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan:
_____________________________This morning’s Dawn editorial had this to say:
…the circumstances in which [Dilawar Khan Wazir] vanished and the manner in which an attempt was made to mislead his brother deepens the suspicion that this was more than a simple case of kidnapping for ransom or personal vendetta. A series of mishaps that befell the missing journalist’s family in the last few months also confirms the fear that Mr Wazir had been put on the hit list for his professional work which evidently has aroused the ire of some agencies or groups. This is a direct attack on press freedom in Pakistan.
Wishing to suppress information that journalists like Mr Wazir have been unearthing and disseminating through their media outlets, dictatorial governments with many skeletons to hide in their cupboard have taken to harassing and persecuting media persons — four have been mysteriously murdered since 2005 in Pakistan. Obviously, these journalists were not guilty of any infringement of the law for in that case they could have been put on trial. In the absence of that option, the powers that be or their underlings have made it more convenient to resort to the arbitrary tactic of picking up journalists — as well as others who are personae non gratae for any reason — in complete disregard of legal processes.
The least one can say is that the phenomenon of ‘enforced disappearance’, of which Mr Wazir apparently became a victim, is one of the most brutal practices common to countries ruled by oppressive regimes. It speaks of a government’s arrogance and contempt for the rule of law which prompts it to act as it sees fit in a no-holds-barred fashion. In this case, there are powers who do not want any facts relating to the ‘war on terror’ being waged in Waziristan to be made public. Mr Wazir was doing just that and very professionally. Hence an attempt to suppress information. Gone are the days of press controls that tarnished the image of a country. The ‘disappearance’ of a journalist aims to serve a dual purpose: silence him and send a warning to others.
As one of those Musharraf derided ‘extremist liberals’ your Blogger believes Press Freedom to be sacrosanct. In a country where you have a historically enfeebled parliament and judiciary, the rights of the press become paramount. It is through the press, in these trying circumstances, that the public can at least hope for some modicum of accountability.
Husain Haqqani raises some pertinent points in today’s Nation:
Pakistan’s generals, beginning with the late General Ziaul Haq, learnt a lesson from the resentment built against the civilian leaders as a result of their high profile actions against the media. Both Ziaul Haq and Musharraf have shown the ability to accept personal criticism and have avoided taking action against well-known critics, especially ones whose writings are unlikely to foment a revolution in the first place.
The generals’ model of media control is to target poor but well informed reporters not known to the English speaking urban gentry. If the worst truth about regime policies does not come out from where the action actually takes place –Waziristan, Larkana, remote parts of Balochistan—then the state machinery can continue to harp on its broad mindedness. Internationally well known media personalities can criticise the regime, while at the same time securing for it high marks for allowing the criticism. But the criticism must be of the drawing room variety, covering issues that do not cause the masses to question the military’s authority.
The model of media control under this government has been to make examples of reporters on ground that would then make others toe the line. Media freedom since 1999, though considerable, has still been within well-defined parameters. The parameters for the English language media have been wider than for the vernacular press. Multiple TV channels have been opened without giving credit to the elected leaders under whom the concept of private television channel ownership was first mooted. Many more topics have been opened to discussion on radio and TV, and criticising the President has been allowed quite widely.
At the same time, key issues have still been kept out of bounds or subject to self-censorship by owners of media outlets. The government wants to arrogate to itself the right of identifying issues over which it might be criticised. Touchy subjects include discussion of the role of Pakistan’s invisible government, the intelligence services, and the corruption or self-aggrandisement of this regime’s key figures.
Human rights and sovereignty violations in the war against terrorism must be kept under wraps. The dirty war against fellow Pakistanis in Balochistan cannot be reported except in vague and general terms. Opinions critical of the military regime are allowed but facts that back up these opinions must not be revealed. That way, those in authority can keep reassuring their international backers and domestic supporters that all is well and the ranting of critics in the media is only the expression of frustration by opinionated semi-politicians bearing a grudge against them or their appointees.
Historically, the sensitivity of a regime in Pakistan to dissent and truth telling is often directly proportional to its feelings of vulnerability. Overt repression is less in days of self-confidence and more in periods of insecurity. The current rise in murder and abduction of journalists speaks volumes about the anxiety of Pakistan’s current rulers over their ability to continue to indefinitely control the unfortunate people of Pakistan.