VIEW: Free and independent media? —Sheikh Asad Rahman
The media’s censoring of the Balochistan issues is probably not being done by itself. The insidious silence is more than likely on the strict instructions of the ISPR, ISI, MI and FC. This blackout of news is very much reminiscent of 1970/71 when the East Pakistan debacle took place
There have been many claims that for the first time Pakistan has a free and independent media. I wish to contest that. On March 4, 2011, I was witness to the control that our national media, especially the Islamabad journalists, is under. The event was a press conference that Mir Hasil Bizenjo addressed on the assertions of the prime minister recently about the security issues faced in Balochistan.
Mr Bizenjo was debunking the assertions by Prime Minister Gilani on the floor of the House that the so-called Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package had been implemented while mentioning that 5,000 young Baloch had been given employment and that there was no military operation going on in any part of Balochistan. The PM also reiterated the often blamed villain in any domestic security issue, that the Indian hand was behind the unrest in Balochistan.
When Mr Bizenjo began to speak about the targeted killings, kidnapping and disappearance of nearly a thousand Baloch and other ethnic groups, students, political activists whose mutilated dead bodies were being discovered all over the province, the journalists as a body began to harangue him and left the press conference. Some of them even shouted that if the Baloch youth will take financial help from India then this is what they deserve.
Asma Jahangir in Quetta the other day also proclaimed that the government has never been serious about resolving the problems and never took any serious steps to remove the sense of deprivation of the province’s people. She said, “The statements from government leaders are irrelevant and never followed by serious negotiations on the Balochistan issue. Pakistan’s sovereignty is attached to Balochistan and peace is necessary in this region for strengthening Pakistan.” She further said, “The use of police powers by the Frontier Corps (FC) is illegal and the FC should be stopped from using these powers and sent back to its barracks.”
On finding solutions to the problems of Balochistan she elaborated, “Those who are sitting in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad do not know about the problems of Balochistan, so how can they give any suggestions. First they have to understand the issues for which a group of intellectuals, political party leaders and journalists should visit Balochistan and take suggestions from the people after a dialogue.” She said that throwing bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies at public places must be stopped and all political prisoners released with immediate effect so that grounds could be created for talks and negotiations.
Asma also said that everyone knows about the “safe houses” (illegal places of detention and torture) and it is in the knowledge of all that the intelligence/security personnel run these so-called safe houses and they should be closed down immediately and permanently. Dictatorial policies are still being practiced in Balochistan where extra judicial murders, arrests, targeted killings and hostage taking is the order of the day. “Balochistan is burning; if this fire is not brought under control it will engulf the whole country,” she said.
Asma’s calling for a committee of intellectuals, political leaders and journalists is what people have been clamouring for and some were even constituted — remember the Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain committee, after which Nawab Akbar Bugti was murdered in a military operation from whence the ongoing conflict has escalated?
The media’s censoring of the Balochistan issues is probably not being done by itself. The insidious silence is more than likely on the strict instructions of the ISPR, ISI, MI and FC. The conduct of the Islamabad journalists was a very good indication of the strict censorship imposed by the military establishment. This blackout of news is very much reminiscent of 1970/71 when the East Pakistan debacle took place. At that time also nobody in West Pakistan knew of the real issues faced by the people of East Pakistan and when Bangladesh came into being the people of West Pakistan were bewildered and depressed as to what had happened.
Similarly over the last 63 years the genocidal military operations in Balochistan in 1948, 1958, 1962-68, 1973-77 and the ongoing operations since 2006 are being blacked out. None of the saner voices of the regional political leadership of Balochistan are being properly reported nor does the media dare to expose the real ground realities of Balochistan. The electronic media hardly ever discusses or shows documentaries of the real Balochistan issues. Sensationalism, political leaders’ projection are the order of the day, ignoring the real problems faced by Pakistan.
Asma’s suggestion has merit, but the committee must include editors and senior mature journalists who are unbiased, non-partisan and not in the pockets of the ISPR.
The writer is Director Programmes Sungi Development Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org