Attack shows growing danger faced by Pakistani journalists

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 2, 2009 

WASHINGTON — As Pakistan's military fights escalating battles with Islamic extremists and with the country's civilian government, the country's journalists, especially those who are critical of the military, are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

An attack last weekend on the home of a prominent Pakistani columnist underscored the growing danger that Pakistani and foreign reporters are facing in Pakistan. No one was injured in the Nov. 27 incident, in which a gunman fired at six shots at the home of Kamran Shafi, who writes for the English-language Dawn newspaper, while he and his family slept.

At least five journalists have been killed this year in Pakistan, according to Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group. It ranks Pakistan 159th out of 175 countries in a report on international press freedom.

Matthew Rosenberg, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was forced to leave the country last month after a leading newspaper, the Nation, alleged that he worked for the CIA. Twenty-one international news organizations, including McClatchy, signed a protest letter.

Last month, the Nation published a front-page picture of Australian and British journalists and called them mysterious Americans who are thought to be CIA officers, and Pakistani blogs and Internet sites also have been fingering alleged CIA officers, private contractors and diplomats.

In a telephone interview, Shafi said he suspected that the "security establishment," a euphemism used to describe Pakistan's military and the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, staged the attack on his home. He didn't elaborate.

"This was the work of somebody who was practiced in such things," said Shafi, 63, who said the gunman left no shell casings that could be used to identify the weapon.

The evening after the incident, an unidentified woman called Shafi from a Karachi area code and warned him that "what happened . . . was only a trailer, as in movie trailer, and that the full movie would be shown if I didn't behave myself," he said.

She added that, "It's not good to spit in the plate you eat from," Shafi continued.

Shafi has used his columns to accuse the military of hobbling democracy in Pakistan, and the attack followed a column in which Shafi asked why a civilian shouldn't run the ISI. The intelligence agency has always been directed by an army officer and has a history of interfering in politics and patronizing Islamic militants that Pakistan has used as proxy forces in neighboring India and Afghanistan, whom Shafi calls "yahoos."

Asked if the incident highlighted the growing dangers faced by journalists in Pakistan, Shafi replied, "Absolutely."

Pakistan has seen a major expansion in the independent news media in recent years, but while some outlets are critical of the government, few dare criticize the military, which has run Pakistan for more than half of its 62-year history.

Some experts think the military is behind a media campaign against President Asif Ali Zardari and the U.S., which some outlets claim is conspiring with Pakistan's longtime foe, India, and with Afghanistan, Israel and Britain to destabilize the nuclear-armed country.

"We see a situation that looked like it might get better when Zardari first came in (in 2008), but it is deteriorating rapidly both for foreign and local journalists," said Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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