Pakistan is losing its fight against radicalism

Syed Fazl-e-Haider says attacks on journalists reflect the Taliban's deadly grip on society

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 2:14am

Pakistan, a frontline state in the US-led war on Islamist extremists, has become a deadly country for journalists. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist and TV anchor, escaped a bid on his life last week when a bomb disposal squad defused a device planted under his car in Islamabad.

The Taliban had criticised Mir for his support of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban in October in Pakistan's Swat region, after she campaigned for girls' education. Malala, who is recovering in a British hospital, had maintained a regular diary on the BBC website in 2009 to expose the true face of the Taliban.

Journalists are thought to be soft targets by all the terrorist groups in the country. Pakistan was ranked 151st out of 179 countries on the 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index issued recently by Reporters without Borders. Journalists are victims of targeted killings and are under constant threat from the Taliban. More than 90 have been killed since 2000.

It is not the journalists but freedom of expression - guaranteed by the constitution - that is being targeted. What is more alarming is the poor state of security in the South Asian country, where the terrorists enjoy unrestricted movement to carry out their activities in various cities and towns.

The Pakistani media has been at the forefront in the war on extremism. It has played an important role in combating "Talibanisation" and raising a voice against the Taliban's atrocities. The media played a key part in building a national consensus for launching a military operation against extremists in Swat in 2009. It gave extensive coverage to Malala and boldly criticised her attackers.

Extremists condemned the media for providing one-sided coverage and ignoring the innocent women and children who are killed daily in US drone attacks.

Taliban militants deem a vocal and bold media to be a major threat to the promotion of its radical agenda. Hence, they have sent a message with the assassination attempt on Mir. The Taliban considers freedom of the press and democratic rights to be part of the secular system. And it has warned of more attacks on anyone pursuing a secular agenda.

The bitter truth about Pakistan is that it is keeping and nurturing a "Talibanised state" within a democratic state.

It is gradually being metamorphosed into a country run by the Taliban where the media may serve only as apologists, not critics.

Criticising the Taliban is to invite death.

The breakdown of law and order in the nuclear-armed country and failure of the law enforcement agencies to check the terrorist activities raises international concerns.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider is a development analyst and author in Pakistan