Latest Killing Highlights Plight of Journalists in Pakistan
The following article was reprinted from Gandhara, a blog dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan written by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists from Radio Mashaal (Pakistan), Radio Azadi (Afghanistan), the RFE Central Newsroom, and other services. It was originally published on January 18, 2012.
Tribal journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif was unaware of the tragedy awaiting him when he called the representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Peshawar to confirm his participation in a training workshop on “responsible reporting” on the morning of January 17.
“I want to learn about journalism,” he told Iqbal Khattak, a representative of the Paris-based RSF, who spoke with Aatif to confirm his participation in the training workshop.
Hours later, Aatif’s world crumbled as two hooded gunmen opened fire while he was offering evening prayer at a mosque near his house in the Shabqadar subdivision of the Charsadda district, north of Peshawar.
The Pakistani Taliban was quick to claim responsibility for the attack. Ihsanullah Ihsan, calling himself a spokesman for the Hakimullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, telephoned another tribal journalist, Ihsan Dawar, to say that his organization had been behind the fatal assault.
The spokesman did not mention the motive behind the killing, but Aatif’s colleagues told the Paris-based RSF that he had been receiving calls from unidentified people “directing him how to cover events.”
As a resident of the Mohmand tribal agency, located just north of Peshawar, Aatif, 45, had been working for Voice of America’s Pashto-language Deewa Radio and the Urdu-language Dunya television channel.
His brother Muslim Khan told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that Aatif had moved his family from Mohmand to the Shabqadar subdivision of the Charsadda district because of increasing militant activity.
Talking to Radio Mashaal, the bureau chief of Dunya TV, Safiullah, said Aatif was a pleasant, hard-working journalist.
Safiullah also noted that Aatif had moved to Charsadda because he was not feeling safe in the Mohmand tribal agency.
The deteriorating security situation in the past few years has forced scores of journalists out of the tribal areas to settle in the comparatively safer city of Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.
However, even Peshawar has not been secure enough to ensure the safety of journalists, who are often sitting ducks for militants, mainly because of the nature of their profession.
Reporters Without Borders says Pakistan was the deadliest country for media professionals in 2011, with at least eight journalists killed in connection with their work.
Threats to press in Pakistan are often considered part of the job. Less than a month ago, eminent journalists including Najam Sethi, editor in chief of the “Friday Times,” announced that that they had been receiving threats from “state and nonstate actors.”
Similarly, Hamid Mir, a prominent presenter with Geo TV, has also complained about threats from “unknown” people via text messages.
Lamenting the plight of media professionals and the threat to their lives in the line of duty, the former president of the Peshawar Press Club and veteran journalist Shamim Shahid said that the government has failed to provide security for people in his profession.
Mentioning the killing of Aatif as the latest in a series of fatal incidents, Shahid maintained that the United Nations should come forward to ensure the protection of journalists in Pakistan. He said 29 journalists have been killed in the country since 2004.
In May 2011, an Islamabad-based journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, was kidnapped and killed.
The government of Pakistan set up a judicial commission to investigate Shahzad’s murder. However, although the high-level commission looked at various aspects of the killing, it stopped short of identifying the murderers.
The violent death of Aatif only serves to emphasize how precarious the profession of journalism is in Pakistan, where not even the sanctity of a mosque is enough to ensure one’s safety.
– Daud Khattak