Pakistani journalists threatened with press freedom
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Highlights of the week: Pakistan tightens the screws protest journalists, India’s economy is undergoing its worst contraction since independence, and The security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates.
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In Pakistan, press freedom is increasingly valuable
It has been an eventful week for the Pakistani press. Last Tuesday, journalist Asad Ali Toor was assaulted in his home. Toor, known for his criticism of the military, said his attackers identified themselves as members of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a charge the ISI quickly denied. During a demonstration a few days later, TV presenter Hamid Mir accused the Pakistani armed forces of cracking down on journalists. On Monday, Mir learned he had been taken off the airwaves.
Pakistan has a vibrant press, with dozens of media producing content that often attacks elected officials. But criticism of the military and intelligence services is a red line. State intimidation tactics, ranging from withholding advertising revenue to hate social media campaigns, have driven many journalists and their employers to self-censorship. Outlets that ignored these warnings have mysteriously ceased their broadcasts or have had their distribution interrupted.
In Pakistan, journalism can sometimes be a death sentence. Freedom Network, a media watchdog, discovered that 33 journalists were killed for their work between 2013 and 2019 in Pakistan. Although deadly violence against journalists has declined in recent years, attacks continue, even in relatively safe places like Islamabad, where Toor and another journalist have both been assaulted in recent weeks.
Pakistan ranks poorly in the world press freedom rankings, and since Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018, it has dropped six places (to 145) in the world press freedom rankings. Reporters Without Borders press. This is not the only one: Elsewhere in the region, India ranks 142 and Bangladesh ranks 152. In these countries, like Pakistan, declining press freedom has met with growing repression. dissent which also targets activists, academics and non-governmental organizations.
Attacks on journalists and other government critics are rarely thoroughly investigated, but many observers, including human rights researchers, lawyers, US officials, and some Pakistani journalists themselves, have long suspected that the powerful Pakistani military and intelligence services are behind many of them. State campaigns to crush dissent are a regional phenomenon: Indian journalists have been charged with sedition for covering anti-government protests, and Bangladesh has arrested social media users for criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic.
Pakistan’s political polarization exacerbates the busy media environment. Liberals and opposition figures praise anti-establishment journalists like Toor and Mir, but they are vilified by government supporters. (Some reviews of Toor have Noted her supporters were silent about her derogatory comments to prominent female journalist Shiffa Yousafzai earlier this year.) Pro-government voices, especially right-wing nationalists, accuse these journalists of faking attacks to gain attention or asylum abroad. They also deplore the scant attention given to journalists attacked for their critical coverage of the opposition.
The Pakistani government used a 2016 cybercrime law as a pretext to target anti-government content online. But a new bill could worsen the environment for journalists by centralizing government oversight of the media under one authority and increasing the media’s dependence on the state. As media analyst Huma Yusuf wrote in a column this week, “What better way to turn the media into a mouthpiece for the state than to make them completely dependent on government to stay in business? “
In a meeting with then-US President Donald Trump in 2019, Khan said Pakistan prides itself on “one of the freest presses in the world.” The media monitoring bill could become a more powerful data point for those who laughed at it. In fact, under Khan, press freedom in Pakistan looks even worse.
June 8: The American Institute of Peace hosts a discussion on the resurgence of the Pakistani Taliban.
June 11-13: London hosts G-7 summit, with India as virtual guest.
Mixed news for the Indian economy. According to government figures, India’s GDP contracted by 7.3% in fiscal year 2020-2021. (In India, fiscal years are April through March.) The decline is the largest since independence and the first contraction since fiscal year 1979-1980. The sharp drop can be attributed in large part to the national pandemic lockdown imposed last spring.
The good news is that India grew 1.4% in the last quarter of the fiscal year, but the rebound came in the weeks leading up to India’s devastating second wave. Macroeconomic performance in April and May is likely to be poor, although New Delhi’s decision not to impose another foreclosure may ease some economic shocks.
The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will prioritize economic recovery for the remainder of his second term, raising difficult political questions. One is how to approach economic relations with China, which has invested heavily in India in recent years. New Delhi has cut back its trade ties with Beijing after last year’s deadly border dispute plunged bilateral ties to their lowest level in decades.
Afghanistan Security Update. Afghanistan has seen a series of troubling security developments over the past week. Besieged Afghan troops surrender dozens of outposts and rural bases to the Taliban, according to the New York Times. And another report revealed new evidence of continued cooperation between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Afghan officials acknowledged that “thousands of families” had fled their homes in four provinces amid escalating violence.
All of this takes place in the context of the continued withdrawal of American troops. On Tuesday, the US Department of Defense announced that up to 44% of the US withdrawal has now been completed. With the peace talks making little progress, further destabilization is almost inevitable. A prominent American partner has already read the writing on the wall. Citing an “increasingly uncertain security environment”, Australia closed its embassy in Kabul last Friday.
Pakistan gets debt relief. This week, negotiators reached agreement on a “debt-for-nature” deal between Pakistan and four key donors: Canada, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Under the deal, which will be finalized on June 5, donors will reduce Pakistan’s loan obligations in return for investing its debt in climate-related activities. This decision will have political benefits for Islamabad: the Khan government has identified debt relief and environmental conservation as its top political priorities.
There are problems in the paradise of India. In Lakshadweep, a picturesque union territory of sunny islands 120 miles from the mainland in the Arabian Sea, a new administrator is trying to pass a series of new laws opposed by local residents, who are predominantly Muslim. Praful Khoda Patel, an ally of Modi, proposed measures including banning beef products, detaining people without trial for up to a year, and seizing residents’ land for infrastructure development.
The laws were passed to India’s interior ministry for approval earlier this week. Patel appears to be exporting the controversial policies championed by Modi and his allies on the continent to a more distant location, away from scrutiny. Speaking anonymously to Al jazeera, residents said the Patel administration also fired local workers and sought to replace them with people brought in from the mainland.
However, the political opposition and even some members of the ruling party denounced Patel’s actions. Growing local anger increases the risk of protests and unrest – a scenario New Delhi can hardly afford as it focuses on economic recovery.
“I have been present at the negotiations for six or seven months. Their attitudes towards me personally have been that we are there just for decoration.
–Fawzia Koofi, one of four women members of the Afghan peace negotiation team, Speaking at OZY on how she is viewed by the Taliban.
Write for the Dhaka Tribune, political analyst Farid Erkizia Bakht scoffs at the attention that the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh’s recent warning not to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as the Quad. Bakht argued that the envoy’s point of view is perfectly understandable. “Beijing cannot just tip over if Dhaka decides to succumb to American pressure and align with the Quad,” he wrote.
A Nepalese time The editorial argued that Nepal must be careful not to get drawn into escalating political rivalries within India. “Nepal appears to be caught in a proxy war for the soul of India between the [ruling] The BJP and the secular liberals on the left, ”he argued. “We must learn to exercise caution and not get drawn into India’s bitter internal ideological confrontation.”
Mitali Nikore, Shruti Jha, and Priyal Mundhra, all affiliated with Indian think tank Nikore Associates, argued in the Indian express that rural Indian women have “carried the burden” of the coronavirus pandemic. Twelve million women lost their jobs in India’s first wave, and nearly 6 million women lost their jobs in April alone. “Governments must lead the way in charting the course for a sustainable and gender-inclusive economic recovery, starting by focusing on unemployed rural women,” they wrote.