Saturday, March 14, 2020

Video Report - Specific signal spot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

#Pakistan - Media mogul’s arrest

THE arrest of Jang Group owner Mir Shakilur Rehman by NAB has once again highlighted the anti-graft watchdog’s high-handedness and propensity to target critics.
In a move that bears all the telltale signs of a witch-hunt, the bureau called Mr Rahman to appear before it and then proceeded to arrest him for allegedly acquiring land through illegal means.
The probe relates to property of almost seven acres that Mr Rahman is said to have acquired 34 years ago during the tenure of the then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif.
According to NAB, since Mr Rahman could not satisfactorily answer its questions, an arrest warrant was served on him and he was detained in the bureau’s lockup.
That the bureau decided to investigate a three-decade old matter at this time would be baffling had its modus operandi not been clearly established.Time and again, NAB has been accused of political victimisation and of pursuing cases against those critical of the incumbent government or the bureau.It is no secret that NAB has targeted opposition politicians by initiating probes, arresting them and then holding them in custody for extended periods — remands which have often ended in bail when courts found no reasonable justification to support the prolonged detention of suspects.
The Jang Group’s revelation that NAB officials have threatened the closure of its channels and asked its journalists to ‘slow down’ or stop stories may offer some explanation as to why NAB felt compelled to suddenly take up this case which for all these years did not appear to be on the anti-graft body’s radar.
If there is to be an investigation, it must be conducted in a professional, equitable manner and on the basis of sound evidence.
The bureau has earned a reputation for arbitrarily arresting people and exerting pressure on them despite their cooperation with investigators.
In fact, it is this very notion of ‘arrest first, investigate later’ that the Islamabad High Court criticised when it chastised NAB in the cases of Ahsan Iqbal and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for failing to produce compelling reasons to arrest individuals.
In a separate case, the court remarked that NAB appeared to be more interested in arresting individuals than investigating them. Mr Rahman’s arrest, as in so many other NAB cases, smacks of deliberate harassment.
This case comes across as a way of silencing a free media that is exercising its rise to criticise the flawed accountability exercise.

#Pakistan: Release Media Group Editor - HRW

 Pakistani authorities should release from custody an editor who may be facing charges as a form of political harassment, Human Rights Watch said today.
On March 12, 2020, Mir Shakilur Rehman, the editor-in-chief of the Jang group, the largest media group in Pakistan, was arrested in Lahore by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption watchdog, on charges relating to a 34-year-old property transaction. The NAB had summoned Rehman to their offices to give a statement. Jang Group alleges that in the past 18 months, the NAB has sent more than a dozen threatening letters to its reporters, editors, and producers for critical reporting of the NAB.
“The space for dissent in Pakistan is shrinking fast, and anyone who criticizes government actions can become a target,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Detaining Mir Shakilur Rehman is just the latest case of harassment against Pakistan’s beleaguered media.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stated that “pretrial detention should be an exception and as short as possible.” Pretrial detention should not be used as a form of punishment.
Pakistan’s media operates in a climate of fear, Human Rights Watch said. Media outlets are under pressure from authorities not to criticize the government. In July 2019, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) blocked three television news channels – Capital TV, 24 News HD, and Abbtakk News Network – after they broadcast speeches by opposition leaders. The Pakistan Broadcasters Association, a private industry association, contended that the channels were taken off air without giving them a reason or a hearing.
In some cases, regulatory agencies have blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that aired critical programs. GEO TV, a private television channel that is part of Jang Group, was temporarily forced off the air and audience access was restricted as punishment for editorials criticizing the government. In July 2019, the Media Regulatory Authority terminated a live interview with opposition leader and former President Asif Ali Zardari on GEO TV, shortly after it began.
In October, Steven Butler, the Asia coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, was denied entry into Pakistan even though he had a valid visa.
Human Rights Watch has received credible reports of intimidation, harassment, and surveillance by government officials against various nongovernmental organizations and their staff. The government uses the Policy for Regulation of INGOs (International Nongovernmental Organizations) to impede the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights organizations.
The NAB has been widely criticized for being used for political purposes. In March 2020, the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court ruled the NAB had made arbitrary use of its arrest powers. In February, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Pakistan Bar Council, the top elected bodies of lawyers in the country, “strongly condemned” the summons issued to opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto, calling it an “act of personal victimization.”
“The Pakistan government is failing in its international legal obligation to ensure an environment permitting free expression and dissent,” Adams said. “The authorities should take all measures necessary to stop the intimidation and harassment of the media and dissenting voices.”

#Pakistan - Freedom of press in the age of Imran Khan

Mazhar Abbas
The late Nisar Osmani, former president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, once said: “Criticising and exposing the policies of the government is always allowed, rather, it is encouraged in a democratic society because only through it can an alternate leadership be organised.” A society, he went on, where reporters face pressure is an authoritarian one.
The present administration of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is the third consecutive elected government to come to power, as a result of national polls.
For a political party that was bolstered by the media, in its early days, one would have expected it to further push for the freedom of press. But, it hasn’t.
The arrest of Mir Shakil ur Rehman, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan's largest media group Jang and GEO, by the anti-graft body, the National Accountability Bureau, should not be seen in isolation. There was a pattern on display in the last 20 months, since the PTI came to power, to vilify journalists, especially those associated with the Jang group.
If Prime Minister Imran Khan ever believed in the freedom of press, he has now taken a U-turn.
International media watchdogs, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and others have strongly condemned the attempt to silence independent press in the country.
Since the past few years, journalists in Pakistan have been facing a relentless onslaught. The attack has been on social media and on the ground. Television and print reporters would at times find notices from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or gag orders from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Now, the NAB has also joined the bandwagon, to please the premier.In January, while in Davos, the prime minister told a gathered audience that he does not read the newspapers or watch evening TV shows. “I am used to the criticism,” he added, “but the last one and half years I’ve been hammered in the media.”
Now, it seems, the prime minister doesn’t want anyone in the country to read or watch the news.
Not too long back, the same Khan waxed lyrical about the press and even credited it for bringing him to his current position, as prime minister. Once, he even promised to abolish the ministry of information and to make PTV and Radio Pakistan autonomous bodies which would run on the BBC pattern. Khan also went as far as to suggest that Pakistan have an independent advertising policy.
But when he came to power, he forgot his promises. His political party targeted even those talk show heads and reporters who once stood up for Khan.
Mir Shakil ur Rehman was arrested this week in a case that dates back to 1986. That the NAB had to dig out papers of an over 30-year-old property shows that the government was struggling to bring any other case against the editor. Imran Khan had once accused Rehman of being involved in acquiring foreign funds through wrongful means. But as fate has it, Khan’s own party is facing those charges in a case taken up by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Even before Imran Khan and the PTI made it to office, Geo and Jang reporters were being targeted by him and his political party. In 2014, while covering Khan’s 100-day rally, Geo reporters and cameramen were physically attacked and its DSNG’s trashed by supporters of the PTI.
After winning the election, the PTI-led government first stopped state advertisements of two leading media houses, DAWN and Geo/Jang. Both, Khan’s government believes, are critical of his policies. As a result the two organisations faced a massive financial crisis and had to lay off staff and delay salaries.
Meanwhile, bloggers and journalists were being arrested or harassed in contrived cases by the FIA, under a draconic 2016 electronic crimes act. None of the charges could hold up in a Pakistani court.
Furthermore, hashtag and social media campaigns are routinely launched against TV anchors and reporters by Twitter users who claim to be supporters of the PTI.More recently, the ruling party also proposed to merge PEMRA and the Press Council under a new body, the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority, to give it overarching powers. The idea was later dropped.Last month, the prime minister and his media team formulated social media rules, without consulting the stakeholders. The rules had to be yanked, after a public outrage and after international social media companies warned that they would have to reevaluate their plans to work in the country.
And when nothing else worked, the PTI took the route often traveled by military dictators: use PEMRA to shut down news channels.
Some media house were left with no other choice but to convince strong dissenting voices to stop writing their widely-read articles, for fear of upsetting the men in power.
Due to the lack of options, many out-of-job journalists have turned to social media and YouTube to make their voice heard.
Once I asked the former director general FIA Bashir Memon why his organisation only targets journalists, rights activists and bloggers critical of government policies, he said: “Under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, whenever we [the FIA] receives a complaint from the ministry of interior, we have to comply immediately.”Journalists in Pakistan have struggled for a long time and come a long way. In the last 72 years, reporters were flogged, convicted and jailed. The rights, they fought to achieve, are in danger of being rolled back.Imran Khan and his political party’s vitriol could result in violence against journalists. Reporters and editors, Mr. Khan, are citizens of this country. They too deserve protection and safety from their government.
As for the media, the only option left is to unite and fight a united battle for freedom of press. Because, it maybe us today, it could be you tomorrow.

What the sanitisation of Haqqanis means for Pakistan-US relations

By Fahd Humayun

For many in Pakistan, no other group better exemplifies the US's long history of playing sides to suit its own ends.
 On February 20, days before the signing of a landmark deal between the US and the Taliban in Qatar's capital, DohaAmerican "paper of record" The New York Times published an opinion editorial by Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani, who is also the deputy leader of the Taliban,  was labelled a "specially designated global terrorist" by the US in 2008. The State Department is still offering a reward of up to $5m for information directly leading to his arrest.
The timing of the piece was not a coincidence - it appeared as the US was readying a partial truce with the Taliban that could set in motion a potential end to America's longest war. 
The newspaper's decision to publish the article, provocatively titled "What We, the Taliban, Want," jolted not only ordinary readers and US foreign policy hawks, but also Washington's biggest detractors abroad. As the criticism mounted, The Times' opinion editors issued a statement to try and justify their decision to give a platform to Haqqani. 
"Our mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints," they stated. "We've actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second in command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment." 
What the Times did not mention, however, was the extent to which the Haqqani question has prickled the relationship between the US and Pakistan - a major non-NATO ally historically accused by many in Washington of not doing enough to facilitate American objectives in neighbouring Afghanistan. 
Back in 2011, following an attack on the US embassy in Kabul believed to be perpetrated by the Haqqanis, the then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, called the network a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan to eliminate the network and paving the way for more American drone strikes in the country. 
Mullen's assertion caused widespread anger and disappointment in Pakistan. In the years that followed, consecutive civilian governments in Pakistan maintained that the infrastructure supporting the network had shifted to Afghanistan and that scapegoating Pakistan for American failures in an interminable war next door was disingenuous and unjust.
For many in Pakistan, no other political group better exemplifies America's long history of playing sides to suit its own strategic objectives. Few American diplomats today care to recount that the Haqqanis started as Washington's closest allies in Afghanistan; that the network's founder Jalaluddin Haqqani was a CIA darling kept flush with money and weaponry, including shoulder-fired Stinger missiles that would ultimately down Soviet aircraft. Fewer still have any compunction over the diplomatic arm-twisting meted out to Pakistan, including the cutting off of vital Coalition Support Fund aid, for allegedly not doing enough to combat the group.  
As the US continued to pressure Pakistan for not doing enough to curtail the Haqqani Network's activities in Afghanistan, the grievances against Washington's regional policies started to pile up in in the country. Many in Pakistan came to believe that the US was scapegoating Islamabad to camouflage the deeper contradictions in its military strategy against the Taliban. And they had ample reason to hold this view. In 2015, for example, the US and the Haqqanis came face-to-face during the ill-fated "Murree talks" between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Conveniently, the US raised no objections to the Haqqanis being in the meeting.
For the past decade and a half, the Pakistan-US relationship has been bedevilled by a host of structural difficulties; chief among them an American tendency to use progress on the Afghan battlefield as a barometer for the costs to be imposed on Pakistan for failing to "do more". All that time, the Haqqani Network had been the primary subject of countless rancorous conversations between successive US administrations and Pakistani governments, even as US drone strikes claimed the lives of Pakistani civilians, and Pakistan argued that expecting it to do the heavy lifting to suit US objectives was unrealistic. 
This is why many in Pakistan today find the slick public rehabilitation of Sirajuddin Haqqani to be a distasteful reminder of how easily the US has managed this past decade to burden Pakistan with the costs of non-compliance, while staging a war on Pakistan's front-lines when it suited them, and locating the bilateral relationship in apathetic conditionalities that ignored Pakistan's own strategic concerns.
Going forward, peace in Afghanistan and gains made in recent years including on rights and the status of Afghanistan's women are far from guaranteed. Days after the US-Taliban peace agreement in Doha, a suicide attack on a ceremony in Kabul killed at least 29 people, injuring dozens more. While the attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), it aptly demonstrated the extent to which spoilers litter the Afghan battlefield.
The worry in Islamabad is that the US, in its rush to reach a deal in light of domestic compulsions at home, may be guided by short-term intent rather than a long-term strategy, and will consequently short-change on brokering regional stability. 
For instance, whether the US can achieve its counterterrorism objectives with a reduced military footprint is an unanswered question. It is almost certain that Taliban commanders now view the signing of a peace deal with the Americans as a resounding validation of a 19-year-long struggle to end an illegal foreign occupation. This is already proving to have major implications for the intra-Afghan negotiations, which are shrouded by a deepening and fractious power struggle in Kabul. 
Following an election recount and a delay of nearly five months, both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah declared themselves president at rival inauguration ceremonies. Pakistan's concern is that political insolvency in Kabul will trigger further regional instability and potentially a war of attrition, after the US's exit from the country. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is, meanwhile, trying to work out a power-sharing arrangement between the two camps.
As for Pakistan-US relations, the big question is whether a future strategic equilibrium can emerge from the mistrust engendered by years of fraught, at times toxic conversations, including on the Haqqani Network. There is a keen desire in Islamabad for a broader, stronger relationship with the US, and there are signs that under President Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan, this might be possible. 
On his recent visit to India, President Trump took a softer line on Pakistan, reflecting the hard work that both sides have put into resuscitating the relationship from its worst days. Indeed, Washington's listing of the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army as a terrorist group and the recent targeting of Pakistani Taliban commanders in eastern Afghanistan speaks to a gradually changing equation - one that, for once, optimises both parties' strategic interests.
For Pakistanis, that alone is a welcome shift, even if an official public apology for taking the flak for the Haqqanis, takes time.