On Friday, a senior journalist of one of the leading English dailies – the News of the Jang group was brutally attacked in daylight in Rawalpindi by a group of motor-bike borne assailants. Ahmad Noorani – a valuable member of The News Investigation Cell, during the recent months has been writing a series of investigative reports on the Panama trial, especially relating to the probing of Joint Investigation Team. Where he erred, he also apologized and wrote a rejoinder. Why was he targeted?
First, a short note about the numbers and the victims. Ahmad Noorani is not the first person from the media to be targeted in the recent years. Unfortunately, he would not be the last in Pakistan. According to open literature, more than 55 from the media have been brutally murdered since 2001. Murders are only a part of the story; there have been disappearances, kidnappings and brutal attacks on the media personnel during the last fifteen years.
Some of the senior journalists, with an extremely independent thinking and writing during the recent years were lucky but had to leave the country, after the attack. Raza Rumi of the Friday Times, a soft-spoken but a stubborn critic had to leave Pakistan after being attacked. Hamid Mir of the GEO who had his controversies was also targeted. Both are senior journalists with years of experience. Salim Shahzad, the author of Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 was not so lucky; he disappeared before he was tortured and killed subsequently. So were numerous other young journalists.
Second, the question about the perpetrators. Who are behind the attacks? The motor-bike borne attackers are not the real perpetrators; those who tasked them are. One could observe four large trends in terms of attacks against the journalists in Pakistan, in terms of who perpetrates. The Deep State in Pakistan has been known for its targeting media personnel, who cross the line. The militants have used kidnap, attacks and murder as a weapon on those who write against them. The extreme Right, though not organized, have attacked especially the bloggers. Finally, the State – different security agencies have indulged, though not in fatal attacks, but in lesser altercations.
Third – is the expanse of these attacks. From print media and electronic media, the attacks have expanded into the blogosphere and social media as well. Bloggers disappear or get kidnapped; though released later, some of them have left the country.
In terms of geographic expanse, some regions within Pakistan face it rough – for example, Balochistan. To an extent even Gilgit-Baltistan. While the media in Punjab, Sindh and KP have a robust presence, being a journalist in the above two regions has never been easier. Forget about a print media, even an online newspaper or a blog is not easier to run in Balochistan, GB and FATA.
The issue is serious, and has to be analysed beyond the attacks on journalists. There is a sinister agenda, led by actors belonging to the State, non-State and extreme Right.
What do these attacks lead to? And why is the State lethargic in investigating against the perpetrators? Worse, why does the State refuse even to register cases in certain instances?