A dangerous place for nosy journalists

Especially if they get close to the truth

In December 2003, Khawar Mehdi, a Pakistani journalist, was working with the two French journalists who intended to make a film about the ISI-Taliban-al Qaeda nexus.

When they were arrested, the French journalists were charged with a visa violation. But later, says Epstein, “we were also accused of having tried to fabricate a fake film designed to soil Pakistan’s image. We were never indicted, though.” The fake film was actually fabricated by Pakistani Television, using the images shot by Epstein: the tape on Khawar’s camera was blank because he didn’t shoot anything. Shakir, the alleged Taliban commander, saved his skin by telling a lie. And the indictment fell on Khawar Mehdi.

Any journalist familiar with the Pakistani beat – one of the most complex and dangerous in the world – has identified the Khawar Mehdi affair for what it is: a stark message. The Musharraf government, some hardline ISI sectors, or both are warning foreign journalists as well as Pakistani journalists working with foreigners: you are definitely not welcome if you insist on investigating links between the Taliban and the ISI, inside or outside the tribal areas or on any side of the Pakistan-Afghan border. [Asia Times]

The Frenchmen were allowed to go back to France, but Khawar Mehdi spent a long time in legal limbo, in the hands of ‘the agencies’ before being released on bail. He too was being tried by Pakistan’s special ‘anti-terrorist’ kangaroo courts — which in reality are Musharraf’s favourite political tools and are used more often to expedite the dispatch of his political rivals than to actually try terrorists.

Considering how much the letter and spirit of Pakistani law was followed by his captors, it is hardly surprising that he decided jump bail and seek refuge in the United States. But as in the case of that other journalist who invoked the General’s displeasure, the ISI directed its attention to the relatives left behind.

The Daily Times writes that harassing journalists in this manner will only give Musharraf ‘a bad name at the global level’. Well, he deserves it.

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