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Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable. — File Photo.
Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable. — File Photo.

After having lived in Islamabad for five and a half years, Rezaul Hasan Lashkar had to pack up and leave in just a little over two weeks.

His sin – he was an Indian and a journalist reporting on Pakistan. And one hot day in the middle of June he was informed that his presence was no longer acceptable to someone, somewhere – through a phone call and a letter.

But despite the unceremonious departure, his one regret – at least in recent days – is that he will not be able to get “some nihari from Kale Khan in Pindi before [he] leave[s].”

Perhaps he has more regrets too – about friends he could not say goodbye too or places he was not allowed to visit but such are the state of affairs between his country and Pakistan that he refuses to talk about the issue at all. The longing for nihari too was gleaned from his twitter account.

And this silence says far more than any lengthy interview he may have given. The few details that are available came from someone close to him who spoke on the basis of anonymity.

Hasan – as always – was waiting for a renewal of his visa when on June 13 he got a letter informing him that he should leave by June 23.

The journalist panicked as he had no valid visa by then, without which he could not even leave. Much effort, phone calls and visits later, he was given a ‘generous’ extension till June 29.

The valid visa came on June 25 – finally making him eligible to leave.

“Two thirds of his time in Pakistan was spent waiting for an extension of his lapsed visa,” says the someone.

So much so that twice at least when his wife’s father had a heart attack, her family kept the news from her – because neither she nor Hasan could visit India and the ailing father.

Nothing of Hasan’s stay is unusual for an Indian journalist in Pakistan but his departure surely is.

The tradition is that “the journalist is allowed a short overlap with his successor for a smooth transition”. But both Hasan and Anita Joshua, the second Indian journalist in Pakistan, who were scheduled to leave in any case and were only waiting for their successors to show up, were denied this in recent months.

Indeed, Hasan’s abrupt departure came hot on the heels of the return of his counterpart – Anita Joshua of The Hindu – who was asked to leave shortly after the elections (but before the new government took charge) while New York Times’ Declan Walsh was bundled out a day after May 11, his notice period even shorter than the Indians.

The story of these three proves that Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable.

“What else would you call a place that so abruptly orders out those who have been living here for years on such a short notice,” says a senior journalist.

When Walsh was thrown out, Pakistani journalists whispered that it happened because there was no empowered political government in place and the spooks got a chance to avenge past grievances.

But Joshua and Hasan were told to leave after Nawaz Sharif – the statesman who wanted and wants peace with India - has taken over. Yet there is not a peep out of the new government.

As Mariana Babar, a senior journalist, puts it, “These cases show how powerful the security establishment is. Indian journalists were reluctantly issued visas for a few days on eve of elections. The process started during the caretaker government and continued as Sharif government was in the process of settling. Now as The Hindu and Press Trust of India (PTI) have requested visas for new representatives, we will wait and see how much authority Sharif asserts.”

Admittedly, the India-Pakistan journalist exchange is notoriously reflective of the poor bilateral relations – the feel-good rhetoric of the politicians notwithstanding.

Both countries only allow two journalists from the other side to be stationed in the host country – but while the Indians use these positions, the Pakistanis are so uninterested in understanding our ‘worst enemy’ that no Pakistani reporter is based in India.

The PTI and the Hindu have a correspondent each based in Islamabad and what a welcome they are extended.

They are not allowed to move outside of Islamabad without permission (even Rawalpindi is out of bounds) and they are constantly shadowed by those who cannot prevent terrorist attacks but are aware of every nook and corner visited by the two Indian hacks in the soap dish sized Islamabad.

Yet these two people never forget to remind the one billion people living next doors that there is more than Taliban and extremism to Pakistan. And for those who want proof of this, they need not google the stories that Hasan and Joshua did – they should read the blog, “the Life and Times of Two Indians in Pakistan”.

Written mostly by Hasan’s wife, the posts paint a warm and engaging picture of her former host country (by the time this story appears in print, the couple will be on their way back to Delhi). Beyond the suo motu notices and the Taliban, these posts are about the more colourful characters that inhabit Islamabad; Mehmal the Lahori journalist; Pakistani music (“Still, give me Pakistani music any day” she writes) and the not to be missed post – about the testosterone filled spooks who follow her around.

“Bhai, I feel so special and so cared for each time I step out of the house and you try and match footsteps with me. The other day when you followed me into the superstore and kept me company when I was shopping for groceries, I was so moved.

“… And you looked so cute making a mental note of which pulses I eat and which brand of flour I buy. Ah! I so wish I could tell you so.”

There has rarely been such a wry account of what the spooks’ victims suffer. And one that even the non-Indian victims/residents of Islamabad can connect with.

Such posts and the memories of those who met and laughed with these two Indians will do far more for Indo-Pak relations than all the track two meetings.

Anita Joshua was no different. Less intense than Hasan (who reminded one of Amitabh Bachchan in his heyday, minus the height), her cheerful presence was a constant in the small social circle that the capital city offers to its inhabitants.

She was also generous enough to speak of the pain of living and working as a single woman in a small and conservative city such as Islamabad – with rare references to what it meant to be an Indian woman living alone here.

She was a mandatory participant of all the civil society gatherings in town provided the cause was a worthy one - trotting off to the Super Market sit-in more than once after the Hazara killings in Quetta.

And lest someone accuse her of being a ‘civil society type’, she was the only Indian ever invited to visit the Pakistani side of the Siachen Glacier by the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

It wasn’t because she had some special access – it was because she could get the message across to the Indian people and their government. She did.

Those who are continuously throwing journalists out of the country because they don’t approve of the stories should start seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.

Each one of these journalists provided a glimpse of the Pakistan that many of us believe exists – where people struggle to make a living, where there are not just suicide bombers and militants but also their victims.

It is said that this is what got Walsh thrown out.

But does anyone remember Walsh’s human interest reporting?

Back in 2006, he reported on the media revolution in Pakistan by profiling Begum Nawazish Ali when Pakistanis were still far from aware of the change that television was about to bring to their lives.

And he reported on the missing people in 2007 before the superior judiciary became truly independent to discover the plight of the disappeared.

He endeared himself to many because long before the foreign corps discovered the “anti-Taliban fashion shows” in Pakistan, he had already found the Begum and written about her.

As a fellow journalist wrote in the New Yorker recently about Walsh, “The best Pakistani nonfiction writer was an Irishman”.

Such stories still need to be told – even if Walsh continues to also write on the drones and other ‘secrets’ that irritate some people. And Pakistan also needs the two lines of communications with the people of India.

Over a year ago when the military took Anita Joshua to Siachen, the former DG ISPR Athar Abbas said that it was “part of the Army’s campaign to open up,” adding that “May be we are more confident than the Indians about our case.”

Should one now assume that the Pakistanis are no longer confident about “their case”?

Comments (33) Closed

akram Jun 29, 2013 02:18pm

It is time for civil pakistan to start rolling back the security state. though I'm not a fan of Nawaz Sharif, I do believe this is something he intends to do. It has to happen, we must learn from our past mistakes.

tausif Jun 29, 2013 03:24pm

This story needed a byline, at least.

Irfan Husain Jun 29, 2013 03:36pm

Sad reflection on the Sharif government and those who actually call the shots.

kanakasabhai natarajan Jun 29, 2013 04:06pm

Both Ms.Anita Joshua and her predecessor Ms.Nirupama Subramaniam wrote only positive stories about Pakistan. But then if Indian journalists are not even allowed to travel to Rawalpindi leave alone free movement which we India thought was possible so that they could report freely, it does not make much sense to report from Pakistan. Reuters or any news channel from Pakistan should do.Till relations improve which may take decades, one has to face such situations.

burhan Jun 29, 2013 04:12pm

Well if we talk about journalists other than India, it was the first incident with any foreigner journalist. For Indian journalists, i consider it a tit for tat. You cannot expect any extensions in the visas if you are not safe even in jails of that country. The recent event of killing prisoners from both sides is an example of hatred found in public for the other countries. Just check out the hospitality level Indians provide when Pakistani go to meet their relatives (referring to the train incident that was set on fire in India). Now compare that to the hospitality provided by Pakistan to Sikhs pilgrims who come to Pakistan each year. Does that mean India is not safe for visit?? Many journalists visas are rejected or delayed when they try to go US or Canada. That means they don't match the criteria which could be the reason for Indian journalists.

vani Jun 29, 2013 04:14pm

When all other industries are closing down in Pakistan the killing industries are growing faster. When they will finish their mission then other countries can make a new start on the graveyard of Pakistan.

Ish Jun 29, 2013 04:37pm

Obviously he was one of the 'innocent' ones who was plotting an attack on a major place in US n then it had to be blamed on a muslim in Pakistan. This is how indians turn americans against pakis

waseem Jun 29, 2013 04:39pm

These foreign journalists do not leave any opportunity in bringing a bad name to our country. We are good without them.

pro bono publico Jun 29, 2013 05:33pm

why is the author of this piece hiding his/her name? this reduces the report's merit.

pro bono publico Jun 29, 2013 05:29pm

why is the author of this piece hiding his/her name? this reduces the report's merit.

Bangash Jun 29, 2013 07:53pm

Security establishment cannot protect Pakistanis so they make themselves happy by harassing foreign diplomats, journalists and aid workers.

Ali Jun 29, 2013 10:56pm

Poorly written story using cliche's like " the Pakistanis are so uninterested in understanding our

BRR Jun 29, 2013 10:58pm

Inertia will take over, nothing will change for another two decades - the hate will continue. People will continue to believe in myths - the Bania Hindu who is wicked.

Indian Catholic Jun 30, 2013 01:30am

After reading this article earlier today, I went to the blog you mention in its entirety. All I can say is that the ones who made this decision to deport the couple have no idea of the monumental work done by them to improve Indo-Pak relations at the grassroots level. Words cannot describe my grief right now.

Bala Varadarajan Jun 30, 2013 03:47am

Pakistan no place for civilized people period

Bhaskar Jyoti Das Jun 30, 2013 11:34am

In india its no different either. seems like the two countries are heading nowhere. so much animosity between erstwhile brothers is sickening.

Adil Jun 30, 2013 11:47am

We don't need foreign journalists in Pakistan. They all are spies and biased. When we have trouble they never write anything good in our support. But when they have a chance to criticize us they all become human rights defenders. Who helped us when we had floods in Pakistan? what these foreign journalist wrote about us? nothing good. They are interested in job creation than writing anything objectively about Pakistan. Only one India is enough for us that is doing his negative propaganda against us from day to night.

Raheem Jun 30, 2013 01:43pm

I wonder some of our reporters and journalists are so sympathetic for Indians. May be it is a fashionable thing to act like that. Come on, wake up.

Raheem Jun 30, 2013 01:46pm

@akram: There is always some reason behind it. we generally do not know. There are black sheep in journalists who get involved in dirty games, leaving behind ethics of journalism. Nobody is evicted from a country unless he or she is involved in something serious. we should see other side of the picture as well. Every journalist is not that innocent and professional. Some people join this sacred field for money only.

Aimal Jun 30, 2013 02:03pm

@burhan: Have we forgotten what happened to Daniel Pearl, the US journalist? Hopefully not.

Jibran Jun 30, 2013 06:32pm

@waseem: Well then maybe we need to work on our name and image and kicking out foreign journalists won't help.

thedailyjudge Jun 30, 2013 09:40pm

@waseem: Looks like you didn't read the article at all, about the blog posts and Declan Walsh's human interest reporting.

Krish Chennai Jun 30, 2013 10:17pm

@burhan: This is far-fetched. The writer clearly says that the two slots for Pakistani journalists to report from India, have never been taken. It's pointless bringing the US into this. The hypothetical conclusion that Pakistani journalists would not have been welcome in India, or not permitted to write whatever they wanted, is not only laughable, but pitiable. Nirupama Subramanian, who was the predecessor to Anita Joshua, was present at the bombing in which Benazir Bhutto was killed, for which no one has been held responsible till date - killers of a formerly-elected PM going scot-free; let alone that of journalists and scribes of Pakistan itself, like Murtaza Razvi, and Saleem Shahzad ( May their souls Rest in Peace ).

If you at least said that the Pakistani government was in no position to provide adequate security for foreign journalists, let alone Pakistani or Indian, that would have been understandable. Instead, you took a ridiculous "tit-for-tat" line that will never get any of us anywhere.

Muhammad Awais Jul 01, 2013 12:22am

Not only security professionals but intelligence agencies are also not working efficiently to reduce the terrorism in any region of the country, blast after blast is happening totally fed up by all of this, how many families are left to be ruined?

Afzal Khan Jul 01, 2013 12:25am

Tell me when an Indians were happy.???

Aimal Jul 01, 2013 12:40am

@burhan: Have we forgotten the fate of Daniel Pearl?

Agha Ata Jul 01, 2013 12:58am

Pakistan no country for foreign journalists Pakistan no country for foreign medial workers Pakistan no country for foreign scientists Pakistan no country for foreign rescuers Pakistan no country for Shias Pakistan no country for Christians Pakistan no country for Ahmadies. Pakistan no country for Hindus

Arun Jul 01, 2013 02:54am

@kanakasabhai natarajan: All the stories they wrote were positive, but just not positive enough. The fact that there were only positive stories tells me that these writers were under pressure to write positive stories or face expulsion. We should remember this when we read their stories.

Malik Jul 01, 2013 09:49am

@waseem: I think probably you wanted to say that since we are doing such a good job in bringing bad name to Pakistan (whole heartedly), why bother this work to foreign newsmen. Right?

Komal S Jul 01, 2013 10:18am

@burhan: Whether you like it or not many Pakistanis do visit India every year for the following reasons: Parents with Kids visit India for medical treatment, a good chunk of them are poor and are given free treatment and many lives saved. Pakistani artists visit India all the time for better opportunities. Cricketers like Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Ramiz Raja, Shoaib Akhtar visit India all the time. Hundreds of ordinary Pakistanis visit Ajmer every year, many pakistani Hindus visit the holy places in India. We all appreciate that the Sikhs pilgrims get a chance to visit their holy places in Pakistan. Lots of Sindhi Hindus would love to visit their holy places in their land of origin.

Hindi Jul 01, 2013 11:41am

@Ali: And pray, along what lines must an editorial to your liking be?

Shubs Jul 01, 2013 12:32pm

@Bala Varadarajan: And exactly how that your profound insight has helped forward this discussion?

Shubs Jul 01, 2013 12:34pm

@Ish: huh?