TWO more names have been added to the sombre roll call of journalists killed in the line of duty in Pakistan. On Thursday, Online news agency bureau chief Irshad Mastoi and reporter Abdul Rasool Khajak, along with their accountant Mohammad Younis, were murdered in an attack carried out by armed men in their Quetta office.
More than 30 journalists have reportedly fallen victim to targeted killing in Balochistan over the last five years, making the province the most dangerous part of what is already, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the fourth most dangerous country in the world for reporters.
No one has even been put on trial, let alone convicted, for any journalist’s murder in Balochistan.
Journalists in the province are forced to navigate multifaceted threats in a complex political environment, and survival depends on an almost impossible delicate balancing act. Intimidation is a constant, and can escalate any time into something far more deadly.
Journalists are picked up and ‘disappeared’ before their mutilated bodies are found dumped along roadsides, while some — as in the latest case — are summarily shot and killed.
The pressure they have to contend with emanates from several quarters, each equally powerful in its own way.
There are ruthless insurgent organisations, feuding tribes with shifting allegiances, rapidly proliferating extremist groups — many of them with overt sectarian agendas — who are allegedly being used by the state to counter the separatists, as well as the Frontier Corps, intelligence agencies and the military that make up the heavy security footprint in the province.
Even political parties that champion press freedom elsewhere in the country bully the journalists’ community in Balochistan.
Each sees the media as a conduit to further its agenda, thereby leaving journalists with a Sisyphean task, for acquiescing to the demands of one side inevitably places them in the cross hairs of the other.
Press releases claiming terrorist attacks replete with death threats to specific individuals and accompanied by the instruction ‘publish without editing’ are common.
Following through has sometimes led to show-cause notices from the court, while opting to refrain has proved equally deadly.
Local press associations have been unable to counter the threat that has thrived in an environment of neglect and perverse policies
Until now it was journalists working in the province’s more remote, rural areas who were particularly at risk.
The last time a journalist was targeted in Quetta was in 2008, although several have since lost their lives in bomb blasts etc.
With the latest incident, those waging war on journalists in Balochistan have sent the message that nowhere in the province can they consider themselves safe.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2014