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PRAGUE: With its Pakistan bureau shut by the authorities last week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Pashto-language station is broadcasting from its headquarters in a distant Prague, waiting for “the dust to settle”, according to its senior editor.

The Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal, or Torch in Pashto, with a target audience of some 10 million residents of areas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, was closed for airing content “against the interest of Pakistan”.

The interior ministry said the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had also found its programmes “in line with (a) hostile intelligence agency’s agenda”.

“We [first] read the charges through social media. We were not informed by any government agent,” claimed Radio Mashaal’s Prague-based senior editor Daud Khattak while speaking to AFP on Thursday.

Minutes after the news came through WhatsApp, “police teams arrived at our office in Islamabad and asked our employees to pack up and close the office.

“Later some Pakistani TV channels aired news that we are working for the CIA.”

Funded by the US Congress, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) was founded in 1950 to beam programmes into the communist bloc. It currently broadcasts in 25 languages and aims to “serve as a ‘surrogate’ free press in 23 countries where the free flow of information is banned or not fully developed.”

Mashaal has over 1.6 million Facebook fans and scored 81 million video views on Facebook and 10 million views on YouTube in 2017.

Its closure coincides with heightened tensions between Islamabad and Washington as President Donald Trump recently froze up to $1.9 billion in funding to Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2018