Journalists in Pakistan threatened against freedom of the press
welcome to Foreign politic Brief South Asia.
This week’s highlights: Pakistan tightens the screws protesting journalists, India’s economy suffers its worst contraction since independence, and The security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates.
If you would like to receive South Asia Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.
In Pakistan, freedom of the press is increasingly precious
It’s been a rough week for the Pakistani press. Last Tuesday, journalist Asad Ali Toor was attacked at his home. Toor, known for his criticism of the military, said his attackers identified themselves as members of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – a charge the ISI quickly denied. At a protest a few days later, TV presenter Hamid Mir accused the Pakistani armed forces of cracking down on journalists. On Monday, Mir learned he had been taken off the air.
Pakistan has a vibrant press, with dozens of outlets churning out content that often shoots elected officials. But criticism of the military and intelligence services is a red line. State intimidation tactics, ranging from withholding advertising revenue to hate campaigns on social media, have pushed many journalists and their employers into self-censorship. Outlets that ignored these warnings mysteriously stopped broadcasting or had their broadcast cut off.
In Pakistan, journalism can sometimes be a death sentence. Freedom Network, a media watchdog, found that 33 journalists were killed for their work between 2013 and 2019 in Pakistan. Although lethal violence against journalists has decreased in recent years, attacks continue, even in relatively safe places like Islamabad, where Toor and another journalist have both been attacked in recent weeks.
Pakistan is poorly ranked in the World Press Freedom Index, and since Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018, it has fallen six places (to 145) in the World Press Freedom Index. Reporters Without Borders press. It is not alone: Elsewhere in the region, India ranks 142nd and Bangladesh 152nd. In these countries, like Pakistan, the decline in press freedom has come against a growing crackdown on dissent that also targets activists, academics and nongovernmental organizations.
Attacks on journalists and other government critics are rarely fully investigated, but many observers – including human rights researchers, lawyers, US officials and some Pakistani journalists themselves – have since suspected long as Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services are behind many of them. State-led campaigns to crush dissent are a regional phenomenon: Indian journalists have been charged with sedition for covering anti-government protests, and Bangladesh has arrested social media users for criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic.
Pakistan’s political polarization exacerbates the difficult media environment. Liberals and opposition figures praise anti-establishment journalists such as Toor and Mir, but they are reviled by government supporters. (Some of Toor’s reviews have Noted his supporters have remained silent on his derogatory comments towards Shiffa Yousafzai, a prominent journalist, earlier this year.) Pro-government voices, particularly right-wing nationalists, accuse these journalists of faking attacks to gain attention or asylum abroad. They also denounce the lack of attention given to journalists attacked for their critical coverage of the opposition.
The Pakistani government has used a 2016 cybercrime law as a pretext to target anti-government content online. But a new bill could further worsen the environment for journalists by centralizing government oversight of the media under one authority and increasing media dependence on the state. As media analyst Huma Yusuf wrote in a column this week, “What better way to turn the media into mouthpieces for the state than by making them entirely dependent on the government to stay in business? »
During a meeting with then-US President Donald Trump in 2019, Khan said Pakistan had “one of the freest presses in the world”. The media monitoring bill could become a more powerful data point for those who ridiculed it. In fact, under Khan, press freedom in Pakistan looks even worse.
June 8: The US Institute of Peace hosts a discussion on the resurgence of the Pakistani Taliban.
June 11-13: London hosts a G-7 summit, in which India participates as a virtual guest.
Mixed news for the Indian economy. According to government figures, India’s GDP contracted by 7.3% in the financial year 2020-2021. (In India, fiscal years run from April to March.) The drop is the biggest since independence and the first contraction since the 1979-80 fiscal year. The sharp decline can largely be attributed to the nationwide pandemic lockdown imposed last spring.
The good news is that India recorded 1.4% growth in the last quarter of the fiscal year, but the rebound took place in the weeks leading up to India’s devastating second wave. Macroeconomic performance in April and May is likely to be poor, although New Delhi’s decision not to impose another lockdown may mitigate some economic shocks.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will prioritize economic recovery for the remainder of its second term, raising tough political questions. One is how to approach economic relations with China, which has invested heavily in India in recent years. New Delhi has severed trade ties with Beijing after last year’s deadly border dispute plunged bilateral relations to their lowest level in decades.
Afghanistan security update. Afghanistan has seen a series of troubling developments in its security situation over the past week. Besieged Afghan troops are handing over dozens of rural outposts and bases to the Taliban, according to the New York Times. And another report revealed new evidence of continued cooperation between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Afghan officials have acknowledged that “thousands of families” have fled their homes in four provinces amid escalating violence.
All of this comes against the backdrop of the continued withdrawal of US troops. On Tuesday, the US Department of Defense announced that up to 44% of the US withdrawal was now complete. With little progress in the peace talks, further destabilization is almost inevitable. A leading American partner has already read the writing on the wall. Citing an “increasingly uncertain security environment”, Australia closed its embassy in Kabul last Friday.
Pakistan gets debt relief. This week, negotiators reached agreement on a “debt for nature” deal between Pakistan and four key donors: Canada, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Under the arrangement, which will be finalized on June 5, donors will reduce Pakistan’s loan obligations in return for investing its debt in climate-related activities. This decision will have political benefits for Islamabad: the Khan government has identified debt relief and environmental preservation as major political priorities.
There are problems in India’s paradise. In Lakshadweep, a scenic union territory of sunny islands 120 miles off the mainland in the Arabian Sea, a new administrator is trying to push through a series of new laws that are opposed by local, mostly Muslim residents. Praful Khoda Patel, an ally of Modi, has proposed measures including banning beef products, detaining people without trial for up to a year and seizing locals’ land for infrastructure development.
The laws were forwarded to India’s Home Ministry for approval earlier this week. Patel appears to be exporting the controversial policies championed by Modi and his allies on the continent to a more distant place, far from scrutiny. Speaking anonymously to AlJazeera, residents said Patel’s administration had also laid off local workers and sought to replace them with people brought in from the mainland.
However, the political opposition and even some members of the ruling party have railed against Patel’s actions. Growing local anger is raising the risk of protests and unrest – a scenario New Delhi can ill afford as it focuses on economic recovery.
“I have been attending the negotiations for six or seven months. Their attitudes towards me personally have been that we’re just there for decoration.
—Fawzia Koofi, one of four female members of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiation Team, Speaking at ozy on how she is perceived by the Taliban.
Write for the Dhaka Grandstand, political analyst Farid Erkizia Bakht mocks the attention garnered by the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh’s recent warning not to join the quadrilateral security dialogue, known as the Quad. Bakht argued that the envoy’s view is perfectly understandable. “Beijing cannot just flip if Dhaka decides to succumb to US pressure and align with the Quad,” he wrote.
A Nepali time The editorial argued that Nepal must be careful not to get drawn into growing political rivalries within India. “Nepal seems to be caught in a proxy war for the soul of India between the [ruling] BJP and liberal secular leftists,” he argued. “We must learn to tread carefully and not be sucked into India’s bitter internal ideological confrontation.”
Mitali Nikore, Shruti Jha, and Priyal Mundhra, all affiliated with Indian think tank Nikore Associates, argued in the Indian Express that rural Indian women have “carried the burden” of the coronavirus pandemic. Twelve million women lost their jobs during the first wave in India, and nearly 6 million women lost their jobs in April alone. “Governments must lead the way in charting a course for sustainable and inclusive economic recovery, starting with a focus on unemployed rural women,” they wrote.