by Zia Ur Rehman

Oct 4-11, 2012

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20121005&page=4

Afghanistan has banned Pakistani newspapers accusing them of publishing pro-Taliban reports and comments and seeking to undermine the Afghan government.

“The Afghan Interior Ministry has banned the entry of some Pakistani newspapers in the east of Afghanistan,” Mohammad Najib Danish, deputy spokesman of the ministry, told reporters. “After inspection and monitoring, we found that there were some issues against freedom of speech and also there was some issue against Afghan security forces in Pakistani newspapers.”

After the announcement, Afghan police seized copies of Pakistani newspapers in shops in the eastern provinces of Nuristan, Kunar, Nangarhar and Khost.

Afghan journalists and analysts say some Pakistani newspapers publish speeches by Taliban leaders hurting the Afghan government’s efforts to bring the Taliban into peace negotiations aimed at ending the country’s decade long conflict.

“Pakistani media have always been used as a propaganda tool by the Pakistani government against Afghanistan,” said Habib Khan Totakhel, a Kabul-based journalist working with a foreign newspaper. “Most of Pakistani newspapers and other media outlets don’t respect the values of journalism and publish what the Pakistani intelligence agencies ask them to. For instance, they justify Afghan war as ‘Jihad’ quoting some Pakistani religious leaders but call the same fighting in Pakistan ‘Fasad’,” he said.

Pakistani newspapers and magazines, especially those published from Peshawar, are widely sold in the eastern provinces, shopkeepers say, adding that more than 2,000 copies of Pakistani newspapers were distributed only in Nangarhar. They include Urdu dailies Mashriq, Aaj and Express, Pashto dailies Wahdat and Khabarona, and English dailies Frontier Post, The News, Dawn and Express Tribune.

There are no countrywide daily newspapers in Afghanistan. “We do not have enough Afghan newspapers in the border provinces and Pakistani newspapers fill that vacuum,” Totakhel added.

Many Afghan political leaders are happy with the ban. Some say Iranian newspapers should also be banned. “Pakistan and Iran are engaged in a cold war against Afghanistan through their newspapers and other media outlets. We welcome the decision in this context,” said Ashraf Shinwaray, a local political leader in Jalalabad.

Afghan officials say Jihadi newspapers and publications, including Daily Shahadat – owned by Afghanistan’s second largest militant group Hizb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar – and Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad, published from Pakistan, are sold or freely distributed in border provinces of Afghanistan. The newspapers publish propaganda reports against the Afghan government, they allege.

The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) has expressed serious concerns over the ban and called it a violation of “the people’s right to know”. In a statement, the APNS said the newspapers disseminated news and views and strengthened relations between the people of the two countries. The APNS has called on the Ministry of Information and the Foreign Office to take up the matter with their Afghan counterparts to get the export and sale of Pakistani newspapers restored.

Sadaf Baig, a media researcher associated with Intermedia Pakistan, recently conducted an analysis of how Afghanistan is portrayed in the Pakistani news media. “One thing that strikes again and again is the lack of regard for the Afghan people,” she said. “Our newspapers publish a large number of news pieces and even opinions and editorials directly linked to Afghanistan, but most if not all of them talk in the International Relations terminology. There is the NATO pullout and the threat that Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda might pose for the world post the pullout, but the discussion on Afghanistan itself and specifically the Afghan people is completely missing.”

A majority of journalists and analysts writing on Afghanistan don’t know anything about that country and its demography and use terms like ‘puppets’ for the Afghan government and soldiers, and ‘martyrs’ for Taliban insurgents, said Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based analyst and author. He said the recent tensions over cross-border attacks may have led to the ban on Pakistani newspapers.

“I would not endorse the ban, although the way some of the Pakistani newspapers and columnists are portraying the situation in Afghanistan is also not the right approach,” said Daud Khattak, senior editor at RFE/RL’s Pashto Radio Mashaal in Prague. Since the governments of the two countries are already suffering from a lack of trust and understanding, this step, though mostly symbolic, would widen the gap and weaken the people-to-people contacts which are vital to the improvement of relations between the two countries, he said.

Pakistani authorities have also banned Afghan TV channels in the country. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) blocked nearly 28 foreign TV channels in 2010, including Afghan TV channels like Shamshad, Tolo, Ariana and Lemar, from being broadcast by cable operators in Pakistan. “They have closed our TV channels in Pakistan, but we do not do the same in Afghanistan,” said an official in the Afghan Ministry of Culture and Information. Pakistani authorities also blocked news website Khabaryal.com for several months.

Officials in Pakistan’s Information Ministry say Afghan news channels, like the Indian ones, air propaganda against Pakistan and try to create mistrust between Pakistani Pashtuns and the government. They say the channels feature notorious criminals and warlords and anti-Pakistan political analysts who support insurgency in Pakistan and allege that Pakistan is involved in anti-US and anti-NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Khattak thinks banning TV or radio broadcast on either side of the Durand Line is not a wise approach. “In this era of information technology, if you ban one source, the information will continue to flow through several other sources,” he said.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. Email: zia_red@hotmail.com and Twitter: @zalmayzia

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