Why Pak expelled Indian Journalists?
May 19th saw two Indian journalists working in Pakistan cross over to their home country from Pakistan. Snehesh Alex Philips of Press Trust of India came through Wagah-Attari Indo- Pak Joint Check Post land route in Amritsar, and Meena Menon from ‘The Hindu’ via Karachi to Mumbai flight. The two, Snehesh and Meena are completely baffled by their unceremonious and sudden ouster from Pakistan, refusing extension of visa, barely nine months after their tenure in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The move to oust Indians by Pak’s foreign office despite Islamabad government’s perceived desire for healthier relations with India is indeed ironic. Infact, newly re-elected Pak PM Nawaz Sharief’s friendly overtures towards India, especially the desire to re-build relations came soon after Sharief’s utterance in Muzaffrabad (Pak Occupied Kashmir) calling ‘Kashmir a flashpoint that could trigger a 4th war between the two nuclear powers at anytime, on Dec 3rd last year’ that peeved India and had to be glossed over. Mending fences after the loud rhetoric, Nawaz tried to smoothen frayed nerves in India. However his desires on cordial relations seem to have ‘irked’ the ‘establishment’ aka ‘Military /Security’, says Mehmal Sarfraz, Deputy Secretary General of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA).
Hence merely days after the ouster of two journalists, the Pak PM is again at pains to push the perceived enmity under the carpet, by being the first to congratulate and extend an invitation to the Indian PM designate Narinder Modi after the stupendous win of Bharatiya Janta Party headed by Modi.
Pak ‘establishments’ have always played spoilsports whenever popular home governments have shown a leaning towards bettering Indo-Pak ties. Hence, the assassination attempt of Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir, who was badly injured on April 19th this year in an armed attack, near Karachi airport, was hardly surprising. ISI agency was fuming about Mir’s coverage of the issue of Baluchistan and his criticism of the spy agency. Hamid was termed a pro-India agent in Pakistan by many, as Baluchistan is an issue that India takes up in retort to Pakistan. The subsequent move by Pak Defense Ministry’s cancellation of the broadcasting license of three – Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez TV out of five TV channels owned and operated by Geo/Jang group, through ‘Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’ (PEMRA), have clearly spelled out the persons behind the murderous attack.
While Indian Journalist Snehesh Alex Philips snapped “Its a million dollar question!” when I asked him ‘why’ he was shown the door by Pakistan, along with Meena, the answer, it seems is not so mysterious. SAFMA Gen Sect Mehmal adds – “This happened last year too with Rezaul and Anita Joshua. The ‘establishment’ wants to throw around its weight by not letting Nawaz’s government to get its own way vis-à-vis peace with India. The timing seems too suspicious, when India is looking forward to NDA led by BJP- seen as a Hindu nationalist party.”
Pakistan’s army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s terming Kashmir as the “jugular vein” of Pakistan, on May 1st at GHQ Rawalpindi, also comes in the same sequence, as peace with India is seen as a weakening of the military establishment in Pakistan. Interestingly, Gen Sharief is mentored by ex- Pak President Parvez Musharaff –the architect of Kargil war when Nawaz was the PM of Pakistan. While two statements regarding Kashmir have been made by Pakistan consecutively, to rabble rouse Kashmiris in India, it had little effect in Jammu & Kashmir where most separatists sloganeer for ‘Independence’ rather than melting in Pakistan.
India has termed the ouster of two journalists as a retrograde step. Snehesh Philip’s father, AJ Philips- a noted columnist and senior Journalist-writer stated that the signs were obvious when his son’s wife was not given a visa after she visited India in January this year. Although there is a written agreement between Pakistan-India governments for a reciprocal arrangement allowing two correspondents from each country to be stationed in the other’s capital, the timing of the ouster is being speculated viz-a-viz a new government under Narinder Modi. Modi’s potential foreign policy has caused both anxiety and hope among regional observers. Many fear he might react badly to any incident of terrorism within India, routinely blamed on Pakistan, or a flare-up over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Like it or not, if Sharif is to deliver on his promises and ensure Pakistan’s progress, he will have to deal with NDA (National Democratic Alliance (NDA). By the journalists’ ouster, Pakistan’s ‘establishments’ have provided more fodder to anti-Pak rhetoric by the newly formed BJP-led Indian government which would further demoralize the elected government of Sharief.
Murtaza Solangi, a former head of state-run Radio Pakistan, pitches that he fears the decision to oust Indian journalists was a sign that the country’s powerful military establishment was reasserting over key areas of foreign policy, in particular the relationship with India. “It seems like foreign policy and national security is going out of the domain of Mr Sharif,” he said. In other words – “The government has been told ‘these things are not your job’.” A case in point is about another journalist. Despite repeated public promises by PM Sharief to look into the case of Declan Walsh, a New York Times journalist, expelled shortly before Sharif’s election, the Pak PM has not been able to arrange his return.
Hence it seems that power may actually be slipping out from the hands of Sharief and it was up to Pak PM to handle this mess or fall into ignominy, with fears of another bloodless military coup hanging over his head, yet again.
Indian journalists complained of heavy surveillance and being confined to Islamabad
Achutha Menon: Good beginning, Mr Sheriff, with BP Govt.!
Snehesh Alex Philip: Had a lovely run since August in this case, not even a year ;). Came with an open mind without bias.
Snehesh Alex Philip: I take back home some great moments besides a bit of disappointment. Glad that I saw different sides of Pak and not the usual.
A.J. Philip (Philip’s father): Snehesh says the Pakistanis feared his Facebook-addict father’s posts led to his “expulsion”. I wish it was not a humorous comment and, for once, he was serious!
Snehesh Alex Philip: It is a joke I cracked with my dad.
Snehesh had retweeted some posts lauding Modi’s victory as anticipated by exit polls.
Meena Menon had retweeted: PM’s special envoy stirs hornet’s nest with Kashmir remarks days before Manmohan Singh demits office
Meena had even kept her tweet name @mee’namo’
The author can be mailed at email@example.com
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON MAY 24, 2014