Life threat: A new weapon to silence US criticsNovember 13, 2009
ISLAMABAD – A rumpus is brewing in a small corner of the Pakistani media over the safety of a New Delhi-based American journalist. Being a US citizen has its benefits and Mr. Mathew Rosenberg is lucky to have a few coming to his defence in Pakistan. A couple of months ago a Pakistani journalist’s life came under threat in Swat. He escaped to Washington where he was humiliated on landing, kept in detention for two weeks and is entangled now in a legal mess. Mr. Rosenberg’s self-appointed defenders in the Pakistani media silently watched that story without uttering a word, let alone writing editorials. Another reporter, Fawad Shah, had to leave Peshawar after he broke the Blackwater story and got threats from US personnel. he escaped to Iran and then into Armenia but had to return eventually and finally chose to go public rather than simply lying low in fear. We saw no one from the US media or Pakistani media, barring the story in TheNation, take up Fawad’s case. Obviously, there are benefits to defending a US citizen as compared to a Pakistani one. Who will reward you for defending Pakistan, right?
Mr. Rosenberg works for Wall Street Journal’s India bureau, but has been spending time in our tribal belt for the past few months. Interestingly, the US media, which has been treating Pakistan as the enemy for the past five years, prefers to cover Islamabad from New Delhi. Tells you something about the mindset.
TheNation’s Mr. Kaswar Klasra published a story on Nov. 5 revealing that, “Agents of notorious spy agencies are using journalistic cover to engage themselves in intelligence activities in NWFP and FATA.” Mr. Rosenberg’s name appeared in the story. To be fair, Mr. Klasra telephoned Mr. Rosenberg in New Delhi as part of his research and gave him space in his story to defend himself, including quoting him say, “Let me tell you that I am not working on any hidden agenda.”
Fair enough, right? Not for the small and loosely knit group of pro-US commentators who have become vocal in Pakistan over the past few months with the rise in US meddling in our affairs. This group includes a few academic types, commentators and those who are paid for providing ‘consultancy’ on how to spend US aid in Pakistan. This group is now raising alarm over Mr. Klasra’s report, accusing his newspaper of ‘endangering the life’ of a US citizen, who is back in the Indian capital anyway.
This has become the weapon of choice to intimidate anyone who criticizes US policies and wrongs in Pakistan. Do this and you are instantly accused of ‘endangering the lives of US citizens’ in the country. I first heard this line when I reported earlier this year how a US diplomat used a house in Islamabad to arrange a private meeting between an Indian diplomat and several senior Pakistani bureaucrats. To my surprise, a Pakistani journalist telephoned me on behalf of the US diplomat to say my reporting endangered the diplomat’s life. The foreign office later issued a statement warning government servants to refrain from attending such meetings without prior permission. [In October, the Foreign Office had written to all embassies and high commissions banning any direct meetings between foreign diplomats and Pakistani ministers without prior clearance from the Foreign Office. The move came after frequent direct meetings between US and British diplomats with two senior federal government ministers.]