Life threat: A new weapon to silence US critics in PakistanNovember 27, 2009
A small group of Pakistani journalists are protesting because one Pakistani newspaper has accused Mathew Rosenberg, an India-based American correspondent for the Wall Street Journal of being a spy. The editor of Wall Street Journal is ‘disgusted’. Under new directions from Mrs. Clinton, US diplomats are aggressively engaged in a media battle in Pakistan. Part of the game is raising a new class of US apologists – commentators, editors, journalists. Mr. Rosenberg may not be a spy but here is a Pakistani lesson for the US media.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—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 defense 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 breaking the Blackwater story and receiving threats from US personnel. He escaped to Iran and then into Armenia but had to return eventually, choosing to go public than lie low in dear. We saw no one from the US media or the Pakistani media, barring the story in The Nation, take up Fawad’s case.
Obviously, there are benefits to defending a US citizen, like Mathew, as compared to a Pakistani one, like Fawad. 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.
The Nation’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 has 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.]
Those springing to Mr. Rosenberg’s defense never protested when, in September, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson used this very line [“Endangering American lives”] in a private letter to a Pakistani newspaper targeting one of the paper’s longtime critics of US government policies. The ambassador’s argument was accepted without any corroborating evidence or public scrutiny.
The same line is now being used in Mr. Rosenberg’s case to discredit what is a legitimate story from the Pakistani perspective. To generate guilt, Mr. Rosenberg’s few Pakistani defenders are comparing him to Mr. Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter also based in India who flayed personal security guidelines and exposed himself to dangerous terrorists in Pakistan in the inflamed aftermath of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. That gory incident was highly condemnable and unfortunate but is in no way comparable to Mr. Rosenberg’s case as the few Pakistani guilt-inducers are trying to insinuate.
Surely Mr. Rosenberg and his Pakistani defenders understand that Pakistan is not only battling terrorists in the border area with Afghanistan but also organized terror supported by foreign powers from the Afghan soil. Both the Interior Minister and the military spokesperson have publicly confirmed this. Many analysts in the Pakistani strategic community have compiled stacks of hard and circumstantial evidence that does not – to put it diplomatically – absolve the United States of responsibility over the anti-Pakistan terrorism emanating from US-controlled Afghanistan.
Domestically, we have had several incidents involving US and other foreign citizens in unusual activities:
- A US researcher, Nicholas Schmiddle, who came to Pakistan in 2006 to conduct research, ended up being deported from the country in January 2008 by Pakistani security officials after he was found traveling to sensitive parts of the country without permission and in violation of his stated purpose on his visa application. [Why lie if you are a journalist?]
- In 2003, two French journalists and one Pakistani journalist traveled to Balochistan and hired local people to produce a fake Afghan Taliban training video. They were arrested en route to Karachi, where the French planned to take a flight back home to break the news on Pakistan’s alleged duplicity in the so-called war on terror.
- A British journalist, Christina Lamb, was arrested and deported in November 2001 as she tried to book a Quetta-Islamabad flight in the name of Osama bin Laden, another ‘breaking news’ that was aborted in time by Pakistani authorities.
- In at least three incidents, US special operations agents have been arrested by Pakistani police. The agents were dressed as Afghan Taliban with beards and the Afghan headgear. In at least one of those incidents, US agents were riding a car with fake Pakistani number plates. In two of those incidents, these US agents entered Islamabad coming from the tribal belt. They were released in all three cases on the orders of the Interior Ministry despite carrying illegal weapons.
- In July 2009, a group of Americans, carrying diplomatic passports, were arrested in the vicinity of the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta. They could not explain what they were doing there and said they lost their way. They were released without pressing charges.
Internationally, just this year there have been four incidents where US journalists were accused of spying:
- American-Iranian Roxana Saberi was arrested in Tehran in possession of confidential documents that belonged to a national security department in the Iranian government. She was released only when Washington offered diplomatic concessions that were not made public, according to the Iranian media.
- Two US journalists illegally entered North Korea. Washington called it abduction but media reports proved later that the two crossed the border illegally despite warnings from a South Korean translator.
- In a case that remains unexplained until now, a US citizen mysteriously swam his way to the house of a US-backed opposition leader in Myanmar, where he remains in detention pending negotiations with Washington.
- Three American ‘hikers’ entered Iran illegally this year. One of them turned out to be a US journalist who speaks local languages. He said he was on a private hiking trip.
None of the above might be a spy, although the evidence in Ms. Saberi’s case was damning and irrefutable. But it is interesting how frequently US journalists find themselves in situations where they are accused of spying. Exhibit A: four cases in less than a year.
An editorial writer in one of the Pakistani newspapers tried yesterday to offer a lesson in correct reporting and mentioned how the editor of the Wall Street Journal felt ‘disgusted’ over the report on Mr. Rosenberg. Ironically, where was the Pakistani editorial writer’s disgust at the New York Times when it practically accused Mr. Ansar Abbasi, a senior investigative journalist from the same paper, of being a Taliban simply because Mr. Abbasi had argued during a meeting with a senior US official in Islamabad?
How about also writing something about the endless stream of ‘falsehoods’ and deliberate misreporting over Pakistan’s nuclear program that the US media has excelled in over the past five years? No one has demonized Pakistan during that period as the US media did, and most of it based on unnamed and unverifiable sources. Is that irresponsible too or do those standards only apply on us where many here submit without raising as much as a whimper?
Pakistan is in a state of war, one that has been gradually imposed on this country in the short span of four years. Instead of siding with outsiders and exposing their inferiority complexes, some of our commentators would do well to advise US media representatives to move to Islamabad instead of reporting on Pakistan from New Delhi. That might help the US media reduce some of its hostility toward Pakistan.