Media watchdogs in Pakistan concerned over banning of US-funded radio

Updated 20 January 2018

Media watchdogs in Pakistan concerned over banning of US-funded radio

ISLAMABAD: Media Watchdogs in Pakistan express concern over the closure of US Congress-funded RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal bureau office in Islamabad on the basis of a report by the main spy agency of Pakistan, ISI.
“This is an overreaction and will hurt Pakistan’s image abroad,” Iqbal Khattak, Reporters Sans Frontières’ representative in Pakistan, told Arab News.
He said the government should have presented cogent evidence against Radio Mashaal’s management and the staff if they were really involved in any anti-Pakistan activities.
“The action against the radio seems to be taken on mere analysis of intelligence agency’s reports,” he said, “this knee-jerk reaction is totally unacceptable to the journalist community.”
Pakistani authorities on Friday sealed the office of Pashto-language Radio Mashaal in Islamabad after the country’s premier spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) said that its programs “are found against the interests of Pakistan and are in line with a hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”
State Minister for Interior Tallal Chaudhry told Arab News: “We do not have anything to add more than what is in the notification issued on Friday.”
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), however, says the operation of the radio does not fall under its jurisdiction as it was being operated from Czech Republic using shortwave radio frequencies, but they are finding ways to regulate it.
“We have taken up the issue with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to devise a strategy to regulate all shortwave radio stations being operated from outside Pakistan,” said Maham Ali Khan, a spokesperson for PEMRA. “At the moment, we are providing technical assistance to the Interior Ministry to shut down transmission of Radio Mashaal,” she said.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has also rejected the government’s decision to ban the transmission of Radio Mashaal through “verbal allegations.”
PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News: “It is unfortunate the government has sealed the office of the radio without providing any evidence for its allegations.”
He said: “Cracking down on journalists and media houses will damage Pakistan’s image in the international community. Butt urged the Interior Ministry to take the matter to the court instead of abruptly shutting down the radio’s operations.
On the other hand, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent also refuted the Interior Ministry’s allegations, saying “Radio Mashaal serves no intelligence agency or government. Our reporters are Pakistani citizens who are dedicated to their country and live and raise families in the villages in which they report.” He said: “We demand that their safety be ensured, and that they be permitted to resume their work without fear or delay.”
Radio Mashaal, which broadcasts from Prague and has both radio and digital operations, is a “private news organization supported by the US Congress with no connection to the intelligence agencies of any country,” he said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has also urged Pakistani authorities to “immediately reverse the order issued to close the Islamabad bureau of Radio Mashaal.” “Radio Mashaal is an important source of information in Pakistan and should be allowed to continue operating in the country without further harassment from the government,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator, said from Washington. The move comes at a time when relations between Pakistan and the US have frayed following President Donald Trump’s New Year tweet wherein he slammed Pakistan for “lies and deceit.” Officials from both sides are now negotiating secretly as well as publicly to restore the relations.
Ayaz Wazir, Pakistan’s former ambassador, says that closure of Radio Mashaal will not affect US-Pakistani relations as Islamabad has taken action against it “to protect its national interest.”
“The relations among the countries are always based on mutual respect and we hope American authorities too will not back the Radio Mashaal’s management if they are involved in anti-Pakistan activities,” he said.
Wazir, however, acknowledged that freedom of speech and freedom of press are sensitive issues and Pakistan should share the evidence against Radio Mashaal with the international community to back its decision of the closure.
Dr. Mohammed Faisal, a spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News: “I am not aware about closure of the radio but Pak-US relationship is not affected by any single development.”
The US launched Radio Mashaal in January 2010 from the Czech Republic for the Pashto-speaking people in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s border regions terming it “an attempt to help undermine militants there.”
The US has another Pashto-language station, Radio “Deewa,” which also focuses on Pashtun areas in Pakistan.

Pakistan opposition takes prime minister to task over IMF deal

Updated 16 October 2018

Pakistan opposition takes prime minister to task over IMF deal

  • The daily dithering has paralyzed the economy and precipitously devalued the rupee, says Sen. Sherry Rehman
  • Govt has instilled a sense of 'comfort and confidence' in the markets, says official spokesman

KARACHI, Pakistan: Questioning the government’s lack of perspicacity to avoid “painful economic decisions,” Pakistan’s opposition said on Monday that it was shocked at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inability to avert a crisis, if any.  

“We have serious questions about this kind of strategy, where just the daily dithering has not just paralyzed the economy and precipitously devalued the rupee, but hugely compounded the crisis in the country’s public finances,” Sen. Sherry Rehman, former leader of the opposition in the Senate, told Arab News.

The reaction follows Finance Minister Asad Umar’s comments on Saturday wherein he said that “the government will have to take tough decisions that would be painful for people,” signaling a possible hike in utility prices, following Pakistan’s decision to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout program. 

Opposing the decision, Rehman said: “We are shocked at the lack of a plan for a crisis we all saw looming. Now the slash and burn of utility prices is going to cause severe economic hardship. It’s one thing to have promised a completely different Pakistan, but another to not present alternative plans at least to manage the inflationary impact…on the most socially vulnerable sectors of Pakistan.”

Defending the move, Dr. Farrukh Saleem, government’s spokesman on economy and energy issues, said that the government has instilled a sense of “comfort and confidence” in the markets, not only within Pakistan but outside the country too, which was not possible without approaching the IMF for financial help. “IMF gives one prescription to those who avail its program, which includes an emphasis on increasing exports and curtailing imports and an end of subsidies,” he said.  Adding that the country’s “circular debts have gone up to 1.3 trillion rupees” — inherited from previous governments in the past 10 years — Dr. Saleem said that it was up to Imran Khan’s administration to do away with the liabilities as otherwise “the burden would eventually be shifted to consumers.”

“The government did not raise the gas rates for the last four years despite repeated requests from the concerned departments. Someone will have to swallow bitter pills of last 10 years,” he said. 

The stock market was jubilant following Pakistan’s decision to approach the IMF. However, investors’ newly acquired confidence was quickly replaced with concern as details emerged about the terms and conditions attached with the bailout program, resulting in a 750-point plunge in the benchmark KSE 100 index on Monday.

“Panic selling continued in the quarter earnings season amid a major fall in global equities and investor concerns for likely surge in interest rates and rupee depreciation with the potential IMF loans bailout package,” said Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive of Arif Habib Group. 

Pakistan has devalued its currency for the fifth time by 27 percent since December 2017, with analysts and stakeholders expecting another markdown as the IMF deal gathers steam.

“Its first impact would be in the currency market and the currency would be further devalued. With the devaluation of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, the prices of almost everything would start increasing especially those of imported goods,” Zafar Paracha, general secretary of Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.  Another community that is expected to bear the brunt of the decision is the country’s industrialists and traders who said they could foresee an impact on the price of inputs and raw materials.

Junaid Esmail Makda, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The finance minister should take the country’s business community into confidence before taking the ‘painful decision’ because if the government comes up with harsh decision without taking us into the loop it would have a disastrous impact.” 

He further warned that such a decision would be unfavorable not just “for foreign investors but for local investors too” who might move their assets to other countries.  

However, Dr. Saleem continued to remain optimistic.

Reiterating the fact that the steps taken by the government to mitigate the impact of the IMF’s conditions would yield results, he said: “The government is working to increase exports to stabilize foreign exchange and starting a housing project that would spur economic activities in the backdrop of a growing demand of allied industries.”