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.

Guns fall silent in Ghazni after Afghan troops force Taliban out

Updated 4 min 3 sec ago

Guns fall silent in Ghazni after Afghan troops force Taliban out

  • Government forces launch a combined operation to push Taliban militants out of the strategic city
  • Afghan government is still considering a cease-fire during Eidul Adha, while the Taliban leadership is yet to accept the offer

KABUL: Afghan government forces have regained control of Ghazni city after five days of intense fighting with Taliban militants.

National forces, backed by US-led troops, launched a combined operation on Wednesday to force the last of the Taliban fighters from the outskirts of the strategic city.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that the government was in control of Ghazni and was providing humanitarian aid for people affected by the fighting.

Telephone links and water supply had been restored in the city, and the bodies of those killed in the clashes removed, he said.

“The pain of (the people of) Ghazni is the pain of entire Afghanistan,” the Afghan leader said.

The city, which serves as a gateway to Kabul, almost fell to the insurgents after a major onslaught that sparked five days of intense fighting.

Additional troops were sent from Kabul and joint air attacks were conducted overnight, forcing the militants to abandon their last positions inside the city, as well as the northern and western outskirts, Sayed Ghafoor Javid, chief spokesman for the Defense Ministry, told Arab News.

“Now we conducting a clearing up operation and our focus is to reopen the highway (blocked by the Taliban) between Ghazni and Kandahar. There is no fighting in the city,” he said.

Several police centers that were overrun and destroyed by the militants have resumed operation, he said.

Residents of Ghazni and local reporters confirmed that the fighting had ended and life was returning to normal, with some shops reopening.

Up to 150 civilians and an unknown number of Taliban militants died in the fighting.

The UNs special envoy to Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said: “Reports indicate that the death toll in Ghazni is high, including government forces, Taliban fighters and civilians. Unconfirmed estimates range from 110 to 150 civilian casualties.”

Ghazni’s public hospital was struggling to cope with the continuous influx of injured government troops, Taliban fighters and civilians, he said.

Yamamoto said that the human suffering caused by the fighting in Ghazni highlighted the urgent need for the war in Afghanistan to end.

A Ghazni resident, Ahmad Shafi who traveled by bus to Kabul, told Arab News: “People are exhausted, frightened and have no confidence in the government.”

The Taliban launched their attack on Ghazni from four directions early on Friday. Residents had warned of growing Taliban influence and activity for several months. months.

Tens of thousands of Ghazni residents were trapped in their homes by the fighting — a large number without food, water, power or telephone connections.

Many could not flee because the Taliban had mined key routes out of the city.

The Defense Ministry rejected claims that the Taliban received inside help from government officials and security forces. Speculation grew after 1,000 Taliban militants outfought 4,000 heavily armed government troops.

Javid said it was not known if the government would go ahead with its plan for another truce with the Taliban during Eidul Adha.

A Palace spokesmen failed to respond to calls seeking a comment on the issue.

Ghani announced a two-week unilateral truce during Eid in June. The Taliban responded with a three-day cease-fire, with thousands of militants visiting government-held areas and cities, drinking tea and joining religious celebrations.

However, the Taliban ignored Ghani’s appeal to extend the truce and attacked government forces in areas that the militants had visited.

The truce raised hopes that the two sides were willing to end the war through peace talks. But the Taliban since have escalated their attacks and refused to hold talks with the government.

The Taliban instead held direct talks with US officials seeking ways to end the 17-year conflict.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News on Wednesday that the group’s leadership had yet to decide on an Eid truce.

More than 100 security forces, apart from the Ghazni fatalities, have been killed in a series of attacks in the past few days in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, 50 security forces, including 42 at a base in northern Baghlan province, were killed in two strikes, officials said.