Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Deportation of Nicholas Schmidle

Nicholas Schmidle, an American journalist and a Pakistan-based fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs, was allegedly deported last week by the Pakistani government, reportedly following the release of his January 6th article in the NY Times, entitled, "Next-Gen Taliban." In the piece, Schmidle described the growing strength of the Taliban in Pakistan as well as the increasing struggle among Islamists who wish to be part of the democratic process and those who wish to destabilize the nation. He noted, "The emergence of Taliban-inspired groups in Pakistan has placed immense strain on the country’s Islamist community, a strain that may only increase with the assassination of Bhutto. As the rocket attack on Rehman’s house illustrates, the militant jihadis have even lashed out against the same Islamist parties who have coddled them in the past." However, he wrote, "For now, it is Islamist violence that seems to have the political upper hand rather than the accommodation of Islamist currents within a democratic society."

Following the release of the article, Schmidle told BBC News that he had been given a deportation notice "but no reason for the government's move." The day before, Schmidle recalled, an officer from the Pakistani ISI had stopped by his house and told his security guard, "He told my security guard that my visa had been canceled as I was writing against Pakistan." However, the government denied such claims, and on Saturday said the journalist had left Pakistan "on his own volition." An information ministry official told the BBC, "Initially a deportation order was served to him but it was later withdrawn. He left Pakistan on his own."

The incident, despite the conflicting reports, has sparked much controversy, both in Pakistan and among members of the international community. In a press release, Reporters Without Borders condemned Schmidle's "forced departure," asserting, "This does not bode well for the situation of foreign journalists, especially the many reporters who will be going to Pakistan to cover the legislative elections due to take place in a month from now..." In the country, the PPP also condemned the alleged deportation, describing it as "outrageous." Pakistan's Daily Times cited PPP information secretary Sherry Rahman, who said despite the lifting of the so-called emergency, "the regime continued to hound media on one pretext or the other." She cited a recent report from the aforementioned Reporters Without Borders that described Pakistan as "the most dangerous Asian country for the media in 2007." The Times added, "Most astonishingly she said 34 journalists in the province of Sindh were booked on the charge of rioting following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. After the November 3 martial law, the regime shut down 45 private satellite TV channels and two radio stations adding to its long list of unconstitutional moves over the last eight years." The alleged forced departure of Schmidle, she concluded, was "another reminder of the fact that an authoritarian leadership never had tolerance for independent voices."

The media in Pakistan has always been independent, vocal, and free-reigning. The recent incident, as well as the treatment of the press in the past few months, has been extremely significant given the current atmosphere and the rising dissent against the government. In a society that has been increasingly plagued by violence, riots, and subsequent crackdowns, what role has, can, and should the media play?

[A reader of this blog recently passed on a very poignant and interesting article by Shahan Mufti on the role of independent television in Pakistan, that is a good resource for this topic.]


Noor said...

Simply put, the media has a critical role in a any functioning democracy. The media acts as an independent 'check' on government. Unlike the actors within the classic governmental checks and balances system (the legislature, the courts, and the executive) the media acts independently from these bodies. One of the most important aspects of a true democracy is the free flow and dissemination of information. Citizens in a democracy are entitled to this information and when the government regulates and controls the media, this action represents a breakdown in basic democratic principles. Information will be held and hidden by those in power in order to keep ignorant of the realities of their flawed leadership. This is a symptom of a failing system run by an authoritarian regime.

Kalsoom said...

What is significant about Pakistan relative to most Middle Eastern countries is that despite our authoritarian regime, we did until recently have a free media. The press in Pakistan, especially recently, has been instrumental in this call for change. The subsequent crackdown on the press has also been further detrimental to positive perceptions of Musharraf and his government. I think it would be interesting to find out the evolution of the Pakistani media, as well as study their relationship and changed perceptions ofthe government.

Jesse said...

I've always been amazed at the amount of freedom (well, until recently) given to the media in Pakistan. The fact that they've thrown out a foreign reporter is a big deal...and rather scary.

On a humourous note, we were in the car one day during our recent Isloo trip listening to City FM and they were playing a whole series of rock songs on the theme of lies and lying...all dedicated to Cheema. Love it!

shaheryar said...

I don't agree with the perception that media has been free in Pakistan. While it is not as stifled as it is in some Arab states, that is hardly an indicator of freedom. The recent Freedom House report of Clobal Press Freedom reported Pakistan as scoring a rating of 63 and sharing the 139 spot with Sri Lanka and Qatar (deeming Pakistan Not Free-a few points away from Partly Free).The ratings are based on how three major categories political, economic, and legal treat the press. I will paste the links at the bottom of the comment for the report and methodology. I understand that a lot of these reports seem inconsistent with what some of us Pakistani's see on the ground and percieve to be press freedom. But through this methodology one can understand what it truly means to have a free press. The US is number 16 by the way, not a bad rating by any means. There are a few other organizations who do ratings based upon number of journalists killed, jailed etc but I found the freedom house system to be pretty effective. Anyhow, aside from that Kalsoom you've done a great job with this site!How can I post articles? And how many articles have been written so far, and how do I access them? I am posting a link to my blog which is old and lacking much content or professionalism, but I just started it. There is an original article about Pakistan I wrote there. Hopfeully I will gather a lot of material on that blog and this one this semester.

shaheryar said...

Forgot the links here they are:



Kalsoom said...

Hi Shaheryar-

Thanks so much for your comments...none of the op-ed articles have been posted yet - one should be posted by a contributor in the next few days. However, am still looking for people to be contributors would love to read your work - the email I just set up is: If you could send a writing sample or one of your pieces there, I can take a look at it and we can talk more.


Fahad said...

I find this story very interesting and telling because the media IS allowed to operate fairly freely in Pakistan-- but the moment it reports something unsettling to the government it is stifled (you could call it the Geo effect!!!).

In terms of Schmidle's article.
I think while at a personal level religious inclination has grown in the country, the religious political parties have not necessarily benefited. The rumors are flying that Maulana Fazl ur-Rahman, the secretary of the MMA (the religious party) is set to lose his seat this time if the election is not rigged. It seems that voters, if given a chance to vote in a fair election, might actively look for a change.

sophie said...

I've just read Nicholas Schmidle's article and overall I was very impressed. And like other posters I, too, feel that the decrease in press freedom is regrettable and definitely does not bode well for the country. I say decrease because I don't actually agree that Pakistan has ever had a completely free press. I remember sitting by the pool at the Canadian Club seeing a gigantic steel pipe-caused bruise on the BBC representative at the time's back and hearing him explain that he had written a piece about radical Islamists in the country that they obviously disagreed with. However, that's not actually the point of my comment. My point is that the radicalization issue in Pakistan is neither new, nor is it Pakistan's only serious problem. I feel that the rise of the radicals/AQ/Taliban is, in many ways, currently being used as a convenient excuse both by the Pakistani government and by the US. The Pakistani government is able to blame the radicals for killing Bhutto, and although this is a possibility, the Government has done itself no favours by trying to convince us by publishing almost farcical "confessions" by AQ the day after her assassination. If anyone wants to read the conversation, you can find it here: Placing the blame on radicals/AQ/the Taliban excuses the government from addressing some uncomfortable but important questions like a) Why were officials seen hosing down the area where Bhutto was shot (obviously a vital forensic site) less than two hours after the incident, b) Why did it take the Government such a long time (a week) to invite international agencies, such as Scotland Yard, to investigate, and c) Why did they invent such a preposterous story about the sun roof lever of her car? However, what worries me equally is the opportunities this explanation provides to the United States. Identifying radicals/AQ/the Taliban as BB's killers provides the US with additional (and desperately needed by them) justification for their fledging War on Terror, as demonstrated by Bush's speech the following day. Additionally, it gives the US more justification to become involved in Pakistan's politics, which they've clearly demonstrated to be an interest. I'm not saying that radicals/AQ/the Taliban weren't involved, I just think it's vital for us to view some of what we read with a more critical eye.

shaheryar said...

To address what Fahad had written below about "the media IS allowed to operate freely" may be concievable in theory, but when there are no laws on the books protecting journalists then that does not ring true. The exact reason why the government is able to shut down "anti-establishment" media is because there is a lack of laws protecting the media. If there are any laws, they are not enforced, so Pakistani media is in a constant state of flux, but never fully protected

Osman said...

While the issues addressed in the blog and the several comments above are obviously important, it's the human aspect of the story and the power of hospitality that really left an impact on me.

Despite witnessing the conflict, and undergoing extreme stress the BBC article states that Nicholas’ “eyes almost light up when asked about the people of Pakistan.” The reporter asked Nicholas and his wife if they would like to go back despite everything they experienced. “Inshallah, they almost reply in the same voice.”

While Pakistan may be portrayed as the most dangerous place on earth with suicide bombings, corruption, and overall instability, we should always remember that each one of us is an ambassador of our country.

Kalsoom said...

Oz, I think that's a really good point. It's a bit sad how pessimistic I've become while reviewing news stories that human portrayals are often overlooked. I think I should try post a brief on positive coverage of Pakistan for once :), which is sadly few and far between - positive news is rarely newsworthy.