Although the document did not include the reasoning behind his expulsion, Schmidle "immediately felt that there was some connection to the travels and reporting I had done for a story published two days earlier in the New York Times Magazine, about a dangerous new generation of Taliban in Pakistan." The truth, he noted, "is that foreign journalists are barred from almost half the country; in most cases, their visas are restricted to three cities -- Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. In Baluchistan province, which covers 44 percent of Pakistan and where ethnic nationalists are fighting a low-level insurgency, the government requires prior notification and approval if you want to travel anywhere outside the capital of Quetta. Such permission is rarely given. And the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the pro-Taliban militants are strong, are completely off-limits."
Schmidle's commentary is interesting in light of the recent controversy and criticisms of the Musharraf regime - most notably, the issues regarding the freedom of the press and the judiciary. On Saturday, news sources reported that Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent Pakistani lawyer, [see op-ed post January 19th for more background] was put back under house arrest after he tried to visit the grave of former PM Benazir Bhutto. According to the Associated Press, Ahsan's detention came just two days after he had been released from three months of house arrest. The lawyer told news agencies that the ban was illegal and had been issued on the federal government's orders. He said, "I was just going to condole the death of our slain leader, but the government is scared and took this illegal action. We will contest this move."
With the elections in Pakistan fast approaching, Aitzaz Ahsan's re-arrest is curious, to say the least. Moreover, the issue of the press and the judiciary has been an increasingly problematic issue and further restrictions on these institutions promise to make the government exceedingly more unpopular. On Saturday, Pakistan's The News released a timely and pertinent piece by Dr. Tariq Hassan, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, who discussed the issue of the courts and the ousted judges, as well as the need for an independent judiciary for the country.