Pakistan’s Balochistan province once famous in the world for its geographical beauty, art work, fruits and unmatched hospitality is now referred to as the “valley of death” by the fearful Pakistanis living in the area. The region has been on the receiving end of war on terror, growing sectarian violence and a decade of insurgency fuelled by the ongoing conflict between Baloch nationalistsand the Government of Pakistan making it one of the most dangerous places on earth for media personnel.
For the second year in row, Reporters without Borders has named Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world for journalists and with the deteriorating human rights situation the profession is under murderous assault in the south western province. According to a recent report “Media personnel in Balochistan are under constant threat from pro-Taliban Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Pakistani security forces, Baloch separatists groups and state-sponsored anti-separatist militant outfits”. The motives for the life threats and assault range from providing media coverage to their activities to restricting freedom of information on the media.
The issue with providing media coverage has taken dangerous turns in the last few years when both state and non state actors are trying to use the media as a strategic weapon for spreading misinformation and propaganda. As a result the media has been in the crossfire with a number of journalists being abducted, tortured or killed. The Unions of Journalists along with various press freedom organization has condemned the threats and attempts by the various groups to influence coverage of its activities as “extremely undemocratic, non-political and immoral”.
In a recent workshop organized by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad many participants were also of the view that “media and civil society could not operate freely in the province due to security reasons and harassment by the militant organizations. Coverage and role of media in highlighting the conflict is limited due to external pressures and fear of violent repercussion”.
The debate of lack of media coverage to soaring national issue such as the Balochistan conflict has been going on for a while now where political parties, human rights organizations and civil society has condemned the role played by the mainstream media in their failure to highlight the ongoing violent conflict. Some believe that due to the lack of media coverage the issue has further worsened and many Pakistanis living in other parts of the country have very limited idea on the violent state of affairs in the region. If it is not in the mainstream media the issue hardly gets noticed these days such is the power of media to influence agendas and a broad range of policy initiatives in Pakistan.
Martin Luther King once said that “the day we see truth and do not speak is the day we begin to die” here in Balochistan the issue has become far more complicated than just speaking the truth says Irfan a senior reporter working for a leading news channel. If we report the issue without imposing some kind of self censorship we run the risk of being targeted either the by government agencies or militant organizations.
The state of media in the valley of death is dismal and hopes for things to improve looks very bleak. The ongoing Baloch conflict, rising sectarian violence and target killing of media personnel in the province has left many to stop reporting; some have migrated to other cities and others who are still following Luther King and speaking the truth face the consequences of never to speak again.