Election 2008 The World is Watching

Video Dispatch

Pakistan: Taliban Goes After Media

Publishers receive death threats; many blame U.S. for troubles

BY Sharmeen Obaid ChinoySeptember 22, 2008


Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is a regular correspondent for FRONTLINE/World and is based in Karachi.

Jugnu Mohsin and her husband Najam Sethi are Pakistan's most powerful media couple. Between them, they edit three newspapers, four magazines, and run a television production company. A few months ago, they began receiving threatening letters signed by the Taliban.

The letters accused Sethi of being an anti-Islam American agent. They warned him that all his reports published in both his English-language papers The Friday Times and The Daily Times had been read and rejected by the forces of Islam. He was told that unless he repented for his sins and changed his editorial policy immediately, he would be executed like all the other un-Islamic American agents in the country. A picture attached to one letter showed a Pakistani journalist alleged to be an agent of America with his throat cut.

As a precaution, Mohsin and Sethi cut back their engagements, hired armed security guards and sent their children out of the country. The Taliban has already beheaded scores of people under one pretext or another so the couple could not take the threats lightly.

Five years ago, when I interviewed Mohsin for FRONTLINE/World, she was optimistic about her country's future and confident that the Taliban could be defeated. But when I visited her office in Lahore last week, she described Pakistan in far more bleak terms.

The Friday Times is a prominent liberal newspaper in Pakistan. The Taliban has begun sending death threats to the newspaper's editors.

"The Taliban are not only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they are able to make inroads into cities with impunity," Mohsin told me. "They have the media and the populace enthralled. They are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the people."

It is a battle, she believes, the United States is losing.

The Taliban has strengthened its propaganda machine. The group regularly releases videos in which members parade dead bodies of civilian women and children it claims have been killed by the hand of "Zionist America and its Pakistani counterpart, the Army."

Taliban leaders hold press conferences where they demand to know why Pakistan is fighting America's war. They suggest that they have thousands of well-equipped young men ready to lay down their lives in the name of Islam. This war, they say, will end when the United States stops using the Pakistan Army to kill innocent Muslims.

Taliban leaders hold press conferences demanding to know why Pakistan is fighting America's war. This war, they say, will end when the United States stops using the Pakistan Army to kill innocent Muslims.

In a largely illiterate country, these tactics are working - now more than ever. Last week, U.S. Special Forces landed on Pakistani soil for the first time since the war on terror began. Helicopters carried U.S. and Afghan commandos deep into the tribal belt targeting a Taliban hideout. In the last month alone, newspapers here have reported that the U.S. has attacked inside Pakistan six times with missiles fired from unmanned aircrafts. On the streets here, anti-U.S. sentiment is at an all-time high.

Just two days ago, a powerful suicide bomb ripped through the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing 53 people and injuring more than 200. Two Americans were killed in the bombing, which experts say bears the hallmark of an Al Qaeda attack.

In the aftermath, many people I interviewed on the streets repeated what the Taliban propaganda machine has been saying, "Innocent people are being killed because we support America." There is virtually no blame attributed to the Taliban.

When The New York Times reported last week that President Bush had signed a secret order approving the deployment of U.S. forces in Pakistan, the administration did not deny the report.

Newspaper publisher Jugnu Mohsin has received death threats from the Taliban for her publications' editorial policies

The impact of that decision is already being felt in Pakistan. There are signs that moderate tribal leaders living in the tribal belt may join forces with the Taliban if these incursions do not end. Just in the past few days, tribesmen aligned with the government have issued a statement confirming that they will retaliate if any more U.S. strikes take place.

By taking direct military action in Pakistan, the U.S. has raised the stakes for the Pakistan government. But Mohsin believes that the U.S. presidential election in November and a change in the White House will help improve Pakistani public opinion.

"By selecting Barack Obama as their presidential candidate, the Democrats have already rehabilitated the image of America as a country where anything and everything is possible," she said. "Where there are opportunities alike for black people, for brown people, for white people, for immigrants... it is an America that people had forgotten in the last eight years."

U.S. direct military action in Pakistan has raised the stakes for the Pakistan government. But Mohsin believes that November's U.S. presidential election will help improve Pakistani public opinion.

Yet it was Senator Obama who said in a speech outlining his foreign policy last year, "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

More recently, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has taken on a more conciliatory tone. After his forceful statement last year that he would chase Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell if necessary, McCain told CNN's Larry King in August that he would respect Pakistan's sovereignty and would not send in U.S. forces, even though many believe high-value figures such as Bin Laden are operating freely there.

Threatened newspaper editors such as Mohsin believe that recent U.S. military intervention is only adding to the crisis and playing into the Taliban's hands.

"This is our war," Mohsin told me, "and we have to fight this on our own terms. If everybody turns against America, the Pakistani government will no longer be in a position to support the war on terror."

share your reactions

ankara, turkey
Americans have failed both in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lull in violence in Iraq is due to Americans bribing the awakening councils and putting fighters on payroll courtesy of the US tax payer. American soldiers have proven unworthy and useless in fighting this guerrilla war. Still they blame Pakistani army for their failures. Pakistan has done enough and wishes Americans to leave all of South Asia.

shahid iqbal - washington D.C, Washington
I fully endorse views of Sam illahi for the extremely poor law and order situation in Pakistan where neither pro-American nor progressive nor the truth-speaking journalists are secured in Pakistan.Can the leadership of Pakistan tell me honestly why they are going after the media even though the Taliban are being represented in the media by the people from Jamat Islami, Maulana Fazlur and senator Sami-ul-haq?Hussain Naqi, Jugnu and Najam Sethi are the pride of our nation, and are now our only beacon of hope for the frustrated nation which is at the brink of default.I fail to understand why peoples' memories are so weak. They have soon forgotten Shaukat Aziz, the economic wizard of Pakitan. In my view Aziz is primarily responsible for current financial crisis in Pakistan.Jamat Islami should ask the government to ask the House to bring Shaukat Aziz, Salman Shah, and Vaqar Ahmed, the former right-hand man of Shaukat Aziz (currently enjoying a senior position in Ministry of Finance) to clear their position about current financial Tsunami in Pakistan. The nation too should not pin much hope in Shaukat Tareen. He doesn't have a "Magic Wand" to revive the sunken economy overnight.Pakistan is passing through a most crucial period in its existence -- one when history reminds us of the predictions of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. One of his predictions proved correct in 1971 while (God forbid) a second prediction is likely to come true very shortly in the shape of the "Talibanic Fanatic Republic of Pakistan." Some said, very correctly, "Rats will dance when cats will away."Shaheed-e-Karbala Hussain Hussain

Once Paradise, my loving Pakistan has been turned into a graveyard by "Watwani Walay Mullah."Peace-loving people of the NWFP and tribal areas were never against Pakistan or supporters of terrorism in any way. I have read hundreds of such articles in number of newspapers of Pakistan including The Daily Times. They have, however, never spared terrorists and terrorism and even a dictator like Musharraf.I salute Jugnu and her revered husband.The Taliban and al-Qaeda people cannot tolerate outspoken journalists like Hussain Naqi, Najam Sethi, Jugnu Mohsin, who are still upholding the banner of truth and fairness and following the path of their highly revered ancestors
Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA).In fact, the Taliban have forced literary figures to flee Pakistan due to poor security conditions in that country. Let me pay tribute to the West who are even still giving shelter to learned people who escaped from Pakistan and providing them with every facility, including health facilities, although they are themselves facing "temporary financial crisis."

Mohammed Khan - Karachi, Pakistan
The Marriott bombing was Pakistan's version of 9/11- A building 5 minutes from the prime ministers house and the supreme court reduced to rubble...Intelligence failures all around- Now our President who is in the U.S. is paying Ms.Sarah Palin compliments, "You look so gorgeous. Now, I know why the whole of America is crazy about you,""announcing that he wants to hug her on national television instead of tackling the economy, militants and extremism. This is democracy for us Pakistanis, i hope your happy since your the ones who insisted we become a democracy!

adam - san francisco, ca
Another informative, scary report about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Pakistan. Your reporter, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, is brave, as are the editors she is interviewing.

San Jose, USA
As Americans focus on how to change the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis and what can be done to change their view about America, the realization that needs to creep into the American psyche should be "What can be done within America to change its views toward the Taliban and Pakistanis?"The US looks at the Talibans and their "sympathizers" as criminals, terrorists, fanatics engaged in a crazy ritual of killing and mayhem. The almost daily suicidal attacks on countless innocents can but lead to such a conclusion in the minds of the average American observer and the knee jerk response for America is to retaliate with all its might on the perceived perpetrators of these heinous acts.The Taliban look at America with a similar myopic view. While Americans don't send in suicide bombers to annihilate their targets, they can easily do so sitting in the comfort of their Las Vegas sanctuary from whence drones can shower the populace with hellfire missiles and bombs, mercilessly killing countless innocents and sowing the seeds of hatred amongst the families, friends and tribesmen of those destroyed. It is a no win situation for the Americans, the Taliban and the Pakistanis. For every innocent that is killed, and yes at this point even the terrorist killed is almost seen as an "innocent," many other either join the fight outright against the foreign "terrorist" or express their hatred in other ways.Bottom line, the emphasis for America must be on America to change itself so that it views these "terrorist" with a different perspective. In many ways what it sees in the Taliban is nothing more than its own reflections. The world cannot endure this death struggle to the end forever. This is not a war in which a victorious army will see the surrender of a vanquished general, this is a war spurned by hatred. And until the fires of hatred are doused, it will continue till all good things are consumed.As Gandhi said:
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." It is America that has to change its perspective of how it sees the world, if it expects to win the hearts and minds of those whose support it needs.

Karachi, Sindh
Sharmeen is a nice and intellegent gal. This part of her story needs to be pondered upon"This war, they say, will end when the United States stops using the Pakistan Army to kill innocent Muslims."Believe me, i grew up in the now troubled province of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. No bad guys, the Taliban were there prior to 9/11. Taliban are destroying our schools and business but the U.S. and Pakistani army are finshing our lives. To us, the Taliban's crimes are less as they are the products of US policies toward Pakistan.

Sam Ilahi - Lahore, Pakistan
Pakistan is going through some very dark times. I agree with your reporter that many in Pakistan are not laying the blame on the shoulders of the Taliban. Najam and Jugnu are bold, they face these threats head on. But there are so many other journalists here who are fanning the flames of violence. They are making it seem as if it is the government's fault that the Taliban are attacking civilian targets. In an illiterate country, television plays a critical role and unfortunately, our media is not bearing the responsibility that it should. I wish your reporter and Najam and Jugnu the best...