Reporting Pakistan

Journalist Meena Menon’s new book Reporting Pakistan is an exciting and informative. The book talks about her own experience of Pakistan and dispatches she sent from Islamabad. The book could have been called Reporting Islamabad. She was based in Islamabad and during her tenure of nine months, she could not even visit any another city. She was keen to visit Bangay, a small village, where Shaheed Bhagat Singh was born. But, the visa restrictions did not allow her. Indians and Pakistanis have a unique visa regime for the citizens of each other’s country. The visas are city specific and one cannot go out of the city.

Meena was a correspondent of The Hindu and Snehesh Alex Philip was with PTI when they were asked to leave Pakistan. Today there are no Indian correspondents in Pakistan and vice versa. Though, the reality is people of both the countries are more than eager to know about each other.

In 2011, Meena visited Karachi and Hyderabad first time with a delegation of Mumbai Press Club (MPC) at the invitation of Karachi Press Club (KPC). Twice delegation of MPC has visited Pakistan and delegation of KPC visited Mumbai and Pune once. Later on, in 2013 Meena was sent to Islamabad as a foreign correspondent. Her book narrates how she loved green but ‘unreal’ Islamabad. She enjoyed the hospitality of friends in Pakistan. She commended courage of her Pakistani friends who stood with her even when she was asked to leave. She gives numerous incidences where people wanted to know more about India and Bollywood. Her driver Aurangzeb and maid Sajida were always there to help her. She writes, “Despite war, deep suspicion and hostility I made friends, and I didn’t quite feel I was living in an ‘enemy’ country for most of the time, except when the presence of spooks became hard to ignore and any victory over India was celebrated with unholy glee.”

Journalism in Pakistan is not easy, it is risky. She correctly says, “Journalism in Pakistan has been bold and brave despite the many threats, and between the security agencies and terror groups life hung on a thread for many professionals.” Zia ul Haq regime was the most brutal in the history of Pakistan. He promoted fundamentalism. Opposition leaders were tortured. Even in that scenario the KPC, author writes, was held ‘to be an island of dissent and a symbol of defiance’, and on its silver jubilee in 1985, Justice (retd.) Dorab Patel of the Supreme Court congratulated it for holding elections every year for twenty-five years. One of a minister of Zia had called KPC as an enemy territory. Legendary Faiz Ahmed Faiz replied immediately saying it’s only liberated territory.

The author gives details of how minorities including Ahmadis, Hindus etc lives in a fear. Dr. Abdus Salam was the first Pakistani to be awarded Nobel Prize for Physics. He was from the Ahmadi community. Earlier he was a scientific advisor to then President Z A Bhutto. Salam resigned following Ahmadis were announced non-Muslim. It was done through the second amendment in the constitution of Pakistan. At that time Bhutto tried to placate Salam and said, “This is all politics. Give me time, I will change it.” Salam asked Bhutto to write down on a note that would remain private. “I can’t do that,” replied Bhutto. Then Salam left Pakistan and got Nobel Prize.

She talks about the conditions of poor Indian and Pakistani fishermen. Once they are arrested in the deep sea their and their families’ life gets ruined. Even if someone dies it takes more than a month for the body to reach his nation. She writes about the presence of Malayalis and Parsis in Pakistan. B M Kutty is a leading peace activist and a trade union leader and through him, the author could meet few Malayalis in Karachi in 2011. A Parsi family, Bhandara, owns Murree Brewery. They produce one of the best Beers. In Pakistan, on paper, only people from minority communities can drink liquor.

Hamid Mir, a leading Pakistani journalist, first compared Mama Qadeer Baloch to Mahatma Gandhi. Mama’s son was suddenly disappeared and later on his body was found. Mama founded the Voice for Baloch missing persons in 2009. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s 390 km Dandi March and walked around 3,300 km from Quetta to Islamabad. Author interviewed him. The Hindu carried his interview on the op-ed page in March 2014 where he denied that he was funded by RAW. He said in the interview, “After I formed my organisation I got a lot of support from people. If there is a referendum in Baluchistan, people will vote for Independence.” It did not go well with the establishment. Like K (Kashmir) word is sacred in India, B (Baluchistan) is sacred in Pakistan.

By interviewing Mama, she did her professional duty. Real journalism cannot be confined to soft news. Readers and viewers want to know the hard news. It is the responsibility of journalists to provide information. Indians and Pakistanis want to know much more about each other. One can get news from international agencies but their emphasis will always remain different. It is necessary that both the countries have correspondents in each other’s countries. The restriction of only two correspondents and that to confine them in a capital city cannot give justice to the profession. Such unreasonable restrictions must go.

The book talks about the necessity of peace and people-to-people contact between two countries. Author’s Pakistani journalists and her Pakistani friends always stood with her.

Source of Review: http://www.freepressjournal.in

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